Lupin III is one of the staples of Japanese anime. There have been five manga series, five movies, four TV series, three OVAs, one live action film, and a new TV special every year since 1989. Despite its cultural footprint, it had been nearly two decades since the last full anime series when the gang returned to the small screen with Lupin The Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine earlier this year. And now that that show has finished its short thirteen-episode run, it's safe to say this was the best piece of Lupin III media we've seen in a long while.
You can't get thirty seconds into the first episode of The Woman Called Fujiko Mine without noticing the amazing art style. Much like Valkyria Chronicles, The Woman Called Fujiko Mine is animated in a style reminiscent of color pencil sketches. That style, mixed with a pale color pallet makes this one of—if not "the"—most beautiful anime ever made. And when the more surrealist scenes of later episodes enter the picture, we get an amazing view of what this kind of animation can truly do.
At first, each episode appears to be a stand-alone story focusing on the titular Mine Fujiko and her interactions with one other member of the Lupin gang. Moving in rotation, we get a Lupin
story, a Jigen story, and finally a Goemon story, before starting the cycle again. Yet the further into the series we get, the more this pattern breaks down—with more and more of the gang present in every episode. By the end of the series, the seemly one-off stories of the series suddenly fall into place as one cohesive narrative—making this series the perfect mix of the episodic and the serial.
The Woman Called Fujiko Mine serves as a pseudo-reboot of the franchise as a whole, focusing on the first-time meetings between each of the Lupin gang members. The series comes with a
brand new plot, complete with many new characters—including a new main character in the form of Oscar, Zenigata's pretty-boy assistant. Not only is Oscar presented as Zenigata's potential love interest (if Oscar has his way, anyway) but he is also set up as Fujiko's rival in a relationship mirroring that of Lupin III and Zenigata.
While there is much new to this story, there are also numerous call backs to previous Lupin III works in the form of references, characters, and visually similar shots. A generally darker take on the franchise, it still definitely feels like Lupin III…
...except in the case of one character. Zenigata has always been the best foil for Lupin III. While most police (and criminals) are two steps behind Lupin, Zenigata is only one behind. The main reason he's still on the Lupin case after so many failures is because 1) no one else has gotten nearly as close as him and 2) he usually captures someone much worse than Lupin over the course of the chase. He's completely focused on his job of catching Lupin (and shows utter
disdain for anyone using lethal force against Lupin) but is good and honest enough that he is willing to team up with the man to catch a more evil, violent foe.
But is this the same Zenigata that we encounter in The Woman Called Fujiko Mine? In one early episode, Zenigata actually catches Fujiko. He then lets her go in exchange for sexual favors. Zenigata's bargain for sex paints him as a dirty cop, not Lupin's noble antagonist. Worse yet, he goes even more out of character as he tries several times to actively kill Lupin—going so far at one point as to shoot him in the back as he's running away. And while I can't say that this iteration of the Zenigata character is inherently bad, it is a departure that alters the entire Lupin/Zenigata dynamic of the franchise.
Lupin III, at least in its anime adaptations, has been relatively family friendly. Yet the entirety of The Woman Called Fujiko Mine is far more adult in tone with reams of nudity and sexually explicit acts. While still having moments of comedic action, the series is also far darker—with the overall story revolving around drugs, abduction, graphic child abuse, and rape. All of these things add to the story being told here, but anyone looking for a lighthearted Lupin adventure will find themselves entirely in the wrong place.
All in all Lupin The Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine is an excellent anime that should be watched for the visuals alone, if nothing else. Luckily there is far more reason to watch this than its gorgeous art style. Each individual adventure is presented in typical Lupin III style, with just the right amounts of action and comedy while the overall story arch presents a haunting mystery that delves into the past of one of anime's most famous characters. If you like great comedies, dark tragedies, beautiful art, or all of the above, you cannot afford to miss Lupin The Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine.
Lupin The Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine aired on NTV in Japan earlier this year and is available on the Funimation website with English subtitles in North America.