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« Kids on the SlopeThe first five Lupin III TV specials »

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

11:25:00 pm , 932 words, 7761 views     Categories: Animation, TV, Lupin III

Lupin III: A Woman Called Fujiko Mine #2

It was a rocky start for me, but this episode converted me to a believer. No nitpicking from me this time. I loved this episode. They did just about everything right in this episode, both as a standalone episode and as an episode true to the spirit of Lupin III. Simply put, this was pure awesomeness.

Episode 1 showed the first meeting between Lupin and Fujiko. This time it's the first meeting between Jigen Daisuke and Fujiko. Jigen has always been my favorite character. I love his gruff stoicism, the way he always has a witty one-liner ready for every situation, the way he seems cold and uncaring but has the biggest heart of the bunch. He's the ultimate badass lone-wolf. He doesn't reveal much, but his depth comes through slowly. He's defined by simple, classically manly things - the magnum, the beard, the suit, the fedora. When Jigen got an occasional solo episode in the old TV shows, it was always a special treat. Suddenly we were plunged into a world of dark and deep-felt drama like an old Hollywood film noir starring Bogie, full of fog, intrigue and betrayal.

The story here was very reminiscent of a past story in either the second or third series, I can't remember which. It was a great story exactly in the vein of the classic Lupin III, except far more visually stylish. Best of all, they nailed Jigen's character here better than even most previous Lupin III outings have, as the directing in the TV outings tended to be a little vague due to the short schedule and low budget. Here every shot was carefully groomed, and we could follow Jigen's subtly expressed emotions and reactions in detail at every juncture.

Jigen taking the fall for the girl after she kills her mob boss boyfriend was classic Jigen, and Jigen putting his cigarette into the tea cup offered by the would-be seductress is exactly the sort of subtle wit I expect from this character. We even got to hear him say his classic line - "Ore wa onna girai de na". The only thing missing to make it the perfect Jigen episode was Jigen drinking a glass of bourbon. I'm happy to see that the person who wrote the episode did their homework.

Visually, I think they did a good job with his design. His hat covers his eyes, but you can actually see them peeking through a bit in certain shots. He hasn't had such a deliciously lean head and pointy chin since the pilot. It's amusing how his beard aaaalmost touches the brim of his hat in certain shots.

All of the original voice actors are now gone. Except one. Jigen alone is still played by the same voice-actor, Kiyoshi Kobayashi. He is now 79 years old. He could have retired like the rest of them, and I have no idea why he didn't, but good god I'm so glad he didn't. It just wouldn't be the same with all of the old voices gone, especially Jigen. I was strangely moved watching this episode to see the same old Jigen I've loved all these years still alive and well, if sounding a little wizened now. It was like seeing an old friend again. I'm so happy he's still there. He provides such a vital element of continuity with the old Lupin III.

Incidentally, Jigen is the only character who has been voiced by the same voice-actor in every single Lupin III outing (except Fuma Clan, when they changed all the voice-actors). Even Lupin was voiced by a different person in the pilot, and of course Lupin was the first of the old voices to disappear with the passing of Yasuo Yamada.

The thing I liked about this episode was that it wasn't about the animation or the directing. Both the animation and directing were functional, but not so exceptional as to eclipse the story. No, what made this episode so entertaining was the story and the characters, as it's supposed to be but far too seldom is. It shouldn't be about obsessively chasing directors or animators. It should just be about enjoying a nice story with well-fleshed-out characters. But anime fails to deliver in that arena more often than not, so I usually wind up ignoring the story and focusing on the animation and directing in a last-ditch effort to salvage what enjoyment I can.

This episode was great to watch because the characters were sensitively portrayed at every juncture and it was a great simple story grounded in the basic dramatic elements. They didn't use Macguffins like bad guys or action sequences or gags to distract from the lack of good writing. They kept it squarely focused on telling a story through compelling character drama. The episode had the atmosphere of a good old Hollywood movie from the 50s like the old solo Jigen episodes usually did.

I never mentioned the music, but the music is quite remarkable. It's a tall order to top Yuji Ono in the same mold, but they've found someone who is up to the task in the person of Naruyoshi Kikuchi. Cool and breezy but with just the right touch of free jazz weirdness. The opening in particular is an amazing piece of music like no other anime opening song I've heard.

The ending changed. The ending in the first episode felt incomplete to me, like they just quickly threw those drawings up because they hadn't finished the ending yet, and this seems to confirm that. It would answer why they didn't credit the ending in the first episode.



Reed Nelson
Reed Nelson [Visitor]

Your question about the Luger was answered by someone on the Lupin forums yesterday. Someone observed that Jigen sometimes wielded a Luger-like or Walther-like weapon in addition to his revolver in the original manga stories. The form of weapons and vehicles weren’t really solidified as brands “X” or “Y” until Mr. Ohtsuka got his mitts on the franchise. Monkey Punch played it pretty fast and loose with objects (and with… well, everything else) in the comics.

04/12/12 @ 01:45
Jim [Visitor]

He didn’t get the .357 till after the mob boss was shot. The Luger was just the gun he used before he got the revolver.

They have production notes up on the Luger.

04/12/12 @ 01:59
Ben [Member]  

Thanks, yeah, I wasn’t paying enough attention the first time I watched it. Looking back through the episode, I see his Magnum was the gun the girl used to kill her husband, which Jigen ran off with to protect her. That was the whole point of her wanting to get the gun back. So I guess this is an origin story for Jigen’s Magnum.

04/12/12 @ 10:19
William Massie
William Massie [Visitor]

Frankly, I was in the camp of enjoying some new seiyuu blood for the cast.

Maruyama, Kobayashi and Naya all seemed to loose some considerable spark, just sounding OLD.

Kobayashi, well he is still OLD but he sounds cool here which to me he hasn’t in YEARS.

Ditto on everything else you said about the episode.

04/12/12 @ 17:25
Ben [Member]  

Yeah… as much as I loved Goro Naya as Zenigata, for example, he was already sounding tired as early as Part III. It was downright painful to hear him in the more recent outings. So it’s definitely for the best that he was replaced. I have a little less attachment to the old voices for Fujiko and Goemon, so those replacements don’t bother me as much. Lupin, though… It’s not nostalgia for Yamada or anything, but as much as I’d like to like Kanichi Kurita, it’s not happening for me so far… I’m sure I’ll get used to him.

04/12/12 @ 17:39
aaron_long [Member]

This was indeed a great episode. While a part of me still misses the typical Lupin humour in this new series, I really enjoyed the episode and I don’t think it could’ve been improved by having any gags. My concern isn’t “will the series always be this serious?", because that in itself isn’t a problem… I just wonder if they can keep up the ultra-cool, stylized storytelling while maintaining the depth and personality seen in this episode.

But I have a feeling they may vary the tone a bit from episode to episode. Heck, even in the red jacket series, the Jigen episodes were always unusually dramatic, so it’s possible that as we get back to the Lupin-oriented episodes, some humour will pop up. At least, I hope.

Anyway, I loved this one and can’t wait for the next one.

04/13/12 @ 06:13
anonymous [Visitor]

Judging by the paragraph about animation & plot, I assume your opinion of, say, animator-driven visual comedies has gone down over the years in favor of an ultimate focus on writing above all else? Or do you still view plot-centric works and works focused on exhilarating, expressive visuals as two different things that both have their place and merits?

04/13/12 @ 10:41
Ben [Member]  

Aaron -

Great to hear you liked this one too, even though it’s quite different from what made the red and pink jacket shows so much fun… (deep down I’m missing the Yuzo Aoki Lupin even though I’m enjoying this for what it is) As you say, hopefully they will have variety in the show for a little fun in certain episodes. Though unfortunately I don’t think they would allow the kind of playful animation we saw in the red and pink jacket shows anymore…

anonymous -

Sharp question. I realize that paragraph presented a viewpoint I’ve never professed before, even coming across as an about-face. I was mostly being provocative, towards myself. I don’t mean to disavow visuals-based animated storytelling in favor of plot-based anime. That has been and still is what I most love. I would still rather watch Dokonjo Gaeru than Legend of the Galactic Heroes.

I think I was trying to force myself to see the diametric opposite viewpoint for once - the one that seems default in the non-sakuga community - and admit that sometimes it’s true, because I felt myself becoming complacent and smug about my attitudes towards animated filmmaking. I appreciated that this episode trumped my usual measure of a good episode: what I liked about it couldn’t be attributed to good animation or directing; it was the characters and the story. I have to confess that part of the reason I’ve discounted writing is perhaps because I’m just not as good at analyzing that aspect (and too lazy), so I want to face that weakness.

But it’s true that I’ve felt my opinion changing over the years about how much I value pure visual-based storytelling… or at least, asking myself some questions to try to figure out what it is that defines good anime, about why it is that wild animation came to exist in anime, and why I like it, whether it’s good to seek it out in and of itself, and just basically what it is I want to see in anime. I want to be consistent, but I don’t want to become (self-)pigeonholed, so I sometimes feel the urge to say something deliberately self-contradictory.

For example with Lupin, I don’t know whether what I want to see is the ultra-slapstick Yuzo Aoki/Ryuno Tatsuo Lupin or the more serious Masaaki Osumi Lupin. I want both, really. Deep down, you’re right, there has to be a time and place for each type of anime. It’s innovative combinations of the two extremes that are needed. Lupin is a nice vehicle since it has encompassed different compromises between these two extremes at one time or another.

04/13/12 @ 23:38
busterbeam [Visitor]

I personally never really saw the need for such deliberation, because I’ve pretty much always had my standards and went with what appealed to me. I’ll admit that I tend to watch stuff that uses visuals well because animation is a visual medium, but to me ‘using visuals well’ can mean just an art style or type of character design that I find interesting. Kaiji was not really a well animated show but I had lots of fun with it and I liked the unusual style it had that nicely complemented the tone of the show and its themes.

I feel that anime fandom puts too much of a focus on writing ‘versus’ animation, like you absolutely have to pick a side between the writing camp and the visuals camp, as if we’re all waging an all out cartoon war. When really, in an ideal work visuals and story two will go hand in hand. In response to caring about individual animators, artists, storyboarders etc people will often say “what about the story?". Well, what ABOUT the story? Of course it’s still relevant. Even in something like Dead Leaves where the visual execution of the ideas is of utmost importance, the actual content of the gags and the action scenes, the concepts behind the work, are still quite important. Classics (to me at least) like FLCL and Only Yesterday are good because they masterfully mix visuals and writing in a way that takes advantage of the medium in a unique way; they would only have been lesser creations if they forsake writing for the sake of animation, or animation for the sake writing, instead of mixing the two seamlessly. I think true animation masters don’t come up with something thinking ‘this is about the animation’ or ‘this is about the story’; tearing down the imaginary fandom-created wall between the two is how you make great cartoons, in my mind.

04/14/12 @ 05:05
Alex Dubcheck
Alex Dubcheck [Visitor]

Many thanks to Busterbeam for giving a great definition
of a good cartoon; sadly this kind of writing doesn’t have so much space in movie journals and newspapers.

I passed by here to suggest a nice track that would fit
very well in this great Jigen episode,IMO
Walk on by re.played by Cal Tjader

04/14/12 @ 20:46
Neil C.
Neil C. [Visitor]

This is an interesting show. I’m not quite sure if I’m not sold on it completely yet, but compared to the 1000s of bland/tired tv specials that I stopped watching a long time ago this is a breath of fresh air for an old franchise. The visuals are interesting, I’m not sure if it all works, but I like it, and this episode well, was actually pretty compelling. I’ll wait and see - Miyazaki/Takahata Lupin of the Green Jacket (including Cagliostro) still remains my favorite, even over the old Monkey Punch comics (which IMO this is probably the closest we’ve seen to this other than possibly the old Oosumi episodes from the 1970s).

At least I have a good reason to watch at least 2 shows this season, let’s hope more good stuff comes out soon - I’m starting to believe various reports I’ve been reading that Japanese pop culture is imploding due to poor consumer habits of younger people and 20 years of stagnation/malaise - anime’s decline over the last 10 years is definitively a symptom.

04/14/12 @ 23:36
Neemie [Visitor]  

I’ve just watched all three episodes and was wondering when do they release each new episode?
I also agree that the artwork was hella sloppy. For some reason, It didnt bother me as much during the first episode. But even though episode two was my favorite in terms of story I was getting really annoyed with the messy lines and shadows. I dont know how I felt about Lupin and Fujiko’s introduction…is it just me or is it odd how the guys seem to cover their eyes when she naked right within reach? Certainly didnt expect Lupin to turn down the offer :P

04/21/12 @ 10:46