The best surprises come out of left field. For me, that was 2012’s Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine.
The Lupin franchise had lived in the shadow of Miyazaki’s The Castle of Cagliostro for a long time. Before Cagliostro, Lupin had a more adult and cynical tone – more in line with Monkey Punch’s original manga. Cagliostro brought a family friendly tone to the franchise and a majority of the Lupin TV specials, series, and movies tried to copy Cagliostro to varying degrees of success. It wasn’t untill The Woman Called Fujiko Mine brought a more adult tone the franchise haven’t seen since Mystery of Mamo in 1978.
The head writer of Fujiko Mine, Mari Okada, whose writing credits include Toradora and Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron Blood-Orphans, takes the elements of Lupin the Third that work best (ie. heists, exotic locations, the Lupin gang themselves) and tweaks them. Inspector Zenigata goes from a comedic foil to a gruff, hardboiled detective. The heists become more than the object in and of itself, and now serve as instruments to illustrate why a character has certain beliefs. For example: exploring why Daisuke Jigen is cold toward female affection, why Goemon has an honor code, etc.
Lupin as a franchise has always had a standalone approach to its stories allowing the characters to go to different locations and be in different situations. This standalone nature applies to Fujiko Mine as well. While there is a overarching plot detailing Fujiko’s origins, the majority of the episodes are standalone, and the origin story is anticlimactic, in my opinion. But overall, Mari Okada gets the themes and original tone of the Lupin franchise perfectly.
The art style of Fujiko Mine is highly distinctive with its sketchy, watercolor look. The series is also filled with psychedelic visuals that are a feast to look at, especially during the opening sequence and Fujiko’s origin flashbacks.
One potential turnoff is that Fujiko herself is naked throughout the majority of the series. Though, I wouldn’t describe her nudity as typical anime fan service that’s in High School DxD, or High School of the Dead, or the like. Nudity in Fujiko Mine is not used for comedy or for pure titillation, but rather, nudity to Fujiko Mine herself serves as a tool to get what she wants, whether that means a quick escape, or getting the treasure. Nudity is embraced as something natural – just part of life, according to Fujiko.
The series was directed by Sayo Yamamoto, who rose through the industry as a storyboard artist and episode director. Her past credits include Death Note, Redline, Space Dandy, and Psycho-Pass. However, Yamamoto is most known for directing the massive hit, YURI!!! on Ice and the criminally under-appreciated Michiko and Hatchin. The music by Naruyoshi Kikuchi, produced by Shinichiro Watanabe himself, is a mixture of cool, bebop style jazz. The music fits the tone of the show well but as standalone pieces of music, I find the music forgettable.
Overall, I would highly recommend The Woman Called Fujiko Mine to those who want a fun, action heist adventure with a more mature tone. The animation by TMS is fantastic and the watercolor art style is a marvel to see. If nudity and more mature tones are a turnoff, I recommend Lupin the Third Part 4 (a.k.a. the “blue jacket” series) which is a more family friendly interpretation but still has all the elements that make a great Lupin series.
You can check out “Blue jacket” on Crunchyroll and currently on Toonami.
Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine is available on Funimation Now, VRV, and on DVD/Bluray.