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The second-to-last episode begins the descent to the climax on the roller-coaster ride that has been Lupin III: A Woman Called Fujiko Mine. Appropriately, this episode takes place in a creepy abandoned amusement park, with an extended action scene on a roller-coaster. Fujiko and Zenigata embark on a not-so-fun ride through a funhouse that plays out like a sick version of Disney's It's a Small World ride (the holiday season display in particular appears to have been directly copied), replete with creepy children's choirs, replaying through imaginatively twisted imagery the disturbing history of Fujiko.
The episode is full of reveals and explanations, without quite making everything clear. Some things we could piece together without being told: Fujiko tried to kill the tattoo girl because she was being controlled by someone else, as Fujiko had been, and Fujiko wanted to 'kill her own past'. Others are news to me: The experimental drug research was not limited to Fujiko but also involved kidnapping little girls the world over. Fujiko gives Zenigata the key to linking a recent string of disappearances around the world. All the players are present in the same episode for the first time - Lupin, Goemon, Jigen, Zenigata and Fujiko. My problem with the show is that it doesn't really have a story; it just teases you for 10 episodes and then tells you what happened at the end, rather than providing a story that unfolds throughout the show.
I appreciate that the show is attempting to create a heady and edgy mixture of blunt sexuality, dark imagery and psychological drama aimed at adult viewers, and it's great to have a show that is at least attempting to do something sophisticated and smart in anime. It's one of the few Lupin shows that is genuinely for adults. But something that turns me off about it is the way the show rubs your face in the anguish, cruelty and masochism, for example the gag about the doll that screams 'More!' as it's being shot, rather than being a little more subtle about it.
The strange thing about the story to me is that, even as they're revealing things gradually, and you begin to understand the pieces of the puzzle, it's still hard to make sense of it in your head. It remains a blur, rather than feeling like it at comes into focus. It feels like needlessly confusing and jumbled storytelling.
When Jigen comments that this whole thing has nothing to do with him, and asks why he has to be involved, Lupin comments that he and Jigen are nothing but unwitting cast members pulled into the story of Fujiko Mine. Meaning to say, all of the later stories would not exist if it weren't for this story of Fujiko.
The episode is satisfying due to the storyboard by Yokoyama Akitoshi, which makes the rather jumbled storytelling clear while watching, and switches seamlessly between drama, action and visual storytelling. I particularly liked some of the background drawings like the drawing of the mansion pictured above. Perhaps they had reference material, but if not, it's an impressively creative design. The whole funhouse scene had a lot of nice visuals. It was a clever way of representing Fujiko's history, with the three stages of Fujiko's growth from infancy to adolescence to adulthood embodied by the different dolls of the funhouse. Overall the episode created a dense narrative texture that is impressive for being so layered. The scene with the tickets was pretty funny.
The animation was slightly stronger than usual, but still uneven. There were several surprise faces - Masaaki Yuasa and Hiroyuki Imaishi and other talented names like Osamu Nabeshima, Hiroshi Shimizu and Yoshio Mizumura. There was even Hirotoshi Takaya as one of the four co-sakkans under the four sakkans. On top of having no less than 8 sakkans, there was a slew of seconds, showing that right down to the end it was a battle. Imaishi's scene was patently obvious - falling into the water - as was Yuasa's - the dolls with huge boobs. Lupin running down the building reminded a bit of the scene in Cagliostro where Lupin runs vertically down a wall to save Clarissa as she's falling. The whole scene on the roller coaster prior to Imaishi's scene was also pretty nice.
I agree with your complaint about the show’s overall narrative– showing us a bunch of events happening, and then explaining what those events mean at the end of the series doesn’t make those events retroactively entertaining. And unfortunately that’s even more true of Episode 13- I guess it does tell you all the information by the end, but it still doesn’t make up for the past 12 episodes of confusion and frustration. To be honest I’m just kind of relieved the series is over. For a little while around Episodes 8-12 it _almost_ seemed like the writers knew where they wanted to go, but it never really comes together, and it ultimately ends up being a very annoying conclusion.
That said, I did enjoy a few moments in this episode, mainly centered around Lupin and Jigen, as usual. Specifically the ticket scene, the ice cream, the discussion about their involvement in the story and of course the Yuasa and Imaishi scenes. I also liked when the decision to end the episode with the theme song playing as background music.
Yes, there are always little bits here and there that are nice in each episode, but in the end overall the episode winds up disappointing. A common refrain in this show. As much as I started out with great expectations, I have to admit I’m also looking forward to the show being over. It’s been more frustrating than it has been entertaining to me. I just wanted to see it through to the end.