Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Anime: Lupin The Third

LUPIN THE THIRD - THE WOMAN CALLED FUJIKO MINE (15)2 Discs (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 298 minutes approx.

There is a fair chance many of you reading this will recognise the name Lupin The Third from Hayao Miyazaki's classic film Castle Of Cagliostro and possibly also Manga's releaseof The Secret Of Mamo a few years back. Well, forget everything you know and love about the Lupin III universe as this series turns it on its head.

The femme fatale that is Fujiko Mine is a constant in the Lupin III legend - the sexy, resourceful, quick thinking and above all dangerous thief who wants it all and will do literally anything to get it. As much as she is a mainstay of the stories she has always remained a mystery for most of us - until now. Based on Lupin III's manga writer Monkey Punch's original stories this is a prequel of sorts, a mature recalling how Fujiko met the other key players in the Lupin III tales - stoic sharpshooter Daisuke Jigen, proud samurai Goemon Ishikawa and dogged police Detective Zenigata - as well as revealing the tragic secrets of her past.

For the most part, the episodes are standalone affairs that serve to explore Fujiko's complex character in detail while she interacts with her aforementioned fellow cast members, sowing seeds for the revelation of Fujiko's past along the way. Despite sharing the show's title the man himself takes a back seat to our luscious leading lady, thus presenting a tonally diverse show. When Lupin and Jigen are involved you can expect some humorous hijinks with preposterous Bond-esque action scenes that defy credibility even for anime; when the focus is on Fujiko things gets darker, the final few chapters being a veritable psycho-analysis of the depraved human mind.

Many themes are explored during these thirteen episodes, including - and not limited to - drugs, politics, brainwashing, possession, obsession and of course sex. Usually one sees an anime DVD cover and it is often misleading; this is one instance where the rather bold cover shot of a naked Fujiko is advertising exactly what you can expect to see. This is a highly sexual show with our curvaceous lead naked on a regular basis, including in the beguiling opening credits. She is also caught in the odd compromising position, with both men and women, and while nothing is too explicit the 15 rating does sometimes seem a little generous.

This aspect of the show will unquestionably prove to be a divisive one by many viewers. Some will absolutely lap it up with fervour while others will find it unnecessary, although there is little debate as to the shadow it casts over the Fujiko's character and her past. While no date for the show's setting has been given, the suggestion is the late 60's, the time of the Manga's first appearance, when feminism wasn't taken so seriously. Thus today's modern woman might not appreciate seeing Fujiko using her feminine charms so freely to get herself out of a tight spot nor will they approve of how she and other women are so keenly objectified. Then again Japan is a little behind the times on that front and some will no doubt might argue that Fujiko is a positive role model for taking on the men at their own game and being so successful at it.

Back to the show and much of the Lupin escapist charm is present with tightly woven mini adventures presented to us as the master thief tries to steal many a global treasure, bumping into, and occasionally working alongside, the devious Miss Mine along the way. Jigen and Lupin are also strangers for the most part, forming an unlikely and begrudging partnership towards the end. Goemon wanders in and out of the tale, having been overwhelmed by Fujiko's charms, slicing and dicing his way as her burly protector with a sword that can literally cut through anything - including air strike missiles! In case you didn't already know, suspension of disbelief is required in spades when watching this series. Another character to look out for is Oscar, the effete subordinate to Zenigata who becomes a pivotal player in the final chapters.

Director Sayo Yamamoto decided that the best approach for the animation was to mirror the original artwork of Monkey Punch's manga. The end result is something which will shock many at first, with its heavy shading, scrappy looking lines and gaudy colour pallet. It takes a while but once you get used to it, one can't imagine the show being presented in any other way. Since escapism is the key, there are many liberties taken with the designs and the animation, with the conventions of anime rebelliously defenestrated. Similar to the likes of Bakemonogatari and Ef: A Tale Of Memories, the artwork changes style on a whim to reflect the differing moods of the moment. As the story explores Fujiko's past, things get a little esoteric and the show becomes quite the psychedelic experience, recalling the likes of early Ralph Bakshi and Terry Gilliam, which looks fabulous on Blu-ray.

A note also about the musical score. ShinichirWatanabe was the musical producer which explains the heavy jazz influence that plays a key part in establishing the show's identity, from the sultry saxophone riffs to the be-bop madness for the action scenes.

By rights The Woman Called Fujiko Mine should be an easy sell with its bold artistic approach, intelligent well crafted storylines and respectful faithfulness to the Lupin III franchise. This is a sexy, sassy, subversive and shocking anime series that dares to be different and should be applauded for doing so. Yet it is because of these same reasons that it has "niche audience" written all over it in neon letters. This then, is a show that will divide opinion between the "art vs accessibility" crowds. This writer falls into the first category but I can understand why others won't be some receptive towards it.

One thing for sure, it is certainly a viewing experience you won't forget in a hurry.


English Language Japanese Language English Subtitles

Disc 2 only:

Clean Opening Animation Clean Closing Animation Trailers

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