The Fujiko Telegrams: Lupin III Fujiko Mine, Episode 3

Continuing DCBebop & Wintermuted’s discussions regarding the new Lupin III television series event (Lupin III: Fujiko Mine), The Fujiko Telegrams is an in-the-moment blog/chatfest that’ll hopefully grant new and fun perspectives on the splashy return of one of anime/manga’s most enduring creations.

Wintermuted: So with the third episode, we are now transported to a more open European setting, as we are introduced to stoic but secretly soft-hearted samurai Goemon Ishikawaa. He stands between an assassination plot on Georg Trunk, an elderly king with a fight for an heir beginning to heat up, and some seriously valuable train cargo. Goemon, seemingly originally sent to pull off this assassination himself, eventually catches wind of a deeper plot, and unknowingly rubs elbows with Trunk’s grandchildren’s governess, Maria—who only just happens to be another false identity for you-know-who.

Something of an expansion and change of pace for the show, this episode attempts to do quite a bit for the atypical 22-minute running time. This Goemon episode was a bit sudden, and yet, as visually rich as expected for a fan tribute. Was wondering where you landed on it.

DCBebop: Personally I liked this episode quite a bit, and I really think that it felt like a complete throwback/homage to one of the earlier series. The plot in this episode is one I would have expected to see in the original green jacket or late in the red jacket series. That’s not a bad thing, but I agree it was a change of pace from what we had been seeing from this new series. Not as dark, and much more playful than the first two episodes.

What this does, actually, is it just makes me eager to see what the tone of the next episode will be like. I am still loving the animation of this series too, as it plays well in both the more dark gritty episodes like the Jigen one, and the opposite end of the spectrum like this most recent affair.

Wholly agreed on the visual palette on display here. There is so much experimentation and nuance in action, even in what is ostensibly a one-shot caper episode. The animation is in many ways more evocative of Russian techniques of the past, intermingled with anime techniques of the 1970s. And in that sense, this is a bit of a triumph. Being that the majority of this one is in daylight, or within the confines of a moving train, the lighting and speedline work is simply thrilling in places.

I suppose my main issues with this one is one of economy of storytelling. There were a number of nagging problems stemming likely from a need to maintain length. And even if I could just enjoy the general presentation, these issues nagged at me a great deal, particularly toward the end.

But yes, Goemon frightening children is something I had long been hoping to see..

And again, like the rest of the series, we get a perfect characterization for Goemon. Honorable, quickly frustrated, slightly confused and awkward around women, and a badass sword that can cut through anything. I also liked that we got to see another softer side of Fujiko in this episode that is usually reserved for only the more… Cagliostro-ish Lupin stories. It’s rare when this alternate aspect of her character surfaces. True, she always has an ulterior motive and something she wants to steal or take use to her advantage, but still you can’t help but wonder how much is an act and how much isn’t.

Another thing about these episodes so far is that they are actively reintroducing us to these characters one by one. We had one focused on Lupin, one on Jigen and this most recent one on Goemon. Will the next be about Zenigata? He had a brief appearance in episode one, and to me it looks like the bumbling incompetent cop he turned into over the years is gone and the character is back to to being the hard nosed badass detective he was originally.

I guess my biggest concern over this episode is that motivations are often glossed over in favor of just getting the episode in the can. Especially with Goemon’s confession of his presence to the targets: I can’t imagine anyone being so relaxed about it. And to make matters worse, Goemon’s first act as a hitman is such a doomed affair from the outset, one cannot help but wonder if there is any real reason as to why he even took up the option. For a series supposedly interested in something a little more character-driven, there is almost too much story here for one episode. One can’t help but wonder if this was initially meant to be a two-parter. This is also most evident in the episode’s final moment. It really does come out of nowhere.

I can see what you are saying, but in all honesty, while I was watching the episode none of those thoughts occurred to me. For example, when Goemon’s confessing “I’m the assassin hired to kill you,” there also happens to be a runaway train that seems to be a bit more of a pressing concern. Plus, even then it’s not like the guards were automatically trusting of the samurai…it’s just their guns happened to get cut in half so they couldn’t really do anything anyway. Like I said, I can see where you are coming from on that, but I kinda let it go as it was more or less the formula of a classic Lupin episode.

Something tells me that this was not a simple matter of budgetary or era-based limitations though. We do have two previous episodes that are pretty lean in story that they do not allow for such gaps to happen. But as I’ve previously said, it’s very possible that more was on the planning table before the episode went to production. While I had fun with it in places, I seemed much more in tune with the package than I was with the character work. Perhaps I was hoping that Goemon would have had a much more well-established start into the show, as opposed to a light romp.

That said, I love several moments of his here. (He and Duke Togo still compete for Spock status in my warped mind.) And I still feel like that need to make sure (true to old traditions of course) that Fujiko winding up naked somewhere didn’t come off as forced this time.

But as you said, they are lining up all the Lupin regulars. I guess another wish of mine would have been to see a solo Fujiko mission this early in the game as opposed to merely tagging us along for a nostalgia-fest. Though I am very excited about how Zenigata will make his impression with all soon.

It is worth noting that the nudity content was very toned down this episode. And I don’t think this episode is perfect either, but it was fun. As an introduction to Goemon, it does its job with an enjoyable and interesting story, though part of me kind of wishes we would have gotten a new adaptation on his first story in the manga. Though I shouldn’t be surprised, as this series is more or less starting a new history for these characters, and that’s fine too.

And you never know, maybe episode four will be all Fujiko, all the time. Or maybe reintroduce a classic Lupin villain like Pycal or, if we want Fujiko-centric, her old partner Pun.

This is very true. Should they opt for what I hope comes to pass—a Fujiko-centric episode that perhaps shows us new dimensions to her character, and in turn displays her abilities without any interference from the guys—I’ll definitely be engaged. From where I’m watching this, a show of this type is a golden opportunity to take what has worked in the past, and accent it with the storytelling techniques of now. And seeing as how I find Miss Mine to be one of the more intriguing turning points for women in manga, I guess one can only hope that the “retro-manly” world that is being built here gets thrown for a few unexpected loops..

Well, I think we will find out in the coming weeks if that is the case or not.  So far, I think this has been a real stand out series. I can’t wait for the next episode.

 

National Cherry Blossom Festival: Kioi Sinfonietta Tokyo

I am still kicking myself at failing to attend AKB48’s debut concert stateside during the National Cherry Blossom Festival. It’s not the same but I attended the last concert of the festival last evening after visiting the Video Game exhibit at the American Art Museum with ExecutiveOtaku earlier in the day.

It’s been years since I last attended a symphony so I was extra excited. The Kioi Sinfonietta Tokyo was to play Mozart and Beethoven with Yu Kosuge as pianist and with Thierry Fischer conducting. I arrived roughly an hour early before doors to find a long line waiting for me. A lady near the front kindly informed me that she had been there an hour prior. I felt lucky because within ten minutes of my arrival, the line more than doubled as it snaked down the hall into the rotunda of the National Gallery of Art.

I did find it amusing that the average age of those in attendance easily hovered a decade over me. The tortured kids before me were only there thanks to their father. It was delightful to see many dressed up which certainly reminded me that this is not like the concerts I have been perusing lately which fueled my excitement more.

The chosen setting remains a point of contention. Held in the West Garden Court, the surrounding plants and the sunlit dome established a welcoming and magnificent presence. However, it also provided rather limited sight lines and seating. I am sure some people were turned away. Fortunately, acoustics did not disappoint.

I have never been a fan of Mozart but it’s impossible not to feel Kosuge’s magic. I could feel the blood rush towards my cheeks as her fingers brought the piano to life during crescendos and find myself leaning forward and perhaps even holding my breath when she caressed it into slumber.

The intermission felt long but I was eager for Beethoven. It did allow me time to ponder which I spent toying around with the social contexts around classical music and those otherwise which Mike alluded to here. But why? How is the piano inherently classier than a guitar? If it’s merely a byproduct of history, then I find it rather arbitrary. The orchestra had a reply much to my surprise.

The beauty of Beethoven sang with poignant clarity. Classical music endured because it commands attention. It retains class by earning said attention. Against the background of stoic marble and black bespoke tailoring, the image presented by the slashing bows and the deliberate chaos of the waving baton seemed out of place at first but then I began to notice the music, to hear it and hear nothing else. I am not poetic enough to do justice to Beethoven. I will attempt that the unity of the various instruments produces an energy that can only be expressed in emotion.

Program:

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Overture to The Marriage of Figaro
Piano Concerto no. 22 in E-flat Major,
Allegro
Andante
Allegro

Intermission

Ludwig van Beethoven
Symphony no. 3 in E-flat Major, op. 55 (“Eroica”)
Allegro con brio
Marcia funebre: Adagio assai
Scherzo: Allegro vivace
Finale: Allegro molto

Through Older Lenses: Blue Flames (Aoki Hono, 1989)

Uh-oh..

Looking back at all the writeups I’ve shared with Anime Diet readers, it’s come to my attention that a large portion of what I tend to talk about are the stark contrasts that exist between eras, and how much has changed in the general cultural landscape. Even the very idea that any changes—be they culture shaping or merely timely and curious—it is amazing that these thoughts can come to you via the mere act of taking the time to collate and share them through my fingers. Which can only be more exciting when we consider the world we have begun to leave behind, and possibly for the better. The waves of grand change have been harsh, and equalizing. And despite what many may think of as being something to lament over, one can’t help but also consider how much evolution has led us into a positive, potential-filled realm.

So when we talk a little more about the era that was the 1980s, one has consider the good hanging chummy-like with the bad. And when I mean bad, I mean…potentially psychotic.

So when I come to you with another look back at an anime that never received a general US license, let me accentuate that the very reason I selected this as my latest Lenses is that it embodies quite a bit about what I hope we are slowly beginning to abandon. Because this is not the kind of psychosis that sprouts randomly, or is some manner of simple illness, but of one possibly societal in nature. So what exactly is this man-made Frankenstein?

Our hero's intimidated face.

Enter Ryuichi Kaizu, the central character in the little-seen one-shot, Blue Flames (1989). He may not be the most popular high school student, despite his obviously athletic form and diligent running habits. Many students even consider him a little strange for doing this, as he has no affiliation with any sports clubs on campus. He’s clearly a bit of a loner, and often considered a little weird by classmates who watch him at a distance. However, he is also in many ways one with a magnetism that some of the school’s female contingent can’t seem to resist. And this hardly matters, as we soon discover that Kaizu is completely incapable of any true sense of emotion, empathy, or shame, as he spends the majority of the show’s running time creating a swath of quiet destruction the likes few anime have ever displayed. That’s right. Blue Flames is the story of an athletic sociopath who will coldly stoop to incredible lows in the name of fortune.

His busy face.

At the offset, Kaizu is both offered a gift by a pretty classmate and then intimidated by a pair of thuggish martial arts students, which reveals quite a bit. On one end, it establishes that regardless of how little his classmates know of him, his looks are the draw, and his reaction to the thugs is something to consider. Instead of doing the typical anime thing by way of showing up the two toughs in a fight, he steps back and inquires if the two would rather receive payment in lieu of a beatdown. Obliging him, they let him go, which leads us to what Kaizu tends to do best, it seems—having sex with beautiful girls, then casually working them for money. (In this case, it’s his older hostess bar girlfriend who shells out the yen to keep his face-beaters at bay.).

That’s right. And it is within these first few minutes of the show that we are privy to Kaizu’s methodology at work, which escalates throughout the entire 45-minute running time.

Much of Blue Flames‘s events seem strung together from vignettes of this guy essentially seducing (???) and eventually working to destroy the lives of those he comes in contact with in the name of financial gain and power, and never getting any comeuppance for it. Moments after the payoff occurs, he discovers the name and reputation of the pretty girl from earlier. When it is made evident that the girl is a popular junior, and daughter of a wealthy hospital owner, his sights are set on target in the only manner he understands: date her, offer her sweet, manufactured words, and eventually date rape her in his house upon her initial visit, only to extort the already disapproving father into paying him to break up with the hapless young lady. And with the money he succeeds(!!!) in taking to dump her, he moves from the small town life, and into Tokyo to go to University with his “dead weight” elder ladyfriend in tow. (Meanwhile, the background of the story has been informing us that the high school’s captain of the rugby team had long been infatuated with the dumpee—leaving him fuming at our main character’s dating interception/aforementioned dumping.)

Thankfully, the creators of this charming tale take the time to share the fact that Kaizu’s family are reacting interestingly to all this. During the school plot, his younger sister muses happily that her older brother seems to have a girlfriend, while his mom and dad seem at odds with what is to be done with his future. Initially concerned with his college education, his father’s sense of paternal duty turns on a dime, granting us a clearer idea of how he sees his obviously disconnected son. His mother looks on helplessly as Kaizu takes his now acquired extortion money to the city, disowning his family in the process—out in the street. His dad, unfazed, and possibly the show’s sole voice of reason, would rather have little to nothing to do with this young man after such a careless maneuver. He is fully aware of the cold-blooded beast he has unleashed unto the unsuspecting world.

Upon arriving at Tokyo University, our hero attempts to join the college’s tennis team, where he not only encounters the established pecking order, but also the fresh faced daughter of a powerful bank owner. Never one to waste time, Kaizu goes into hunter mode again, utilizing the only tools he seems to understand, sleeping with the club’s “queen”, ascending the ranks, and belittling others. And seeing as how this is college, it might seem strange that no one at this point has considered running him over with a truck. In fact, that’s one of the show’s most frustrating elements. So in line with the indirect, anti-confrontational nature of some folk, not to mention the terrible timing of certain unlucky truth-bearing souls, Kaizu has frighteningly uncanny luck that allows him to continue his rampage unabated. Whether he’s making the moves on a number of universally empty-headed female characters, or getting otherwise earnest students in deep trouble with those in authority, this guy is something of a societal equivalent to something like The Terminator, or even the shark in Jaws. (Sex-Money-Sex-Money-Sex-Money-Sex-Money,etc.) There is even a hilariously awkward pre-sex scene in which our character is capable of making a potential lover change her mind from leaving by merely exposing himself. And to make matters even more distasteful, upon returning to his now dejected hostess girlfriend who seems primed to either leave, or kill him and herself, is pacified by him resorting to his “cure-all” tactics, and getting his rape on. I wish I were making this up.

Noone asked, but enjoy his sex face..

A large part of what makes Blue Flames such a fascinating three-engine train wreck, is in not only a clearly detestable character more of us would be happier seeing chewed out of a flaming jet engine, but in the often contemptuous viewpoint it takes toward virtually all who encounter him. While one may opine that often the most terrifying villain is one with no clear backstory, or reason for their monstrous acts, we never even witness a character smart enough to avoid Kaizu’s game playing. So much of what the show seems concerned with, is Japanese society of the 1980s, and perhaps the manner of youth that was possibly being reared during such a competitive, all-or-nothing period in time. We could even equate Kaizu with a certain Patrick Bateman in many respects, but even American Psycho allowed us to view the world with enough shades of levity and humor to allow us to believe that such a creature could in fact wander the world with few to zero consequences. In the case of this young man, everyone else is either oblivious to his petty thinking, or absorbed by, and willing to buy into it, to often disastrous results. And this possibly even paints him as a hero by the show’s standards—which only makes the show worse in retrospect. While this may not have been the intent, the end result is pretty cut & dry. In Kaizu’s wild, it’s either be the hunter or the hunted. The funny comes when the prey are often so inept, that his actions seem far more calculated than they actually are.

Now one would assume that a review of something like this would require me to elaborate on how it all ends, but one can get the idea by the previous paragraphs, and make their own judgment as to whether or not to ever see it. It’s a bizarre curiosity that continues to baffle me (someone actually bankrolled this?). For a non-hentai release riddled with sex and rabid misogyny, this show stops at nothing to drag us through some of the absolute worst of human behavior with rarely to no moral compass to counterpoint it. But there is also an element of zeitgeist that may remind one of changes in the world around us now, where such mindsets are reaching their ultimate nadir. And in that sense, the show is a failed look at what some in Japan were either in fear, or awe of when thinking about the youth of the era. If anything, I’d love to dig up the manga, if only for the pure reason of seeing whether Kaizu ever crosses the wrong person, or goodness forbid is stopped by a faceful of STD. It’s an anime so incrementally horrifying, one may either run in fear, or stick around out of pure morbid masochism—perhaps painting viewers like myself in a none-too-flattering light.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a bathtub full of battery acid to tend to…

The Fujiko Telegrams: Lupin III Fujiko Mine, Episode 2

Continuing ElectricV01 & Wintermuted’s discussions regarding the new Lupin III television series event (Lupin III: Fujiko Mine), The Fujiko Telegrams is an in-the-moment blog/chatfest that’ll hopefully grant new and fun perspectives on the splashy return of one of anime/manga’s most enduring creations.

Episode Two: .357 Magnum

Wintermuted: Talk about unexpected wonderment. The second episode wastes no time in offering what is both a clever nod to the classic Bond films, as well as the colorfully cool movies of one Seijun Suzuki, in what is a smooth, moody way to introduce master marksman, Daisuke Jigen. If there was ever a moment that screamed Dai Sato (Bebop co-writer) to me, this episode was it. Not as comedic and overt in the action realm as the previous, it does a pretty solid job in setting up another famous rivalry. It’s always cool when these stories take a little extra time to explore what are ostensibly archetypes. But in pitting Fujiko against the often stone-cold Jigen, who starts as an implicated bodyguard for a troubled crime syndicate’s leader, this was an almost tonal about face.

ElectricV01: And again a perfect interpretation of the character. Jigen has long been one of my favorite anime characters, and this episode really focused on what pre-Lupin Jigen is like. Like in all past incarnations of his character, before he meets Lupin, he is as you put it “stone cold.”  He doesn’t really loosen up and let himself have fun until after partnering up with the master thief. Jigen in every previous version also has had an intense distrust in women, especially Fujiko, and it is quite nice to see where this distrust may had stemmed from. This episode had a nice film noir-ish feeling to it I really liked. It was only missing the classic detective narration. Less on the funny action as you said, but again that fit the story this week.

It’s especially fun, as we get a glimpse into each character’s internal politics prior to meeting Fujiko, who seems to fly in the face of these, with varying results..

 

Exactly, and each character so far has emerged from the encounter with this femme fatale changed in some way. Lupin finding something new worth chasing to relieve his boredom and Jigen some closure to his past. I’m curious to how Goemon is going to factor into this dynamic. In the original manga and green jacket series, the group first meets Goemon when Fujiko is posing as his fiance, and I’m curious if we will see a new interpretation of that classic story at some point in this new series .

 

 

Judging from the latest episode, we’re getting a peek at some new rendition of this meeting for sure. But when I continue thinking about the Jigen episode, I love how it again reinforces the dynamic that women in the world of Lupin often have to resort to their cunning, and sense of gall in the face of a so-called “man’s world”. Ciccolina makes for an interesting precursor/counterpoint to Fujiko, in that she perhaps commits far worse things in the name of desperately altering her fate. She remains relatable, but only in a sense that roles for women in the era the show is portraying…are very limited. Fujiko is a new brand of woman to this universe, and as such, comes off as something perhaps an “old fashioned” guy like Jigen cannot fathom. He’s super cool in this episode, but it’s clear he’s cornered into making some manner of evaluation. The life of a yojimbo just wasn’t going to cut it anymore..Especially after that.

Yep, and we should mention Kiyoshi Kobayashi, who has been voicing Jigen since the very first Lupin anime. In fact he is the only remaining original cast member, and he’s as good as ever. Also I am really digging Miyuki Sawashiro as the new voice of Fujiko. She is doing a great job so far.

Was wondering if it was still Kobayashi! It all seemed too perfect an impersonation. I also adore Kanchi Kurita’s take on the legendary Yasuo Yamada. Yes, the performances thus far have been more than a little faithful to the original cast. And the new members have done quite a lovely job of retaining the essence of the world, as well as the characters. Sawashiro is most definitely the most impressive addition in the title role. So far, just about every element, down to the audio mix of the series has impressed me thus far.

Also wanted to reiterate that the general presentation of the series has been a most exciting one that takes full advantage of techniques that have only altered the visual vernacular of anime recently. This mixed with some good writing, and performances, and you have a really cool start to what is promising to be a welcome ride.

Agreed!

 

 

 

So what of the recently released third episode? The beans have been spilled. What of our favorite stoic swordsman? I guess you’ll have to tune in to find out!

 

 

I have cut an unworthy object… I hope he says that!

 

 

::finger gun-er, sword::

Until Next….

Wish to catch up with the conversation? Watch Lupin III: Fujiko Mine here! (US only and members only.) Keep watching the letter stream!

The Fujiko Telegrams: Lupin III Fujiko Mine, Episode 1

On April 2012, an unexpected thrill came over a small subset of anime admirers here at AD, when one of this season’s big budget revivals appeared on the scene with little fanfare among US anime lovers. To think that despite a number of feature films, as well as several made-for-video projects and TV specials, anime/manga’s most beloved band of criminals had been out of the series loop for nearly three decades.

And with the first two episodes of Lupin III: Fujiko Mine, fans of the master thief have been treated to a visually astonishing, moody, and yet wholly reverent take on Monkey Punch’s classic characters. Sporting animation direction by Takeshi Koike (REDLINE) and head series direction by Sayo Yamamoto (Michiko To Hatchin), this is the kind of television event that is far more than a single AD commentator can handle, so join ElectricV01 and I as we parse through the show in progress!

Episode 1: Master Thief Vs. Lady Looter

Wintermuted: I’m going to open by saying that before I laid my eyes on this project, I had zero clue about what to expect. But right off the bat, when I saw the names behind it, I immediately grew excited. I was also caught off guard by the opening credits that seemed to imply a little more internalization than is normal for a Lupin III production. Happily, certain fears were dashed upon seeing the first few shots of this rendition of how Lupin met Fujiko, and how it retained so much of what I enjoy about a good Lupin caper. What were your impressions of this first encounter as a start?

ElectricV01: Well, like you I wasn’t sure what to expect.  There was no real trailer for the new series to speak of, so the entire visual style caught me off guard.  It’s such a departure visually from everything else we have seen of Lupin in the past 30 years, and I love it.  It looks as if Monkey Punch drew it himself. The character designs and the sketchy animation style hearken back to those original comics from the 60s. And after watching the first episode, I knew this series was going to be something special. It’s got just the perfect amount of nostalgic fun for the old school Lupin fan, while keeping everything new and exciting. This seems like the perfect place for people curious what Lupin is all about to jump on board.  They tell you everything you need to know right there in episode one.

Wintermuted: Oh, for sure. The complete palette on display from the very opening credits were surprising to say the least. And upon considering the names behind it, I’d throw in that this is an all-star production, featuring talents who in many ways have prepped for a project like this their entire careers. And boy, is it an out of the gate labor of love.

Much like what you said, the first episode is something of a typical Lupin adventure, albeit with a truly unique and evocative style reminiscent of the Monkey Punch comics. They even went so far as to mimic printing imperfections! Something I was not expecting at all, considering that this is the first time we’ve got a series that makes Fujiko the center of our story. (She’s a character I’ve always found to be the most complex/realistic of the bunch.) Any thoughts on how they treated the dynamic between her and Lupin’s first meeting?

ElectricV01: I thought it was pretty spot on, sowing the seeds of one of the most famous rivalries in anime.  Lots of people tend to forget Fujiko and Lupin spend just as much time against each other as they do working as a team, and here we get to see how that started brewing. Fujiko obviously already thinks she is a rival to the greatest thief in the world, and Lupin just kinda smirks and wonders what this new gorgeous challenge is really after. And they learn a lot about each other in this first outing: things like how Fujiko will kill people, and Lupin will not. Which is interesting as that is more in step with earlier animated versions of his character. As this show more resembles the manga in style, I was kinda expecting something of a return of the more ruthless Lupin from the original comic where he killed people left and right.

Wintermuted: It was a very interesting choice to make this caper one to not only set up this complicated er-relationship, but to also delve into places they are willing/not willing to go. What this does for me is offer something of a broad slate with which newer viewers may be able to better understand where the classic Lupin comes from. And seeing just how over the top this first caper with the false prophet is, perhaps what it implies is how much more dangerous Fujiko actually is. In classic superhero fashion, this may set up events to come down the line, making Lupin into something much less hopelessly selfish. This, or make him look at darker elements of his psyche, which is something that is often sidestepped for wacky action. (Not that the first episode is short on this in any respect.) Lupin may be playing with some serious fire this time..

ElectricV01: Right, and that also plays in the style of the original manga.  It had lots of wacky, almost MAD magazine style zaniness, but was still quite dark.  Betrayal, death, suicide were all commonplace in the manga. Some of this was touched on in the original “green jacket series” but I think it would be really interesting to see this darkness played with more in the storylines of this new series. Still, I’m glad they’re not straying too far from the character’s personalities as they have been portrayed over the past 40 years.  If you are a Lupin fan, you can watch this and go ,”Yep, that’s Lupin.  Yep, that’s Fujiko.”  And that is great.

Wintermuted: Yeah, ending it with Fujiko accidentally getting a little stoned,  and then leaving with a classic Lupin note as she failed to notice him leaving was a sweet way to round out the first episode. It’s immediately the classic “style vs. cunning” dynamic. (Recurring motif: This is Sayo Yamamoto’s second directorial effort, and her second time featuring a lead character taking off on a sweet bike. Like I mentioned before, primed to work on a series like this.)

ElectricV01: Well, motorcycles and Fujiko aren’t exactly a new concept… She’s been a biker since the first series.  It’s really become an iconic part of her character, riding off on her bike at the end of each episode or movie.  So it was another nice tie into the original series.

Speaking of Fuji-cakes, we would be remiss not to mention the amount of nudity in this show. Lupin started off as somewhat risque show, but over the years tamed out, with the sexuality and nudity only making sparse appearances.  It’s back in full force in this new series. Heck, even during the opening credits there isn’t a scrap of clothes on Fujiko, and she spends most of the first episode naked or nearly naked. This may turn off some new viewers who aren’t expecting it, but it is still a fascinating choice, and one that makes total sense as Fujiko is such a sensual, sexual being.

Wintermuted: And this is what I mean by speaking directly to devotees. This series expects us to be comfortable with this element of the Fujiko character, to the point that we are hopefully ready to take in more about her than we’ve been privy to before. In some respects, the monologue that plays over those beautiful opening credits might even be credited toward the internalizing of a character like Lupin, in hopes of his better understanding of her nature, and perhaps even explaining his inexplicable attraction to her. And again, this series doesn’t stop like so many recent shows and ruminate, it’s still an old fashioned Lupin caper. But what this does offer is a feminine (for the era in which the original manga and shows thrived) take on these characters, which is very refreshing!

(Oh what I meant about the bike remark, is that Yamamoto has clearly been a fan for a long time, which informed Michiko in her own series. Much like how Lupin and Jigen informed Spike, Jet, and Faye for Cowboy Bebop.The DNA never strays far..)

ElectricV01: Yeah, those opening credits are unique.  I’m not sure I’ve seen anything like them in recent memory.  And this first episode is an old fashioned Lupin caper like you said, and I think that’s why I love it so much.  It feels new yet familiar at the same time.  I really can’t think of anything I didn’t like about it.  Great style, great voice acting, great music, great everything.  A+ in my book.


Wish to catch up with the conversation? Watch Lupin III: Fujiko Mine here! (US only and members only.) Keep watching the letter stream!

What if I had never gotten into anime?

Have you ever wondered where you’d have gone if you hadn’t become an anime fan?

I’ve always wondered if I hadn’t gotten into anime, what would’ve happened to me?

If you had met me back then, you would’ve met a very different person.

The year was 1995, when I graduated high school, the best year of my teenage days. I went to the prom with a pretty good looking gal, hung out with friends in a limo, ate at an expensive French restaurant (aren’t they all), and then went on a nice retreat the next day.

I was a high school senior: a veteran of the war of adolescence, battling shyness, struggling with my feelings for the opposite sex, avoiding  bullies, shutting myself off some times, and dying to be a club maniac at other times. You know, the usual stuff that almost all adults go through in their younger days.

I remember right after graduation, after we tossed our hats in the air, and I was on my way home with my parents, on our way to a Chinese restaurant for celebration. I knew exactly what I wanted to listen to on our way; I inserted the cassette tape (wow, did these even exist) of Top Gun’s soundtrack; I had already fast-forwarded it to the Top Gun Anthem. I felt like I was going to soar into the sky.

Somewhere in the sky, my dream, whatever it was, was waiting for me. I was flying somewhere, or so I believed.

I was not outgoing, but I was not reclusive. I knew how to be, for a lack of better word, ippanjin (can be translated as normal crowd, perhaps). I was pretty positive about life because I had became a Christian one year earlier, and I had gone to Life ’95, a huge Christian party, in Orlando, Florida. Filled with positivity, I knew how to tell a good story—my favorite was the one about how my prom looked disastrous but worked out well in the end, and I attributed its success to God’s blessings.

I simply believed then.

Fast-forward (3x the normal speed), and here I am, in 2012. I’m rather cynical about life, less hopeful, have weak faith, don’t know how to act like an ippanjin, am an otaku, and watch anime as my primary means of entertainment.

I’ve gone through years of alcohol addiction; I wasted my college years drowning in booze, porn, and a lot of 90’s anime. I was once wealthy, but now technically in the category of being poor (but far from it in reality). I’m no longer simply trusting.

All this time, two things have always accompanied me, and they have almost never been at odds with each other, oddly enough. These things are anime and God.

I’ve always wondered why God allows me to watch anime, and he doesn’t tell me to get off of it. After all, anime has very little or nothing to do with Christianity, or at least I still believe that today. People would probably tell me Eva this, Alucard that, Trigun this, or whatever.

Once again, oddly enough, I’ve learned a lot of Christian lessons through different moments in different anime. Some of these anime were funny, but most were serious (without taking themselves too seriously, thank God), and almost none of them said a direct word about God, Jesus, or Christianity. Actually, most of them had nothing to do with religion. They were simply great works of animation. Great stories.

I’ve always wondered about that. Why is it that there are Christian anime watchers, and even Christian otakus (is that an oxymoron?). Recently, I even met a woman (no, we’re not dating, just working on a project together) who shares a very similar background in that she grew up in Taiwan, went to the US to study for college and graduate school, and watches anime as entertainment.

I wonder if it will take a lifetime to discover why.

Or is the question “why” even relevant at this point in my life, with our (Mike, Jeremy, me, Linda, MLM, Dan, and a group of awesome folks) site, Anime Diet, being a major indie press in the US and our Facebook page having close to 8,700 likes.

I am wondering exactly this: if I were to meet the me that just graduated from high school, toe to toe, in the middle of Rockville, Maryland, what would I say to him?

I take all that in with another gulp of beer, and I’ll leave you with that and bid you good night

or good day.

Jazz Hands: “Kids on the Slope,” Jazz, and Me

I really did kinda look like this growing up.

I: One Note Samba

I envied them, the kids in the high school jazz band. I was the misfit pianist in the ninth grade orchestra, a player that didn’t belong: unless it’s a piano concerto, there’s not supposed to be a pianist. They accommodated me anyway, letting my jangling chords ring in the background as the violins, cellos, and brass slid and swooped into the 1812 Overture, the Indiana Jones theme.

Where else was I supposed to go, though? I’d been taking classical music piano lessons since the age of five. I knew my scales, arpeggios, and cadences, and I knew how to read music from a sheet. I tried, and sometimes failed, to follow the metronome in the quest to not only play all the notes correctly but keep them on the beat. “You’re always too fast,” my piano teacher, and my mother, would often complain. I never learned how to play from anything that didn’t have both treble and bass clefs and all the notes written out to tell me exactly where to go. The orchestra was the only place for people with my kind of training, but still, I didn’t quite belong there.

But the pianist belonged in the jazz band. Heck, sometimes he even had a solo. Other times, he filled the rhythm with the bassist and the drummer, diminished and ninth and suspended chords placed just right on and between beats. Fills would slink in from time to time. The reeds and the horns would shout and the sax would croon, but the piano was cool. Understated. Sophisticated.

So sometime in the summer after my freshman year in high school, I asked my piano teacher: teach me to play jazz, so I can audition for the jazz band. Luckily, he knew both jazz and classical, so he started me on a new book, and told me to beef up my scales and cadences. “You’re going to need it.” It’s a different way of thinking, a new world.

Music can be found everywhere.

II: It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)

Being early trained in classical piano or violin, of course, has become part of the Asian stereotype. An entire book was just published by a Chinese-American “Tiger Mother” who proudly forced, belittled, and punished her daughters to become musical prodigies. It’s always classical music, never any other kind; the famous Suzuki method is founded upon repetition after repetition of famous pieces by famous composers. The Tiger Mom denied her daughter bathroom breaks until she played a piece exactly right.

What jazz means is something else entirely. It is not as respectable. It is not as suitable, perhaps, on some cultural level. “It’s black music,” my mother once said, with the implication that it wasn’t for anyone else. In the 1950s and 1960s, when the new anime Kids on the Slope is set, jazz had yet to acquire the upscale/yuppie association that it carries today. There was still the stench of urbanness, of drug addiction (reading a list of famous jazz musicians is like reading a list of junkies), of avant-garde beatniks and rebels and dive bars and underground clubs.

Kids on the Slope (Sakamichi no Apollon) captures this divide perhaps too obviously: Kaoru is the bespectacled honor student who plays classical piano. He encounters Sentaro, the roof-dwelling, free-spirited, delinquent jazz drummer. There is a reliance on shorthand and stereotype here that hopefully will become more complex later, which the careful pacing of the show seems to promise. But for now, the shape of the story is a familiar one: uptight kid learns to relax and live a little through the power of rebellious music, while perhaps falling in love at the same time. Not that great stories can’t be made from stock elements, but it’s not a particularly unique one.

The perceived rigidity of classical training is taken to such an extreme, in fact, that it manifests itself as nausea-inducing social anxiety whenever Kaoru encounters unfamiliar situations. He is the player confronted only with a lead sheet and not a full bevy of treble and bass notes, of exact instructions. Sentaro, on the other hand, finds rhythm whether he’s behind a drum kit or whether he’s just tapping out a rhythm with twigs on a handrail. The music is in his head, not on a page. And when Kaoru tries to correctly play the chords and notes of “Moanin,” Sentaro insists there’s more to the song than just the notes. He practically quotes Duke Ellington: “it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.” The musical session then abruptly ends, but not before an intrigued Kaoru decides to embark on a new journey, the way all music is really taught: by listening to the masters (on record or live) and by playing along with someone else.

He could be smoking a joint as far as a lot of Asian parents go.

III: Kind of Blue

This is too broad, of course. The classical composers themselves were masters of improvisation, and the best classical orchestras and players interpret the pieces with as much feeling and passion as the great jazz soloists over a lead sheet.

But as I began to learn jazz, I saw just how different not only the playing style, but the mentality, was compared to classical music. One only gets to be individualistic in classical music after one has learned to play all the notes correctly, from memory, and with the exact tempo as written. In jazz, as in all things genuinely American, individual expression is the whole point. Right away, you are presented not with a full bevy of treble and bass notes keeping the hands busy with all the notes to follow. You get a lead sheet with a melody line and chords on top of the single staff. The melody line is played through only twice: at the beginning, and the end. In between the soloists surge forth into the unknown, using the chord sequence as a foundation for their own riffs and phrases. You’re on your own.

I couldn’t handle this. As I struggled through my audition piece, the ballad “Autumn Leaves,” I would play the melody line with my right hand and try to play the chords with my left. The metronome ticked. I got the notes right, but the chords seemed plodding, thudding even. I was playing whole three note chords, with no major sevenths, suspensions, or blue notes: the things that actually made things “jazzy.” And I had no swing. I would try to add some flourish here or there, but then everything went off completely. There was so little guidance. These pieces—standards, as they’re called—were supposed to already be familiar, so familiar that you could just take the melody line as a departure point. But I was still trying to learn the melody.

Bit by bit, I improved. It took hours of listening and playing, sometimes with eyes closed. I tried to hear the tap of the cymbals, the slow thrum of the bass player in the silence. I tried to emulate the effortless cool and sophistication of the chords I heard the pianist play in the recordings, but always came up short.

Still, when I played it in front of the band director, I somehow made it in. I started playing in the jazz band in my junior year of high school, 1997.

IV: Giant Steps

There was already a pianist in the jazz band, Chappell. He wore round spectacles and his shaggy, long blond hair flew all around his head when he tore up and down the piano. He was also really into progressive rock, the only other person I knew who knew about the bands I adored at the time: Yes, King Crimson, Genesis.

I was in awe of Chappell from nearly the beginning, in awe of his ability to play classical music just as well as he could play jazz just as well as he could compose his own pieces for woodwinds. The band director told him to mentor and train me in how to become a better jazz pianist, and essentially to be his understudy whenever he wasn’t available for concerts and other band performances.

Kids on the Slope gets this right: the way popular music, as opposed to something like classical music, is really taught and passed down is from person to person. It’s not just the mentoring that listening to good records has, though that’s essential: I still couldn’t play “Autumn Leaves” that well even after I heard the song dozens of times. Someone usually has to show you the ropes. Chappell would tell me: ok, here’s some different scale modes that sound good in this context. See how adding a seventh here or a lowered fifth makes it sound jazzy? Try learning a pentatonic (blues) scale and add a blue note here and there to the solo. Little by little, I began to hear it enough that I could play it, at least sometimes. Chord sequences, not just individual chords, came alive. The right kind of repetition became riffs.

I was learning to not just hear, but to speak jazz.

My guess is that this is the role Sentaro is going to play in Kaoru’s life. He’s going to get him to swing, to put all that dull exercises we all learned as classical pianists to use by showing how they free you, not constrict you. He will learn that all that music theory actually has a purpose, and once it’s not just something to parrot back on a test but internalized, then the solos will come, and they will sound great. He will learn to follow and weave himself in between the drumbeat.

All musical training is ultimately about that, even classical: all artistic training really. You learn the rules so you can know when to bend and break them as a master. For masters there is no such thing as a mistake: it just rolls into the whole and can even be endearing. That’s ultimately the problem with the way music is sometimes taught: the whole point sometimes seems to be trying to avoid mistakes. Be just a little off-rhythm or off note, and it’ll sound obvious. Rote mastery of classical music is suited for those who desire correctness in all things, which is perhaps why it appeals to certain kinds of parents. But that’s not art, that’s mimicry.

Kids on the Slope, then, promises to be a show that talks about how craft can become soul. Perhaps Kaoru will teach Sentaro that precision is important too: even in jazz, you can play off-rhythm or off-key in ways that sound less than pleasant. But for a lot of us who were raised by “Tiger Parents” and for whom our greatest fear was messing up a note during the recital, it’s a welcome reminder that music, art, is ultimately about freedom and pure expression, the kind that even words can’t say. It was that for Mozart (the movie Amadeus portrays this beautifully), for an increasingly deaf Beethoven composing the Ninth Symphony. So it can be for even the humblest player who submits not so much to rules and notes, but to the spirit behind them.

It's close enough.

V: Moanin’

How funny that the first episode is called “Moanin'”. “Moanin'” is also the one song where I have a recording of myself playing jazz in high school.

We were at the 1998 jazz invitational hosted by our local university. Our set was six songs long. I played the first song, “Manteca,” and played and soloed on “Moanin'”; the rest were handled by the far superior Chappell. The credits aren’t marked on the CD, but I can tell when it’s me: when I play, it’s always a little bit off rhythm.

The version of “Moanin'” we played isn’t the Art Blakey one that is featured in the anime; it’s a totally different piece by Charlie Mingus. It’s a messy piece by design, made messier by the slightly off-key way high school musicians play, a jumble of sounds that are barely held together by the rhythm section. Professional, it is not.

When it was time for me to solo, I waited for the sax player to finish, closed my eyes, and took off. This is the result: the whole song (solo begins at 3:18).

It felt a whole lot better playing it than it sounded in retrospect: frankly, it’s pretty bad, off-rhythm and sometimes obviously off-note. I was far from a master then, and I’m still not.

But when we finished, I heard the applause and the cheers. The band director said my name. I stood up and took a bow, and then let Chappell take over for the rest of the set. I’d said my piece.

Black Day, single awareness day…

Black Day again… Even Christ talks about us singles (incels), “there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others.” So, here I present a jisaku-poemu song as a chuuni lyricist.

Valentine’s Day without any chocolate, thus failed to celebrate White Day…while seeing icha-icha (lovey dovey) couples walking down the street, holding each other’s hands giggling, your soul gem suffers first degree burns, can’t help but scream, “Riajuu must explode!”

St. Valentine’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band? Give me a break. Rather paint it black with Dokupe (Dr. Pepper) besides black sauce of jajangmyeon. Dr. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band… Is that gonna quench our thirst, which is exactly Sehnsucht in German, or Saudade in Brazilian?

So, let us celebrate Black Day! 

I Peropero 2D Girls

All I want is kiss, for Paradise Regained
So I snuck the drink she had, *Dokupe’s Lonely Hearts
Indirectly I had skinship with her

But she caught my sin, and she grabbed her phone
She said, “Noli Me Tangere (Don’t you get near me). Or I will call the cops!”
Won’t she ever get I was in love with her?

Those 廃人(drug addicts) have found LSD
But we the 2D girl addicts are gonna find true love in 2D
We’re gonna build our own harem of loli, tsundere, twin tail
But you see, all I taste is just LCD

So I peropero twin tail
Peropero tsundere
Peropero yandere
Loli/yojo peropero
Peropero peropero
But taste of my tears mixed with LCD

*Dokupe – An abbreviation of “Dr. Pepper” in Japanese. A favorite drink of KamiMemo‘s Alice, and also Steins;Gate‘s Okarin and Chris.

Day of Yamome (single). ヤモメイト Yamomate (yamome + mate) just like otomate (otome + mate). Thus,

yamomates of the world, unite!

P.S. Originally wanted Megurine Luka to sing this, but only have a Mac…

Upotte: Put ya Guns On

It will come as no surprise to the reader that Upotte objectifies girls.  That is, after all, literally the premise of the show: that girls can actually be guns.  But perhaps the truly artistic element of its premise is that statement in reverse: that guns – inanimate objects – can be girly.

Perhaps the teacher’s dilemma is that these guns cannot be treated as such – they have feelings of shyness and inadequacy, and are embarrassed easily, just like ordinary girls.  Rather than showing the girls responding well to being treated like guns, the lesson of Upotte seems to be the backwards implication that guns ought to be treated more like girls: given leeway for their unique personality quirks, handled with care and delicacy, and generally treated with respect.

Continue reading Upotte: Put ya Guns On