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Spring 2012 Anime Review: Lupin the Third, Fujiko Mine

Posted June 1st, 2012 by Enrico in Japanese Culture

This is the fourth and last post in our four-part mini-series about anime airing this season in Japan. Check out last week’s post about Kids on the Slope.

Lupin III is a name that I think many old-time anime fans will be familiar with. The Japanese spin-off of Maurice LeBlanc’s master thief, Arsène Lupin, has been a household name in anime and manga since the 70’s. But this mini-series is about modern TV anime, right? What’s the old-timer doing here? Well, it turns out that one of the special productions being released to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Lupin III animated series is a new series called Lupin the Third, Fujiko Mine (Lupin III – 峰不二子という女).

For those who have never heard of him, Lupin III is descended from the world famous gentleman thief, Arsène Lupin. Like his grandfather, he’s incredibly clever and resourceful and obtains what he sets out to steal almost without fail. He even keeps with the tradition of sending out calling cards to warn the authorities of his targets. But no matter what they try, Interpol just can’t seem to catch him. The manga and animated series follows the capers of Lupin III and his crew as they try to steal the most valuable and rare treasures in the world and more often than not end up in way more trouble than they could ever have imagined.

Lupin is joined by Daisuke Jigen, the tough-as-nails hired gun turned thief. Jigen’s aim with his trusty revolver is impeccable and he always seem to have that one last bullet just when he needs it. The two are sometimes joined by Goemon Ishikawa XIII, a very stereotypical samurai who is constantly reflecting on his warrior spirit and says few words. His sword can cut through just about anything, but Goemon is very picky with his strikes and often remarks about how he has cut “yet another worthless thing.”

And then there’s Fujiko Mine. Her relationship with Lupin and his crew is… complicated. Lupin adores her and she’s sometimes genuinely attracted to him and inclined to help him out of a jam, but repeated experience has taught him that she can rarely be trusted. One minute, she’s practically jumping his bones and the next minute she’s saying goodbye as she dashes away with his mark! But she is largely a side character throughout Lupin’s adventures; sometimes she shows up and causes trouble (or gets him out of it) and sometimes she’s off doing something else. So, in a sort of departure from many of Lupin’s animated adventures, Fujiko is the star of this show and Lupin is the troublesome (and sometimes convenient!) side character who shows up in her stories.

I will say this right off the bat: for me, this show wins on the nostalgia factor alone. I was incredibly thrilled at the announcement of this series and I couldn’t wait for it to start airing. To quantify my love of things Lupin, Castle of Cagliostro, the Lupin III movie directed by Hayao Miyazaki (Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away) is my favorite anime film of all time. Yes, out of everything. Ever. There are some excellent films out there, many of them also directed by Hayao Miyazaki, so I do not state this lightly. Lupin III balances quirky fun with bits of morals and a lot of heart. It is at once entertaining and thought-provoking and, in my humble opinion, the older works have definitely stood the test of time. The new TV series carries much of the same flavor, despite shifting the focus away from Lupin III himself.

But putting aside the nostalgia factor, if I had to sum this series up in a few words I would say that it is very much an art piece. The animation style for this new series feels like what would happen if you directly colored in the panels of the manga and made a flip-book out of them. At times it is quite mesmerizing and contributes to the darker air that this series has, in stark contrast to Lupin’s previous animated adventures which are more often bright and cheerful. But that said, the new work manages to keep to its roots and bring out some laughs.

I do have some small issues with the series, though. I find it is often very focused on Fujiko’s sex appeal, which for her brief appearances in previous animated stories adds to the humor but is so pronounced in this new series that it feels outright sexist. That’s the case even if you put aside how much her naked bosom features in the opening credits. There’s even depictions of a sexual relationship between Fujiko and Lupin’s long-time nemesis from Interpol, Inspector Zenigata, though one could argue that it’s pretty difficult to tell who is using who (and admittedly, it adds considerable depth to Zenigata’s character). I don’t recall this being featured very heavily in the manga but I haven’t read enough of it to say for certain. But in short, there’s a very heavy focus on Fujiko leveraging her sex appeal to get what she wants, or being pursued and used almost entirely for her sex appeal, and that might rub some audiences the wrong way. At the same time it is, for better or worse, an essential aspect of her character and this series is all about her, after all.

So, if you’re a long-time lover of Lupin III or you’d like to watch something that is sometimes funny, sometimes thought-provoking, and told in incredibly beautiful animation, Lupid the Third, Fujiko Mine should definitely be on your watch list. It is being simulcast by Funimation at 12:30 PM EST every Friday afternoon.

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