I’ve been a moderate fan of Lupin III in various forms ever since Castle of Cagliostro played a role in my becoming an anime fan back in the Streamline era, when we walked uphill to school both ways, in the snow, and the only anime we got was edited, dubbed, on VHS, and cost $35 a tape. And we liked it.
Anyway, I just got around to watching the first couple episodes of the new Lupin III TV reboot, The Woman Called Fujiko Mine (impressively, available uncut on Hulu, which is saying something for a show like this). One of the things that’s always set the Lupin III franchise apart, and kept it going so long—similar to the Bond franchise—is that it’s always changing and has never cared at all for continuity.
Even taking that into account, this series is quite a departure. There’s the fact that, as the title implies, it’s told from the perspective of, and focuses on, Fujiko, which is interesting in and of itself—she’s a less-playful character, being much more of a femme fatale than a slightly goofy superthief. Much more notably, though, it fashions itself somewhat after the series’ earliest Monkey Punch manga roots, which was quite a bit darker than most of the later anime incarnations, and had a lot more adult content.
It also styles itself after both the manga and the general look of the era. The art looks quite a bit like the art of that early manga—lanky, of course, but very sketchy and with heavy, rough linework rather unlike anything else, period. The incredibly stylized coloring, more notably, is full of heavily stylized colors, random psychedelic patterns, and generally all sorts of flavor that hearkens back to some of the wilder animation of the late-’60s and early-’70s era that gave birth to Lupin. There have been a few anime that have done similar things, of course—older shows like Soul Taker, and more recent ones like Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei and Baka and Test—but it still has a unique look not quite like anything else and memorably retro-looking.
The combination of the very unusual linework, artistic flair, and stylized coloring gives the whole show a look rather like a Bond movie intro. Which is totally appropriate, and unlike some shows that end up drowning in their own style, or seem to be trying to hide behind their art, this one it really does seem to work well on—it sets the mood, defines the show, but still works as part of the story, and doesn’t distract from it. It also doesn’t seem to be trying to compensate for a lack of budget—it actually looks quite expensive, since the rough, ’80s-style linework still has a fairly high framerate and there’s plenty of motion and detail.
The stories are dark and colorful so far, with proper edgy flair of people who have too much and are pushing the envelope ever farther in search of something to keep life exciting. It’s a total reboot, so it’s re-introducing the characters to each other, and the audience, and since it’s such a departure from past incarnations it’s actually sort of appreciated—it doesn’t feel at all like it’s wasting my time. Plenty of sex without seeming gratuitous, plenty of violence without it seeming like the point of it, and although the mood is dark there’s still plenty of excitement—it’s fast-paced and punchy, and there’s still a bit of levity. Plus at least a couple of huge, spectacular action scenes in the first episode.
My only real complaint is that some of the voice actors have been changed, but with some of the old cast in their 80s now, I suppose it was bound to happen eventually. Still, Zennigata just isn’t quite Zennigata without Goro Naya’s voice, although it’s hard to complain about Koichi Yamadera as a replacement. Kanichi Kurita’s still on board for Lupin, fortunately, and Miyuki Sawashiro is good as the new Fujiko.
I’ll reserve judgement on the series as a whole, but if nothing else it gets credit for being something that looks nothing like any other anime series out there, period, and for being a reboot of a beloved franchise that takes it in a very different direction but still feels true to the original spirit.