Category Archives: Face Off Review

Audio Face Off: Tari Tari

We didn’t think it would end up being as good as it was! Ray and gendomike sound off in another audio Face Off about one of summer 2012′s sleeper hits, Tari Tari. We talk about how it beat our low expectations of the genre and its initial first impressions, where it turned around, and why it succeeds as a feel good show. And Sawa. Oh, yes, Sawa.

As a gift to you, here is a GIF that you may enjoy which encapsulates the virtues of this series.

(HT: notsuki. There really is an awful lot of this…)

Audio Face Off: The Problems and Promise of Kokoro Connect

Ray and I are back in our first entry in the Face Off series in years…and this time we’re talking about one of the most talked about shows this season, the high school body swapping drama Kokoro Connect. The strengths and the weaknesses of the show are well-known by now—the great acting, the questionable resolution of girls’ problems, among other things—and Ray and I cover a lot of that ground, and more. We especially discuss the impact of the 5th episode, which contained many shocking events and threw into question some of the assumptions we’ve made about the characters—especially “selfless freak” Taichi.

For the time being it’s going to be audio-only, but I’m going to try to see if I can do an auto-transcript with the new transcription abilities on my computer and tablet sometime later. In the meantime—enjoy!

The Fujiko Telegrams: Lupin III Fujiko Mine 8

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. Reaching the second half, it looks like things are ready to be brought to a full boil. How did it fare this time?

Wintermuted: Hoo boy. Where to start with this one? What begins as a suspiciously Fujiko-free episode becomes a crucial one, when Lupin enlists the help of Jigen to track down a fortune teller who has a knack of accurately calling the death days of many of the master thief’s previous hits. And now with the source of his power in Fujiko’s hands, and the cops closer to the trio than ever, things gel into an intriguing mix of character shadowplay, unexpected alliances, and one really cool finale. I truly love when mythologies like this straddle the absurdity of the source material, and add a big dose of plot suspension to make it work. As much as I would rather have far more Fujiko in this series, this is a fairly well constructed alternative at the midpoint.

ElectricV01: And it seems we are getting to the main, overarching plot of this series. Obviously, we have the introduction of the “big bad” as he has made his first (blatant) move on Fujiko and Lupin. I liked how we also started getting more inklings of how this group is finally gonna come together later in the series, most likely united against this common foe.

That said though, I’m still not enjoying this series as much as I should be. The inconsistency is bugging me. Also, I’m still not sold that a Lupin series needs to have this much darkness and death. Lots of dead cops in this episode, all done by some of our favorite characters.

In a plot not too far off from the crazier Lupin works (ala Mamo—think about it. A lot of that film is certifiably insane, not to mention morbid), this one is still very much in line with the era in which it was made, which leaves me feeling like this is precisely where the crew wants to be. With “fortune teller” Shitoto, we have a lucky loser who has rubbed elbows with some truly dangerous people. And now with his one claim to fame in the hands of our title character, the myth of knowing when one is to die comes into question. (Again, a conceit that is deeply entrenched in manga of the seventies—death is never far in this era, as Go Nagai continued to break taboos, and Takao Saito made death practically a character in his works.) One of the most inviting elements in this episode for me, was the sheer intimacy of location, and the same said about how closely this binds our leads. Leave it up so something this sinister to keep them from busting out of Dodge, and making a break for it.

Well, it sure looked like Shitoto stole Mamo’s wig and glued it to his own head. It’s interesting that the character designers for this show seem to be lifting quite a few older designs or pieces of designs for new characters. I’ve noticed this a few times throughout the series so far, not just with Shitoto/Mamo. Another example was the set designer/phantom character for episode four, who look exactly like the villain in episode 5 (Gold Smuggling 101 if you have the English DVDs) of the red jacket series. Yes, I’m that much of a Lupin otaku that I noticed that…

I’ll have to take your word for it on the whole death thing though. You are much more knowledgeable in such things than I am. I’m not not sure I felt this episode was as claustrophobic as you imply though. It seemed all over the place to me. Sometimes we are with Jigen, then Lupin, then Oscar, then Lupin and Jigen, then Fujiko…and so on.

I guess what I mean by intimacy is that for the first time in the series, all the events affect the main characters in a far more direct fashion. Keeping it all within city limits was also interesting. By keeping all the action within cars & buildings, there was a bit of a fresh action film feeling that had been largely absent throughout the whole series. It was really nice to see how the story made sure there was little way out for anyone, especially with Oscar and cops so blazing hot on their trail.

And yes, those visual callbacks were a lot of fun. And yeah, the tone here has largely been that of more recent dramatic television. It has largely been about taking a period piece and giving it the teeth that earlier works simply were not capable of. And in the case of “Dying Day,” it’s largely about living up to the danger of such possessions. So when we have the old switcheroo at the finale, what follows is a very eye-opening reveal of what has been haunting the edges of the series thus far. Showing one’s teeth for sure!

I was wondering if this series was going to have an over-arching plot, as that is atypical of previous Lupin series. Also the visuals of the villain and how it ties to the opening credits is an interesting touch.

I think I have figured out (finally) why I am having a hard time with this show. I don’t like Fujiko in this. They seem to be all over the place with her and I can’t grasp onto to something to like about her. I’ve not had that problem before, I’ve always dug her, even when I didn’t agree with what the writers did with her. And especially because she is the “main” character this time around, there should be something likeable about her… right?

Oh, and we finally get Lupin’s reaction to Fujiko and Zenigata having sex, even though he found that out two episodes ago… Inconsistency strikes again.

I guess I can see some of these issues, but a part of me is enjoying what this seems most aimed at being – which is a nasty melange/tribute to anime of its era, and elder fans. The intent to psycholanalyze Fujiko may seem out of character to what has come before, but that’s exactly why it is interesting to me. It’s much less meant to be a solid narrative, and much more a treasure trove of nods and ideas. More a knowing pastiche, and not any attempt at being an olive branch of a series. It expects us to be familiar, and to be open to dramatic shifts. Very much a closed-circle series with a little there for those looking for a little edge with their throwback.

Meh, they can try and tribute and analyze and wink and nod all they want, but without a good grasp of story and character it falls flat. Also to me “different” does not equal “interesting.” Change is fine, but change should feel organic, it should have a reason. Change for the sake of change or shaking things up is one of my biggest pet peeves. Jarring me with, for example, a drastic unexplained change to Zenigata, doesn’t make me want to watch more because it is different. Rather, it has the opposite effect. If you had told me a year ago that there would be a new Lupin anime that looked this good but I would be so indifferent to it that it would take a me week to make time to watch a new episode rather than being glued to my computer the moment it was released, I would have called you a damn liar.

I guess for me, I find that such a storied and celebrated franchise deserves a bold new angle. It’s definitely not interested in being safe. And while not a narrative juggernaut, it is very much in line with anime of decades past which were often packed with inconsistencies and a hellbent spirit. In the 1970s, anime was so much more about the emotional essence than anything remotely sensible, which is a large part of its attraction to me. It was often like an anarchic punk show, where it was anyone’s guess as to where we could wind up next. We were at the mercy of artists, which was exciting. So crossing this with a hint of contemporary self-dissection is inviting for me.

As an episode, I found myself more involved than I had been previously, so perhaps that speaks to the jaded part of me that enjoys a cracked, wired kaleidoscope vision of a classic. Seriously, I’d love some art from this wild child on my wall. Definitely curious as to how it plays to other old school fans.

The Fujiko Telegrams: Lupin III Fujiko Mine 7

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.

Wintermuted: No sooner do we follow one of the more symbolically ambitious episodes of this series, with one of the more narratively ambitious ones. Taking a wild page from the history books, Fujiko and Goemon are contacted to zero in on, and eventually assassinate, a celebrated Castro-esque leader after his island country’s liberation which has ruffled the feathers of many surrounding nations. We are flung back and forth between time periods before and after the dicey mission, offering us some interesting historical context for the series. And to top it off, the show’s thesis regarding Fujiko, and her motivations continues into some unexpected territory. Just curious as to your impressions this time..

ElectricV01: I enjoyed this episode a bit more than the previous one. I liked the alternate history take on the Cuban Missile Crisis, and it’s always a welcome addition when Goemon is around. Are Fujiko and Goemon out to start World War III or prevent it? Common sense tells you of course they are gonna save the day and probably miss out on their payday, but it was still a fun romp. Though honestly, what was with the weird names for the countries involved? Why couldn’t it just be America and the Soviet Union? Much oddness.

I immediately found the nation name-warping to be quite charming. Much like the way anime began avoiding product placement as money dwindled in the 1990s, it made more sense to turn this into something of a parody planet. And that’s just a smidge of what I dug about this episode, even if the more silly action we come to expect didn’t come into play until late in the game. In fact, a part of me really liked the constant darting back and forth between times before and closer to action day. It offered up a refreshingly believable story pace and sense of place.

Also worth making noise about was the score, specifically the Latin sounds of the mid-1960s, as well as the cultured mind of the would-be revolutionary Philadel, who is also quite charming and is actually capable of perhaps even inspiring Fujiko to act a little out of her usual bounds.

Faux News would say that obviously the director, writers, and animators are all communists for portraying an obvious Castro analog in such a positive light. Lucky for us, I’m fairly certain they aren’t even aware anime exists.

The name thing was weird to me, but I can see your point. I also liked the pacing in this episode. Great tension with the back and forth between the two countries’ war rooms, the fighter jets itching to shoot down the plane with Fujiko and Philadel inside, and the doomsday clock that almost felt like a character in its own right. And you are right, again we see a different side of Fujiko. It just serves as a reminder of how many different roles she really plays throughout the history of the Lupin franchise: lover, thief, antagonist, betrayer, babysitter… I’m not sure you can really pin one moniker on her. Maybe Femme Fatale, and she was the original in the world of anime and manga.

It was just exciting to see her almost flirt with something resembling noble this time. And like you say, it’s fascinating to see Yamamoto and company examine her many faces. I liked the brave approach toward Philadel as this almost suave, rockstar entity with a soul. It offered such a respite from the, dare I say it, selfish, obvious lot she tends to hang around. The little moments before and during the whole affair with the ousted government cronies offered an amount of gravitas that has been lacking throughout much of the series thus far.

But what of Goemon’s role here? Still not completely sure how he fit here.

The problem with Goemon traditionally is he is always used as a deus ex machina, which to be fair, comes with the territory of having a highly trained samurai with a sword that can cut through anything on your team. He’s there for when you get into a tough spot.

But the problem is that this gets boring. He usually doesn’t have anything to do until something needs to be cut. And while this episode sort of falls into that trap, the previous episode (#3) with Goemon wasn’t like that at all…which I think is one of the reasons I liked it so much. I like that Goemon in this series doesn’t know where he belongs yet. He knows he has this awesome sword and he has trained to use it to the pinnacle of his ability, but he is conflicted. He doesn’t know where he fits into the scheme of the world, or what to do with the power he has been given. In episode 3, he tries to be an assassin. That didn’t work and we know he knows that didn’t work from this episode as he doesn’t think killing is his forté. Hopefully when he finally finds his place in this reimagined Lupin world, it won’t be as Mr. Deus Ex Machina.

It’s just funny, imagining him as Fujiko’s “boyfriend”. They never figure out a way to make him work here, which I guess is counterbalanced by everything else. Now if only the episode had enough time to breathe, and drink in the tension as to whether Fujiko and Goemon could actually go through with the plan. As it works out, it feels slight, where one could easily see this being a much larger quandary.

But for what it presented in terms of time period, politics, and ultimately place, this had enough promise to get a pass from me. Now here’s hoping they take a cue from this, and add on more of this mature spin on the JFK era into the proceedings. I’d be excited for an irreverent Mad Men-esque bent to the world. The possibilities!

The style certainly fits. I just want an episode with the entire gang together working as a team. I don’t think I’m going to get that until (best guess) episode 13 though…

 

The Fujiko Telegrams: Lupin III Fujiko Mine 6

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.

Wintermuted: After a relatively bumpy first half, the series up and pulls what seems to be the show’s true manifesto in this, unexpected and ultimately fascinating midpoint. Fujiko is suddenly a teacher at an idyllic all-girls private school which serves up a series of payoffs that may just make a few die hard fans either swoon, scream, or at the very least, raise some eyebrows. Practically taking charge and twisting up a “yuri” ideal ala Maria-sama Ga Miteru, and then doing a number on the male cast, this is modestly ballsy stuff. Thoughts, Dan?

ElectricV01: I’m surprised you felt that way, because honestly to me the first half of the episode felt like pandering.  By George, we must include some YURI in the show!  Having Fujiko make out with herself in the opening credits is not enough!  True, it turns out some of the yuri wasn’t yuri, and I liked how Lupin and Fujiko team up to outsmart (spoilers) Oscar, but overall this episode did not impress me at all.  It seemed very middle of the road.  Average.

Wintermuted: I had to watch it more than once to come to terms with what had transpired, and can humbly say that what’s going on here is pretty far from average when one considers everything that has come before. At least for me, the backdrop choice, the imagery of the school, and all the cliches that are borne from it (e.g., Fujiko working at the school under her well-worn name, and all the broken hearts in her wake) inevitably carry a unique purpose. To be fair, one could see eyes rolling to the back of my head come the first five minutes. But soon after, and once Zenigata’s bizarrely proficient and potentially imbalanced right hand-dude Oscar comes into the picture, we are suddenly in another thematic universe. In many ways, this is what I was hoping would happen sooner. A full blown solo caper that exists solely to offer counterbalance.

But considering the finale here, as well as some unique use of symbology, this is one ballsy episode that required a certain amount of setup—especially to those familiar with the Lupin world. And lastly, one cannot see the instantly uncharacteristic “yuri” elements to be pandering to any specific niche audience, when such a fandom could not be further from the often too grizzled and manly dimension of Lupin. It’s far too hard left to make work, unless it is meant to make a point—which I opine that it does, perhaps a little too finely though (talk about a flaming pen!).

ElectricV01: Meh. I just don’t see it. As soon as Fujiko was making out with students, it lost me. Maybe like you said there are hidden meanings about all the symbolism, and maybe it was poking fun at all the yuri type shows that the anime factories are pumping out, but if so it didn’t register with me. You and I are coming at this from completely different directions. You know a lot about these creators, their methods, what they have done before, and why they make certain choices. I am just looking at how the overall storytelling and characters are registering with me as a fan of everything Lupin.

And that said, I’m really, really sad how hit or miss this show has been for me. I love Lupin more than any other anime and I really want to love this show, but for me there are parts of it that just aren’t working. For example, last episode Lupin nearly had a conniption fit when it was insinuated (falsely) that Fujiko slept with Jigen, while in this episode he finds out she in fact slept with Zenigata and barely bats an eye at it. What the hell is that? It’s inconsistent.

Wintermuted: It’s possible that the series has in fact been toying with all of us from the getgo. There seems to be little consistency in regards to time with this series in general. There has been enough going on to suggest that none of this is happening in any linear fashion. And the one consistent theme has been of desire, and what many are willing to do for it. As the opening credits continuously suggests, it is asking itself, and its title character about her wishes, compulsions, and demons. And in choosing to use the world of feminine love as an opposing backdrop, the rest of the episode functions to isolate Fujiko as a being that cannot be satiated by mere notions of love and even material.

In this episode, the most popular student harbors a hopeless crush on Mine-sensei, which of course becomes the center of a caper involving the girl’s famous brother and a valuable thesis he has written. All the while Fujiko quotes Goethe regarding male vanity, and the depths of desire women covet. So when the tables are turned, and Oscar comes into the picture, the potential sexism of the whole series is turned upon its head. This is Fujiko’s world. And it’s one where the men are merely pawns to be played at will. It even goes so far as to boldly turn Lupin into a fallen example of a previously male-dominant world.

It’s so much less about story, and more about visualized nuance, which is extremely non-commercial. So yeah, new fans? Not likely to happen.

ElectricV01: I want story though DAMMIT! Story is important. Give me good story, or give me death! And, unfortunately, new fans is something a franchise like Lupin desperately needs. He is one of the most recognizable characters in Japan, yet I think the median age of his fans are like 40 to 50. I remember when I watched the first episode of this new series I thought this show was exactly what Lupin needed to bring new fans to the series. Give the visual style a much needed shot in the arm, while keeping the fun stories, and throw in a little bit more sexy time. You keep the old fans happy and bring in the new fans with the stunning visuals and fun adventure. Episode 1 is a perfect example of this.

Wintermuted: I can see that for sure. But in retrospect, that was mere prelude to what the show is actually interested in doing. And while the first episode featuring Jigen made me ready for a more visually unique spin on matters, a lot of repeat uses of motifs, lines, and images began to suggest something else in the cards. And even as I cringed at the jarring fourth episode, the suggestion there was enough to make me wonder what Yamamoto and crew were really looking to do. And this episode pretty much confirms my suspicions. The yuri elements are a forced means of conveying that this is not so much about Fujiko’s need to use men, or even be evil, but rather that she has no compunctions about doing this to ANYONE.

And what transpires from this revelation on, is consistent with the way the opening credits work, which is more akin to the characters of Lupin trapped in this dreamspace that questions their motivations. Motivations that lead to one simple conclusion—their reasoning pales to that of the desires of Fujiko. Why? Because Fujiko IS desire. And it’s something that knows no foreseen limits. The rest of the series is likely to continue working at this thesis not unlike an essay. The story work here is wonky, that’s for sure, but it’s very much an impressionistic take on character psychology that isn’t afraid to take chances.

Catch the Cagliostro take-down near the finale? If that isn’t manifesto, I don’t know what is!

ElectricV01: I’m not sure what you mean, I didn’t catch any obvious references to Cagliostro.  I’ll tell you one thing I did like about the episode was the scene where Lupin was running from the machine gun totting school girls while carrying “Isolde”. It pushed all the right nostalgic buttons. Also I still love the musical choices in this show. But yeah… other than that, this episode gets a distinct “meh” from me.

Wintermuted: On a story level, I guess I can see where you’re coming from. But once I caught myself saying “Is Fujiko pulling off what I think she is?” during the radio call, it hit me that I was on track with what is being done here. It’s a funny payoff to what I initially cringed at. Again, a long way to go for a punch to the ribs like that.The Cagliostro gag comes upon his rescue of “Isolde”, and his quiet moment with “her”. He begins his “I want no rewards” spiel, which eventually ends with a chase leading to him being gassed unconscious.(in a silhouette image that is very bold, not to mention distressing) Now a part of me feels like this audacious moment has two distinct reasons for being here:

a) To praise Monkey Punch, and give a kick to the pants of a certain Ghibli icon..

or

b) To render the general idea of the unstoppable male ideal of Lupin, impotent.

That’s right. If this entire series is happening within Fujiko’s mind, this imagery makes some truly confrontational sense. Yamamoto and company seem ready to turn the whole world of Lupin upside down in the name of both paying tribute to cinema, and even criticizing mores & gender notions of the past. While it may not be weaving a tight narrative, I do have to comment that this is something of a rarity to anime. (with possibly Casshern Sins as a unique exception)

ElectricV01: Umm… ok. I’m sorry man, I just don’t see it. That scene reminded me nothing of Cagliostro.  And I really don’t see anything different here in this series than in any previous ones where Fujiko or some other femme would outsmart Lupin from time to time. Lupin doesn’t always win. In fact in his old series, he barely ever escaped with the treasure and women always seemed to get the better of him.Because of this, I’ve never seen him as an unstoppable male ideal.

Doesn’t mean it’s not there, I just don’t see it.  Maybe the next episode will be different.

The Fujiko Telegrams: Lupin III Fujiko Mine 5

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.

Now this is a little more like it. After what was almost a reason for me to consider dropping the series, up comes this nifty little story which at last pitts Magnum versus Walther while in search of a treasure within a newly found Egyptian pyramid. We also get a little more insight into Lupin’s personality regarding Fujiko, and to what absurd heights he will go for his “quarry”. More in tune with classic adventure/cliffhanger tales, this one’s light on story, but is at least told well enough to not be terribly offensive.

Agreed. Truth be told after last weeks… affair, it took me a while to want to jump back into the show. (My apologies to our readers for the late update on this. Completely my fault). While this episode was much better, having much more Lupin than any previous episode plus the return of Jigen, I still felt the taint of episode 4 and I had a hard time enjoying this adventure. For a first meeting between cast members, it does a decent job, but really not anything we haven’t seen before in previous stories. Of course Lupin and Jigen are gonna fight the first time they meet, and of course Fujiko is pulling the strings.

So one of the initial things I heard regarding the episode prior to my watching it was the absurd amount of frontal nudity. Twitter was flickering like a suburb during the Christmas season about this, which admittedly caused some concern on my part. If viewers had been paying attention to the series prior, this is not necessarily something to be surprised about. Was this to be more contemporary levels of service than has ever been for this franchise? So I jumped into matters with no shortage of trepidation.

Thankfully, my concerns were dashed after the initial scene, because for all the noise, it really all just takes place during one scene, but it is in “service” of the overall tone of the discussion between Lupin & Fujiko. It essentially emphasizes the master thief’s desire (ahem—commitment) toward attaining his objective, and it renders him something of an antiquated little pervert of a guy. Long & short, no matter the stakes, he will capture her. It’s a hopelessly retro moment, and she plays along knowingly, as if making sure he remains involved. Is it gratuitous & sexist? Yes. Is it cause for concern in regards to the Lupin franchise? Not at all.

This episode in particular? Have they not been watching this show? I didn’t feel this episode had any more or less nudity than any other so far in the series, with the possible exception of episode 3, which had next to none. And it did set the tone for the intro of a very typical/traditional Lupin story. Lupin steals something to try and get Fujiko’s affections, but she wants something bigger and steers him toward a mythical lost treasure—which, through odd circumstances and coincidences, Jigen is also after. I thought for sure Fujiko was going to be the one who hired Jigen to find the treasure as well, just so she could play the master thief against the master gunman and make off with the goods herself. But if that was the case it was never flat out said.

Overall, this was something of a standard episode punctuated by some very cool visuals. Leading on both men, Fujiko seems to have taken in what she has learned about both Lupin & Jigen, and woven an at-times silly scheme involving their best internal strategies. Lupin is good at getting in, while Jigen counterbalances to help them all escape. It’s amusing to see Jigen attempt to merely live the rest of his life far away from his past, only to get sucked back in and shacked up with a guy he could only imagine disliking. I did enjoy their interplay, and how Fujiko eventually plays them directly against one another just enough to help her attain a jewel peacock. And yet, they can’t keep themselves from drawing guns on each other!

This is also the first episode we see Fujiko fall into one of her more traditional roles from the old anime series: namely, the antagonist. She is the villain of this story. Part of her plot to get the peacock is supposed to involve the death of either Lupin or Jigen, as blood is needed to open the seal to the treasure. This is also probably the first episode where Fujiko’s greed makes her thoroughly unlikable, which again, is typical in any episode/story where she is cast as the bad guy…er girl. In episodes where she is bad, they don’t ever show her softer side unless it is her putting up a facade. So again, this is the creators playing with traditional Lupin tropes.

Yeah, there was a clear aim being taken with Fujiko’s role as manipulator and outright villain. It’s actually pretty amusing to see the boys essentially react to her greedy actions. One wonders if their enmity towards each other is really just leftover resentment toward her. In some respects, it explains quite a bit about what eventually happens with these guys.

Visually, it’s fascinating to see play out here as the crew is having to deal with a desert environment. And seeing this done as a hybrid old school work, we get some fascinating fire and sand work. It’s a wild jumble between eras that made me long for some old episodes again. Had a hard time deciding on screenshots this time.

And again, Egypt is another traditional Lupin locale. Also it was interesting to see Lupin get jealous at the thought of Fujiko possibly sleeping with Jigen. Which never happened, so I’m not sure where the whole “itsy bitsy” thing came from. I don’t remember her calling him that from episode 2. Still, if Lupin was that jealous of Jigen, he will probably flip out if he learns she “boinked” Zenigata…I think that is a discussion maybe for episode 6 though.

::laughs:: Oh man, IF ONLY. But yeah, that “itsy bitsy” thing came out of the blue. It felt not unlike calling Marty McFly “yellow”. When it comes down to it, it seems to have had a desired effect on both “professionals”.

Overall, this was a fun return to form, albeit still pretty lightweight as the series seems to be playing more on the many faces of Fujiko. While I wish the show offered more complexity, and less old-school gender politics, there was much to be enjoyed, scales and all. Now if only the sins of this show can help open up some truly unexpected treasure down the line.

The Fujiko Telegrams: Lupin III Fujiko Mine 4

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.

Wintermuted: Now before we get into this, it might be good for me to make clear that I often encourage, and enjoy reinterpreting popular characters for future generations. One era’s character traits speak for their time, while others are more than ripe for reinvention.

So when we jump in here and share thoughts on an episode featuring the dogged Inspector Zenigata, as he plots to manipulate Fujiko, capture Lupin, all while attempting to snatch a priceless mask from the face of a famously scarred opera singer, what passes for a bold character alteration is perhaps the least of our worries.

So…you saw this first. Thoughts?

DCBebop: Hmmmmmmmm…

Well…

I didn’t completely hate the episode, but I really disliked it. So far we have had faithful yet modern reinterpretations of the main cast, but this was such a drastic change for Inspector Zenigata. He was misogynistic, crass, ruthless, and thoroughly unlikeable. It seemed his intent is killing Lupin, not capturing him. And the opening scene with him and Fujiko in this episode is something I never ever thought I would ever see, nor did I want too.

In one of our previous articles I mentioned that I was hoping the creators would make ole Pops more of a threat to Lupin and his gang, and to be fair he was a bit more ruthless in the original manga, but I really think they went too far.  They might as well have created a brand new detective character to chase Lupin, because this is not Zenigata…at all.

Yes. Seriously, this is a classic case of overzealous role reversal. It feels as if the writers were looking for a way to make Zenigata into something less boy scout-like, and much more like a man with a grudge. The problem here for me, is that it’s as if they underestimated another character’s potential in the process. While we have what is looking to be something of a more convoluted plot regarding Zenigata’s plan set amidst this opera drama. But the issue out of the gate is that the writers couldn’t decide what made for a compelling change. And considering his young charge, Oscar, this seems like a crucial creative mistake. Especially since it affects virtually everything else that’s to come in the show. It’s a bit of a hard left to deliver here when the show up to this point, has been vacillating between reinterpretation, and loving tribute. What this does feel like, is something of a troll to old fans—or perhaps even a dare..

Possibly. But you are right that this affects everything from here on out.  Part of the dynamic of the cast, particularly between the gang and Zenigata, has always been a game of “gotcha” without malicious intent.  Zenigata wants to capture Lupin because it’s his sworn duty and the honor of his family name is on the line, plus there is the fun of the chase, but he doesn’t want to kill him. This is always something the gang recognizes.  Now the gloves are off, and what would prevent Jigen or Goemon from killing Zenigata now that the detective is not bound by his duty and honor, but more seemingly some form of revenge?  It just doesn’t work for me at all.  Zenigata here is not honorable, he is the kind of man who tries to burn women with cigarettes.

And you mention Oscar, who is obviously in love with Zenigata in some form… which seems unnecessary… at least at this point.

Calling it: Oscar is the “worse” element that renders Zenigata into a less aggressive role. But the problem here, is that everything that happens in this episode seems forced, and unclear- which does nothing for the police end of the game that’s being set up. I guess where I’m coming from, is that without some manner of counterbalance, all we’re left with are the criminals. And while that’s fine and good, what made classic Lupin so much fun was the interplay between character morality, and the often gray humor to come from it. It also didn’t help that so many elements of the caper were laid out before the heist in a very haphazard fashion. It’s the kind of plot that required a bit more finesse in the setup and execution, and neither seem well thought out. Beginning to wonder if what I noticed last time has impacted the rest of the show.  I have another beef, which I’ll get into in a few.

Is it that this felt like an unfinished plot or story? Because that was my biggest beef with this episode other than the butchering of Zenigata’s character.  The episode just sort of ended abruptly.  There was no closure, no character wrap up, nothing.  I was like “That’s it?  What the hell?” Didn’t help I was already grumpy seeing Pops not be Pops. Also Lupin in this episode felt like a plot device and not a character. That bugged me. And I also can’t remember anything significant Fujiko did in the episode aside from “boinking” faux-Zenigata.  *shudders*

::laughs:: Exactly. It was as if the planning had fallen behind, that they hoped that it would get by on the “shock”, and the means by which the truth behind the mask would be revealed. And every other resolution to the episode relied so heavily on serendipity that it felt wasteful to even show us the varied wings of the opera house. The callback to the bees was also very clumsy. And all of this, as you say, more or less trivializes Lupin’s role in the episode.

But as I mentioned before, I can see Oscar becoming a betrayer-type as the series goes on. But it hardly matters as the balance has been shifted so dramatically in the name of mere shock. There needs to be a clearly thought-out reason this has happened, and as of now I can’t fathom why aside from two reasons: a) to “surprise” the viewers, and the big one in b) to link all of our characters by way of Fujiko as a crack in the moral armor of men in general. It also implies a “destiny” angle, which is questionable at best.

I hate “shock-value” plotting.  Comics do that too.  Bugs the hell out of me.  Boring, boring, boring, BIG SHOCKING THING YOU WEREN’T EXPECTING, boring, boring boring. It’s not good storytelling.  The only thing I can hope comes of this is Zenigata grows and learns to become the more honorable detective we have come to know.  Which I suppose is possible since this is a prequel, reimagining whatever you want to call it.

But yeah, overall, huge disappointment.  But I suppose every series has at least one stinker episode…right?

Yeah. At this point, I’m beginning to wonder just how much input Yamamoto has in this series, as I’m really worried that it’s almost completely mercenary. Granted the series is decidedly retro, even in its sexual politics, but by taking this option, the series has continued to view Fujiko as less a real character, and more a vessel for the weaker elements of men. While we get some amazing visuals from time to time, it’s hard to even say what audience this is being geared toward. This episode felt rushed and possibly even angrily put together, and that’s a spirit that really has little place being “jokey.” Tone is important, and the plot mechanics don’t seem there enough to warrant a functional episode. I really wanted to like Zenigata here, but this seems to be the last thing on anyone’s mind. Again, I don’t mind being shocking, but thematic reasoning needs to be put in place, and it needs to be told with enough efficiency. We don’t get much of that here. And that’s a damn shame as the setting seemed rife with possibility. (Oh, and it didn’t help that the denouement was essentially a “women are only happy when shacking up” screed.) Argh. What happened?

I don’t know but it’s irritating me just to think about it, so that is my cue to not think about it anymore.  Let’s just hope the next episode is better.

Kinda sad I went from being “I can’t wait for the next episode!” last time too “let’s hope the next one is better…” What a difference one lousy episode (and character interpretation) can make.

It is a hard thing to take back, too.  As a departure, it throws fans into some seriously strange territory. And as a character interpretation, it just seems lazily considered. But I was still able to attempt to parse out the issues that continued to dog it all. Change can be good, and heck, in more careful hands, this could have flirted with a darker rendition of the unflappable cop. But as it stands, it feels cheap—something the world of Lupin has no real room for. Let’s continue on, and just hope for the best. And at the very least, I’ll stick around for the package.

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.

 

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!

Face Off: Mike and Ray on “Candy Boy” and Artificial Yuri Sweetners

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Mike: Candy Boy: 90% sugar. 10% kinky. 0% boy!

Ray: It’s the sweetest thing – if only women were that great. In real life, I always meet AP’s – American Princesses, whether they’re Taiwanese American Princesses, Korean American Princesses, Japanese American Princesses (queens), or other kinds. Some of them don’t even live in the US!

However, in this case, there’s only a sweet, tender relationship and most importantly, no men.

Mike: Actually, no one else, period, except for Saku and Shi.

Ray: It’s like Friends, only with 4 girls! It’s so perfect!

Mike: I was waiting for the moment where it would suddenly be revealed that Kana and Yuki are not actually blood related.

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