Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine
She's seductive, she's sweet, she's a killer and a hero. She's whatever she needs to be to steal your heart as well as your fortune. Master femme-fatale and thief, Mine Fujiko, has an insatiable need to steal and acquire riches for herself and she will do anything to get whatever her heart desires. She is the sexy glue that keeps Lupin and his merry band of misfits together-and this is the beginning of her story.
I am not one for long-winded series. A few exceptions come to mind, but generally I find my patience wearing thin if I have to keep up weekly with a series that will drone on and on over one-hundred episodes. This is one of the reasons why I could not get into Lupin III as a whole. I enjoy a few episodes here and there as well as some of the movies, but at best the series is a mixed bag to me.
However, my opinion of the show changed for the better when I was given a bite-sized rendition of the saga via the titular character's viewpoint called, Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine. Here is a perfectly paced and visually enticing anime that takes the original series back to its grownup roots.
Way back when, Lupin III was not all about the goofy and episodic capers of a thief, his crew, and the heists which brought them together-but a manga that was a little darker in tone. Published originally in 1967-1969, and featured in the magazine Weekly Action Manga, Lupin III (or Rupan Sansei in Japan) centered around the exploits of Lupin the Third; grandson of Arsene Lupin, master "gentleman" French thief from the series of novels by Maurice Leblanc. Lupin, along with his gunslinging gynophobic partner, Jigen; A stoic, wandering samurai named Goemon Ishikawa XIII; and the lovely female crook, Mine Fujiko; travel the world to amass riches through the use of any sneaky and underhanded tactic imaginable.
It is rightfully so that Fujiko would have her own series, since she has become one of the most iconic female characters in anime history. The series peers into the mind as well as the history of her, and starts this character study by showing the viewer one of the most intriguing opening themes I have seen in an anime. The opening sequence, titled "New Wuthering Heights" is a spoken-word piece in which the lead is describing (accompanied by copious amounts of nudity)-or at least attempting to-the basis behind her kleptomania. The entire theme feels retroactive in nature, with a style that reminded me of the sexy spy flicks of the 1960's which, more than likely, is what director Sayo Yamamoto was going for.
Speaking of the director, if the name was not a giveaway, Sayo Yamamoto is a woman; which is a bit of an anomaly in the anime industry. Considering the small amount of work that she has directed such as Michiko and Hatchin, she is drawn towards creating female characters that are curvaceous as they are courageous. At the same time, they are very flawed "people" with plenty of their own foibles and glaring faults, in concert with their own strength and beauty. Without putting gender too much into the review, I don't think a man could balance such a dichotomy without focusing too much on the sexiness of an already alluring female character.
Interestingly enough, some people have criticized the ample amounts of nudity all throughout the series as being unnecessary, and have even gone on to say that the series is sexist because of it. While the show, does have a lot of nudity throughout I will play devil's advocate by stating that it never seems out of place. Much of the nudity is indicative to Fujiko "baring it all" (no pun intended) in a mental sense and as a talking point as to how she uses her sexual appeal to further her own wealth. Fujiko has always been a sexpot in the world of Lupin, but now, since she is the focus, her sexual wiles can be discussed more frankly. This comes as no surprise since this version of Lupin comes in a darker tone because of the adult roots of the original manga. But I will also concede to the opposing viewpoint by stating that the nudity, at times, is distracting, but-once again-never seems like it is gratuitous.
For the readers who expect the silly tongue-and-cheek adventures that have been typified in the other Lupin III series-look elsewhere. Granted, there is still a sense of fun in this series, especially in regards to the clowning around that Lupin does, but it is all tampered by the overall moodier tone and psychological drama. This series picks apart the original cast of characters and gives them a somber makeover. A prime example of this change is that of Zenigata. Once a bumbling buffoon of a gumshoe who always got the short end of the stick; he is transformed into a strong willed and stone faced agent of the law who takes no nonsense. In actuality, it was a refreshing change of pace. Much of the other characters remain somewhat the same, but are given more opportunity to become fleshed out by exploring their motives. Some new characters have also been added into the mix such as Oscar; Zenigata's androgynous and doting little deputy who is madly in love with him. The viewer is given a back story into how he developed his rigid loyalty and sexual desire for Zenigata, as well as his hatred for Fujiko.
Another facet that makes this series stand out is the "sketchy" look of the visuals. Much of the character design as well as the backgrounds, apply a manga-like aesthetic with a heavy emphasis on dark shading and pronounced pencil-lines. Characters are designed to look as if they came from the original Monkey Punch manga; with plenty of rough edges and exaggerated facial features. It's as if we are watching a finely tuned, edgy, and visually stunning motion manga. Much of the ambiance of this anime feel like they have been taken from noir films and, as stated earlier on, from 1960's girl's-with-guns spy movies. The series also has moments where it seems like the spectator just took part in an acid binge, with plenty of psychedelic trip-outs that were ubiquitous in certain films from the 60's and 70's. The Woman Called Fujiko Mine walks the fine line of reveling in nostalgia while bringing the viewer something fresh and new.
So is this the series which will bring anime back to its roots and save the industry from the current over dependence on slice-of-life anime with cute girls? Not quite, for as much I can praise this series for its aspirant qualities, I can heap a stone or two on its most apparent of faults. Okay, maybe just a pebble. But in all honesty (and lame jokes aside) much of the final arc of the plot becomes bogged down in a series of baffling twists revolving around the troubled past of Fujiko. It is as if the crew decided to throw away everything they have worked hard for and try and force feed the viewer every little emotional and mental nook and cranny in Fujiko's mind, while losing sight of why this series worked. With such as spectacular beginning and middle, it is a shame that the ending is so determined to make our heads spin, that it instead loses itself in its own ambition and becomes so damned focused on trying to quickly tie every loose end and bring about a "satisfying conclusion." The end is not horrible, but it just seems so slapped together and forced that it leaves an overall unsatisfied feeling.
Do not let that be a deterrent though, because there is enough action, beauty, and overall awesomeness for fans and non-fans alike to chew on. Especially if you have a Blu-Ray player!
A visually stunning character study of one of anime's most iconic female characters with an interesting spin on her love of stealing, as well as her relationship with the other members of the Lupin III crew. Unfortunately the ending loses itself in its desire to form the whole of Fujiko that it becomes confusing. Putting that aside, this series garners a strong four star rating. — Dallas Marshall
Recommended Audience: Throw in some bloody gun play, some sexuality, and a whole lot of nudity and you get the adult train rolling! This is not at all for anyone below the age of 17.
Review Status: Full (13/13)
Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine © 2012 TMS Entertainment CO.,LTD.
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