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June 30, 2012 / Bradley

The Miseducation of Fujiko Mine: Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine 9 – 13

Note: If you haven’t seen the ending of The Woman Called Fujiko Mine, don’t worry, I don’t spoil anything here.

I’ve always thought of Lupin III: Green vs. Red as an interesting failure. The core idea of it, that the world is populated by many Lupin lookalikes but there’s only one true Lupin, and there comes a time when he must name a successor, was both delightfully surreal and a nice riff on Lupin’s overwhelming fame. But my favorite aspect of that story is that it takes Lupin and elevates him to the post of a princeling-god of thievery, which seems like a natural promotion for the world’s best thief. That took a character who was already larger than life, and somehow made him bigger. Similarly, The Woman Called Fujiko Mine upgraded Fujiko from a bitch to a woman and a legend. And I use the term “bitch” advisedly, because at worse, she played into the sleaziest, most sexist stereotypes of women. “Bitch” is a degrading term, and she was a degrading character. And often, she wasn’t much better than that, and if that bothered you like it clearly did Miyazaki when he directed Cagliostro, then it seemed the only thing it you could do to deal with her tastefully was to downplay her. The problem is that when Miyazaki did this, Fujiko was no longer really Fujiko, she was someone else, and since she did nearly nothing in that movie she comes across as neutered to fans, and a bit pointless to newcomers of the franchise. Of course, all of Cagliostro would have been pretty much the same movie if it just had Lupin, Zenigata and Jigen. But the point is, The Woman Called Fujiko Mine pulls off a small miracle- it takes the same character, with all the same traits, and makes her an legend in her own right. She doesn’t need Lupin, or anyone else for that matter; she defines her own life and lives a dream existence as a glamorous, impeccably dressed thief who can get any man or treasure she desires. Fans of Lupin III sometimes make comparisons of the franchise to James Bond, which clearly is an influence. And most of the time, we’d compare Lupin to 007, but if you tried that with this series, you’d be wrong. Fujiko Mine is Bond this time around. She has become the embodiment of a power fantasy either gender would envy.

That’s why I have a problem with the ending of The Woman Called Fujiko Mine. Sure, it’s a neat narrative twist that closes all the storylines built up so far in a single revelation, but it doesn’t happen because of Fujiko. She’s helpless, and Lupin III ends up saving her, yet again, in what is ostensibly her own show. That’s a slap in the face to that power fantasy, and more importantly, simply a let down. Why invest so much power in a character if she never uses it to solve what is the biggest crisis of her life? This sticking point is so big, it sours the rest of the show. But, hey, beyond that, this is a helluva series, especially these four episodes, which build in potency when watched in one sitting until the ending revelation hits like a sledgehammer. It’s too bad that sledgehammer was actually made of sofa stuffing.

But- awkward transition here- yeah, it’s fantastic. It turns out I was wrong, for the better, when I wrote about how Oscar is the main villain, because we ended up getting a much better group of bad-ass corporate owlmen whose sinister aura rivals the Fuma Clan, who, up until this point, were probably the unmatched kings of Lupin villains. Which isn’t to say Oscar isn’t villainous- he turns out to be just a bit of a twit, and a useful twit for the owlmen at that. It’s definitely an upgrade, though- they are predators that make my skin crawl. And they’re all throughout this set of episodes, even when they don’t show on screen, because the presence  they leave from episode eight is so large that everything else that happens has their shadow over it. That’s how you know you’re up against a real villain- even when they’re not around or even talked about, you still remember them, and they’re still scary.

They’re one of the reasons why the episodes leading up to the ending are probably the best in the series. It’s a solid run that showcases the range this show has- it does character moments as effectively as it does surreal, haunting mystery or a lengthy chase sequence. And it’s all very tight, aware that it only has four episodes to wrap up everything and it gets there calmly, without the “oh gee need an ending” panic I’m sadly used to from anime. And every character is pitch-perfect throughout, especially Lupin, who this series understands at a level that stories where he’s the main character can’t reach. His intelligence really shines through in this set, which is the opposite of how he’s usually handled, which is primarily silly but with brilliant flashes of insight when the plot demands it. But this Lupin feels like someone who would have enough foresight to know how to pick apart any defense and escape any situation. Heck, he even feels a little dangerous. When was the last time that happened?

One prediction I made that turned out correct was that the series would wait until to bring the gang together on a mission, though I was very wrong to worry that it would be a problem. And part of that is because it was just so rewarding to finally have Jigen and Lupin, the best odd couple in anime, slide into their familiar rhythms. This is another reason why the build-up to the ending had such impact- it brought all the disparate characters and tied them into a single knot, including an excellent scene with Jigen and Goemon that had me giggling with delight. Again, it’s too bad that all this leads to a bad end, but hey, I’m honestly not as hung up about it as I sound. This was great fun for, oh, 11 out of 13 episodes. That’s an awesome ratio- essentially six hours of great cartoons. These are the kind of cartoons that keep me a fan, the kind of things I love to write about and enthusiastically explain to people why and how much I love anime.

Two more things and then I’m done. One: the music in this show is simply the best jazz I’ve heard in anime. It beats Cowboy Bebop and Kids on the Slope by a long, long stretch. It’s acidic, wild, and hotter than sizzling grease. I want this anime’s soundtrack, and I can’t think of the last time I said that. Secondly, I know a lot of animation aficionados have been disappointed by this series, and while I agree that it has looked too stiff too often, the style is so unique, and so dedicated to its Gothic sensibility, that it seems worth forgiving them because they nailed that. I’d happily sacrifice fluidity in the rest of animation if everything else looked this evocative.

Three things, actually. Damn, this was a good show. Despite all my complaints. Hot damn.

3 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. tce09 / Jul 6 2012 10:51 am

    Can a spot of encouragement and plot knowledge really be Lupin subverting Fujiko’s place as heroine? I figured the whole point was that the way she resumed her life of intrigue and thrills, even in the face of a nightmarish “false identity” being imposed on her (as opposed to this being the REASON for her lifestyle, as we were set up to think), was what we were meant to take away from this about her character.

    • Bradley / Jul 6 2012 1:21 pm

      You’re right about Fujiko’s reaction to The Truth, and for a lot of people, this was enough to make for a good ending. I think it’s because we’re all so used to Lupin saving Fujiko from whatever crisis she has gotten the gang in. And if this was Lupin’s story, I wouldn’t have a problem with that. But it’s Fujiko’s story, and it’s not narratively satisfying to have her take a backseat to solving what looked to be a very crucial part of her life.

      Try this analogy: it’s as if Robin brought Batman’s parents’ killer to justice. We know Robin is perfectly capable as a hero, and could probably deal with almost anything that’s thrown his way. But it’s not his story to solve.

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