Stealing is an art form. Any brute with a gun can take away something that doesn’t belong to them but for others, the thrill of a hunt and the ecstatic anguish of the long con are what turn thievery into something more than just a crime. Lupin the 3rd, like Ocean’s Eleven, The Italian Job, and The Thomas Crown Affair, was a romanticism of thievery. Adapted into a television show from a serialized manga in the 1970s, Lupin’s misadventures were always about tailing marks, donning disguises and waging the occasional shootout all in the name of stealing high profile treasures. Fast forward to 2012 and Lupin is back, only this time he plays second fiddle to his partner in crime, Fujiko Mine. For those who have seen any of the Lupin shows or movies, there’s a chance that this film may come as a surprise. In this iteration, Fujiko’s life as a career thief is not only glamorized, it is greatly sexualized. This is no more apparent than the show’s unique and amazing title sequence. It eschews a vocalized theme song in favor of a stunning monologue by the heroine herself, delivering a sensual treatise on her life of crime that includes great pieces of dialog:
“Like Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, to steal and steal again is my greatest carnal pleasure, and I stake my life on it. A sexy prison from which there is no escape.”
Michele Ruff’s breathy, seductive speech is slick, sexy, and sent a shiver down my spine. It also perfectly encapsulates the show’s tone and attitude better than I thought possible. Lupin the 3rd fans may have a pretty good idea of what they’re about to get into, but for first time viewers, the show opener is an incredibly effective way to introduce the viewer to the femme fatale.
Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine is a prequel of sorts and the first episode functions as her very first introduction to Lupin, the gentleman thief. Their chance meeting sets off a playful rivalry that leads to Lupin’s declaration that he will make Fujiko his woman. As for Fujiko herself, the series depicts her as a woman who uses her charm, wiles, and sexuality to get close to her targets. She’s intelligent and well trained in knowing what makes men – and women – weak, exploiting them as necessary. This is something she does with great frequency and can be counted on to be seen in various stages of undress, taking the show away from its somewhat family-friendly roots. Fujiko’s frequent nudity isn’t what earns this show a “mature” label. When her past is ultimately uncovered, it paints The Woman Called Fujiko Mine as a dark affair with broad strokes of personal tragedy. There are just enough moments of comedy relief that prevents things from getting too uncomfortable and depressing.
Although it is well written enough to stand on its own, the show manages to really shine when Fujiko finds herself paired with Lupin or one of his soon-to-be partners in crime: the stoic samurai, Goemon Ishikawa XIII, and master marksman, Daisuke Jugen. The four haven’t quite committed themselves to work as partners, resulting in more than a few double crosses – mostly from Fujiko. The relationship between Fujiko and Lupin is strongest as they banter back and forth, playfully holding back as much information about a caper as possible in order to put themselves on top. Lupin makes his affections known for the woman and makes the bold intention to “steal” her (going as far as being cheeky enough to inscribe this statement on her inner thigh).
As interesting and fun as the characters and capers are, propelling the show into greater heights is its exceptional soundtrack and beautiful, retro-inspired art design. The main characters closely resemble their mid-1970s counterparts and benefit from modern animation techniques. The heavy use of wild, sketchy lines makes the artwork seem older than it really is, a not so subtle effect that ends up working very well, especially in contrast against the brief scenes into Fujiko’s past which are hallucinogenic in its color palette. The lovely animation goes hand in hand with a sensual soundtrack that nearly gives Cowboy Bebop a run for its money – only because Cowboy Bebop music producer Shinichiro Watanabe was involved. The music fits the tone of the show so well, wrapping the entire viewing experience in a rich, warm layer of old school cool.
Lupin The Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine proved to be a thoroughly enjoyable viewing experience. Fans of the older show may balk at the Fujiko’s frequent nudity or increased sexualization, but in the context of the character this show is presenting, it’s gratuitous for the right reasons. It is a shame that the show is only thirteen episodes. I could go for a whole lot more.