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Madoka Magica Movies 1 and 2: A Roundtable Discussion

Initial Postviewing Impressions

Monsieur LaMoe: It was great. The visuals were fantastic, and the sound quality was awesome, with the amazing Yuki Kajiura soundtrack.

Wintermuted: I will just start by saying that I am in no way a fan of “clip show” features. They serve very little purpose outside of selling an already established property to another audience, while claiming to deliver scraps for the already invested.

Despite this, the first two Madoka films are a well-edited digest of the original story with occasionally updated backgrounds, new transformation animation, and updated music. If anything, this was akin to a beefed-up night at a friend’s house while peers catch up on a show. For the type of presentation this was, it was one of the least offensive of its kind, but this is clearly damning with faint praise.

gendomike: Both LaMoe and wintermuted are right, I think. The Madoka Magica movies presented the 2011 TV series in a straightforward, comprehensible way without losing too much. It’s still the well-crafted, emotionally powerful story that it always was.

The problem is that existing fans like ourselves have to judge them in relation to the series as well as on their own terms. And the word that kept ringing in my head right after I saw them was “remaster.” These movies are like those remastered CDs record companies released in the late 1990s-2000s that sounded louder and sharper than the original releases. You were really just buying the same record again, but with bonus tracks (new OP/EDs from Claris and Kalafina) and louder volume (literally in the theater—and analogously with the improved animation in spots).

Can something be both satisfying and disappointing at the same time? That was my feeling.

What did you enjoy most about the movies?

LaMoe: I enjoyed the visuals and sounds, and of course the storytelling of Gen Urobuchi. It was intense and deep. Watching it together with fans and friends, nerds, geeks, and otakus. And a dark theater at night, so the mood was right.

Winter: If anything at all, it was nice to experience the story on a large screen with brilliant sound. Of course there were snippets here and there of new animation, and the aforementioned backgrounds. But as I stated before, they truly are scraps. It was also nice to ostensibly re-watch the series without having to skip the opening & end credits.

gendomike: Watching the story continuously made the cohesion and crafting of Urobuchi’s story more evident. There wasn’t actually much fat to trim from the series, but there was some compression in favor of tightening Sayaka’s story, for instance, and eschewing some of the flashbacks in favor of portraying them in linear time. (Or not at all in a few cases, such as Mami’s flashback on how she signed her contract with Kyubey.) This helped make the story feel more concise and focused. Some of Kyubey’s explanation dialogue also felt less silly near the end, but I could be remembering wrong.

Visually, the upgraded transformation sequences, especially Mami’s first, shone brightly. Combined with the powerful Kajiura OST track “Credens Justitiam” it was one of the soaring moments that truly belonged in a theater, breaking out of the small screen limitation of the original.

Differences between movies and series

LaMoe: The new OP was really good. The chairs and tables at cafeteria were different in the scene where Hitomi basically told Sayaka that she would “NTR” her crush, a frail bishounen violinist. And the most memorable scene, during the OP, Madoka and Homura were rubbing each other’s cheeks, a very suggestive yuri innuendo, almost caused my head to explode, reminding me of Needless’ ED. That made my day (night)!

Winter: Along with what MLM mentioned, there was a greater emphasis on Kyubey’s philosophy and their relationship with objects. Most of the background updates take place in the first film, making many well-known settings more cluttered and borderline claustrophobic. There was fan service-laden animation for the transformations, as well as a new “opening” sequence that is repeated for both films.

I also noticed smaller changes such as the hair on a witch’s potential victim being changed dramatically, to Madoka being given a more sensible costume during a crucial scene. And let’s not forget a short new scene or two that help mend some cuts that offer very little in the way of anything new.

gendomike: I already covered some of the differences in my previous answer, but in truth the differences were not substantial. They were the equivalent of touchups and tweaks. One can argue that given how well-crafted the TV series was, this is how it should be, and many of the visual and storytelling changes did make things a little tighter and brighter.

Mami’s glorious transformation sequence was upgraded further in the film.

Are these movies necessary? Did they bring anything new to the table?

LaMoe: I doubt it, but I’m not against having options. I loved the first two films, because I didn’t get the same sense of the sublime by watching it on my laptop. On my laptop, the visuals were still great, but I didn’t really get sucked into the show’s unique worldview. Story-wise there was nothing new, but I think it really works well as a digest for people who never saw it before. I think the storytelling in the TV series was already really great. The movie version was better on visuals and music. Certainly, Shinbo’s visuals and Kajiura’s gothic music, and the intricate tragic mode of Urobuchi, that combination worked best on the films. I think anything new will be in the Part 3, which I’m looking forward to.

Winter: As a person who was collectively knocked on his butt by the original story and vision, I had hopes that this film version would take up a new, bolder take on matters. Sadly, what we have here merely amounts to that old saw—marketing. Outside of milking success, and hopefully gouging fans out of some additional funds, there is no good reason for this to exist outside of financial ones. Gone are the days of bold cinema interpretations such as the original Galaxy Express 999, and Adolescence Of Utena. While this is light years above Evangelion: Death, this still reeks of studio/sponsor routine that offers nothing new to think about, let alone experience.

gendomike: Heh, I like the comparison with Evangelion: Death, which was intended to buy time for Anno to try (and fail, since Rebirth was incomplete) to complete the ending. This is a much more straightforward proposition, and I see only two uses for it:

  1. to give existing fans the benefit of a movie theater experience. That’s not worthless, but it’s not enough to be truly satisfying;
  2. introduce new viewers to the story.

It is essentially a large recap episode, and given what we know about Shinbo and Urobuchi’s capabilities, I was expecting something more, especially since I doubt there are many in the second category watching these movies. As such, I cannot wholeheartedly recommend the films to those who have seen the series already unless having the cinema experience and upgraded visuals is worth the ticket price to them.

I just wanted an excuse to put this most screencappable of moments in.

The social significance of Madoka as a story

LaMoe: At first I expected Madoka to be a moe anime, but it totally betrayed my expectations by going into full tragic mode from Mami’s death onward. If Yoshiyuki Tomino was “Kill them all,” Gen Urobuchi is “Agonize them all.” And usually, the magical girl genre is moetically therapeutic to watch, but Madoka has totally ruined my moe. I think moe and agony don’t go together. Who wants to see moekko suffer? So, in that sense, Madoka was shocking, as if I was having “moe delusion” the whole time. New genre: torture moekko to bring down moe?

I think Madoka’s family was commendable. Madoka’s mom is a super career woman, and her dad stays home taking care of a baby brother. It breaks away from the traditional Japanese patriarchal family. There are more soushokukei boys right now, and many of them want to be house-husbands, staying home baking cookies and cakes. A little while ago, being house-dad was an embarrassment, but now it’s getting more acceptable, especially among the young generation that has the most otaku population.

So Madoka reflects that zeitgeist. Yet, even in more gender equal America, there are only 0.15 million house-dads. I only saw them on WifeSwap, so we still have work to do. But, to depict that in 2D is an awesome first step to take. I applaud that. So, that modern middle class family setting brings a new meaning to the anime scene, by sending a positive message about gender equality, thus making progress in society as a whole.

Winter: After now seeing the entire story from beginning to end at least four times, I’m more than a little confident in calling Madoka as an all-encompassing call-to-arms, not merely for the evolution of female roles in Japanese society, but of an entire generation weaned on feelings of disassociation and defeat after a great paradigm shift. It is concerned with society’s ambivalence toward the equalization of genders, and wonders why so many seem to be ready to throw in the towel at a moment’s notice. By establishing a world of mirrors and windows (with the title character’s name carrying “window”), Madoka is the means by which Urobuchi questions living within a society’s strict, often unreasonable social constraints. She is a window to a changing world that has long embraced a rigid construct made of gilded cages and manufactured values. Contracts must be read in full, and considered before choices are made.

Madoka is also deeply critical of past expectations of women (particularly young ones), and of many Japanese who have chosen to opt themselves out of the world, often avoiding any true challenge that may seem daunting. It is as much a meditation on faith and the lack thereof, as it is about facing up to the past, and being willing to carve your own path without need for petty reward. It is an often eloquently visualized celebration of persistence under fire, as well as a condemnation not only of otaku sidelining, but of generations’ worth of social pastimes.

And lastly, Madoka Magica posits that it might be good to examine the whys of our myths, and to not be afraid of questioning them, and thereby redefining them on a regular basis.

gendomike: All of the above. :) Not only does it contain the progressive elements that my colleagues have explained so well, it is a shining example of what is possible in anime with a strong writer/director combination. Urobuchi restrained Shinbo’s tendency to visual excess; Shinbo brought his flair for abstraction and off-kilter perspective to Urobuchi’s story. It also demonstrated that anime endings do not have to be abstracted or incoherent (I’m looking at you, Anno). Moe character designs do not always spell weak characterization and plot, or an infantizilation of women. It’s also the series that comes closest to actually using religious and spiritual elements cogently—again, as much as I love Evangelion, unlike what Anno did; he admitted publicly he only added all those crosses because they looked cool and sophisticated.

MLM: I think Wintermuted’s note about Madoka as a window is very insightful. Yes, “Mado” means window, and it reminds me of the Glass Church designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, Jr.

Also, Madoka’s last name, Kaname, means “pivotal point, key point, vital point, axis.” In kanji, her last name is spelled “deer eye (鹿目).” I don’t know why it’s written that way, probably because it sounded the same. I don’t think it was because Gautama Buddha’s first lecture was at Deer Park so Madoka as a buddha was given that name. But, what’s sure is that Madoka is the culmination of all her predecessors: not just Mami and the other magical girls of her generation, but also the historical female figures going back to Jeanne d’Arc, Cleopatra, and even Himiko, the first historically recorded Japanese shaman queen. Yes, we can say that Madoka started the new Axial Age, or the new Jaspers’ Achsenzeit, and so Madoka’s family name “Kaname” means “Axis” in Japanese.

So, I agree with Wintermuted’s view on Madoka’s role as not only the advancer of women but also of her entire generation, and even on a much bigger scale, of humanity. It was a female character that became the pivot for that, which is a great step for humanity: and the one who made that footprint was Madoka, a shōjo, which I think is the most significant of all, since the pivotal figures have been exclusively male: Buddha, Mahavira, Jesus, Muhammad, Socrates, Plato, Lao-tzu, Confucius, etc.

Winter: Precisely. She is “us”. Always on the sidelines, watching, wondering, wishing. The story here is musing on what might or should happen next, that the viewer cannot always live vicariously through others, and must ultimately make a choice.

Religious and theological symbolism

MLM: When I watched the TV series, I thought the story was predominantly Christian like Evangelion, but probably because I’m Japanese with a Buddhist background, now I’ve come to think that there were also Buddhist elements like Tathagata-garbha thought. Madoka gained enormous power by repeating countless karmic cycles, with her experiences stored in Tathagata-garbha (Buddha-nature) or Alaya-shiki (Eight Senses in Saint Seiya). Her Buddha-nature reached the point to be Buddha, which was Homura’s unintended consequence in repeating time over and over. Then, Madoka becomes Tathagata, so no one can tell if she exists or not, as Gautama Buddha said: “For him who has disappeared there is no form that by which they say he is, exists for him no longer, when all things have been cut off, all kinds of dispute are also cut off.”

So to me, when Kyubey said, “Are you really going to be a god?” I thought “a buddha” would’ve been more accurate. So I find it pretty Buddhist, and I wonder if that’s where Urobuchi got the ideas from. I’d like to ask these questions if we have another chance to interview Urobuchi.

Winter: Well, my background best retains many of the themes and emotions from religious tales. And coming from Catholicism, it was easy to discern the path of the faithful as one fraught with pain, and recurrence. Much like MLM mentioned during the showing, Homura carries with her much of the faith of John the Baptist, creating a path for whom she sees to be humanity’s greatest sacrifice without considering the long term cost. But I also feel like there is enough applicability inherent in the Madoka world that it really speaks like a modern, universal allegory for Japan’s need to find its individual hearts and fight on.

gendomike: It is fascinating to me that Urobuchi was able to find both Christian and Buddhist resonances and have them fit together as seamlessly as they do. This is because, in part, there are some similarities in both the Christian mystical tradition and the Buddhist, but also because the role of Madoka is at once both Christ-like and Buddha-like. Here are some parallels that I found.

  • Madoka starts off as an ordinary, privileged person unaware of and shocked by the suffering of the world (Siddhartha Gautama’s earlier life as a prince and his encounter with the old man).
  • Homura is caught in a despairing cycle of futility in trying to fight the seemingly inevitable forces of fate (the cycle of karma and reincarnation), which Madoka’s action breaks.
  • Madoka literally draws the despair of dying magical girls into herself and gives them a peaceful end, preventing them from becoming demonic (Christ bearing the sins of humanity and defeating the forces of darkness),
  • and becomes omnipresent and invisible, promising to be with those who believe in her.
  • Homura is thus the first Evangelist, bearing an eyewitness to her saving work and dedicated to continuing her legacy.
  • It is the small child, the boy who would otherwise be her brother, who believes and remembers best who Madoka was (“if you do not become like little children, you shall certainly not enter the Kingdom of Heaven”), and Madoka is at this point only known by faith.
  • Madoka even tells Homura that she is going where Homura cannot (“where I am going, you cannot go”) but promises to return one day (the Second Coming).
  • Madoka did not begin as a Christ figure, but she ends as one, and also as the One that Homura longs to reunite with (a personal version of the Buddhist idea of Nirvana, or, alternatively, a version of the Beatific Vision).

I’m probably going to be writing the theological analysis of this series that I should have done last year. There’s a whole bunch to say about its view of the body and soul as well as theodicy. Stay tuned. :)

Some thoughts on the upcoming third movie

Note: the trailer for the third film, “Rebellion,” was shown after the end of the second film. It is a new story set after the events of the series. 

LaMoe: I’m looking forward to it. But I don’t know how they will come up with a new story since the original seemed totally complete, as Madoka herself has already become metaphysical. Maybe by changing the point of view? Much of the story was from Homura’s POV, so probably they will shift it to Mami’s? I don’t think we know much about Mami, about how she made a contract with Kyubey, while Homura, Sayaka, Kyoko, Madoka’s stories are all clear. In Aoi Bungaku, the Kokoro arc had each episode from each character’s POV, and it worked really well. So maybe like that? But hey, Mami is the only one who got large oppai among the magical girls, yes, she is the oldest, senpai, mentor, so as an oppai-seijin (oppai-planetarian), I want to see her arc.

Winter: I’m going to be honest. After such a movie experience, and from the footage we saw, I’m not terribly interested in another feature film. I feel like Urobuchi truly bled himself for all to see with the series, and truly said all that he needed to say. It’s the kind of work that asks for no expansion. For me, the final moments are probably among the best I have ever experienced with an anime television series, and end with enough heartfelt emotion and energy to help me envision a burning stage, while Shinbo and Urobuchi slam the mike, throwing out one last triumphant “peace” sign before leaving. Works beautifully on its own.

Life goes on. The fight always lives. (No further elaboration required.)

gendomike: it appears that the new movie will continue the story from where the ending left off, under the new witch-less set of rules that Madoka’s work made possible. Homura and the other girls will continue fighting wraiths under the new dispensation.

In my opinion, this is a mistake, because it dilutes the power of the original ending. The ending was powerful because Madoka solved that world’s essential spiritual problem: the existence of the universe will no longer depend on the human sacrifice of young girls. Moreover, the ending avoided the usual deus ex machina glibness because Madoka’s work did not completely end evil and suffering; she just transformed it into something more like how things are in our own world. This feels complete as a story. It feels over.

I suppose one could, in Biblical terms, see the third story as being like the Acts of the Apostles and showing how the fight continues even in the new world, but this doesn’t seem as compelling an idea dramawise. It reeks of sequelitis and a desire to continue a profitable franchise beyond artistic reason, and it implies that there was something deficient about the original ending.

MLM: Contrary to what my intellectual friends Gendomike and Wintermuted felt, because of the new Madoka films, I’ve actually come to love Madoka more after watching the films with my beloved Anime Diet otaku fellows and hearing their great insights and points of view. I didn’t really get Madoka at first when I watched the TV series by myself almost a year ago. I had no clue what was going on as a slow learner, but talking to friends and watching it again in a form of film, now I can safely say that I am a huge Madoka fan, though initially it ruined my moe and didn’t leave a good impression, although I thought it was unquestionably a masterpiece. So, in a way, it has strengthened my affection towards Madoka with a more positive attitude, and thus now I’m waiting for the third film to come.

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 – Humanity Has Declined (Jinrui wa Suitaishimashita)

In our second Audio Face Off (see our previous one on Kokoro Connect), Ray and I talk about the merits and the limits of this season’s original satirical series, Humanity Has Declined (Jinrui wa Suitaishimashita, or Jintai for short). We go through the major plot arcs, what the fairies and other bits symbolize, and whether there is any ultimate value to cynicism without solution in this series. The discussion gets a bit heated sometimes so enjoy!

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 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.