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!