It really seems like there has been a Lupin renaissance lately. Lupin has always been popular. That is not in question. It has become staple of the anime landscape. Much like Doraemon or Sazae-san it is institution that always has some sort of yearly presence. The Castle of Cagliostro is still considered to be part of the essential part of the anime canon, the three Lupin TV series are fondly remembered classics (Lupin Part III less so), and the movies have been getting some extras heavy releases from Discotek Media. At the same time Lupin was increasingly been seen as a property whose best days were behind it. While old school fans had a distinct fondness for the series it was almost all nostalgia. The recent crop of TV specials are generally considered mediocre and Green vs. Red is almost universally reviled. Lupin seemed to be moving forward mostly thanks to momentum more than anything else.
Then came Lupin the 3rd: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine. It was smart, sexy, challenging, and unpredictable. (Much like Fujiko herself.) It took the characters and reintroduced them in a manner closer to the original Monkey Punch manga while updating the overall style and storytelling. Not everyone loved The Woman Called Fujiko Mine. Some people did not like the ending, other people felt they changed Zenigata too much, whereas others felt the feminist message was a bit muddled. But the thing is people were talking again. Lupin was an active part of the English-speaking otaku conversation. It was no longer a museum piece or a Japanese oddity like Kochikame. When the new TV series was announced to come out this year it was anticipated like it was hot new property.
In between The Woman Called Fujiko Mine and the 2015 series was the film, Lupin the 3rd: Jigen’s Gravestone. It is not a full sequel to The Woman Called Fujiko Mine but more of a side story set in the same timeline that just happens to be set after the TV series. As it just started streaming on Hulu we decided to see if this is a worthy follow-up to Fujik or if it is something you should ignore until the full adventures of the blue jacket Lupin is unveiled.
Truth be told, I like Lupin the 3rd but I haven’t seen a whole ton of the catalog. I am familiar with the big stuff like The Castle of Cagliostro and I have seen a few specials and TV episodes over the years. I’ve also watched the Lupin the 3rd VS. Detective Conan installments because of course! And I fell in love with The Woman Named Fujiko Mine. I just dip my toe into the Lupin franchise now and again and usually enjoy myself.
Lupin and Jigen are up to their normal criminal shenanigans as they attempt to steal a valuable item from the government of East Doroa. As they are making their getaway a mysterious sniper nearly kills the two thieves and seems determined to put Jigen six feet under with an extreme prejudice. The assassin has even gone as far as to buy a grave with Jigen’s name already on it. Fujiko Mine, an assassinated singer, and international politics all swirl around this showdown between two of the world’s greatest gunmen. Will the Lupin gang live to steal another day or will the local cemetery get three new residents?
While the designs in the film will immediately remind you of The Women Called Fujiko Mine, you have a different setup for the creative team. Takeshi Koike goes from the character designer for this new Lupin franchise into the director’s chair for the movie, bringing some of that kinetic Redline energy to the world’s most beloved thief. He even brought on other Redline alumni to do the music. The story for Jigen’s Gravestone is written by newbie Yuuya Takahashi who is also writing the new Lupin TV series. And finally, the thing that I had to remember by the end is that Fujiko Mine TV series is about Fujiko whereas this movie is not despite the look.
There is quite a bit of momentum from the Fujiko Mine TV series but it feels very much like its own beast. The Woman Called Fujiko Mine has the artistic flourish, grand melodrama, and bizarre sexuality you would expect from a Sayo Yamamoto and Mari Okada production. Jigen’s Gravestone has the feel of a far more orthodox caper. A lot of the experimental nature of its predecessor has been dropped and replaced with a cool caper vibe.
In this movie, Lupin and Jigen’s friendship is central. The bond feels new and not yet tested, as if we are privy to see them at an early point which cements their reliance on each other.
Jigen’s past plays a role in this movie and this isn’t the first time his being a bodyguard has come up. In fact, in the Lupin the 3rd VS. Detective Conan stories, Jigen is playing just such a part (twice!). While adding a bit of backstory for Jigen is cool, the way it has been presented now on multiple occasions makes me feel like he is the worst bodyguard.
Lupin is a character who wears his character on his sleeve or more precisely his jacket. A good rule of thumb is that you can usually guess what version of Lupin you are looking at by his jacket. The grim and sardonic Lupin is usually signaled by his green jacket, the more lovable rouge usually wears the red jacket, and the pink jacket is the one no one likes. (Actually pink jacket is in a weird middle ground where parts of his character have a harder edge than red jacket but he is far more cartoony than green jacket. It is just funnier the way I originally said it.). There are some notable exceptions like Castle of Cagliostro Lupin but overall that jacket code tells you all you need to know. The fact that Lupin has a green jacket in The Woman Called Fujiko Mine is a signal that the character would have a darker edge in that series whereas the red jacket Lupin would be the one who crosses over with the kid friendly Detective Conan.
That is what makes Lupin in this movie so different. He has a blue jacket, much like it seems like he will have in the upcoming TV series. Like previous iterations of Lupin this blue jacket version seems to be his own take on the character. If anything this new iteration seems to be in the middle much like the pink jacket version. Just in the opposite way. If green jacket Lupin is a Go Nagai character, the red version is Kaitou Kid, and the pink jacket is Space Dandy, than I think you can think of blue as Spike Spiegel. He is definitely a rouge with a serious edge to him but there is also a playful tinge to his demeanor. This latest version of Lupin is distinctly an anti-hero if a loveable one. He is not the cold-blooded murder that his green jacket version could be but far more selfish and amoral than his red jacketed predecessor.
Fujiko’s role in this movie is pretty much to get caught red-handed and then be thrust, naked, into a surreal sex game at the world’s creepiest supper club. This came off as an incredibly superficial attempt to tie the movie to the Fujiko TV series which undermines that entire venture. And thus this is the most disappointing part of the film.
There are dozens of other ways they could have chosen to clue us in to our would-be assassin’s skills with technology besides a drill dick robot (yes). Lupin obviously saves Fujiko and the day, and attempts to act like Fujiko planned it that way all along ring hollow.
Like I said earlier, I’m aware this movie isn’t about Fujiko but using her in this way is unsatisfying at this point. She can be and is so much more.
I remember hearing lots of backhanded praise for this movie. A lot of talk about how it was very good with the distinct implication that it could have been better. In a way I feel a lot of that has to do with it living in the shadow of The Woman Called Fujiko Mine. The thing is this movie is far less revolutionary. But overall I think that it would be extremely hard for this story to overturn expectations in the way that the show that came before it did. Shifts like that are only really notable when there has been an established formula to break away from.
Jigen’s Gravestone is more a marker that things have been changed but at the same time they are also an indicator that Lupin is normalizing back towards a compromise between what has become the standard feel and the radically different tone seen in The Woman Called Fujiko Mine. My analogy would revolve around a glass of water. If Lupin was a room temperature glass then The Woman Called Fujiko Mine was a cube of ice being dropped in the glass. It really cooled down the drink and gave it a very different flavor. Jigen’s Gravestone is the glass after it has sat for a bit. It still has a lot of feeling of when the ice was first dropped in the glass but thermal equilibrium has made it that some of that initial coldness dissipate.
I’m really curious to see how the 2105 TV series shakes out. The one major preview video for that already makes me think that the glass is far closer to room temperature. Zenigata seem to be back to his honest if bumbling cop portrayal and the action seems much more goofball. On the other hand the visual style seems to be completely in line with the new style. So there is distinctly a new norm that is different from the old one.
If anything I would say Jigen’s Gravestone is about where I would like the franchise to normalize around. A little bit of hard bit but still having a playful sense of adventure with a distinct visual flair. They might want to tone down the strange sexual situations with Fujiko. She should always be sexy but you don’t have to have her be in sexual peril for that to occur. If you do that I look forward to more adventures with the Lupin gang like this one.
Overall, I enjoyed the ride of film even taking in my disappointment with how they treated Fujiko. It had some beautiful animation and great energy plus more than a couple of surprises.
I’m cautiously anticipating the TV series. Especially since we saw hide nor hair of Goemon in this movie. And who knows, maybe they can rectify their portrayal of Fujiko there as well.