You’ve seen my favorite movie list, right? It was only a matter of time.
Yuri!!! On ICE might’ve been one of the best things about 2016. I know that’s is a low bar, but roll with me. It engaged viewers inside and outside anime fandom alike, it offered one of the most positive portrayals of a queer relationship I’ve ever seen in anime, and – most importantly – it’s offered me a chance to talk about Sayo Yamamoto, a director whose works have until now struggled to gain attention despite their high quality.
We arrive now at part two, centering on those actors whose work goes unappreciated, maybe more so for the fact that they’re surrounded by talented fellow actors. But that only makes it all the more a shame that their contributions go unsung.
The rampant success of Lupin III Part IV (or “Blue Jacket,” colloquially) seems to have stirred new interest in the franchise. Which means a fair number of poor souls who try to take things chronologically – an admirable feat up until one inevitably runs up against Red Jacket, the character’s most famous outing. I’ve seen a lot of earnest souls crash and burn trying to binge those 155 episodes, unaware that three years of content that premiered weekly come hell or high water means a veritable rollercoaster of quality. When Red is good, it’s some of the best stuff the franchise has to offer. And when it is bad, it makes you regret setting out in the first place.
The nice part is that the series’ total lack of continuity makes it easy to cherry pick sample episodes, a flavor for people who want to get a sense of anime history and a solid foundation for anyone who wants to eventually make the deep dive. So let me give you my top ten – not anything like an objective list, because that is a fool’s errand with that kind of backlog, but a way to share the love and decrease the daunting factor at least a little bit (don’t worry, I’m here to help you out with Green Jacket too).
And for those who’re curious, yes you should absolutely try the dub when it’s available. The translation’s loose as can be, particularly in the early going, but often in a wonderfully self-deprecating way and backed up by a truly wonderful cast. Nothing’s going to replace the original (and you’ll end up watching both, since only half the show was dubbed), but it’s a treat.
Note: For ease of search, these are listed in airing order rather than ranked. I’ve also tried to include as many of the relevant eight million title translations as possible.
The final stretch is upon us!
Something to note with these movies: while they’re technically in order just to keep the list convention afloat, I sort of think of these films as an amorphous blend of “First.” Each does a component of what I value in fiction incredibly well, or speaks eloquently on a personal level. It feels especially unfair to rank them. But! Here we go anyway.
The Woman Called Fujiko Mine is both the most nudity-heavy and one of the most thoughtfully feminist anime I have ever seen. It is a damn well made piece of art from one of the most promising up and coming directors in anime, and I’ve documented my love for it fairly extensively in the past (it plays, indeed, no small part in this blog’s creation). But all that perhaps intimidating gushing aside, it occurs to me that I’ve never really written about the show with a prospective rather than an informed viewer in mind. And while a truly in-depth discussion of the show basically requires discussion of the ending and spoilers generally, I think I can still paint a picture for curious-but-nervous viewers as to why this show is well worth your investment.
A quick summary: Fujiko is a thief, a seductress, and a woman of many mysteries. On one job she crosses paths with famed gentleman thief Arsene Lupin III, setting off a chain of events involving an underground drug cult; strange, spying figures with owl heads, long buried memories, and the men who will one day become her partners in crime. But who is Fujiko Mine…and just who is telling this story, anyhow?
Or: Probably the Only Time You’ll See Hayao Miyazaki Compared to Frank Miller
Spring season is finally bringing us a new installment of Lupin III, dear readers. As much as I adore The Woman Called Fujiko Mine (and I do, emphatically), it was quite the departure for the series’ established MO – a contained, stylish thought experiment and deliberate period piece rather than a fast-and-loose adventure story with a consistent core cast. Meanwhile, the new “Blue Jacket” (premiere date undetermined at time of writing outside of the general spring 2015 timeline) seems set not only on returning to the adventure of the week formula but in finally updating the thief to the modern day – and I’ll be particularly interested in seeing how deep that goes. Annual Lupin specials might have had modern tech interludes (who can forget the oddity of Goemon using an iPhone), but the character writing has never really felt like it left the 70s.
In fact, while I’ll fight for the highest caliber entries of the franchise’s status as timeless classics, it can be really tough to sell a modern anime fan on getting into Lupin. Part of that’s the age (particularly in the art style), but beyond that I hear over and over again that the amount of content is just overwhelming. We’re talking over 40 years of animation, after all. And it’s not always evident from the outside how loose the continuity between series is – not to mention the many, many different tones and takes over the years, meaning there can be different “best starting places” for everyone. But I think I’ve finally got a way to explain it to people: Lupin III is like Batman.
Not the go-to comparison (that’s usually, off the cuff, “James Bond meets Bugs Bunny”), but it works. Trust me, I can prove it.