And here do we take our first revisiting steps into the world of Fujiko Mine. The first episode lays its cards quite plainly on the table, flashing enough skin and flair to keep you from noticing, just enough like what you might call a typical Lupin heist to seduce the unexpecting into something new. Let’s get to the categories.
Episode Specifics: Here we have the fated meeting of Lupin and Fujiko, and the beginning of their rivalry – both have infiltrated a cult based around Fraulein Eule, and are looking to steal the stuff. Their race is put off by the arrival of Zenigata and his lieutenant (not to mention the loot dissolving into the sea), but before they part Lupin declares his intent to steal the lady thief.
As I mentioned up top, this episode is one of the closest, stylistically speaking, to the 1977 Red Jacket series: it begins with an unusual gimmick or scenario, features a foolish, arrogant conehead of a villain (whom Fujiko is trying to seduce out of his fortunes); the initial scheme gives way to an over the top plan relying on amazing gadgetry, Zenigata appears just late enough for Lupin to get away unscathed, but the treasure itself comes to naught. It also has the most concentrated nudity of the series, with Fujiko’s proportions especially exaggerated even from the series standard.
THEY’RE LARGER THAN HER HEAD
She even lays out her own Red Jacket formula in her first conversation with Lupin: offer sexual favors in exchange for a portion of the treasure, and then double cross him at the last moment for her own advantage. The glorious thing is that she then proceeds to not do that for the rest of the episode – she gets the betraying done right away, escaping the beheading and working to get the treasure without any kind of reliance on Lupin’s actions (which is actually part of the reason he gets ahead of her). This, then, will be a very different kind of Fujiko. The show forces us to look through the prism of nostalgia (Red Jacket being easily the most remembered series, and in Japan particularly) and seeks to break it right away. This is and isn’t Lupin III, growing from the same seeds but telling a whole different kind of story – Lupin is kind enough to tell us at the end that this is Fujiko’s story, and all the rest merely supporting cast, but the show tells right from the start.
Reference to another reference. Refception?
Lupin Lore: The Red Jacket formula is the big reference this episode, but there’s also a quick cluster of them while Fujiko is expositing Lupin’s history: Lupin having a shoot-out in his SSK recalls the ‘Lupin starting out’ flashback from The Castle of Cagliostro, the declaration letter on the side of the Empire State building was a technique Lupin used in Episode 0: First Contact, and the laughing fit after he’s stolen the paintings is taken from the original 1969 pilot episode. They’re drawing on all the origin points for this start – the first from Miyazaki’s legendary ‘last job,’ the first longform stab at an origin story for the franchise, and the very first bit of Lupin animation.
Insert fist shaking at heavens here
Suddenly Owls: Not only do we have owls, we start the series with them. Almeda (who we can safely assume is Aisha-as-Almeda, a distinction I’m guessing will eventually require some kind of portmanteau) writes a letter to us, though it’s addressed to Fujiko, flat out telling us the lay of the land: what we’re about to see is a crafted story, stripped from an existing reality, and guided by a very deliberate hand. The script wants us to be actively thinking about how the narrative of the series functions, and to question why and how things happen. The meta starts here, though we’ll see it again before the finale comes around.
Additionally, the island itself is a walled playground of Almeda’s creation. Likely it was a manufacturing plant for the drug when it was going to be put to widespread use, got converted to serve the not-insignificant scope of the original Almeda’s experiments, and eventually fell over to the cult when Aisha focused her interests elsewhere (let us take the liberty of assuming the cult is a recent phenomenon, one that formed after Fujiko’s memory loss and Aisha’s subsequent engrossment in her tale – though the timeline on that is hazy, particularly when Oscar comes into consideration. Or perhaps the leader is a former conspirator of Almeda’s, taking advantage of the drug’s properties once he had free reign to do so – he’s clearly chemically knowledgeable enough to set the whole thing up without anyone suspecting).
Okay that’s a stupid way to wear your hat on a windswept ship.
But it looks so damn cool
Oscar Watch: I bet you thought we’d be skipping this section today, since Oscar gets less than two minutes of screen time. Au contraire, my friends. This is the one and only time we’ll get to see Oscar before he starts down the road to crazy town, so it’s extra important to extrapolate what we can from the scene.
Of course, what we call the ‘character defining moment’ (a visual and tonal first impression, if you will) is his obvious worship of Zenigata. But the key word is ‘obvious’ – Oscar’s behavior in this scene is really on the nose compared to how he’ll act later. He’s blushing, to start with, and makes no attempt to maintain any sense of stoicism. I would put forward the idea that he’s still in the stage of unrequited love where one hopes it will actually happen – the fantasizing phase where the other person can do no wrong and you’re just so damn happy to be in their presence, where they could notice you at any minute. After Zenigata sleeps with Fujiko those feelings start to turn inward, where they become increasingly bitter and self-loathing.
Let us remember that this show is very much a period piece, and realizing one was gay in the 1960s did not promise the brightest future (this being back when homosexuality was still classified as a mental disorder, and the go-to treatment was electroshock therapy to the genitals), especially in a traditionally masculine setting like law enforcement. He tries, consciously, to hide them (allowing himself another emotional outburst only when he thinks he’s saved Zenigata from torture) while also turning all of his anger toward Fujiko, because he cannot allow himself to hate the man who’s practically a god to him.
I do say tries to hide it, because the other impression we can pick up from this scene is how much Oscar wears his heart on his sleeve. He is a great deal less excitable than he will be later on: the very basic pattern of his character is that he’s a clever kid (we’re not sure how long it’s been since he was fished out of the river, but to have made lieutenant, even if he dedicated his life to it, I’d say roughly 20), who gets undone by his emotional extremes and tendency to charge in at their whims. And that’s what his appearance is here, albeit in miniature. He asks pointed, useful questions regarding the situation and Zenigata’s motives, showing a good grasp of the situation. Then he nearly falls apart when the cult followers make for the ocean (I really cannot stress how good Josh Grelle is, feeding a series’ worth of future development into one line). He plans well but doesn’t particularly adapt, and once he starts losing control he degenerates quite quickly. Yup, this episode lays its cards right on the table.
My favorite shot of the episode
Themes: I included that screenshot up there because it pretty much personifies what this episode is doing, while also being a damn incredible bit of visual storytelling. The low angle shot was first used in Citizen Kane, and is meant to give the impression of the camera’s subject towering over the audience as a larger than life beings. Here we have two legendary thieves, mythic figures in popular culture, rendered larger than life as we witness the birth of their relationship. But even more than that, even greater, is the balance of the shot. Lupin and Fujiko are placed on equal terms – same height, same position, with equal space and mirrored shadows on either side of the shot. The camera doesn’t focus in on Fujiko’s sex appeal until she herself decides to make use of it. In the moment that will define them, they’re coded as toe-to-toe professionals, two sides of the same whole. It doesn’t want a series where Fujiko is taking advantage of Lupin, cleverer than he and able to use him to her advantage. She’s just as good as him, with a different approach and skill set. It puts their relationships on an ever so slightly different axis, one that unfolds in a most fascinating manner.
Butterflies, the second most ominous background creature
This episode also features the first prominent use of the butterfly motif, which will crop up in quite a few places over the course of the series. Those of you who watch a lot of anime may have noticed that butterflies are pretty inescapable, particularly if you’ve read anything by CLAMP, ever. They’re symbols of death and rebirth, major change and transformation. They’re also frequently used to represent illusions – naturally the wedding dress of a Fraulein Eule cult would feature one prominently. The drug itself became a tool to kill the natural self of the experimentation victims and visit a new past upon them for the sake of entertainment. In this scene (the first time and only time we see the veil from this angle) Fujiko is also ‘reborn’ in the sense of setting forth on the course that will lead her back to herself, and to the ‘truth’ of the original series’ dynamic.
And finally, there’s a thematic flip of the final episode in this first one. The first half of the episode shows Lupin narrating the layout of the scheme, which he knows but the audience has not yet been privy to. Meanwhile, Fujiko is engaged in a conflict of sorts with an elderly man (with power over Fraulein Eule), where she believes herself to have an upper hand but doesn’t (when the cult leader proves to have an immunity to the drug she slips him). They’ll flip is around for the ‘cut strings’ scene in the final episode, where once again Lupin illuminates the grand conspiracy for the unawares audience, and Fujiko realizes that she’s not at all powerless against ‘Almeda’ despite so deeply believing that she was. The whole story is a circle, a tale of self and story-as-mechanism that ties itself up in a neat little bow. But we’ll get to that down the line.