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April 28, 2012 / Bradley

Masks of Gold and Glass: Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine: Episode #04: “Vissi d’arte, vissi d’amore”

I lived for art, I lived for love.

 I’ve been writing this series largely under the assumption that a lot of my audience has only a passing familiarity with the Lupin franchise, and could use some context for who these characters are and how they’ve changed. They haven’t changed much, though, with each character more or less still intact, if a bit darker. You could dramatically change the character designs and Lupin fans would still instantly recognize who is who. The sole exception to this is Zenigata, as his episode today shows. Zenigata has lived solely to arrest Lupin III, as his father did for Lupin II, and his grandfather for the original Arsene Lupin. In the original TV series, he was a good-natured but focused bloodhound who was always only two steps behind Lupin, but over the years he became a clown and a minor source of comic relief. He was simply too dumb to ever catch Lupin, and too earnest to ever know what to do with himself when he gets lucky enough to arrest the gentleman thief. He was never really a threat to any of Lupin’s capers, and in some cases, was as much a companion and ally as Jigen or Goemon.

But not this Zenigata. This Zenigata fucks Fujiko in the interrogation room, and then tries to casually put out a cigarette on her bare tit. He’s misogynistic, clever, and more than a bit bloodthirsty, making clear near the end of the episode that he will happily cuff a dead Lupin or a live one. And he does it all with an even coolness. This Zenigata actually feels like a villain and threat, and though Lupin still gets the best of him, the same can’t really be said for Fujiko, who spends most of this episode caught in Zenigata’s elaborate plan to catch Lupin. I’m not sure how I feel about this change- it certainly fits with the rest of the show, and kind of makes sense for an origin story. Zenigata was the first boss, per se, that the Lupin gang had to conquer before moving on to bigger challenges, so it makes sense that he should actually be a threat. But it’s almost too much of a change, especially since the opening where Zenigata extorts sex from Fujiko in exchange for freedom is calculated for maximum shock. This is actually an example of the kind of the thing I was afraid a darker Lupin would entail, though the actual execution of that scene is great, with a playful callback to Monkey Punch’s use of gender symbols for fucking that leaves just enough to the imagination to be both sexy and funny.

Since this episode is a return to capers it feels like a step up from the underwhelming third episode, though it isn’t quite in the league of the first or second. Part of this is because Lupin, Fujiko and Zenigata are a little too passive in the outcome of this heist, and the story also hinges on a lame third-act revelation. But up until that point, it’s good fun to watch Zenigata weave a trap for Lupin, and for Lupin to sit in the shadows, artfully dodging it while Fujiko schemes how to get out of this mess, preferably with the diva’s jeweled mask. It doesn’t help that this episode’s supernatural setting is the hoary old Phantom of the Opera trope, with blaring organs, obsessive stalkers and creepy masks.

We also get another call back to Fujiko’s Dark Past, with some artful execution. It looks like the series is suggesting she was a child prostitute, which makes me uncomfortable, especially if it’s going to be used to “explain” her liberal attitude towards sex. I’m not going say why just yet, though, in part because I think Yamamoto is the best director in anime to handle a sensitive subject like rape and I feel I should give her staff the benefit of the doubt, but also because this short flashback was very lyrical and evocative. It’s sad, creepy, and a little frightening, packed with emotion as Fujiko seems on the verge of remembering whatever trauma she has needed to forget.

I’m still not sure what to make of Zenigata’s assistant, Oscar, who clearly has a thing for his boss and spends the episode consumed in jealousy. I suspect, though, that if we get an overarching storyline for the series, he’ll be a major player, probably a villain. He certainly hates Fujiko enough that the little bit of misdirection after Fujiko’s short flashback is effective, and I could see him making an effort to kill her if the chance came up.

From reading other blogs and Twitter comments, a lot of people seemed to be expecting this to be the first with the whole gang together, now that each character has more or less gotten their own episode. I had hoped so as well, though I guessed correctly that this episode would be Zenigata’s, but I have a gut feeling that that’s not the direction series will go. Perhaps it will spend all thirteen episodes slowly bringing the gang together, before ending on a high note with everyone doing what we’ve known and loved for years. And while narratively, that idea is satisfying, I’m hoping that’s not the direction the story. A lot of the appeal of Lupin is in how the characters interact with each other, especially the ongoing banter between Jigen and Lupin. A tease like that that lasts for the whole series is bound to get tiresome and upset fans, including myself.

On a final note, it took me a while to write this post because of a single, sustained distraction: Maria Callas, famous soprano and diva. I found her by way of her performance of the aria this episode references in its title, and was entranced by her amazing voice. I spent at least an hour, sitting and drinking beer and coffee, enthralled by her voice, listening to her performances from a greatest hits collection, especially “Una voce poco fe,” which got several plays before I reluctantly put it down. I’ve only occasionally watched an opera, but when I do, it’s usually an extremely rewarding experience. It saddens me that, like anime, opera is widely misunderstood and stereotyped, and has a small audience that is likely to only get smaller. I’ve embedded below Callas’ performance of that aria from Tosca, which takes place near the end of the second act and gives some context to her lyrical prayer.


Leave a Comment
  1. Landon / Apr 28 2012 8:30 pm

    Yeah, my opera experience pretty much begins and ends with What’s Opera, Doc. I wish I knew SOMETHING about opera, since I was itching to write something about WHY they used Tosca in this episode. There’s something I’d love to see someone write about.

    As for Zenigata, I figured they’d have to break away from the original material somewhere to help make this series “feel” new and he seems to be the best place to play around with some revising. It might swing a bit too far in the opposite direction, but I like it. HATING Zenigata (in the right way) isn’t something I’ve had to do before with the franchise, and they’ve done a good job in making me feel that way.

    • Bradley / May 2 2012 9:50 pm

      Barring any plot twists or revelations later in the series, I suspect the “why” is simply, “because we like it.” Not as satisfying, but factual and exact.

      If you’re looking for an opera to start with, I recommend you try watching a subtitled performance of Wagner’s Ring cycle. Sure, it takes fifteen hours or so to watch in its entirety, but it’s also the foundation for a lot of the fantasy nerdery we love. It’s also rooted in Germanic and Norse mythology, so it’s violent, crazy, and has a vindictive agenda against technology. Also: lots of catchy, potent music. That’s its other tie to Lord of the Rings- not only did Tolkien borrow heavily from Wagner, but when the movie was made, Howard Shore borrowed much of the musical structure and tone from Wagner. It’s also the source of most of our stereotypes about opera, including the fat lady with the blonde braids, spear and Viking helmet, and the phrase, “it ain’t over till the fat lady sings.”

      If you want something shorter, I’m personally quite fond of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro and The Magic Flute.

  2. Balloon Thief / Apr 29 2012 6:35 pm

    It is interesting how Zenigata has transformed into a character that is more or less stooping to Lupin’s level. I am more curious as to Oscar’s motives and train of thought. No matter how the methods change Zenigata’s motives will always be the same. I don’t know enough about Oscar to see where he is going. I will be watching this character.

    I hadn’t considered the idea of bringing the gang together over the entire series. That would be quite a twist to the series.

    • Bradley / May 2 2012 10:01 pm

      In the older versions of Lupin, everyone was an asshole. That was part of the appeal. Zenigata was kinda the exception, but it was simply out of sheer blandness. He didn’t have much character beyond chasing Lupin until… I’m not sure. I want to say the specials, but if that’s true, he’d be the first character who got more interesting in the annual specials. Could be wrong on this, since I’ve never read the manga, or seen the 2nd or 3rd season.

      Oscar is certainly the wild card in this series.

  3. pretentiousbot5000 / May 7 2012 4:40 pm

    “It looks like the series is suggesting she was a child prostitute”
    Why do people say this? It seems like an odd conclusion to jump to; it would be a really freaking odd thing to do with Lupin of all things. she likely had a sexually charged past in some way given her attitude, but actually being raped as a kid isn’t the only way such a thing could happen. Is the whole ‘eating a butterfly’ thing a popular symbolism for something sexual that I’m not aware of?

    yeah I know the manga had dark stuff in it and Lupin did bad things, but it was darkly humorous. depressing childhood rape backstories for the main characters are the last thing I want to see in Lupin.

    • Bradley / May 8 2012 9:32 pm

      I wouldn’t lean too heavily on the manga for your argument, since it isn’t being used as an adaptation so much as an inspiration.

      As for why rape is a reasonable guess, well, it’s a common trope in stories, it’s a traumatic thing Fujiko would want to forget, and Lil’ Fujiko spends the ending lounging around either naked or in revealing clothing. I can see why it’s a common guess, though now I’m disappointed that my guess is so pedestrian because I’m hipster like that.

      • pretentiousbot5000 / May 8 2012 11:23 pm

        yeah I know, MP’s manga is far wackier. but even then I wouldn’t expect them to do this. no matter how it would be handled it would be something really awkward and unfitting for Lupin.

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