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Don't watch this episode with grandma.
Episode 5 was an anomaly in this show - a straightforward but cleverly written caper unfolding through dynamic action, in the spirit of the old Lupin III. That's not what this show is really about. Episode 6 is what this show is really about. To my eyes, this episode is the most dense expression yet of the show's purpose.
It's doing the show a disservice to simply view it as a prequel. It's something different from that. It seems to me a deeply revisionist outing that aims to undermine the male-centric sensibility of the old franchise.
The name of the show was the first provocation. For the 40th anniversary of Lupin III, they scored the sly coup of dethroning the protagonist right in his glory moment in the guise of a side-story about one of the sub-characters, in the process reversing the dynamics of the old show and making the erstwhile protagonists an afterthought, as Fujiko was often treated.
Fujiko, despite being depicted as a cunning foe in the old show, was basically the product of a male gaze in terms of her visual rendering and sexual meaning. The remarkable thing about the new show is that, despite Fujiko being naked much of the time, she isn't erotic. I'm almost reminded of the anti-eroticism of the nude scene in Godard's Contempt. The nudity doesn't come across as titillating. Fujiko seems to feel contempt for anyone who would lust after her. Despite the prevalence of mammaries, the show will be of little 'practical use' to fans of Seikon no Quaser. The nude drawings are pleasing for not being fan-servicey in the traditional sense, not the lust-filled products of male fantasy. The drawings (and spirit of the show) remind me of Kazuko Nakamura's curvy, feminime, de-eroticized Cleopatra.
They have chutzpah, and I have to hand it to them for that, at least. It almost seems to be missing the point to complain that the characters are too different, there isn't enough action, the animation isn't good enough, though I can't deny that those are the first things that spring to my mind while watching this show, since it's the early Lupin III that made me a fan of this show, and this is essentially a different beast altogether. It seems like a different audience.
As for this episode, it's basically Lupin III via Brother, Dear Brother, with its bizarre girls' school in which apparently every girl has a lesbian crush on their teacher - which in turn reminded me why I couldn't get past episode 1 of that show. Instead of a male fantasy, now it's a female fantasy, and I'm not sure it's much of an improvement. I just didn't find the episode particularly interesting or entertaining. All of the characters were ridiculous to me, especially Oscar (a nod to Rose of Versailles?).
The episode was written by Mari Okada and storyboarded/directed by Shoko Nakamura, so it's a thoroughly female gaze episode. You know it's girly when they call in Tadashi Hiramatsu, who presumably did the scene near the end that refreshingly had some sprightly drawings/movement for once.
We've been seeing flashbacks to Fujiko's childhood for a while now, usually drawn in a bizarro byzantine style, and there was a particularly bizarro one this time around, with Fujiko eating mice while owl men experiment on her, interspersed with borderline illegibly florid Gothic type-on-steroids doggerel and avant garde background noise. The flashbacks seem to be building towards a revelation of some new sexual, druggy, disturbing vision of Fujiko's childhood.
There was a curious moment where they reference the famous line near the end of Cagliostro where Zenigata says to Clarissa that Lupin has stolen the worst thing of all... your heart. The suggestion is treated as nothing so much as a joke. Aside from being a playful reference to one of the movies that established the franchise, it seems to poke fun at the naive romanticism of Miyazaki's Lupin to underline how much more rooted in frank sexuality and psychology this series is.
They gleefully revel in the prurient stuff in this episode, with Fujiko deep-tonguing schoolgirls and being doused with wine while strapped naked to a bench, which bothered me less than the pretentiousness and literary affectations of the script. Kemonozume had a much more sexually frank shower love scene that I found quite beautiful, so the sexual material is not what bothers me. If anything, what bothers me is that all of the characters seem sadistic for no good reason, and the script is weirdly eager to devise cruel turns of phrase, i.e. calling Fujiko a "spitpot". A spitpot? Huh? The writing is way overbaked. Belladonna is one of my favorite films, and Borowczyk one of my favorite directors. I wanted to see more adult material in Lupin III, so I find it ironic that I'm disappointed by what I'm seeing. I also found the episode needlessly confusing in terms of the directing. Confusing directing isn't artistic, it's just confusing.
At least the squirrels were funny.