Saturday, March 14, 2015

Anime review: Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine

A recent entry in the long-running Lupin the Third franchise, The Woman Called Fujiko Mine turns back the clock to a time when the now-iconic cast were - at best - mere acquaintances. As the title implies, the story gives Fujiko Mine center stage, but the ins and outs of how Lupin, Jigen, Goemon, and Inspector Zenigata came to cross paths and establish a history with one another does factor quite heavily into the progression of this series. In this regard, the story feels appropriate as an early chapter in the adventures of Lupin and friends, though the fact that Zenigata has already been on Lupin and Fujiko’s cases at the start of the series means that this is not the very beginning of the crew’s wacky misadventures.

This position in the Lupin the Third timeline works largely to its advantage, as it does not feel the need to spend an excessive amount of time explaining who these characters are. Instead, The Woman Called Fujiko Mine prefers to show just how extravagant Lupin’s heists can be as he busts out of an ocean-front temple on a giant rocket-propelled statue, and displays Fujiko using her feminine wiles and bombshell looks to pry information and riches alike from her latest victims. While early episodes may lead viewers to believe that each heist exists as a separate event with the only common factors being involvement from Fujiko, Lupin, Zenigata, and so forth, the truth is that there is an underlying plot that weaves each of the episodes together, though it is not revealed until past the series' halfway point.

It is appropriate, then, that this entry in the Lupin saga is considerably more serious in tone, and darker in atmosphere throughout than most of its predecessors. While Lupin and Jigen often find themselves up against improbable odds, and improvise crazy solutions time and time again, The Woman Called Fujiko Mine sets aside plenty of time to explore just what makes each of these characters tick and why. Most compelling, of course, is the story of Fujiko herself, which is given considerably more screen time than her companions/rivals, but even Zenigata’s obsessions with tracking down these thieves makes for exciting introspection.

The 1960s and 70s atmosphere still thrives in this 2012 release, with funky and jazzy tunes accompanying brightly clashing colors. Thick outlines and the impossible lanky proportions of the characters look great with updated digital animation technology, while still echoing back to their classic hand-drawn origins. The characters, meanwhile, remain largely true to their 1960s debut, with slight updates to make them more appropriate for the setting of the story as well as modern audiences. While Lupin still has his eye on Fujiko throughout this latest anime series, he views her more as the end-all prize, one that he is seemingly aware that he will likely never obtain but still attempts to impress/outdo her for the thrill of the challenge. Lupin does not, however, constantly ogle bikini-clad girls, and his heists – utterly bonkers and visually spectacular as they may be – appear to have a decent degree of planning and thought put into them, even when he is forced to improvise or revert to backups. It becomes especially obvious in later episodes that Lupin's constant crossing of paths with Fujiko is for a purpose that is both higher and more selfless than monetary pay - he is perhaps the individual most intrigued with her past, and the series makes it quite clear that he genuinely wants to help her uncover the mysteries that are tied to this, even if it means butting heads with her and engaging in firefights along the way.

In accordance with its 60s/70s sense of style, The Woman Called Fujiko Mine aligns some of its episodes close to real-world events from that era. One episode in particular sees Fujiko travel in the company of a man who serves as a fictional counterpart to Fidel Castro, and her involvement in a subplot to transport him safely to a United Nations hearing while fighter jets tail their plane and the threat of a war breaking out hangs in the balance. It’s a bit more on-the-nose with regards to how it handles the Cold War setting than most other episodes, one of which sees the characters winding down into the dark depths of an Egyptian tomb, while another explores one of Fujiko’s many aliases in the form of a schoolteacher at an all-girl’s academy.

New to this Lupin tale is Oscar, a young police lieutenant who serves as Zenigata’s second-in-command. He bears a short and rather feminine frame, which leads to him adopting a few disguises over the course of the series. While his inclusion does add a greater sense of danger for Lupin, Fujiko and company as they now have two major pursuers instead of one, his dynamic with the rest of the cast only goes so far. Oscar has some obsessive tendencies, to the point where he has to be reminded where the line of duty is and if crossing it is worth jeopardizing his career or the safety of his fellow officers. He also displays a great deal of spite toward Fujiko, as he is jealous of her taking up so much of Zenigata’s attention, a man who he not only looks up to in a professional sense, but is seemingly romantically attracted to as well.

For a modern Lupin the Third anime, The Woman Called Fujiko Mine has plenty of familiar faces and antics to offer, while also presenting characters in new lights. It is a series that builds off what has previously been established as well-received trademarks of the Lupin saga, and adds some darker story elements into the mix. The late episodes in particular delve into strange territory that one would typically not associate with Lupin the Third, yet it pays off in spades. Other experimental content in The Woman Called Fujiko Mine may prove more hit-or-miss, but the core of this series is a strong showing, and plenty of fun to boot.

My rating: 8.25 (out of 10)

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