Of all the shows I was expecting to have a requisite (surprisingly plot-integral, a la Outlaw Star) hot springs episode, this one was not it.
This week: IN CASE WE WERE TOO SUBTLE ABOUT THAT WHOLE FEMINISM THING BEFORE
Episode Specifics: Lupin and Jigen head to a hot springs resort, seeking to steal a priceless painted lady – a living work of art whose life has been stolen from her and put on display. But Fujiko is after the girl as well, dangerously unhinged and with considerably more violent intent.
If the other episodes we’ve looked at to this point could be considered as being flavored or underpinned by gender commentary, this one goes soaring right by, up and away until it more or less reaches the dizzying heights of satire. For those who would like a practical definition: works of satire take a concept and blow it up to an extreme, the better to point out the inherent flaws that might be displaced or brushed aside in the ‘normal’ version of the argument (I could list examples all day – at the height of its game South Park is a master at this, as are Stewart and Colbert, Key & Peele, Lewis Black, so on). We’ll get into the whats and whys of it down at the bottom, but good lord. On a…more than second…viewing, I can appreciate this as the wakeup call moment for anyone wondering if this series is just interested in being a cool but soulless action series (all the more delightful for starting the ball rolling on the first proper Lupin/Jigen team-up, the meat of what a Lupin fan expects).
Lupin Lore: Lots of little things this week: there’s the inn chase which is almost an on-foot version of the fantastic car chase from The Fuma Conspiracy, the first appearance of the tatami flip that will later save Lupin and Jigen from Goemon’s early assassination attempt in Green Jacket, and an echo of Lupin’s general nonplused-ness over whether Fujiko has survived a seemingly fatal crash (I’ve talked about that before – it belies an interesting aspect of Lupin’s character, wherein all the proclaimed affection in the world comes to a tentative halt once it begins working against something he wants. Any scraps of audience sympathy are saved only by the fleeting glimpse of legitimate concern during those few seconds when he looks at the tram car wreckage).
Amidst all of that, this is probably the most “Red Jacket-esque” episode since the premiere, all Bugs Bunny Lupin and zany sound effects, right up until it dunks us into that mental breakdown. And of course, the appearance of Fujiko’s most common costume, the partially unzipped catsuit, appears at the exact moment when she has the least control over her own mental faculties – when she is in an almost fugue, a puppet to the desires of others on multiple levels.
No. Stop. ABORT. There is no way to make a joke about lusting after a mentally infantile girl as cute.
Are you trying to out-skin-crawl the owls?
In a strange case of the adaptation ouroboros, this prequel also bears the modern special stamp of casting Jigen in a more fatherly light in relation to girls of the week (2011’s Blood Seal, Eternal Mermaid leaps particularly to mind). This has, I posit, partially to do with Kiyoshi Kobayashi’s increasing seniority as the only remaining member of the original cast (though I suspect summer 2014’s The Tomb of Daisuke Jigen may be his swan song), and partially as a way for the writers to work themselves out of the mandated ‘all of Jigen’s love interests are traitorous and/or (but mostly and) dead’ corner.
FUCKING OWLS: Growing stronger all the time, now leading us to the precipice of Fujiko’s mental breakdown. In a rather deft move of sound design, from the moment the auction flashback starts (as zoomed in through Fujiko’s eye, so that we know everything is through the lens of her perspective) all of Fujiko’s musical cues (usually “The Woman Called Fujiko” or one of the more general leitmotifs) are replaced with “Owl Man” and other music used only in the nightmare-flashbacks. Aisha’s implants have become so prominent as to be the literal soundtrack of her life, no longer contained to isolated visual flashes.
There’s also the more or less stating of Aisha’s motivation (to destroy others as her life has been destroyed) as a character long before we ever see her, as spoken to the woman she is attempting to use as a plaything. The explanation is written in such a way as to seem deliberately incongruous to what we know of Fujiko (see also: the many complaints about how unfitting the suddenly tragic backstory is for her, which is what we should be thinking but unable to explain on a first viewing), instead addressing the actual owner of the memories.
Oscar Watch: None this week! But we’re going to be talking about his actions in next week’s episodes in relation to Fujiko’s in this one, so hold onto those thoughts.
Themes: And back to that whole satire thing. Rather than just having Fujiko’s discussions of Goethe or Goemon’s confusion over Fujiko not fitting into the mental box he’d ascribed for what she ‘should’ be, we have a female character whose worth is literally inscribed on her body, whose status as a person is valued so far below her outer attractiveness that her male owner did not even think to teach her speech (and of course he owns her, and of course there was no recourse for her to seek her own freedom). It is a literal infantilizing of a female character (a common complaint against quite a bit of the moe genre), so pervasive that this girl doesn’t even have her own name. Her very signifier reduces her from an individual being to the artwork of another. It’s so relentlessly disturbing and horrific that it comes back around to being almost blackly comic. And then they go one step further. They bring in Fujiko, and they say “this woman reminds you of yourself.” The horror comes home to roost.
Let us not even mention Jigen and Lupin, who are disturbed by the overtness of the un-personing but who don’t put much stock in it beyond painting over her tattoos and calling it a day. A kind measure, to be sure, but hardly the fix all they seem to be pleased with – she’s still an adult with no speech skills (meaning she may never develop advanced ones), no life skills, and no framework in which she may now begin to determine a life for herself. She merely passes from cruel hands into equally determining but (hopefully) kinder hands. A deferral, not a solution.
And speaking of Fujiko’s behavior in this episode, let’s take a moment to examine her behavior – particularly in regards to what’s been established. The Fujiko of the first half of the series, before the flashbacks begin in earnest, has nothing but neutral to positive relationships with other women: she helps and sympathizes with Cicciolina, protects the young girls under her governance, willingly stays for dinner with Aiyan (despite being somewhat baffled, and with potential reason to hate her for burning the mask), and seems genuinely fond of (if amused by) the students in her class. Then we come to the New Fujiko, the one who’s finally beginning to succumb to Aisha-Almeda’s influence.
The clothing motifs are quite prevalent this week
Her entire motivating purpose is to kill this other suffering woman, who has caused her no pain and who the ‘real’ Fujiko would likely be pitying of (if perhaps not enough to override her own self-interest in turning a profit). The tattooed woman is a visual, uncomfortable reminder to Fujiko of her own fears, and rather than empathy she responds with violence. This is quite the commentary on a sad and tender subject – the cultural policing of women as enforced by other women. Into that category falls slut shaming, victim blaming, the worrying “oh, but I’m not like those OTHER girls” mantra. All things that encourage competition among women for the attention and approval of the established male-oriented system. There is almost a fear that an individual will come to represent the whole gender by their actions rather than only themselves, thus damaging the reputation of ‘womanhood’ (….within the parameters of male approval and desire, making it sort of an inherently flawed system).
So, as if to destroy their own fears of being unwanted or not good enough, there is a societal pressure on women to destroy one another: to mock women for acting ‘trampy,’ because it might instill a belief that women are interested in sex rather than trying to ‘trap’ men in marriage (as though all men need to be trapped); to shame those who are uninterested in traditional archetypes, or children (or no children, because then it sends the wrong idea about dependency rather than the individual desire for a family), or men generally, until all are struggling to cut the other’s throat based on what is expected of them as the Other rather than what they might desire for themselves or share based on mutual desire and experience. We are driven to kill one another by beliefs that are not natural but instilled, just as Fujiko is (all the more important that it shows how very different her relationship is to other women – not in exclusion of men, but equal to it in mutual respect – before the memories take hold).
I’m fairly certain I’m legally obligated to make a Strong Female Character reference here
I also want to call special attention to Fujiko’s wardrobe in this episode. While several of her outfits have been revealing or sexual in past episodes, it is always checked by context or purpose. When she is alone or feels comfortable? Bikinis at the beach, sexy lingerie, nudity. This is a woman who knows and loves her own body, and trusts the few who are with her to respect her boundaries despite that nudity. When she is deliberately attempting to seduce? Outfits that are sexual but also comparatively showy or uncomfortable: the metallic, almost Princess Leia bikini, the tasseled stripper pasties (seriously, ow), or the collared mini dress. They are outfits with ornamentation, meant to draw attention but chosen for the onlooker rather than the wearer. Her outfits for practical work or theft, by contrast, have all been stylish but practical: her shoes are easy to move in, her chest is secure because running without support is painful, and she has at least token protection for her skin or the ability to hide a weapon. Those are the outfits Fujiko Mine, when in possession of her faculties, chooses to wear (many of them are quite in line with Miyazaki’s Fujiko wardrobes as well).
Then along comes the famous unzipped catsuit, with its lack of support and baring of vital organs, right at the moment when Fujiko begins to lose her mind. The more I begin putting it into context, the more it becomes one of the series’ most vicious barbs against the mentality of Fujiko’s older portrayals. Here is the costume, the show seems to say, and no one in their right mind would actually wear it (particularly in such a fashion) for potentially dangerous work. By allowing Fujiko a range of clothing, from practical to sexual (all in keeping with her character and chosen for specific purposes and contexts) it neatly beheads the argument that Fujiko would choose such an outfit because of her flirtatious nature. It’s a designer choice for sexual appeal, neither practical nor logical even for a character aware and proud of her sexuality. And if it looks stupid on Fujiko, dare we even begin to apply that logic to the other hordes of chainmail bikinis out there?