The series acts as a prequel (or perhaps reboot) of sorts for the venerable franchise, only this time, the protagonist is longtime foil and love interest Fujiko Mine. We see Lupin’s heists, Jigen’s gunkata, and Goemon’s swordsmanship all from the perspective of the busty, cunning heroine, which adds a unique edge to the flow of things. However, the “heist of the week” formula soon gives way to a disturbing backstory about the origins of Fujiko, and why she became the strong woman that she’s known for being today. Add in some creepy people in animal masks, childhood trauma, and a misogynistic gay partner for legendary police chief Zenigata, and you’ve got a… well, you’ve got kind of a mess. The Lupin III franchise has totally won me over, which is why I’m surprised that, while the character has enjoyed a popularity in Japan over nearly fifty years that rivals that of James Bond elsewhere, it’s barely received a cult following in the States, where series like Pokemon and Dragon Ball have become a part of mainstream culture.
There’s nothing Saturday morning or G-rated about the character’s newest revival, but it’s the best thing to happen to the franchise in decades. Similar to what’s happened with Batman and Bond, the new Lupin is a darker, edgier revival that takes the character back to his origins and takes a character based,adult approach to the material. The focal character of the series isn’t Lupin, but is now Fujiko Mine, a popular character (maybe even my favorite) who had been shrunken to a supporting role in movies and specials. Sayo Yamamoto is the first female director to touch the Lupin series, and it seems all Lupin needed was a woman’s touch. What happens as a result is half crime capers, half brutally disturbing backstory that ought to have been in another show altogether. Every element at play here, from the rape-like abuse Fujiko endured to the shoehorned and poorly depicted gay character, seems jarringly out of line, and not at home with what fans really come to this series for. Stylistically, it bears a striking resemblance to Monkey Punch’s original grittier manga, but tonally, it’s darker than even that.
Playing to that expectation only to yank it back at the end (with the deliberate subtext of a creator `rewriting’ an existing character through the memory implants) gives Fujiko back her agency – it’s not some tragic defect in her character, but her own freedom of choice that leads to the life she lives, something the show goes on to present as valid. Even before then, Fujiko is always granted agency in her sexuality, and has a wide variety of relationships with the other women in the series. I’d go so far as to say that it gender-flips the common disposable girl-of-the-week formula even as the female body (Fujiko’s, by her choice, with a variety of dress for other female characters) is put on display. It’s an interesting approach to a feminist work – not always successful, particularly as Lupin talks Fujiko through the last of her fake memories, but novel and thought provoking. Lupin III: Woman Called Fujiko Mine” is certainly not great, but it sits right on the cusp of being able to be, and for anime devotees and dedicated fans of the franchise, it’s worth checking out just to see what could have been.
Lupin is still full of himself and really clever at what he does. Fujiko rivals him, but counts on her beauty as an extra. Jigen is remarkable at shooting. Goemon is an old school samurai. I think the sickest character is Fujiko and Jigen the least mental. The main flaw is the characters’ appearance. Even if they wear the same clothes as in the 70s, the drawings do not reflect their personality as well as the old ones. These, obviously, are my own interpretations, and a series like Fujiko Mine is one that begs discussion alongside enjoyment. It’s a rare gem, and I look forward to seeing more from Saya Yamamoto in the future. If nothing else, this is a breath of fresh air for Lupin, one that stands alongside the lighter fare without erasing it. Variety, after all, is the longevity of any idea.