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?
ANIME EVOLUTION SERIES
Full list of the review series can be found on this blog:
Animated by Nippon Animation, which has made many movies and specials over the decades, the most famous being this one. Lupin the Third is historically speaking the first great action/adventure anime, and also one of the oldest still living franchises, over 50 years old and continuously making more entries every year. It stopped having many fans decades ago though, since it was always episodic and repetitive. It didn’t have much variety in its missions and nobody would develop, much less be killed if he is a major character, so this was expected. Furthermore, although you could always appreciate its zany comedy, spicy erotic humor, and lively characters, the whole 70’s feel with adult thieves running around and shooting at thugs while trying to steal treasure and feel some female flesh just didn’t appeal to most after the sci-fi and school comedies became a hit in the 80’s.
An interesting thing to notice is how about half of those who have been exposed to the franchise have only watched The Castle of Cagliostro, just because it was made by Hayao Miyazaki. The rest of them were never hyped much or didn’t have the same production values so they went into obscurity for many. That gave a somewhat misleading image of what the main series was all about, since Miyazaki’s envision made it appear to be just a silly teen adventure when in fact the canon would be quite vulgar, violent, and erotic at times.
So the next addition to the franchise is now actually a prequel, showing how the main characters got to meet in the first place. That was never really shown in the original series, since they were all a team since the pilot episode. And to no surprise, it all happened because of Fujiko’s non-stop backstabbing; for that reason she is now the main character instead of Lupin. This was received in a rather negative way from most, since the fans claimed she was always weak and nothing but eye candy, while all the charisma and gar action belonged to the male team of the thieves. And it’s true, she can’t fight at all and only uses her seduction as means to get her ways, something of which hardly means action or suspense. Women were always useless in such shows and especially half a century ago. I on the other hand believe that this was a good twist to the formula for two reasons.
- It is different. Enough with Lupin stealing the show, let someone else get some screen time.
- It is more appealing. What are the chances of someone watching a show that has an unshaved middle aged non-bishounen dude in the cover? How easy is it if it shows a hot naked babe?
But enough with that, what about the show itself? If Lupin lost its magic decades ago, what hopes would it have to make a comeback now? Well, it all comes down to presentation and DAMN does it look artsy. And I don’t mean that Kyoto Animation tired moe / breathtaking vista copypasta artsy, of which I got bored a decade ago; I meant it in a rather gritty/retro way. The opening video is one of the most bizarre ones you will ever hope to encounter, a weird blend of poems, classical music and art nouveaux. The characters retain their retro style but the lightning effects are to the most part nothing more than vertical lines, giving the whole show a comic book feel. The backgrounds are also rather trippy as they are colored in a stylized or monochromatic way to bring out an emotional response. The whole thing looks so damn special; it stands out from the done to death school grounds and typical-colored shows out there. This alone makes it attracting very easily.
Oh, I must not miss to mention the whole nude thing in this show. There is a heck of a lot as the heroine is not wearing any clothes half the time. Ok, the genitalia are always hidden in darkness or from some object but you get lots of in your face breasts and butt. Nothing over the top sleazy compared to what other shows do with ecchi these days but it definitely is not for the younger audience. I could bring out the rather gorish death scenes too but let’s just stick to how this show is not a typical shounen, and is aimed at older teens and above. There is a lot of nudity, a lot of implied sex, and males who don’t scream and run away crying if they touch a boob. You have been warned.
Don’t go expecting much of a story in the first half, since the missions are still episodic and quite straightforward. Some mystery may appear at times but it is revealed and resolved ten minutes later. But at least we get some backgrounds revealed around the early lives of the heroes and how they came together, so we can say there is a somewhat plot and development in here for a change. Especially the second half focuses a lot on the dramatic past of Fujiko, so the whole show becomes nothing more than her doing stuff and revealing her tragedies. Still, even here the plot is loose.
Although there is a lot of action it is always about the cool factor and has very little realism about it. The same goes for the characters; they are all two-dimensional but extremely charismatic by being too good and cool or sexy in whatever they are doing. You get the super smart thief, the super gunner, the super swordsman, and a slutty enchantress roaming around the world, shooting at criminals, running away from the police, and stealing stuff just for the heck of it. If you are satisfied with that, then you will get a blast out of this show. If not, you can always appreciate the very unique feel of the animation and the music. That is the timeless magic of Lupin the Third.
I wouldn’t call this anime a masterpiece but it sure is amongst the most interesting titles that came out in 2012, which is a wasteland for newer anime.
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 9/10
General Artwork 2/2 (artsy)
Character Figures 2/2 (generic but quite memorable)
Backgrounds 2/2 (basic but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Animation 1/2 (basic)
Visual Effects 2/2 (artsy)
SOUND SECTION: 9/10
Voice Acting 2/3 (corny but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Music Themes 4/4 (atmospheric)
Sound Effects 3/3 (great)
STORY SECTION: 4/10
Premise 1/2 (typical)
Pacing 1/2 (loose)
Complexity 1/2 (not much)
Plausibility 0/2 (none)
Conclusion 1/2 (cheesy)
CHARACTER SECTION: 7/10
Presence 2/2 (cool/sexy)
Personality 2/2 (cheesy but well founded)
Backdrop 1/2 (generic and simplistic but it’s there)
Development 1/2 (overblown but it’s there)
Catharsis 1/2 (overblown but it’s there)
VALUE SECTION: 8/10
Historical Value 3/3 (all-known)
Rewatchability 1/3 (low because of too little plot)
Memorability 4/4 (extremely artsy to the point of forever remembering it)
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 7/10
Art 1/1 (looks artsy)
Sound 2/2 (sounds special)
Story 1/3 (feels generic)
Characters 3/4 (they are cool but don’t exactly have much context)
My god, this series was the biggest struggle I've faced yet as a Lupin fan. I've been seeing a lot of love for this thing on here and that concerns me for many reasons. One of which is that, in essence, this ISN'T a Lupin series, and is no good for new fans to the franchise. It doesn't have the typical charm and feel of the majority of Lupin stories, and throws them out in favor of a bunch of contrived, bizarro shock value bullshit that ends up basically meaningless in the end, as far as the main plot is concerned. But I suppose, if this were to happen in any character-centric spinoff series from Lupin, it makes the most sense for Fujiko. I must admit she's my personal least favorite of the major five characters, sorry to you big Fujiko fanatics but I've only seen like three portrayals of her so far where she felt like a genuinely likable character; if you're here to see a Fujiko-type character done right and actually like her, just go watch Big O and check out the character Angel. But anyway, I'm digressing a bit much. This series has so very little to offer; sure the animation is very impressive, but that's basically it. The music isn't even done by 40-year Lupin soundtrack veteran Yuji Ohno (enough said, the only notably great non-Yuji Lupin soundtrack was by the folks who did Fuma Conspiracy), as previously mentioned the main overarching story is a big stinker, and as for the characters....Sure there's the downside of having to follow Fujiko consistently through a series, and there's the horrendous character of Oscar to have to deal with too (he isn't the most hated Lupin character for no reason, my buds), but the most personally upsetting thing about the characters in this series to me was Zenigata. This series was the most horrendously out of character they could have ever made the man. In the general Lupinverse, his entire character is supposed to be centered around being a practical lawful good type of guy. He's a man that cares about upholding the law, striving toward the betterment of the greater good and helping others, and even rising above corruption when he has to (*points excitedly at the wonderful Zenigata scenes at the end of Castle of Cagliostro*). This series flipped him entirely on his head to the point where he legitimately didn't feel like Zenigata anymore; in fact, I had to start headcannoning him as Zeni's secret evil twin brother mere episodes into suffering through the series just to justify it to myself. In Fujiko Mine, he's the epitome of typical corrupt cop, doing shit like giving information to her in exchange for them fucking, and plenty else. It was so bad that even seeing Zenigata in the similar art styles of the (much better) Jigen and Goemon spinoff movies just puts me on edge. They really messed him up, and as my 2nd favorite character of the entire series, it was a big red x in making this series severely unlikable for me. The characters (whether new or distorted beyond recognition) and the sheer stupidity of the edgy, ultimately worthless plot were the main two factors why this series will probably remain my least favorite thing related to the Lupin franchise, by far, for a long while. If you really need to watch it, just do it after familiarizing yourself with several of the standard, better Lupin works; grab a friend and riff on how shit it is together, because that'll probably be the easiest way to get through it. Good luck.
What I Liked: Brilliantly stylish art design. The soundtrack is the right mixture of classy jazz and unsettling experimental electronic music and it never feels out of place. Oscar, for being an interesting addition to the cast. Fujiko's flashbacks are utterly frightening and quite easily the best part of the series. Episode 9. Miyuki Sawashiro does a brilliant job as the complicated femme fatale Fujiko.
What I Didn't: Proportions are a bit too fluid at times, occassionally falling into "lol how does skeleton work?" territory. Oscar, for really not helping things by being a walking talking Effeminate Misogynistic Guy AND Depraved Homosexual. The series jumps decades like it's nobody's business. Episode 7.
Final Verdict: Stylish, fun and a little bit sexy, The Woman Called Fujiko Mine is a thrilling and titillating romp full of morally-bankrupt characters and treasures galore. While the time-unspecific setting and copious amounts of Tits and Arse might leave some viewers out in the cold, the series does an interesting job of presenting anime's favourite femme fatale (and her fellow thieving acquaintances) in a new, unflattering light.