The new Lupin III came bursting out of the gates which such force, I was left reeling from the impact of its images. It was a testament to the new ‘old style’ animation, with character designs by Takeshi Koike and the director Saya Yamamoto (check those staff credentials; X, Redline to name a few) it was set up to be a fascinating series from the moment it appeared.
The initial commentary about the new Lupin was thus: Lupin must be updated, particularly the role of Fujiko Mine who was an oft-maligned heroine in a series defined by it’s naughty perversions and slapstick humour. While still an adventure series it was less Indiana Jones and more James Bond with boobs. The new series Mine Fujiko to Iu Onna is an ambitious attempt to imbue more character development and interest into its long running characters.
But I won’t get into that here, what I will get into is how a relatively two dimensional character like Fujiko Mine has been transformed very cleverly into a gothic romantic heroine who is subverting all the tropes. Because the new Lupin isn’t just for men and boys any more and despite the prevelant presence of boobs and ass, there is something beautiful happening in this series. It pains me to hear people call it sexist, when there is so much more complexity. And I hope over the three parts of this exploration, I can convince you to take another look at it too.
Enough! Before I lose my shit and everything with a penis is lit on fire. The proof is in the pudding.
Pudding, not poing.
And it’s time to have it. In the words of Fujiko Mine:
Stop everything but your beating heart.
And look at me.
::::::WARNING::::: FOR THOSE INTENDING TO WATCH THE SERIES THERE ARE SPOILERS AHEAD. AND BOOB JOKES. LOTS OF THEM. Also, pretty men and blood.
Women and disguise is something heavily discussed in women’s studies and of course, in women’s literature. For brevity’s sake, I’m going to cut out everything but the romantic gothic novel, which is where Fujiko derives its inspiration. Arguably, the entire show is driven by shoujo manga and I’m sure an astute shoujo manga fan can tell me what I’ve missed, but every shoujo manga fan also knows that European literature is the bread and butter of dramatic gothic shoujo tropes, so I will cut the middle man and go straight to the source. It’s time to start from the very beginning.
Boobs in clingy gauze.
Sorry, a little distracted by glorious tatas. I meant the roles Fujiko takes on as a capable thief.
Every disguise she takes is a reference to a gothic novel, gothic literature and the heavy tropes implied in the stories. What Fujiko is doing is playing the damsel in distress; she’s the future sex toy of a cult leader, the foil to a gilted lover, a beautiful and pure governess, and finally (so far with the release of episode four) a tormented opera singer. By the end of each episode, she has turned on her male exploiters, found her treasure and disappeared.
If you need books to assign to each of these tropes – I haz them. The cult leader to be fair, is also a trope prevalent in adventure stories, pulp books and mystery novels. That one is pretty obvious, but it also heavily relies on the idea of a corrupt religious leader, which has its first popular appearance in one of the first gothic novels ever written, The Monk. The idea of a man of religion turning on his vows was big news, and The Monk was treated like the worst kind of pornography when it was released. However, it left a lasting impression with its damsels tormented by a religious man and his desire to fornicate, and the story itself became a tawdry sexual trope in the penny dreadfuls to come in the 19th century. The gothic romantic herione swoons under his corrupt spell, but of course, despite the threat Fujiko manages to get a head of everyone else.
The next role involves the suicidal lover, which I am sure we are all overwhelmingly familiar with thanks to Shakespeare. But also, a woman who becomes overwhelmed by hysteria and jealousy is a major trope in just about -every- gothic romantic novel to such a profusion it becomes difficult to name just one. I can’t help but wonder if it’s no accident the story is focused on an Italian character, because as some of you may know, Italy was the focus of the gothic romantic revival in Europe and the home of its inspiration through stories like the Decameron. To entrench Italy even deeper into gothic romantic canon, the first truly gothic romantic novel The Castle of Otranto was originally published as a long lost Italian medieval text. It’s worth it to also mention that the imagery in this episode is extremely prevalent in shoujo manga, and before I even confirmed it, my Utena sense was tingling when I saw the elevator scene in episode 1. Excuse me, while I drown any incumbent noise out with the sound of fangirlish squeals. EEeeeeee….
The governess is another plethora of roles stretched from the early 17th century well into the 19th. What we have here is the endless struggle between classes, romance and children. Fujiko is coincedentally well behaved as the trope requires a virtuous maiden who loves children to be betrayed by herself or society to complete the story. Jane Eyre is the most famously known of these stories but you can find them all over the place written by all sorts of European cultures. Of course, it seems in this instance Fujiko betrays herself by actually giving a shit and yet, still manages to get the goods. A possible parable for how women must disguise their true nature in the public sphere to get the job done? I think it’s a strong possibility. We also have the wandering samurai, who can take the usual place of the ignoble duty bound romancer in these sorts of governess tales. Of course, instead of being a modest romance, we see a nude kiss. Delightful.
I hope I don’t have to recall every female entertainer in gothic romantic literature, do I? Oh. Phantom of the Opera is directly riffed in this episode, but this time, the women take the starring roles. It’s the opera singer who has the burned face, who hides under a mask for love. This allows Fujiko to take the starring role using the oldest trick in the book – the old switcheroo. But we have a -double- switch, as the opera singer was already two steps ahead of even Lupin. This is probably my favourite episode so far, combining my love of classical music with my love for strong active women in anime. Fujiko and Ayan Maya know what they’re doing and have turned the tables on the performing arts. We also have Oscar who I’m beginning to suspect is a Rose of Versailles nod, as the name and character design bear a strong resemblance. Is he a reverse trap? I’m not sure, I lean more towards an unfortunate closet case at this time. All I know is that his pretty face and passionate interest in Zenigata is more than a small nod towards the hallowed past of gay men in shoujo manga.
The tropes I have chosen are a mere taste, with a little research I’m sure the astute watcher can find even more. Found something you think is awesome and I should include it? Comment below, I’d love to hear about it.
Next up: The Grand Masquerade part 2 – more old books, the masquerade and what it means in the artistic tradition, the not so secret meaning of Heathcliff and why women should care about this show despite the sexualisation of Fujiko.