‘Fujiko’ thrilling and serious

The Woman Called Fujiko Mine stands in an enduring Japanese media franchise centred around Lupin the Third, expert thief. Unlike other associated works, and appropriate to its title, the show focuses on the character of Fujiko Mine, Lupin’s rival and object of frustrated obsessions.

Her story is chronicled through a single thirteen-episode arc, and it shows her encounters and interactions with the franchise’s iconic characters. It also emphasizes her struggles with physical and emotional traumas whose full impact she scarcely realizes. The show, the first in the franchise to be directed by a woman, is largely serious but with ample room for levity and devilish humour as well.

Never shrinking from amplifying either comedy or drama, its tone inhabits and enlivens the series’ equally distinct visual appearance. Simultaneously rich in imagery and stylistically “sketchy,” the aesthetics of the show help to highlight both its origins in manga — the series’ seriousness and focus on sexuality are supposedly representative of a larger turn back to Monkey Punch’s original graphic work — and its heightened dramatics.

The animation itself is lush and attractive to the eye, giving full play to both the more stylized main cast and the contrastingly naturalistic supporting characters and background figures. Movements are often exaggerated as befits the hyper-real scenarios the characters finds themselves in, but it would be a mistake to characterize the animation as “cartoony.” Instead, I would argue that it is expressive, not taking the rules of space too literally but also remaining at least somewhat grounded.

Episodes themselves largely stand on their own, though the series builds toward a finale that is hinted at and explored throughout. Within the thirteen episodes we have, we are thrust through character introductions before embarking on the strange and mysterious tale of Fujiko Mine. Her character is shown to be deeply conflicted, both liberated in her life as a successful outlaw and dominated by desires and memories that evolve and reveal themselves to be increasingly sinister as the tale unwinds.

While the final episode introduces a plot wrinkle that both complicates and radically simplifies both her character and how we understand her, the show up to that point gives her a commanding role in her own story, or so it seems. The writers and animators’ treatment, despite some aspects of fanservice that are introduced and subsequently deconstructed, is respectful of Fujiko’s integrity as a character.

“Fujiko Mine” largely leaves the audience in the dark until the final stretch of episodes, playing its cards rather too close to the vest at times. There is an episode, “Music and Revolution,” that comes closest to being out-and-out unsatisfying, and I would put most of the blame on the slow progress of the show’s overarching plot to that point. Its plot is about World War III, but its stakes seem curiously low for our protagonists. Thankfully, the show recovers its strength and advances from there to a stunning, if excessively expository, finale.

“Fujiko Mine” works as a thrilling adventure series with a serious bent, a character study and a representative of the Lupin name. Its gnarlier issues are, if sometimes frustrating, at least fascinating to ponder, as are the numerous threads it leaves unanswered.