Arsène Lupin III is easily one of the best known characters in anime, and yet until the broadcast of this year’s The Woman Called Fujiko Mine I had never seen any Lupin anime – not even Miyazaki’s Castle of Cagliostro! swabl saw fit to rectify that by choosing the original Lupin III anime – the green jacket series – for this week’s edition of our summer experiment. This, the first full animated production, debuted in October 1971 (a short OVA had been produced in 1969, and paved the way for this series), but poor ratings led to its cancellation after 23 episodes in March 1972. You will have no doubt noticed, that makes Lupin III over forty years old, and boy does it show. The animation is dated like you wouldn’t believe, though it hardly helps that it was produced on a shoestring budget even for the time. Animation errors are plentiful, with the biggest repeat offender being scrolling backgrounds that don’t repeat properly. At one point Fujiko talks with Lupin’s voice for no good reason.
After three episodes of its run, director Masaaki Osumi was removed from his duties; production studio TMS fired him for refusing to adapt Monkey Punch’s manga as a more child-friendly show. By this time episodes 1-7, 9 and 12 had already been finished, so all other episodes were directed by his replacement. Or, to be more precise, his replacements, as TMS went with a pair of little-known animators by the name of Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki, otherwise known as the co-founders of Studio Ghibli. The episodes they directed are markedly different from Osumi’s, featuring more slapstick and characterisation much closer to the aforementioned Castle of Cagliostro. Even having not seen Cagliostro, the average anime fan can absorb some sense of what Arsène Lupin III as a character is like via osmosis, and his portrayal in the Takahata/Miyazaki episodes is far more reminiscent of what one expects of the character.
The darker elements of Fujiko Mine’s character are somewhat downplayed in these episodes too, something which BradleyCMeek noticed in Cagliostro. He degrades her characterisation in the main Lupin shows, and with good reason. Rather than coming across as tsundere, she veers between the two extremes with no real middle ground. I’m going to sound like 8C here, but I felt very uncomfortable with this chauvinistic portrayal of a woman – if she’s not drooling over Lupin, then she’s trying to kill him. One might be tempted to chalk this up to the sensibilities of the time – even as late as 1986 Japan received a failing grade from the World Humans Right Guide – but this shouldn’t absolve the show of blame. In a show about a band of thieves one expects a certain amount of manipulation by the characters, but Fujiko goes too far. I wouldn’t be able to say definitively where the blame lies – with the writing, with Osumi’s direction or with the source material – but I feel confident in claiming that Takahata and Miyazaki noticed this and tried to cut it out. Importantly, however, they didn’t eradicate it completely, as BradleyCMeek asserts Miyazaki did in Cagliostro, to the point where Fujiko as a character is effectively neutered; excluding her would barely alter the movie.
Lupin III is not particularly well-regarded by the anisphere, and that’s for good reason. It has its moments, but it’s certainly not a classic. Some shows that aren’t appreciated in their own time can find favour years later, but this is not one of them. It hasn’t aged well, with its outdated attitudes, shoddy production values and inconsistent direction. I liked it, no mistake, but it’s not going to be near the top of any favourites lists.
So, it now falls to me to pick a new anime for Sam to watch. I rolled a 4, which means a show I have not seen and don’t think he’d like. Hmmmmm…