Originally discovered mid-summer 2012.
The only thing worse than offering a break from the expected, is to turn one’s back on it at the last moment. Which is exactly what it feels like watching the latter half of Lupin III’s return to TV. About a good half of the show seems hellbent on showing us some new dimensions to what are ostensibly a cadre of unbreakable, traditional characters. So imagine my response when upon the show’s final episode opts for a neat-fitting return to status-quo. It’s not wholly unexpected, but seriously- this is what it means to cower in the face of making your own name. It is the powers that be getting cold feet, and backing off when the world has indeed been ready for something new.
To support this stance; a little look back at previous episodes not covered in The Fujiko Telegrams-
(But first, a look back at an earlier installment.)
Episode Six: Prison Of Love
“Women never show themselves in natural form.”
What may look to many as a means of catering to an unexpected audience, a lot of this school-centric episode is playing directly with gender expectation, as well as with yuri-bait imagery and themes. It is here that we get a bigger hint of the kind of dangerous character Zenigata’s charge in Oscar truly is. Clearly the product of some truly confused bouts of sexual repression, his only true aim, is in punishing the feminine in his own warped manner. He lives as a shining example of an old world’s values at odds with the manner of independent creature Fujiko is. She, herself a reaction to the popular social tenets of the day, is unconcerned with what is supposed to be her “place”.
Which leads to some truly telling revelations regarding the potential of the series.
Flash Forward to
Episode Eight: Dying Day
Renowned fortune teller, Shitoto’s source of foresight is stolen by Fujiko, leading to some disturbing information regarding her past. And even though the episode features a decent amount of Lupin, attempting to clear his name of several deaths, this one attempts to reveal more than has ever been attempted with these characters. Mamo lookalike aside, the show offers up flashbacks of a nighmarish childhood, visions of terrible abuse, and a decidedly dark ending. But the theme of repressed/abused femininity is made explicitly clear, charting new territory which had never really been explored before in any incarnation of the franchise.
Episode Nine: Love Wreathed In Steam
What again on the surface starts like a more routine Lupin & Goemon on a merry chase episode, becomes a more troubling look at femininity as commodity, and of the greater questions of pathology the series seems to be ready to ask. In nearly one fell swoop, this one over nearly the entire series, is the one with a great deal more on its mind than the expected sexy caper action many come to expect. With Lupin & Goemon attempting to protect a legendary illustrated woman from a gun-toting, clearly deranged Fujiko, we have an example of a socially accepted chain in dire need of breaking. Bringing Lupin up to speed on what makes Fujiko so attractive, yet so terrifying, while not completely convincing, is fascinating. The show at this point is at the door, banging loudly at a world that women like Fujiko were born in, and forced to exist with.
Episode Ten: Ghost Town
(Story by Monkey Punch)
As we follow the dark path laid forth by the previous episodes, we now find ourselves in the belly of the beast as Lupin is tapped by the enigmatic organization surrounding the narrative, and seeks out to find the truth, and discovers a long thought abandoned wreck of a town. A place of terrible memories, and an even worse aftermath. It is here that we tie together numerous dangling plot threads, and also meet a figure from Fujiko’s past that may make some eyebrows levitate. But at the core here, is that Lupin is caught in the middle of something here that offers up an unusually dire set of circumstances. The show seems primed and ready to take itself into some bold, new areas.
Episode Eleven: Feast Of Fools
As a ramp-up of sorts to the two-part finale, we get our ultimate Oscar episode which again taps into pathology, this time within the obsessive mind of our “lawful” foil. And what ensues is something of a jumble as Oscar attempts to put a final kabosh on Fujiko, but is well worth the watch due to containing one of the series’ most visually impressive scenes as he explains “the perfect plan”. And naturally the episode is a bit packed on the event side as things careen toward a finale of sorts, but not before an explosive finish. At this point, worry began to settle in as it feels very much like the new wrinkles in the “mythos” might easily go in problematic directions.
Episodes twelve & thirteen: A Woman Called Fujiko Mine
The big finish is a wild, noisy two-parter in which Zenigata joins Fujiko in finally facing up to the spectre of her past, Count Luis Yu Almeida. Possibly the man most responsible for the Fujiko we know so well. They, later joined by the Lupin and the rest of the gang finally converge on a terrifying amusement park (House Of Fujiko), and the disturbing secrets within. The final connections between the second and first halves come together, but in such a wayward fashion, it makes the brain throb just to think about it. Were these the answers all were seeking? That we were? Where am I? What is happening? I thought we were doing something ne- Forget it…
And so the real problems pile up when considering all that came before. That this was to be a Lupin series with the focus shifted toward a popular supporting character that was never truly given her due, and could do with a more contemporary slant. Even from a retro-standpoint, this was something that had never really been given much thought in any rendition of the Lupin franchise prior. Definitely a product of a bygone era, Fujiko is something of a masculine vision of a “liberated” woman, and something of a negative one at that to be frank. What we ended up receiving here was closer to being caught between two potential justifications for this famous character’s demeanor and perplexing nature. And while the show is in fact set in very much the same world that the characters originated, shows are far more capable now of adding dimension to these initially very simple archetypes. So when Fujiko Mine begins to wander into potentially groundbreaking new areas with a revealing backstory of our title character, it seems that the very notion that a rare quantity such as a female anime director would be capable of saying something forward & bold with the palette she has. But as it stands, the finale grinds to a halt when it openly admits that nothing could possibly change, and that this is all the justification she needs. Something which can in some respects make some of the more patient old guard fans happy, and the rest potentially frustrated.
This halfhearted attempt at selling off Fujiko as a victim, only to revert to old notions of empowerment is the kind of misstep that undermines the entire series, and makes it hard to recommend for anyone other than animation fans, or those looking for something out of the realm of contemporary anime norms. Both options end up being unsatisfactory, to be fair. But what we have, is perhaps those in charge buckling at the last moment, unwilling to break with tradition, and caving in to old hat misogyny, and objectification. Not that it was not there throughout the series, but it at least seemed ready to question all of it. The world has moved by great bounds since the inception of Fujiko Mine. To see that denied proper reflection with such an aesthetically unique, and potentially forward-thinking series is a bit of a tragedy.