3 out of 5
Directed by: Sayo Yamamoto
Prequel / reimagining Lupin III series ‘The Woman Called Fujiko Mine’ wants to be a lot of things: a traditional Lupin entry – thievings, double-crossings, hijinks and chases – focused on femme fatale Fujiko Mine; a more true-to-the-source-material Lupin, which adds back in the adult themes the mostly kid-geared anime avoided; a “how they all met” origin tale for Fujiko, Lupin, Goemon, and Jigen; a modernized, female-focused spin to counteract the very sexist leanings of most of the old series; and a psychological puzzler with a linear-esque narrative carried across its 13 episodes. All those things aren’t necessarily conflicting, but they’re a lot to deal with in a single, relatively short series, and that’s the main thing that gets in the way, here; individually, a lot of this stuff is exciting, and interesting, with great voice acting and an amazing sense of animated style from TMS, that lands somewhere between the lithe figurework and action of Aeon Flux and the hand-drawn style of Puella Magi Madoka Magica, but it works in fits and spurts when pieced together as a series, jumping rather drastically in tone and not having enough runtime to really sell any given pursuit. What’s most odd is that juggling all of this often takes away from Fujiko’s role; in order to make room for, mainly, Lupin, she figures heavily into the series’ start, which is also the most sex-and-nudity filled, and the series’ end, which is when the narrative swings around to the forefront, but inbetween are mix-and-match capers and “guest starring: Goemon!” type fan nods that are cool but not especially satisfying. The attempt to shove a more sobered Zenigata into this mix is also rather unsuccessful; while it’s fun to project the Lupin gang forward from their experiences here to the goofballs they’d become, Zenigata feels included just because he has to be, and giving him a counterpart – Oscar – who plays into the storyline also ends up feeling pretty unnecessary.
It’s hard to say if the show works on its own terms, meaning without having watched prior Lupin series. I do think the Fujiko-focused stuff does, and there’re some really wild ideas and visuals carried through that, while the middle episodes, in which Goemon and Jigen are brought in, are more satisfying with some understanding of the preestablished archetypes the show is playing off of. Otherwise, I think their inclusion suggests they’ll play a more relevant role than they ultimately do.
The unique look of the show definitely makes it worth a watch, and Sayo Yamamoto’s guidance brings it to a pretty grand conclusion, that makes good on establishing Fujiko as her own character, and not just a Lupin hanger-on. But I think there was likely something a lot stronger here if the show wasn’t also trying to balance in the Lupin legacy, although who knows if I’d be watching it without that association…