The new Lupin series is really ratcheting up the cause. Before, we explored the gothic novels that shoujo manga and in this case, Mine Fujiko To Iu Onna has been drawing from. While not every episode lives up to the gothic novel tropes, the mood has still been set throughout. Even the political flavour of episode 7 was highlighted by a clever coup by Fujiko and her ‘samurai boyfriend’. The latest episode was a virtual explosion of everything that’s been hinted at in the series, and short of episode 6 which is probably my favourite, was the most impressive exploration of feminism I’ve seen since Utena. I cannot wait to see how it ends but until then, we still have some reading to do.
Let’s get to it!
:::WARNING MAJOR SPOILERS AND FAR FEWER BOOB JOKES.::::
Firstly, let’s talk about creepy owls.
What in the world do these things represent? Owls represent knowledge and mystery, especially in the realm of the gothic romantic novel. Their head placed on a male body is an interesting representation of Fujiko’s secret, exploitative past. But that’s not all, the use of a mask is very important to women’s studies and here is why.
This is a little known fact outside of art history, but the Masquerade, particularly the Grand Masquerade in France was one of the few places in the 18th century that the social classes could intermingle. It was considered a place where the wealthy and not so wealthy could let down their hair (figuratively and literally) and – get this- cross dress. The disguise was both literal and figurative with the wealthy dressing like peasants, peasants dressing like the wealthy, men as women and everything in between. There are hundreds of accounts of homosexual liaisons, cautionary tales and women dressed as prostitutes ‘seducing’ wayward men and ruining them. Naturally, the church and government found these parties erm…problematic. Particularly when concerned with women’s chastity. Masks and the masquerade became a visual cue for prostitution. Want proof? Hogarths’ the Harlot’s Progress directly references a very well known visual cue in his print right here (lower left). The most interesting thing about his work is that it was meant for the common people to consume – this was already a well established visual cue concerning prostitution and feminine promiscuity.
Why is this important? Because the gothic novel was born in this period, out of an atmosphere of an emerging print culture that was exploding with opinions both informed and uninformed concerning women’s bodies, their images, what they should be like and horrific, morally charged rape stories about what happens to women if they don’t toe the line. You see it in the books – women sent to ruin by horrible husbands, rape, violence and brutality because of the marriage culture emerging at the time. The mask and masquerade although diluted by the 19th century still appears in many of these novels, like Jane Eyre, Rebecca, Phantom of the Opera, etc. Disguise has always been associated with women, their bodies and the nature of their relationship with the wider world but the gothic novel took this association into a specifically sinister place.
Phew! With all of that said, let’s talk further about the nature of disguise in Fujiko. We all know by now that Fujiko is promiscuous, she has no qualms ruining men with her many visual representations. But that’s not all, her wayward fellow friends all have their own disguises and even Jigen’s hat that obscures his face and plays a role in the tropes exploding from the notion of the mysterious thief. In episode 6 we have the most potent, vicious and direct representation of the female body and its tormented role in gothic fiction – Oscar takes on the role of a love sick school girl both literally and figuratively. He writes poems, he bemoans his affection, he observes the romantic infatuation of others and allows himself to be nearly seduced.
But this all comes crashing down when he turns on Fujiko and reveals his disguise. Although far more aggressive than the virtuous heroines of gothic romantic fiction past, the trope is clear – he’s saving himself for love and the potential rapist must be subdued. That he’s a man in disguise doing it for the love of his superior, makes it even more scrumptious. After all, true and ‘pure’ love will always win out in the gothic romantic novel…unless it’s tainted by death or madness. The promiscuous, beautiful but morally corrupt woman always loses and yet, Fujiko is the one who gets the drop on Oscar with a little help from Lupin. Love has been usurped by a woman with a plan and no amount of emotional anguish will sway her.
Once we start talking about the position of love, now we must return full circle to Heathcliff himself from Wuthering Heights. Why is Heathcliff so important? Why is he the symbol of Fujiko and her story? The answer is obvious and direct – Heathcliff is a man without a past, with no status or family. A representation of absolute freedom but also absolute torment. Animalistic by 19th century standards and privy to the whims and desires of those with status and power he becomes the past itself and haunts the story with his decrepit figure. As we see in the most recent episode, Fujiko isn’t just tormented by her past but a piece of herself – a ghostly image of her childhood- that has become the a living reminder of the past itself. Those who would love her and know her are dead or dying, caught in a tormented circle between reality and fabrication. The Owl Mirror of legend becomes literal – a situation that is both wisdom and folly, just like Heathcliff who is tormented by his inability to reconcile his past and present before he dies. The message is clear; without status, without history a human being is just an object in the present to be used and abused, falling endlessly into the stories of others.
NEXT: The culmination of our examination; why women should care about this show, nudity and what it means, and the combination of tropes, genre and gothic romantic narrative as a feminist piece.