Looking back at the various incarnations of Fujiko Mine, any observer will recognise a mere handful of common traits, most of them incidental (sexy, traitorous, gunslinger), rather than grasp fully who she is as a person. So, perhaps it helps to focus on what she isn’t: definable, fathomable, consistent. The enduring allure of Fujiko Mine across generations and several reinterpretations is that she rarely lets us see into her soul. In some past incarnations this was because of lazy characterisation or sheer necessity of the plot – Fujiko Mine turned up to steal and cock-tease and left before we could ever get even a glimpse of her personality. In this reimagining, courtesy of Sayo Yamamoto, the dazzling creative mind behind 2008’s Michiko to Hatchin, that very opacity in Fujiko’s personality is no longer an accident but rather the point. In that sense, like many great anime, The Woman Called Fujiko Mine is about a mystery; just that the mystery is not external to the protagonist but the protagonist herself.
This focus on the main character is what stabilises what otherwise remains a disjointed set of episodic adventures comprising the usual Lupin pick’n’mix of comedy, violence, drama, and action. In any given episode something must be stolen, there will be gunshots and stunts, possibly explosions, the infamous thief Lupin will try to seduce Fujiko, and Fujiko will try to seduce whoever is left. This is one of the more violent and explicit additions to the franchise, adding decapitations, frequent nudity, and blood splatters. Often the violence worked for me by imparting a grittiness that offset the more bizarre flights of fancy and became the bitter complement to the erotic sweet. I found the bawdy humour, which operates on a level similar to that of corny British soft core porn, much less appreciable. Broadly, though, this is a faithfully kitschy adventure spanning, in the manner of Indiana Jones, from the pyramids of Egypt to the fertile gardens of a girls’ boarding school and offering the kind of storytelling borrowed from the 1960s when people still believed in such unlikely crap as master thieves.
On the other hand, despite performing the usual motions, The Woman Called Fujiko Mine is not about what it seems to be about. That is no small feat. So much of the content would have suffice for mere entertainment, and indeed, I’ve seen anime fans lap up much shallower fare with baffling relish. However, beneath the lewd flirtation and lovingly contrived action sequences, The Woman Called Fujiko Mine attempts to smuggle in some finer detail for those who care to look for it. Much of the series involves subtle sleight of hand, from the way we perceive characters to the direction in the action. Take Fujiko’s and Lupin’s dialogue for example, it is only vaguely about flirting – rather, it is always about one-upmanship. During a pool-side scene in episode five, for instance, Fujiko asks Lupin if he’s trying to get her, and the infamous thief responds that once he sets out to steal something, he always gets it. He may simply be talking about desiring her, but, more meaningfully, his boast lays bare his prowess at stealing while declaring something else that becomes more obvious towards the end. So pervasive is the script’s subterfuge that even when we finally come to the truth about Fujiko, it’s actually hard to say we really have it.
Style is not over substance here; rather style is inherent to substance. The retro comic book art, with its thick black pencil lines for shadow and simplistic colouring, props up the host of kitsch adventures. Any overt beauty to be found here radiates mainly from Takeshi Koike’s (Redline) design for Fujiko. His imagination elevates her to the status of a goddess, pure and simple, a saucy minx with hints of divinity who exudes childlike sweetness in her smile as easily as she does vengeful menace in her grimace.
The Woman Called Fujiko Mine delivers frenetic music that chops and changes as rapidly as its scenery. Brief tribal interludes will turn into chaotic jazzy refrains, only for the latter to melt away in waves of haunting solo vocals. The opening theme, intriguingly, consists of spoken prose over a tuneless instrumental while the end theme comes the closest resembling a marketable pop song. But for all its eclecticism, the score remains rather unassuming, so that I fear no-one will come away remembering much of it.
In a delightful twist that brings to mind Revolutionary Girl Utena and Brother, Dear Brother, Yamamoto transforms Fujiko from a victim of patriarchy to a symbol of complex female sexuality. Here is how I see the difference. In most shows Fujiko is defined by her sexuality. This happens, for instance, both in the exploitative first TV series as well as in the family-friendly Hayao Miyazaki classic, Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro. In the original, Fujiko’s sexuality is all there is, and being a sex kitten becomes synonymous with being a bad person not to be trusted. The message is simple, women who screw also lie and cheat and are not believable. They are certainly not heroes. In the tamer movie, Miyazaki falls into the same trap by divorcing sexuality from virtue, so that in order to be a likeable hero, the woman must be stripped of her sexuality. She’s strong, she’s convincing, and she can be trusted to help because she does not get naked with men. But in Yamamoto’s version, what can we make of Fujiko? Here Fujiko is sometimes a hero (saving a revolutionist from certain ruin) and other times a deviant (seducing vulnerable teenage girls for their loot), all the while remaining a sexually free individual pragmatic about her carnality rather than being trapped into using them as means (see 99% of episodes). Sex is part of her but it does not define her either in presence or absence.
But for fear of committing the ironic act of discussing Fujiko purely in terms of her sexuality while denying her objectification, I’ll add the following. This show offers an impressively thorough explanation for her character without spoiling her for everyone. Through most of the episodes I thought of Fujiko as a woman in search of a past, but coming away from the show, I am convinced she is merely a woman enjoying life as it befalls her. Her mystery is that there is no profound internal dynamic driving her: she is not torn up with angst, she is not ablaze with all-consuming hatred, but neither is she a cheery shoujo princess wanting to save the world through self-sacrifice. She challenges this great need we have for (anti)heroes with grand purposes and denies that life for anyone – especially for a woman – must play according to scripted rules. Above all, Yamamoto’s Fujiko is a mystery because she fits none of our preconceptions, and that makes her frightening, aggravating, bizarre, and above all, fascinating.
The director’s approach to the thief Lupin also impressed me (a bit like Miyazaki’s version of him, but not to the same level). Abstracted from various interpretations, I find Lupin an inherently deplorable concept – all selfish acts and lewd thoughts, a banal hedonist. He’s just a hungry Id made manifest, grabbing whatever he wants, whether it be treasures or titties. In The Woman Called Fujiko Mine, this aspect of him is not so much toned down as given a human twist. He still just wants things, however, his desire for Fujiko stretches beyond animalistic libido to sincere admiration of her fierce independence. Moreover, his lewd gestures arguably take on new meaning in a context where Fujiko is dominant, so that I could see his crass advances as an old in-joke between two equally autonomous beings who know when not to cross the line. In fact, it might very well be the case that, with this mingling of lust and admiration, Lupin might actually be in love and not just in lust. Sharpshooter Daisuke Jigen, samurai Goemon Oshikawa, and frustrated detective Koichi Zenigata, are more straightforwardly likeable than Fujiko or Lupin but also predictable for veteran fans of the franchise. They show up and perform their shtik and then get out of the way again. One exception may be Zenigata’s sidekick, Oscar, whose dark beauty and coy homosexuality make him an intriguing extension of the show’s eroticism.
Fujiko Mine remains indefinable but that is precisely what we love about her. So malleable is she as a concept that Yamamoto has been able to transform her from a traiterous sex object to a powerful, autonomous person while never betraying the Fujiko tradition. Fujiko is also successful here because she manages not just to captivate other characters, but to break the barrier of the television screen and entrance us, ensuring we follow her into fire and back. I offer reassurance, though, that fans will not just like this show for what it does anew, but also for the nostalgia it delivers. Experienced fans will savour the little homages to previous shows strewn throughout the story and recognise the boldness and vivacity of preceding Lupin works mirrored here. This ensures a caper that is, though light on the common sense, still utterly satisfying. To those who argue that the sex is still too much, I recommending closing your eyes and imagining Fujiko as clothed throughout the whole show. Still a fantastic character, no?
Fujiko Mine: a woman so beguiling that the greatest thief on earth, Lupin III, has vowed to claim her as his most prized quarry. And while men lust after her, she only has eyes for one thing – all the beautiful treasures in the world that she can possibly steal. From the haunted opera houses of Japan to the boobie-trapped pyramids of Egypt, Fujiko uses both violence and sex to manipulate those who stand in her way. But with the tireless Lupin intervening in every situation to 'take' her, and the skilled rogues Jigen and Goemon entangling their own personal vendettas with hers, how is a woman to realize her wildest desires?
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