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« The first five Lupin III TV specialsMasaaki Yuasa's Buriburizaemon »

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

10:07:00 pm , 992 words, 5032 views     Categories: Animation, TV, Lupin III

Lupin III: A Woman Called Fujiko Mine #1

Say hello to the new face of Lupin III.

It's been 27 years since the last Lupin III TV series, during which time the various productions seem to have gotten further and further away from what originally made Lupin III anime entertaining. I was hoping that a new TV series would be made rebooting all the mediocre intervening years and bring the show back to something more Monkey Punch-esque.

That has happened. In a way. The first episodes of the new TV series directed by Sayo Yamamoto certainly does reboot things, just not in the way I was hoping. The biggest change is that it's about Fujiko, not Lupin. It's certainly more 'adult' if your understanding of the term 'adult' means lots and lots of boobs. It certainly takes the characters back to a more lanky and aggressively stylized look that is somewhat, kinda sorta, reminiscent of Monkey Punch. But something about it doesn't gel for me. I was really looking forward to this, but I'm not convinced by what I've seen so far.

Technically, it's a well made episode. The visuals are lush and highly worked. They obviously put a lot of effort into the drawings and animation. The directing is strong and detail-oriented. The show has a stylish verve and edgy atmosphere. The script is witty and fleshes out Fujiko's and Lupin's personalities more sensitively than usual all while keeping the action moving forward. The episode feels cinematic in a way that's rare for a TV episode due to the clever presentation of the action through artful cutting and framing. The episode isn't boring for a moment, and has good suspense and tension, especially in terms of the battle of wits between Fujiko and Lupin.

The show starts off with a bang with a nice caper story that pits Lupin and Fujiko against one another in an interesting way that serves to introduce the new spin on their personalities while also showing off their skills. The plot is reminiscent of at least one previous Lupin III story - Lupin stealing a treasure from a cult leader, Fujiko already being in on the action - but that didn't bother me. At least the story keeps things on familiar ground, because everything else is a different beast altogether from any previous Lupin III.

On the downside, I think the show strives a little too hard for an adult atmosphere. There's a kind of affected artsy sensibility that rubs me the wrong way, and strikes me as out of place in Lupin III. I've long wanted to see a more adult Lupin III with the violence and sexuality of Monkey Punch's manga. And they do revel in the nudity in this episode. Fujiko is naked or nearly so pretty much the whole episode, and she shows her breasts constantly. But it's so overdone that it feels tacky. Gratuitous nudity does not equal adult. The entire opening has her naked, with her huge nipples shoved in your face. Fujiko was a little more circumspect in the old days. There is a long, meticulously animated French kiss at the beginning that is kind of nasty and unpleasant to watch. As much as I love French kisses, I don't think I want to see them in such detail in a cartoon.

In general they've made the characters more hard-boiled and toned down the light-heartedness, in the process sapping the show of a lot of what made it so fun. I'd like the show to be adult, but that doesn't mean it has to be humorless and dour. Zenigata seems to have a completely different personality. That would be fine, except that he's just kind of boring now. He was such an entertaining and endearing character before. Now he's static and stone-faced. Instead they seem to hint at some kind of homoerotic subtext with his bizarrely designed aide straight out of a yaoi manga that felt really tasteless and out of place.

Takeshi Koike is great, but I'm not really impressed by the animation or drawings here. I much prefer the simpler drawings of almost every previous Lupin III outing I've ever seen. Fujiko's design seems pretty bland to me considering she's the main character. As meticulously and realistically as Fujiko's flesh is elaborated here, I found the more cartoony Fujiko of previous outings more sexy because it left more to the imagination, and the drawings felt good as a design. It's not just about drawing flesh in the most lascivious way possible. The simplicity of the older drawings made the animators strengthen their overall form. Here the drawings don't feel particularly compelling as drawings, just more detailed and realistically drawn.

Lupin is a little more successful. They play around with his expressions a little. But there's not nearly enough fun character animation. They waste too much time filling in details rather than coming up with fun ways of posing and moving the characters. It's weird, because even when Lupin is doing all these crazy poses, it still feels like they're over-drawing him. Takeshi Koike is a genius, no doubt about that, but he's got his own style, and I'm not convinced it mixes well with Lupin III. There are several action scenes that are nicely animated, but for some reason none of them felt exhilarating.

The voices are all different now. I had a problem with Kanichi Kurita as Lupin in everything I've seen so far, but here he didn't bother me as much because the whole show didn't really feel like Lupin III. I'd have a hard time accepting new voices for all the characters if the show didn't already feel so different.

I look forward to watching the rest of the show to see how it changes when the rest of the cast is introduced. It's not exactly what I wanted to see in a reboot, but it's not badly done. You just have to accept that the show is not about Lupin, it's about Sayo Yamamoto.

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12 comments

Carlo S.
Carlo S. [Visitor]  

I actually discovered your site just yesterday, searching the net for information about Soji Yoshikawa (I didn’t find much! But now I feel a better man since my eyes were opened to the genius of Yuzo Aoki).

So yeah, this comment has nothing to do with the Lupin/Fujiko reboot, it’s just to say that I literally couldn’t stop all night from reading your articles about animators and studios involved in the second Lupin series, about Winter Days and the classic Toei Doga films. You sir are my new Hero.

04/05/12 @ 03:04
Nick
Nick [Visitor]

Well, your thoughts actually make me look forward to the show even more since I was in it for Sayo Yamamoto (huge crush on her style since Michiko to Hatchin) and Dai Sato, to a lesser degree for Koike as well. The subject matter I couldn’t care less about.

04/05/12 @ 05:31
aaron_long
aaron_long [Member]

I agree that the show feels too serious and striving for an “adults-only” feel, with all the nudity and sex. The one moment that really felt like Monkey Punch to me was the reveal at the end, where Lupin has somehow written a message on Fujiko’s inner thigh!

There were a handful of really nicely-animated shots, like when Lupin and Fujiko have their first conversation, and there’s that Masaaki Yuasa-esque distorted perspective when Lupin suddenly turns into “wacky Lupin.” Or his reaction when the guards appear to take him away.

There were a lot of talking heads in the first half though.

Hopefully once the sub comes out, we might see some humor in the dialogue. Cause right now it seems like it was pretty serious, perhaps overly so.

On the whole I definitely think this is the best new TV anime in a while, Lupin or otherwise.

04/05/12 @ 05:32
busterbeam
busterbeam [Visitor]

I agree with the core of what you’re saying, and certainly I prefer the more dynamic flow of 70s Lupin. I also agree about the action scenes; the short fight at the end of the first Goemon green jacket episode had more of an impact on me, for one.

However, I still had a great time watching this and I don’t really find it *that* different in tone. In the end, it still felt like Lupin to me; a more ‘animeesque’ Lupin (by common Western standards of what defines anime at least) but still Lupin, and obviously miles above most of the super boring TV specials they’ve been churning out. I also really liked the stylish framing of a lot of shots.

04/05/12 @ 07:17
hellohue
hellohue [Visitor]

This episode felt very much like a ‘dry run’ for the series. The characters were introduced well enough, but it was a very flat story that was poorly paced. It didn’t feel like a great use of 20 minutes.

The animation was fine, but stylistically I think it could have been directed a bit better, particularly the action scenes where layouts didn’t do well to seve the overall action as a sequence.

Ben makes lots of good points here, and I agree with him that I hope the series’ overall tone grows into something a bit more ‘fun’.

04/05/12 @ 07:44
Carlo S.
Carlo S. [Visitor]

For some reason the graphic style reminded me of Herlock’s reboot a few years ago by Rintaro and Yuuki. Am I just seeing things?

04/05/12 @ 08:41
Anonymous Coward
Anonymous Coward [Visitor]

Supposedly translated commentary from twitter by Yutaka Yamamoto about this first episode.
http://privatepaste.com/73e407a1ae

04/05/12 @ 16:04
William Massie
William Massie [Visitor]

Getting a little jaded aren’t we Ben-totchan?

Hehe, but seriously I thought it was perfectly fine.

Admittedly I never read the Manga (impossible to find) so I cannot use it as a metric, but overlooking weither it captures Monkey Punch’s own unique “adult” sensibilities, I think the only question we have to ask is…is it interesting?

If so I’d say yes! It was a fun ep, Lupin was more irrascible and cunning then before, reminds me of a little of Oosumi’s take on him in the 71 show (which I am DIGGING THE HELL OUT OF at the moment). He’s much more cunning and “in charge", more manly in a way, then the still charming but more Looney Tooney zany Lupin we’ve seen.

More to the point, this will be a nice chance to see some great Fujiko action (no not THAT….maybe) she always was a very intriguing character. Having two ladies helming Direction and Writing should make an interesting spin on it.

Visuals were really nice, maybe not 5 star but still kicks the crap out of most TV work. For some reason I was getting serious Mononoke vibes when I saw the inside of the palace. Koike’s designs are awesome and the entire thing is well drawn.

Admittedly I DO think they went a little overboard with the artificial hatching effects, but it’s not a hinderance for more than a few seconds for me so, meh.

Jazz music is sick (as much as I love Ohno, his best stuff is behind him IMHO).

Naturally there will probably be some fluctation (there was in Yamamoto’s Michiko and Hatchin but that was still very well made on average). but hey we shall see.

Also really like Kurita’s turn as Rupan here, really turns up the cockiness and capability here, I like that.

So hey sign me up, I was hankering for some more “adult” Lupin after Mamo and ‘71, and I got it.

04/05/12 @ 18:23
William Massie
William Massie [Visitor]

And remember there is still more to see. After all wasn’t Zenigata much more straight laced in the Manga? (I do admit, that whole “Blushing Oscar” thing just SCREAMED Slash bait, but then again, these are Dames helming this ya know, kehehe).

And having a serious foe for Lupin could very well be interesting (for a little while, Totchan barely registered on my radar cause he was such a boring bumbling comic relief).

While I don’t blame Ben for being picky (I sure as hell am) I’d advise giving it a few more eps to feel it out,

04/05/12 @ 18:28
Ben [Member]  

Great input all. Yeah, I’ll admit I was being particularly picky this time around. I was intentionally playing devil’s advocate with this post because everyone else seemed to be praising it to high heaven. You guys are right that it has a lot more clever Lupin-ness than I initially gave it credit for. I’m sure my impression will change as I get used to the new look.

Carlo S. -

Wow, thanks. Glad someone still gets use out of those old articles. :)

Nick -

You will LOVE this. It has just as much of that unmistakable Sayo Yamamoto imprint as Michiko & Hatchin. I’ve been a fan of Sayo Yamomoto since before Michiko & Hatchin. I first became aware of her from Samurai Champloo. Her episodes with Dai Sato were amazing. That obviously led to the team-up on Michiko & Hatchin.

Aaron -

This is definitely the first new show in god knows how long that I plan to actually watch every episode of, so I totally agree… Yes, the reveal with the writing on Fujiko’s thigh was great. It was clever how they hinted at something going on when Fujiko says “Watch where you’re touching!” At first you think it’s just Lupin being lecherous, but the reveal drives home that Lupin never misses a beat and is always one step ahead, especially when you think he’s not being serious.

busterbeam -

Yes, that’s what I mean… innocuous moments in the hand of Otsuka in the first series or the other classic Lupin animators like Aoki or Tomonaga had such an amazingly exhilarating feeling that today’s animators don’t seem to be able to achieve. Part of the reason I even compared this episode to the old Lupin (doing which is probably unfair to this episode) is because I just got finished watching so much of the old Lupin…. I should probably stop being so nostalgic for a return to the old days of Telecom Lupin and accept that particular style was a product of that age and will never return, as much as that’s what I’d like to see more of. I think what happened is they struck out one last time with Telecom on the latest TV special and decided to do an about-face and produce something in a completely contemporary mold, and this was the result. I don’t think they were wrong to do so.

hellohue -

Yes, the directing of the action sequence really felt off to me somehow and I couldn’t pinpoint why that was. As you say, this is just a taste of what’s to come. I’m sure there will be plenty of room for more playfulness in the coming episodes.

Anonymous Coward -

I wish I understood what he’s trying to say… He speaks so obliquely and vaguely that it’s difficult to know exactly what he is talking about. If he wants to criticize the show, he shouldn’t be so coy about it. Reasonable input, even critical, should always be welcome. Is he even talking about this show? He doesn’t mention it by name.

William -

Haha, TOUCHÉ. I am just a jaded old bastard/grumpy old man. Don’t worry, I plan on giving it more of a chance. I just wanted to be totally honest about my initial impressions.

I should pay more attention to the music next time, cause for some reason it didn’t leave much of an impression on me. (maybe I was distracted by the boobs) It’s not as demonstrative and in-your-face as Ono’s music was in the old show. Actually I loved his funky and catchy music in the 70s series, but noticed that his music for the third series was way more restrained and mellow. I wonder if the production side requested a more mellow take for the third series in a conscious attempt to go for something more cool and restrained and adult.

Good call on the Osumi comparison. If the show can be compared to any of the previous Lupin TV shows, it’s the more hard-boiled early Osumi episodes of the first Lupin. I saw the first series many years ago, but you’re making me want to go through it again and write a big post about it to complement my other two posts…

Yeah, I kind of figured the whole slash bait thing was probably a woman thing… The whole point of her doing this show is that she says this is the kind of Lupin show she says she would want to watch… so it’s not surprising that she would insert things like that tailored more to women.

And good point about totchan, I got so used to him yelling “Taiho da!!!” in every episode that I didn’t even pay any more attention to it than Lupin did… As a character he didn’t have teeth, wasn’t that much of a threat. I was watching Mankatsu a while back and there are some stories that have a similar scenario with a thief being chased by a cop, and in one of them the cop is quite a scary guy, corrupt and brutal rather than a softie of an upright cop like Zenigata. The new Zenigata is more of a tough guy in that line. Maybe that’s how he was in the manga? I haven’t read enough of the manga to know…

04/05/12 @ 19:28
William Massie
William Massie [Visitor]

No, it’s cool, we all have preferences, I bet the same thing happens when people watch a new type of Bond from what they’re used to (my mom for a while couldn’t get into anyone but Sir Connery, but then Craig came along..)

Plus it always is good to have a D.A. especially when all 15 people on the web who are watching are going crazy for it.

Yamamoto is putting her own stamp on the Phantom Theif and his crew, and that’s cool. That’s one of the great things about characters like the Lupin gang, they’re somewhat malleable (although you can’t go TOO crazy).

It’s a little overdone with the art design admittedly, but I think it will go over well with the college age/20 something audience the show is likely targeting.

Yea I’ve been on a real Lupin kick lately,

I’m about halfway through ‘71, those Oosumi eps are seriously freaking cool, especially ep 4, surprised just how much punch those eps had after all these years.

It’s a shame how the story went on the production side, but I’ll try and cut the Miyazaki/Takahata eps some slack because of the good work done on the Castle.

I’m having trouble digging up the 3rd series.

Recently got Mamo for super cheap, I’ve said that one is my favorite Lupin flick so far, it has high action but also an involved (while kooky) story and complex character interplay, as opposed to the more straightforward Castle.

You know some outfit actually LICENCED the ‘71 green jacket joint? I’m gonna buy it just for the Oosumi half if anything!

04/05/12 @ 20:55
h_park
h_park [Member]

I haven’t seen the new Lupin show yet. (I’m still hoping for legal streaming…)

After reading the post, all I can say is that new Lupin is not your father’s (or grandfather’s) Lupin. It’s made for new generation. Previous Lupin series have their own charm, so I think it’s a good thing for latest incarnation to have its own expression.

04/07/12 @ 00:25