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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

04:41:00 pm , 1921 words, 32808 views     Categories: TV, Lupin III

Lupin III: A Woman Called Fujiko Mine #13

I'm a little late in wrapping this show up, and other people have written better overviews of the good and bad aspects of the show than I probably can (notably Colony Drop and Analog Housou), but I've just seen the last episode so here are my thoughts.

I'd read the reviews, so I knew what was coming. All of the flashbacks we were presented as gradually building up to some big reveal about Fujiko's past turn out to have been planted in her brain by someone. They weren't Fujiko's memories at all. The whole show was a MacGuffin. Purporting to tell the story of Fujiko's origins, it does no such thing, and closes laughing in your face as the characters ride off into the sunset. Perhaps that is a fitting origin story for characters as protean as the Lupin III characters. There can be no origin story, and every purported origin story should be taken with a grain of salt.

The beauty of Lupin III is that its characters are so malleable. They've been re-invented constantly over the years. Everyone has a different notion of who Lupin really is in terms of his personality and visual rendering. The roundly drawn gentleman thief of Cagliostro couldn't be further from the rubbery, horse-faced schmoozer of Part 3, but both are Lupin. The characters have an amazing resilience to inhabit different personalities and situations, and that is undoubtedly part of the franchise's undying appeal. The Lupin characters here are as different as each previous Lupin III outing has been from its predecessors, but in their own way they are valid.

The problem here is that some of the changes they've made simply don't add up. My initial impression after watching episode 1 was that Zenigata's personality change didn't contribute anything and deadened the character for no reason, and Oscar was a useless add-on. I expected that impression to change as the show progressed. It didn't. Zenigata was never much of a serious opponent to Lupin or Fujiko, and Oscar was nothing more than an annoying concession to female fanservice. Fujiko, the main character, never takes anything like a leading role in her own show. She seems more of a trembling victim most of the time, which I think does her character a disservice.

In a show that was already lacking in a sufficiently strong running story, it seems doubly problematic to not only basically throw the whole story at you in the last episode, but then basically go on to say that everything that happened in the show prior to now was just BS. It comes across as saying to the audience that you're an idiot for having invested in the story and expected things to lead where the storyteller made it seem like it was leading. There's a difference between surprising the audience with an unexpected twist, and simply being capricious and taunting. The ending doesn't satisfy, it merely jerks around spasmodically in a way you didn't expect, then stops. The show had already failed to build any cohesive characters for you to invest in, and the ending doesn't offer any catharsis.

The show was extremely ambitious, and I'm almost willing to give it the benefit of the doubt for that reason. Few shows made these days can lay claim to attempting to go against the grain of the industry the way this show has, and it deserves praise for that. It almost comes across as an anti-moe anime, a morbid deconstuction of the idea of the lolita. With its feminist spin, adult themes and sophisticated writing, it was a more serious-minded and intellectualized Lupin III than has probably ever been seen. Maybe the Lupin III characters weren't enough to support such an experiment, but at the same time, who is to say what the real Lupin III is? There is no one Lupin III. Every Lupin III outing is the product of a particular team of people working at a particular time in anime history, and therefore putting the unique stamp that only they are capable of putting on the characters.

But it seems it was overweeningly ambitious, because the writers were not up to the task of putting the package together in a satisfying way. A haltingly successful deconstruction of narrative more tantalizing than convincing, it fell short as good storytelling. They clearly attempted to divide the story up over the allocated 13-episode span in a way that would provide variety and unpredictability and maintain suspense, with a different character highlighted early on, an action episode here and a story episode there, and the story gradually unfolding throughout. But the narrative merely wound up feeling disjointed and random and lacking in a cohesive central thread, and the story was not enough to support a whole series, as it could not be told in enough detail to make sense until the very last moment. I completely agree with Analog Housou that this story would have been much better suited to being told in a 90-minute TV special format.

Initially the show seemed to suggest that youthful physical and sexual abuse led to Fujiko's present day personality. It's good that that turned out not to be the case, but on the flipside, we never come away with any insight into Fujiko's personality or past. Fujiko didn't evolve out of the experience into the liberated, confident, sex-hungry lady she is today through the pain of the experience of being controlled by and overcoming her oppressor. She wasn't changed by the whole experience. She was that way to begin with. That is certainly more satisfying and less condescending than what the show seemed to be building towards, but at the same time it obviates the whole point of the story.

Ironically, filler episodes with no relation to the main story like episode 5 turned out to be the most memorable episodes in the series, largely due to the prowess of the team behind that particular episode. The moments of the show that felt best were not when the new characters like Oscar were on the screen, but when the old team dynamics began to fall into place and we could see the old characters we knew and loved beginning to emerge. The show simultaneously failed to work on the merit of its experiments, nor to usurp the musty old elements of the show. It felt like it only begrudgingly allowed the characters to be themselves, and it was those moments that shined.

The quality of the show did little to help. The animation was stolid and lacking in spark for the most part, save a few episodes or scenes where the animation stood up due to a talented person. That said, in view of the fact that they were clearly at a disadvantage in terms of schedule, I would have been willing to overlook the inferior quality of the animation, and judge them by what should have completely been in their control, namely the story. They should have made absolutely sure they had a rock-solid story even if they could not get the schedule to make each episode look perfect. The story should be the foundation. Their failure in this regard is where I can't bring myself to give the show a pass. At the same time, I can't believe that this show had that much less schedule than a show like Kemonozume or Kaiba, also one-season auteur-driven outings, and those shows were far more solid in terms of both animation and storytelling.

The big hype at the beginning of the show was that Takeshi Koike was designing the characters. That turned out to be a huge deception. I and probably others foolishly expected that he would be there behind the animation throughout the series, perhaps the way Kazuto Nakazawa was such a whirlwind force raising the quality of Samurai Champloo throughout the show. That did not turn out to be the case at all, either due to the much slower nature of Takeshi Koike's style or, more likely, because he simply didn't want to invest himself too much in the project for whatever reason. Either he was busy with other work or didn't have much faith in the project. After some work in the first episode, he was absent until the final episode, in which he drew some animation of the slo-mo bullet sequence.

The problem with the failure of the Takeshi Koike promise is that it also spelled out a failure in the animation department in general. Having his name attached led to expectations of extravagant animation, even if not of his hand, to bring alive his character designs, but the character animation was barely functional more often than not. As with many aspects of this project, enlisting Takeshi Koike seems to have been done capriciously and without sufficient thought in terms of what that required in terms of the animation, and whether his designs were appropriate to the limitations of the schedule. Obviously Redline could not have been produced in Fujiko's schedule, so perhaps Koike's efforts would have been futile anyway. Basically, despite them having gotten Takeshi Koike onboard as character designer, the characters didn't feel like his because they were so badly drawn most of the time.

On the visuals side, the show did carve out its own stylistic niche, with its moody compositions, obsessive character hatching, creative flourishes like the silhouette sequence and boat ride in episode 11, and the determinedly hand-drawn feeling of the drawings. I wasn't convinced by some of the decisions, though, especially the hatching, which felt unnecessary to the end. The obsessive depiction of owls of different kinds also felt somewhat self-indulgent and artsy rather than artistic. Aside from the affected pseudo-literary writing, that's my lingering problem with this show: it attempts to be artistic, but winds up being merely sophomorically artsy.

I want to see a Lupin III that's relevant to our world today - that addresses issues of relevance to the very different world we live in. There's no point in wallowing in old-fashioned stories of the kind that were told in the 1970s and 1980s outings. I know that, even though it's those Lupin III outings that I feel worked the best overall. Later Lupin III outings felt like hollow mimicry. At least this show is no half-hearted copy of a template. It's a bold new vision, albeit a deeply flawed one. I like that this show attempted to create a contemporary Lupin III. This show seemed somehow distantly inspired by various edgy topics in today's society - from Bhopal to child trafficking - and for that I appreciate what it tried to do, although I think they were too oblique about it still. While it's not a show I ended up liking, it's a show I very much wanted to like.

I think it's commendable to have such strong women voices as Mariko Okada and Sayo Yamamoto leading the way with a show like this. There have been women directors previously, but this is one of the first shows that was clearly a showcause of an auteur vision rather than merely a workmanlike production in which feminine and personal identity did not play a part. Their personalities come through loud and clear in the material, for good or ill. I can't bring myself to let my overwhelmingly negative opinion of the show overshadow the fact that they clearly put themselves on the line with this show and tried some daring things - some of which succeeded and others didn't - and for that they command respect and show a positive example.



Justin [Visitor]

As flawed as this version of Lupin the III is (and as you acknowledged, they are there and I know they exist), overall I enjoyed watching it from start to finish. It was as you said a new look for Lupin and the staff took a lot of risks, some which paid off, and some that didn’t. In the end, I’ll ultimately remember the series as enjoyable and personally want to own it if it comes to U.S shores.

07/18/12 @ 19:08
busterbeam [Visitor]

I wouldn’t really call episodes 5 ‘filler’ given all the character interaction it contained. I know it seems like a silly thing to complain about, but the use of the word ‘filler’ in anime fandom always seemed too loose to me.

“It felt like it only begrudgingly allowed the characters to be themselves, and it was those moments that shined.” - Now this I agree with. All the defining aspects of Lupin felt like they were just added in as an afterthought. Like they thought, ‘yeah, it’s time for a zany Lupin comedy moment now, I guess…’.

But then, if it’s one thing the relative success of this show helped me realize it’s that a considerable chunk of the fanbase views Lupin in a VASTLY different light than I do, and likely in a different light than Monkey Punch ever did. That’s the best I could come up with to explain the statement that “Fujiko is extremely true to the manga and true to Lupin", that it’s not a brand new work with a brand new tone and feel. Some people don’t view Lupin as an inherently light, comedic and non-serious look at the hard-boiled crime stories it was inspired by - they take the stories at face value, the ‘plot’ as the defining aspect of the work, and consider the jokes and comedic artwork to not be all that important in the long run.

My view, though, is pretty much the exact opposite. As I read the manga, I see it more and more as pretty much the polar opposite of Fujiko. It really has more in common with the pacing, artwork and feel of a carefree Hiroyuki Imaishi anime than it does to a super-serious seinen series, forsaking elegance in favor of vulgarity and carefree looseness (albeit with an undeniable sense of controlled chaos).

07/19/12 @ 05:58
ABCBTom [Visitor]

The more conflicting reviews I read, the more I come to the conclusion that opinion on this series depends on your exposure to Lupin and what you believe “Lupin” has to be.

I bought the original “Green Jacket” series from Discotek on the strength of Fujiko, and honestly it’s been a struggle to get through. The characters are utterly one-dimensional - I don’t see how Pycal is any more thrilling a villain that Oscar? - and you have utter trainwrecks like the witch episode. It takes until episode 10 before anything interesting happens, and even that is but a test run for the vastly superior Cagliostro.

So if older fans prefer the old Lupin, they can have him. The new fans brought in by Fujiko prefer our more thoughtful version, thanks.

07/19/12 @ 08:00
busterbeam [Visitor]

Pycal was a one-off villain, a seemingly invincible ’silent badass’ foe that was supposed to make Lupin & Jigen feel like they’ve met their match. Oscar however got far more exposure and some felt that there wasn’t enough to him as a character to justify all his screen time.

There’s certainly enjoyable characterization in Green Jacket, I think. Jigen preventing Fujiko from helping Lupin break out of jail, Zenigata impatiently waiting for Lupin to try and escape, or the hilarious moment where Goemon and Lupin decide to stop trying to kill each other, or Lupin desperately trying to keep his careless, cool attitude in front of Goemon, Fujiko and Jigen during the episode with the time-traveling villain. The characters are simple, but also likable and fun to watch.

07/19/12 @ 10:25
D.Z. [Visitor]

“It almost comes across as an anti-moe anime,”

Been sayin’ that for a while. Reply #9.

07/21/12 @ 05:29
D.Z. [Visitor]

Er, I meant #13.

07/21/12 @ 05:30
D.Z. [Visitor]

“That did not turn out to be the case at all, either due to the much slower nature of Takeshi Koike’s style or, more likely, because he simply didn’t want to invest himself too much in the project for whatever reason.”

Well, the bulk of his work is on the recent Lupin pachinko Lupin animation. He doesn’t have much clout in Japan, though, and my guess is they only attached him to the project, to get Westerners interested in it. There’s a lot of newb Lupin fans who only saw Fujiko because of Redline.

“it attempts to be artistic, but winds up being merely sophomorically artsy.”

Well, I thought that was the point. That it was making fun of otaku fodder which pretentiously acts the same way.

ABCB: “The characters are utterly one-dimensional - I don’t see how Pycal is any more thrilling a villain that Oscar?”

It’s what he represents as a character out of Lupin’s normal element.

07/21/12 @ 05:39
aaron_long [Member]

I was so frustrated by this episode that I still haven’t felt much like discussing it. The bulk of the show was annoying enough in the way that it constantly teased the viewer and mislead you with the plot, but the one thing that kept me going through the series was the hope that it would congeal into something more satisfying with the final episode. For it to do exactly the opposite and pull a “fooled you, that was all bullshit” ending just makes me want to forget about the whole show and move on. It had so many possibilities, and apart from a couple of good episodes (I did like #5 and #9) it rarely lived up to them.

07/22/12 @ 11:10
h_park [Member]

I really like Ben’s last paragraph. Granted that I haven’t watched the show yet, I like the fact that Sayo Yamamoto and Mari Okada are doing something different even though they’re not perfect as many people wanted them to be. Just because Mari Okada had hits on other shows, it doesn’t mean that we should expect to be good at every genre.

Since we’re on the subject of female creators in boys-club nature of anime production, I’ve noticed that western male fans tend to get overtly critical about Mari Okada. I think they expect too much from her. I wonder if they have voiced the same type of opinion on other writers who are predominantly males.

07/31/12 @ 21:34
Muffin [Visitor]

Haven’t watched the show either, but on the overall strength of her writing so far, I never saw reason to be particulary critical of Okada. Of course Okada to me is mostly synonymous with AnoHana which is certainly one of the most passionate and well-crafted anime series in recent history. The show’s youthful and sentimental ethos is, way more so than many similar attempts, well-developed and well-earned.

the most I’ll say against AnoHana is that, having rewatched it recently, the first episode really isn’t the strongest opener. Despite being one of the most highly worked episodes, the pacing and drawings often seem less vivid than most of the subsequent episodes.

On the topic of Takeshi Koike. I’m unsure to what extent he’s the guy to bring in for efficient character-animation. He draws cool-looking characters that would look great on a t-shirt, and he’s obviously got his highly worked ’sakuga’ moments of characters performing extreme actions. But apart from that I thought even Redline suffered heavily from long stretches of glossy drawings with rudimentary or inert character/dramatic tension. Even if they were trying to be interesting, like the four-armed old mechanic or the yakuza boss who’s always performing some bizzare action. Though I don’t think the problem is his designs per se.

As mentioned, I haven’t watched the show but I wonder whether calling the series an “anti-moe anime” is really any more definitive or meaningful than calling K-ON! an “anti-macho action anime” or Jin-roh an “anti-kids transforming hero anime". At any rate I’m weary of the phrase “moe". It’s a by now meaningless buzzword that vaguely references dumb shows with overtly glossy girls or something. I take it this show is less dumb and the girls less overtly glossy.

in a more overall sense, I’ve really been enjoying Ben’s coverage of the Lupin III franchise. Though what I consider definite Lupin III is mostly about the early movies and tv specials. The stylings and highly imaginative and elaborate storytelling of films like Secret of Mamo, Goodbye Lady Liberty and even the somewhat uneven(?) Gold of Babylon is really what captures my imagination. And of course, I love Cagliostro as well.

08/14/12 @ 13:14
Muffin [Visitor]

Hmm…regarding my last comment on Koike/redline, I recently rewatched (parts of)the film on a better screen and it actually improved my impressions considerably. So I may have to re-evaluate it…

It does bring up an issue I’ve become increasingly conscious of over the years: the importance of actually watching visual media in an ideal or at least best possible format. The feeling of texture, and how the eye follows, or focuses on the imagery can differ considerably.

10/02/12 @ 03:10
SDShamshel [Visitor]

I wrote a bit before(, but in expanding my thoughts, the thing I really loved about the ending to “Fujiko” and the series in general was that it was an incredibly reflective show. It made me think about my own perceptions of not just what “Lupin III” is but also the ways in which a character like Fujiko is “supposed” to fit into our assumptions.

As the show was building up towards the end, as you mentioned there was this uncomfortable idea that Fujiko became who she is because of sexual abuse. While it’s an often overused and potentially problematic origin for a female character, for some reason it felt especially inappropriate and even damaging for the character of Fujiko, and the finale’s reveal that it was all a lie had me stepping back and truly asking myself what it is about Fujiko as a character and perhaps even as a character archetype that makes the “past of abuse” so incongruous.

The answer I arrived at is that just as the finale practically says, Fujiko is more transcendent than any concrete past would truly let her be, a character who’s at the same time both deceptively simple yet layered with complexities, a combination of exaggerated (haha) iconic features and traits and embodied interactions with her fellow “Lupin” characters. Pegging her to a particular event in her past which “made” her into the woman she is, even if it weren’t so unsettling as the one initially proposed by the series itself, already would have come with its own set of problems.

Then I realized that “Fujiko” itself is a kind of origin story as we see her first interacting with Lupin, and so beneath that meta-commentary on the way “Fujiko” is seen there was a more valuable exploration of her past all along.

08/20/13 @ 21:56
Lana [Visitor]

“So if older fans prefer the old Lupin, they can have him. The new fans brought in by Fujiko prefer our more thoughtful version, thanks.”

Glad you liked the new show, but there’s no need to be so rude to fans of the older Lupin series. This is all about taste and last I checked, this article did not claim new fans were pretentious or deluded for liking Fujiko Mine, so please do not insinuate old-school fans are brainless fools for enjoying what they do.

Honestly, this show felt hollow to me, even though like Ben I wanted to like it and was excited for something other than another tired TV special. I’ve read analysis from people who love it and I am glad they found something in this series to love, but it’s just not for me I suppose.

I will admit, I liked some of the characterizations though, Lupin and Jigen’s especially. Oscar didn’t bother me so much either. And the art direction impressed me a lot too.

07/07/14 @ 13:29
Alexander [Member]

Thank you for your reasonableness, Lana

An old-school fan

07/28/14 @ 15:33
Erik [Visitor]

So Ben, what are your thoughts on the Blue Jacket series coming in spring? And have you seen Jigen’s Gravestone yet?

12/14/14 @ 21:21
Ben [Member]  

I’m excited. At a basic level it’s nice to have another series finally, but Tomonaga was a great choice for director. If anyone can do it right, it’s Tomonaga, who did so much of the best work in the second series and Cagliostro and Fuma. Those are (among) the outings that attracted me to and defined Lupin in my mind for many years, so I’m happy to see something veering in that direction. It’s the kind of Lupin I personally want to see. His choice as director seems to indicate that they’re going for something more aimed at a general audience than the more maniacal Fujiko Mine outing, something striking a balance between intelligent writing and adult themes and plain old silly fun. Judging by the little bit of artwork that’s been released, they’re obviously toning down the edgy styling of Fujiko Mine and Jigen’s Gravestone and returning towards the classic (Cagliostro) look. The only uncertainty is that Tomonaga is an animator first and foremost. The one time in his long career that he did direct (Buta) was underwhelming. Also I was underwhelmed by what his studio Telecom turned in for the Elusive Fog special. So I’m happy Telecom is at the helm, but I’m a little nervous about whether they’ve still got it in them to bring that Telecom spark of old. Even if the name is the same, the company is inevitably different after 30+ years. What I’d like to see is a return to the loose sensibility of the early outings - not being fussy about creating cool drawings and intricate movement, instead focus on creating lively and broad character acting, creative action set pieces in the spirit of Fuma’s car chase and underground climax, even if the drawings aren’t 100% accurate. The apparent roughness of Fujiko Mine was in fact quite the opposite, a very laborious and calculated graphic expressiveness. Light and sprightly is what I’d like to see.

Going out on a limb, I’d love to see Yuzo Aoki come back, even for just a little cameo, but that is highly unlikely, since he hasn’t been involved in anything since Part III and isn’t at all associated with Telecom. I’m not even sure he’s still working.

Nope, I haven’t seen Jigen’s Gravestone yet but I’ll have a look at it right away. I’m happy to watch anything with Jigen in the lead.

12/15/14 @ 13:42