When it comes to the Lupin the 3rd works, everyone has very different points of access and time to the property and that influences things in a lot of ways. Mine was through the Castle of Cagliostro film as a fansub at a comic convention in the mid-80s which led to me seeing the film and falling in love with it. For years after that, it was just a smattering of episodes here and there until Pioneer began to release the TV series, Funimation the specials, and then the overall deluge of material in the time since then. What changed my opinion of it all was in the early 2000s when TOKYOPOP brought out the original manga from the late 1960s here in English for the first time. I absolutely fell in love with those volumes that I eventually lost to a flood. They were pure 60s material with violence, smoking, and most especially the sexuality. There’s sexuality to the anime at times when it comes to Fujiko, but it’s night and day to that manga.
So when a 2012 series was announced that was focusing on just Fujio Mine, with others making appearances, I was all-in. Even more so when the confirmation came in that it was leaning into that kind of sensuality and sexiness of the original manga from Monkey Punch that had Fujiko in completely control of everything she was doing. Yeah, she got tied up from time to time but with how it played out you could never be sure whether it was by her design or not. This incarnation was important in a lot of other ways as well, being the first one to focus on the Lupin property without Lupin being in the lead and it was directed by a woman, the incredibly talented Sayo Yamamoto, with Mari Okada working on the scripts. When it comes to sensual writing and production, I easily look toward erotica of novel and film done by women more than men as there’s a “je ne sais quoi” about it that delivers in a way that most others do not.
What I liked about this series is that as it gets underway it’s not clear that it’s going to be something with a full-season concept to it. With so many original Lupin works for so long being one-off stories, it makes sense that this would be as well as it would give Fujiko a lot to work with. What we get here is a story where none of the principal characters have met as we see how Fujiko is working an angle of her own, initially dealing with getting close to a sect group that has possession of a drug called Dizzy that’s pretty dangerous. This opening episode showcases the style of the series really well as she uses both mind and body in order to gain the upper hand with the cult that basically exists here. It’s very sexual, has lots of nudity, and a great sense of style about it that really sells it as a pretty intriguing and unique work. What the episode also does is set the introductions of those that are familiar as we see Lupin working a scheme here as well, but it’s the first time the two have met. That gets him all interested in Fujiko as one would expect, and that lustful and hopeful relationship from his perspective permeates the series.
Similar to the previous Lupin series, we get a good series of standalone episodes here that involve Fujiko and her capers that come up, somewhere there’s a personal reason for doing it and others where it’s more about acquiring what she needs, and it’s just a lot of fun to see it play through. The first few episodes keep things largely with Fujiko in the main, and we get her interacting with Jigen and Goemon as she ends up on jobs where they’re involved. There are some basic commonalities to previous incarnations that are fun to watch here, but what the series does over the course of it is to avoid making it a comfortable working relationship, the finely oiled machine, that has dominated for years. Here, there’s distrust in general and uncertainty of each other when they do come across each other and even when they do work together, it’s more by chance at times than anything else. This gives it a much more raw feeling that adds some great tension and a whole lot of uncertainty to the various encounters that go on as you can’t be exactly sure how they’ll react to each other.
Story-wise, the series presents an engaging work that does build well, though I did find the final episode a bit lackluster with the direction it took with things being a bit psychedelic and drug-induced. It does fit in with the original manga a lot and on a basic level it definitely works, but something about it just didn’t connect for me as well. But when binged and viewed in full, you have such a great overall experience that a less than strong ending doesn’t hurt it as much as you think it would. The series here looks so much like the manga it and picks up some homage moments that are just gorgeous to look at that every new twist hooked me more. The nature of the character designs, the heavy line work, and the way the characters move just sets it apart from most everything out there and fits perfectly with the kind of story and style that’s used here.
While I enjoy the gang overall that makes up the Lupin the Third property, this series manages to do more to humanize the gang and particularly Fujiko in a way unlike any before. Quite honestly, this series is part of the embarrassment of riches in presentation, design, animation, and the acting from this period that still holds up very strongly ten years later. With a rich and engaging visual design, a solid story that expands more and more as it goes on, and a new way of looking at the core cast of characters that helps to keep it fresh and interesting. The action is well-choreographed throughout, the sexuality when used is definitely appropriate and it also has some great sensuality as well. But it also gives us a new way at looking at how the group could have formed with Fujiko more as the bonding point. This series felt like it could be a proper reinvention pivot point for the franchise as a whole and to show how Fujiko could help make the whole thing even bigger and more accessible. And I think in the works that came afterward, it helped to reshape things, albeit without the same level of sexuality, which is fine. As a snapshot in time, The Woman Called Fujiko Mine is a near-perfect photograph that I love revisiting whenever I can.