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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

09:57:00 pm , 837 words, 3980 views     Categories: Animation, TV, Lupin III

Lupin III: A Woman Called Fujiko Mine #6


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.

Permalink

8 comments

anonymous
anonymous [Visitor]

I’ll admit first-hand that I’m not really seeing the whole idea that the sexualization in this show is not meant to be viewed ‘that way’. It’s different from something like Seikon no Qwaser, of course, because this is a different show for a different audience, but I really don’t think it’s meant to be “anti-eroticism” either, not by a mile. It’s something that certain fans say to defend the show and its overt sexuality, but the there’s still the fans that basically respond with “why do you hate boobs". And truly the way it is shot still screams ‘audience pleasing’ to me, plain and simple. “Fujiko seems to feel contempt for anyone who would lust after her” not necessarily more than she does in the past media, imo. This version of Zenigata is hardly the most likable character anyway.

I also really doubt they will do anything actually sexual with Fujiko’s flashbacks, regardless of certain fan theories. It’s just kind of hard to portray a scene as strange and physically intrusive as that without coming off as creepy that way, especially when a child is involved, but I certainly wouldn’t call it sexual either. It was a disturbing scene, of course, but I think some people are trying to read something very sexual in it as a way to somehow increase this show’s potential as a dark, controversial, super-serious thing.

It should also be noted that while the ‘yuri all-girls school’ thing started in shoujo manga, shows like Marimite have a considerable male following that even the anime staff openly acknowledged and it has also been co-opted by male authors over time. And that K-ON! had a female staff too.

Maybe I’m just in denial here because I really want to like this show, but some of the accusations of pretentiousness seem to come more from a lot of common fan theories of what the show is truly about than what it is actually intending to do. It’s kind of hard to watch this while disregarding those now.

05/10/12 @ 05:10
Anonymous
Anonymous [Visitor]

To elaborate on my first point: What I’m saying is that the old Fujiko did this sort of thing too. She was closest to Lupin, and even then she literally tried to kill him and his friends multiple times, and with every other guy she seduced there wasn’t even a kind of respectful rivalry there, just “I will steal this dumb guy’s stuff". Certainly by having Fujiko in the spotlight they are trying to make her a more relatable character and more than ‘the hot girl’, but the latter is still an important part of her character and I don’t think her sexualization is drawn in a ‘non-eroticized’ way at all. Once again it’s not drawn and delivered like SnQ because this isn’t SnQ.

Also elaborating on my second point: I believe that they really wouldn’t give Fujiko a ‘childhood sexual abuse’ past because
1. ‘Fujiko chokes on worms and mouse heads, owl doctors surround her and remove them’ is really not the best way of suggesting ‘childhood sexual abuse’ as much as something way more elaborate than that and frankly quite macabre. Plus, considering the type of show that this is, I don’t see them shying away from suggesting actual sexual abuse; there are many ways to imply that which would make more sense.

2. if they did that, it totally seems like pulling a “she was sexually abused as a kid so that’s why she’s so sexually open” thing which is awful as all hell and not really a good way to make the show more relatable to female fans.

But as I said it seems like there are two segments of this show’s fanbase, the “you see actually the nudity is artistic and not at all meant to be audience pleasing, furthermore,” hyper-analyst crowd vs the “why do you hate boobs” one that just takes it as a girlier but still ‘dumb fun’ Lupin show.

05/10/12 @ 05:39
melchizedek
melchizedek [Visitor]

I’m glad that I’m getting to watch this show now that Funimation’s streaming it (too bad I needed to make an account on the site to do that).

And I’ve pretty much been agreeing with most of your sentiments throughout, particularly in the portrayal of nudity. It’s too blatant, too obvious, with no coyness or lust charge; it’s just there. And it’s kind of confident. Which, I realize is in part because women are directing it.

Going along with the ups and downs of this show right now, mainly because I’m interested in seeing how far it moves away from any traditional sense of Lupin, if I can even say that. Like most people, I only know Lupin from the second series, and Cagliostro.

I can easily see Fujiko’s past overtaking later episodes, which worries me, because I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not. It’s obvious that that’s what the show wants to get to. I feel it could…. potentially be a strength of this series, with how radical it feels when the flashbacks intrude.

But at the same time, I don’t know these writers. I don’t know the directors. I don’t know what they’re capable of. I probably will after this show is over.

Alongside this, I’m also enjoying Uchuu Kyoudai, which may not have any particularly outstanding animation or writing, but just feels great to watch.

05/11/12 @ 13:14
D.Z.
D.Z. [Visitor]

BTW, I hope you take the time to look into Fujiko’s Unlucky Days/Columbus Files. I think the new show is “borrowing” its ideas from that special.

05/11/12 @ 20:40
D.Z.
D.Z. [Visitor]

“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.”

That’s the point, though. They wanted to do something different with it, which they wouldn’t get away with in a regular Lupin special, or even non-Lupin anime show. Plus, fans have been asking for a long time for more character side stories. So it was a perfect convergence of events.

“since it’s the early Lupin III that made me a fan of this show, and this is essentially a different beast altogether.”

Which early Lupin III? If you mean the red jacket one, that was intentionally toned down for broader audiences. If you mean the green jacket one, it’s pretty close to the manga, style-wise but obviously was limited in what it could get away with for its time.

“As for this episode, it’s basically Lupin III via Brother, Dear Brother,”

I was thinking Utena myself.

“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.”

Well, Cagliostro isn’t really popular in Japan among hardcore Lupin fans. In fact, it was rumoured that Monkey Punch wouldn’t have anything to do with it. And there was a debate in a thread at http://lupinthethird.com/forums/index.php?topic=1863.0 which questioned whether or not Miyazaki’s animation career was in turmoil in the early 80s, because of Cagliostro. But MP signed my DVD sleeve of it, when he was in L.A., so he might have gotten over it since then.

“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".”

Have you seen the manga? ^_- You might have to E-bay it, unless Tokyopop decides to reprint it, but it was designed for salarymen, and is therefore not cutesy like the red jacket stuff.

05/11/12 @ 21:20
aaron_long
aaron_long [Member]

I really wasn’t a fan of this one. I got so impatient with it, I almost turned it off halfway through. But then Isolde was revealed to be Oscar so I decided to keep watching, just to find out where they were going with the story. Unfortunately it didn’t really pick up too much. Your describing all the characters as “needlessly sadistic” is spot on. It makes me uncomfortable watching the show, but not in any thought-provoking way like they’re probably intending. More of a rolling-my-eyes, disappointed way.

I didn’t find this episode entertaining, other than a few little things:

The owl-headed people during the flashback were laughably incongruous with all the big serious stuff the show was trying to do. I’m going to have to get a screencap of them.

I did like Lupin’s relatively silly reaction to the “stole more than my heart” line, and the ending scene with Lupin and Fujiko actually had some very nice animation of Lupin. That particular scene of the two of them together was probably the only one I truly enjoyed.

I know it’s unreasonable to keep expecting comedy out of a show that’s so clearly not interested in being funny, but those brief moments of humour are inevitably my favourite parts of each episode, by a wide margin.

Animation-wise, it was about on par with most of the other episodes… Obviously the individual drawings are pretty impressive, but the movement is underwhelming most of the time. I supposed that’s just a symptom of having such detailed designs, as I’ve complained about on my blog.

05/12/12 @ 05:19
Adrian
Adrian [Visitor]

I’m not a LupinI fan but I’ve seen a few movies and specials and generally liked them. I cannot really compare the new series to the Lupin canon but maybe see it from a more neutral standpoint.

I really love the style of the new series and have been enjoying it so far. What bugs me, though, is how it’s all over the place story-wise. There are some series that really play on this and manage to make you look forward to see where they can take it but in the new Lupin’s case it feels more like they couldn’t really decide and somehow mashed it all together (or had people running in different directions because they were too tight on time).

It feels like the show never really manages to get going. Each episode tries a new spin on the story but ends when you start feeling it could start taking up. I’m enjoying the new wave of yuri series but here it felt out of place and once more like the show ran off in a new direction instead of focusing on trying to find what kind of story it wants to tell.

Maybe it’s because the show does have a strong visual identity and some continuity in the story that makes it feel weird for the individual episodes to diverge so much. If they’d have given the episodes more freedom to explore their own direction that might have worked better. I’m hoping that this will be a bit clearer looking back and maybe make it easier to appreciate each episode for what it is.

05/16/12 @ 08:06
Ben [Member]  

Adrian -

I agree, the show seems to lurch around haphazardly without any kind of momentum or purpose. It doesn’t feel like it’s going anywhere. There’s no rhyme or reason to what we get in each new episode, and as a result, the show doesn’t gel into a compelling whole. You’re left more confused as to what exactly the show you’re watching is about with each new episode. I think maybe they were trying for variety, but it just comes across as schizophrenic. It feels like they weren’t able to coordinate things very well and the writing is just all over the place. By this point I’d say it’s too late. The show missed the boat. Though of course I’ll still watch and expect individual episodes will be interesting as a unit. As a whole it seems fatally flawed.

Aaron -

I felt the same way. I was groaning and shaking my head watching this one. It was really a chore to watch and it made me wonder why I was watching the show, which kind of aggravates me.

Yeah, the ending scene finally had some nice animation of Lupin - that’s the part I think was done by Tadashi Hiramatsu. I wish he would do more in the show. He’s one of the few animators so far who has done animation on the level of the old show, which is tremendously disappointing.

I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect humor out of Lupin, and I also wish there were more… I think they’re trying for a different kind of humor, but honestly most of the time it’s just not funny, even when it’s trying to be witty. It just comes across as sophomoric.

I agree about the designs… It’s ironic since Takeshi Koike is such a good animator. You’d think his designs would work great as animation. But the fact is, a lot of the animators on this show seem to be having a hell of a time drawing them in a way that doesn’t make me cringe, so the designs are obviously not suited to being animated by the hand of anyone other than Takeshi Koike. I don’t know if it’s that they’re needlessly detailed (which they are) so much as that the particular details are hard to get right unless you’re really good at drawing. The designs here only make me appreciate the clarity and elegance of the old designs by Tateo Kitahara and Yuzo Aoki.

melchizedek -

Thanks, glad my posts have been of help… Good to hear you agree about things like the nudity. I find it silly if just because it doesn’t make any sense why she shows her tits so much, so it seems like it’s there just to be artsy and to epater la bourgeoisie. I’m also ambivalent about the whole buildup towards the obvious revelation of some kind of shocking new past for Fujiko. It just seems so half-heartedly handled. Some episodes they’ll drop some hints, others they’ll just completely forget that they’re supposed to be building up towards this reveal. It’s not done nearly consistently and systematically enough to be compelling.

05/18/12 @ 23:37