We come, at last, to the end of our tale. Let’s explore the last few revelations, posit a few ideas, and maybe get a bit heartfelt toward the end.
In case we were too subtle, Lupin is here to lay out our metaphors
Episode Specifics: Fujiko finally shakes herself free of her false memories with a little help from Lupin the Exposition Fairy. While Goemon and Jigen are having a cool but completely pointless swordfight and Zenigata is proving his terrible parenting skills, Lupin and Fujiko confront the mastermind behind the entire series and put an end to this sordid and tragic story.
At last the story is revealed as a meta narrative – storytelling inception, if you like. On the one hand it’s the literal tale of Aisha stealing the lives of others, rewriting them into something that will help her live out her own frustrated fantasies. Take a step back, and it becomes a commentary on the very idea of the reboot – on the one hand that they are an attempt to bring an existing concept forward into a new context (hence the mixing of psycho-thriller noir with heists and black comedy shenanigans), but they are also a reflection of the new creator’s desires, and the things that they want to be true of the thing that fascinates them.
It’s a complicated issue, one with both positive and negative sides in-story and out. On the one hand, Aisha took control of someone else’s identity, imposing her own fears and damages onto the canvas – and when those biases were forced to the forefront, it nearly destroyed the “tale” from the inside out. On the other hand, without Aisha’s meddling our five players would never have come together and forged stories and bonds of their own making. And reboots? Well, it depends on the case. Some of them manage to miss the point spectacularly, leaving aside what made the original endearing in the name of pushing their own desires (which usually involve squeezing as much money out of the nostalgia dollar as possible – and here I am quite pointedly looking at Sailor Moon Crystal).
A successful reboot, meanwhile (as I’d argue this most assuredly is) stands beside the original work without erasing it, and attempts to preserve the heart of the story while also addressing the problematic elements revealed by time. At the same time, they reopen the door to new generations, coaxing curious and intimidating viewers to look back at history in the hopes of finding that core joy. I have a story about that, when our other business is concluded.
It’s been fun and all…but I am glad to have this Lupin back
Lupin Lore: By far my favorite nod of this episode is the SSK scene, where Lupin’s voice takes on the giddy, playful cadence of the lighter adaptations while the very structure of his face becomes rounded and in line with the energetic 70s anime. A nod, in the moment of victory, to the later dynamic without having to completely write off the ‘competent, teasing equals’ relationship that’s so beautifully set up by this anime. There’s also that Episode 0 parallel that I’ve discussed before, with Jigen picking up Lupin in the truck. It also seems that drug induced amnesia is common for our super assassins – Goemon and Jigen’s fight is a callback to Episode 0, which was in turn a reference back to Goemon’s first appearances in both Green Jacket and the manga. Ah yes, and I’ve said we’d talk about Goemon didn’t I.
Truly, this is the revelation we have all been waiting for.
Who doesn’t want to be defined as ‘the love interest’ and nothing e…oh, wait a minute
As you’ve no doubt noticed, Goemon is completely incidental to the events of the finale. His technically accurate (if we’re considering this a setup to the status quo of Green Jacket) but laughably off point declaration of Fujiko as his girlfriend aside…it’s really Goemon who’s the girlfriend of this episode. He technically has his own desires (to further his studies as a swordsman) that receive the occasional lip service…but his entire involvement in the plot is as someone to aide and wonder about Fujiko. He technically acts as part of the finale…but his efforts are immediately undone (all Jigen has to do is flip the emergency power on). And while his final speech to Fujiko is sweet, in its way, it’s also completely left of the mark. She might like him, but he has no bearing on her personal journey of discovery – that’s Lupin’s job, the one filling the worthy opponent/beloved rival spot.
So yes, Goemon is completely pointless, and that’s a shame. Like it’s a shame that Trinity exists to be outdone by Neo and then give him a reassuring little speech about how awesome he is. Like it’s a shame that Misa Amane went from potentially dangerous loose cannon to empty eyed prop, or that “the girl” of any given shonen manga, no matter her starting prowess, is inevitably reduced to the role of emotional cheerleader or damsel; or that Fujiko herself is capable of losing all previously demonstrated skill if a guest director wants Lupin to look heroic recuing her. It’s a damn shame.
Suddenly Owls: So, the entire plot was set in motion because one sick, disgusting bastard was looking to formulate his perfect child bride, for which the multi-billion dollar illegal drug business was more or less a façade. We’re all clear? Yes? I’ll join you in the corner for a horrified screaming session momentarily.
Something about “all work and no play,” right?
Oscar Watch: In the long parade of ‘let us show our grand, series long flourishes,’ our troubled lieutenant. Oscar, who’s childhood design is quite similar to that of the various kidnapped girls (if you’re doing it right, very little in animation is coincidental). Oscar, who’s every appearance in this episode is in some way related to Aisha (either a direct cut to him bearing the same expression or repeating a similar sentiment). Oscar, who has an extensive tattoo no child should possess in the same pattern as the brand on Aisha’s foot. Oscar, whose story pointedly ends on a theme of an inability to communicate: Zenigata doesn’t have the language to reach him (and has realized too late that Oscar needs help at all), Oscar has no dialogue that is not an echo of the rejects or Aisha, and any intimation of his fate is done solely through images.
Oscar’s story has no true resolution, beyond the hope that he might escape the false memories, because in the meta-narrative there is no language for a story where he survives. It’s left an unspoken, dangling plot thread, a niggling doubt encouraging the viewer to ask why it is so.
Themes: A brief note on Aisha and her mother. I would wager that many of you, like me, didn’t think to wonder where Aisha’s mother was at all. It was just a given that she was somehow out of the picture, no doubt dead in some kind of tragic and pain-causing accident. That’s how it is in a great deal of media, from anime to fairy tales to Disney films. Mothers are, by and large, not important – they are sainted martyrs haunting the protagonist’s psyche (if they are not altogether forgotten), or they are wicked. Dying a hero or living long enough to become the villain, as it were. To have Lupin be so immediately curious on the subject (his records search even occurs during the course of the series!) leaves us to wonder why we ourselves are not.
And then, of course, there’s the relationship between mother and daughter itself. It’s all well and good for Aisha’s mother to say that her daughter is free, but in context it’s a laughable thing. Aisha has no point of reference, no idea how to live outside of the hellish framework within which she was trapped. And while her mother wished her to be free and happy she abdicated her own responsibility – as Fujiko herself points out, after Almeda’s death there was plenty of need for a mother in Aisha’s life. Not an enabler, but a role model who could lead her out of her situation in some small way. Fear of speaking out put Aisha in her role, and it lingered on even after Almeda’s death, allowing the vicious cycle of abused-turned-abuser to continue.
One more step back, and we take a look at the role of women in media, whose responsibility it is to create role models for subsequent generations, to shape the future even if they might have been scared. To fight, for the sake of those who would come after if not themselves. Because a sudden declaration of ‘hey look, freedom of opportunity!’ is nothing if the fear and patterns of previous generations are not actively dismantled by those who were trapped by them – it only allows a framework that will repeat and repeat, masked by the belief that a few words and the pursuit of escapism (weighted down by all that un-addressed torment and horror) will make everything better by itself.
This, to me, is the single most haunting shot of the series
And now gentle readers, those of you who have been kind enough to come this whole way, a confession. At the very heart of this blog, the thing that transformed it from idle thought to realized existence, is this show – strange and dark and polarizing, perplexing to casual viewers and often dismissed by longtime Lupin fans. But I love Lupin, friends. And I love it because of this series.
Before this show found me I’d already come to love The Castle of Cagliostro…as a Miyazaki film, which happened to have some other history behind it. I’d seen a few handfuls of Red Jacket…and was confused as to why such an ugly-as-sin anime was standing next to Cowboy Bebop and Inuyasha (I was not always a bright child). The rest of the canon was expensive, at turns either offputting (when some of Fujiko’s more questionable portrayals popped up) or intimidating in its size. And for a fluffy bit of probably lowbrow comedy, I thought, why bother (did I mention I had an insufferable elitist bastard phase)?
Then this show came along years later, and it was pretty. And it was well reviewed, and a prequel-stand alone. Most importantly, it was short. So I dipped a toe in, and I lost myself. It wasn’t just that it was gorgeous, or well directed, or smart, though it was also those things. Watching Fujiko Mine I saw the heart of what other people had always said was great in the franchise – I loved Lupin’s clever gadgets and the nonchalant attitude hiding clever planning. I loved the inventive and often fun action. I loved the dark-edged comedy, and most of all I loved the characters (…eehhh, except Zenigata. That was a tough transition from Miyazaki). I couldn’t get enough of those relationships all of a sudden, when I’d been perfectly content to leave Cagliostro as it was.
Even knowing that the other anime were older, were different in tone and style, all I wanted was to see those characters again. It was suddenly a blessing that there was decades of canon. And even when I stumbled into the valleys of quality that inevitably plague something this long, even when I ground my teeth at the outdated mindsets (and also when I was pleasantly surprised), it was never a chore. I’d had my dark, thoughtful consideration on the series, and I was content knowing it existed. It freed me to enjoy everything else without tormenting myself about the….let us say rather dude-bro mentality that long surrounded the franchise.
I’ll always love The Woman Called Fujiko Mine as a standalone anime, and as my introduction to the truly wonderful and talented Sayo Yamamoto. But it’s especially dear as my gateway to something that’s brought a great deal of joy to my life. And perhaps that means I’ll never understand the central complaints from older fans, about it being too dark and moody a departure that doesn’t befit the tradition. I can’t, because for me it wasn’t a drastic departure from a thing I loved. It was a new entrance into a thing that had intimidated me. I’m living proof that it managed, on some level, to capture the beating heart of the Lupin franchise. That it’s not only good as a standalone, but does right by where it came from.
And no matter how much Green Jacket delights me as inventive anime history, or Red Jacket crafts little gems of high-quality mini adventure, or Pink Jacket sells a never-ending rollercoaster of must-see insanity, this little odd duck will always be my favorite. It’s why I’ll defend it down to the last breath in my lungs, and recommend it just as loudly. Because it didn’t just entertain me, or make me thoughtful. It changed my mind through the passion inherit in its bones. And that’s always worth championing.