Vrai, Caitlin, and Dee take a look back at Sayo Yamamoto and Mari Okada’s Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine! The team discusses the show’s unique place as the only Lupin property with a woman in the director or head writer’s chair, Fujiko’s uneven portrayals across time, and how the series pulls no punches in discussing sexuality, identity, and who controls women’s stories. Caitlin extols a straight relationship based on mutual respect, Vrai has a lot of feelings about their (really awful, really tragic) son, and Dee brings the thoughtful questions.
CONTENT WARNING: This series contains depictions of child abuse (emotional, physical, sexual), sexual assault, violence, torture, homophobia, nudity, and explicit sexual content. The podcast will also discuss these topics when they arise.
Date Recorded: Saturday 4th March 2018
Hosts: Dee, Caitlin, Vrai
0:02:47 A history with Lupin III
0:11:23 Experiences with Lupin III
0:14:36 Content Warnings
0:15:55 Sayo Yamamoto
0:18:51 Mari Okada
0:20:25 Visuals, framing, and fanservice
0:25:32 Portrayals of Fujiko as plot
0:27:44 Hayao Miyazaki’s take on Lupin and Fujiko
0:31:15 Legacy characters
0:42:04 Fujiko herself
0:53:34 Sexual assault
1:03:00 Oscar vs Fujiko
1:12:53 Oscar’s tragic backstory?
VRAI: Hello, everyone, and welcome to Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist podcast. My name is Vrai Kaiser. I’m an editor and contributor for Anime Feminist, and you can find the stuff I do on Twitter @WriterVrai and the other podcast I co-host @trashpod.
CAITLIN: Hi, I’m Caitlin. I am a staff writer and editor for Anime Feminist. I also have my own feminist blog, heroineproblem.com—“heroine” with an E—where I talk a lot about shoujo manga in particular.
VRAI: And this is a podcast I have been begging to do for a very long time. This is a series retrospective on The Woman Called Fujiko Mine, which came out in 2012 by TMS and is probably in my top five, if not my top three all-time anime.
CAITLIN: It is on my shortlist of “actually feminist” anime. I have talked about before how my standards for what I will call feminist are very, very particular, and The Woman Called Fujiko Mine definitely meets those.
DEE: Can you, for listeners who don’t know the standards there… yeah, how do you decide that?
CAITLIN: It has to specifically address how women are treated in some way. It can’t just gloss over it with “She is living happily in this world where she has equal opportunities.” It has to specifically address the realities that women in the world live with and deal with or how they’re presented in media. Another series I call feminist is Revolutionary Girl Utena, Maria the Virgin Witch…
DEE: We should do a podcast on that one at some point, too.
CAITLIN: Oh, man, that would be really good. Not enough people have seen that. I feel like there are other ones, but they’re not coming to mind right at the moment.
VRAI: It’s a short list, regardless.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] It is. It’s a very short list.
VRAI: Yeah, this is a very unusual anime, and these two—bless their hearts—are going to indulge me now while I spool out for you listeners a kind of potted history of how this anime came to be, because Lupin III is a very, very old franchise.
The manga began in 1967, and it was first developed into an anime—in fact the first attempt to do an anime aimed at adult audiences—in 1971. So, The Woman Called Fujiko Mine was conceived for the 40th anniversary of the premiere of the television anime. And it didn’t quite make it. It’s about four months off. Green Jacket started in October of 1971, and Fujiko Mine aired in the spring season of 2012.
And it is quite unusual because it’s very unlike, in some ways, the rest of the franchise. It very much hearkens back to the designs of the first couple volumes of the manga by Monkey Punch. It has that very dark aesthetic, and it has the dark mentality of the earliest manga, which most people don’t think of because later incarnations of the series got increasingly lighter and PG-13 and kind of shenanigans-y. But the first couple volumes of the manga are dark and cruel and kind of sadistic, and so are the earliest episodes of the anime, and I think people forget that.
CAITLIN: Mm-hm. It’s definitely been more of a family thing for several decades.
VRAI: Hayao Miyazaki, actually, in his first anime gig came onto Green Jacket halfway through, because they just did not know what they were doing with it, and from that point in time Green Jacket shifted from being a weird, dark psychedelic thing—which is what Fujiko Mine is drawing from—into being very family-friendly heists like The Castle of Cagliostro. Which I also like very much, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a very different tone.
VRAI: Yeah. And Woman Called Fujiko Mine is also interesting because the Lupin franchise is not known for its adventurousness—or rather, it’s become known for a staidness, because the original manga and Green Jacket were both kind of adventurous in that it was the first anime for adults. It shifted and became that Miyazaki thing halfway through, so it was trying to do a lot of different things and change the landscape of anime.
Secret of Mamo, the first Lupin film, is very different from Castle from Cagliostro, which is different from Lupin the Third Part II, which is the 150-episode one that everybody remembers, which is different from New Lupin III, which isn’t a good series, but wow, it is weird and interesting to look at if you want a potted time capsule of the ‘80s, and I kind of love it.
CAITLIN: That’s Pink Jacket?
VRAI: That is Pink Jacket, which is just the ugliest thing ever put onto an animation cell. It’s hideous!
VRAI: But it’s interesting in its hideousness. And then, a very bad thing happened, which is that TMS made this OVA called Plot of the Fuma Clan—or, The Fuma Conspiracy is the English release, which I highly recommend picking up, especially if you enjoy Castle of Cagliostro. It’s really super charming and cheap.
But in the process of making this OVA, TMS poured all of their money into the animation budget, which is really pretty—“feature pretty”—and they fired Yuji Ohno, who was the composer for Part II and Part III, and hired somebody else and also fired all of the legacy voice actors who’d been doing this for literally over a decade. And—
VRAI: Yeah, unsurprisingly, fans boycotted it, and it didn’t do well. But TMS did not take from this: “Hey, maybe treat your cast with respect and dignity.” They learned from this, “Never do anything new and interesting ever. Lupin fans always want you to do the same thing.”
And so, pretty much everything from the late ‘80s onward is this slow slide into samey mediocrity, which wasn’t helped by the fact that it became this event where you would have a summer TV movie every year, which got super rote really quickly.
So, when Fujiko Mine came out, it was a major change. It had these new character designs. Yuji Ohno did not do the soundtrack. And it is the first and still the only time that the series has had a woman as either the director or the head writer, which I have—you know, I went to look it up, because I had assumed that this series also didn’t do well. It’s very much a cult hit over in the United States, but the DVD set charted for its first week in the top ten.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Oh, wow.
DEE: Oh, that’s great.
CAITLIN: I mean, I think it makes sense, because also I somehow had the impression that it didn’t do very well in Japan, maybe because Sayo Yamamoto didn’t get a chance to direct her own show for quite a while. But it did revitalize Lupin. It took a series that had been stagnant for a very long time, and it brought in this new energy that has transferred to the incarnations since then.
DEE: Mm-hm. Yeah. Is it Blue Jacket now? Part IV.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Yeah.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Yeah. Blue Jacket, Part IV.
DEE: Blue Jacket came out, I guess, a couple years ago at this point.
VRAI: Yeah, 2015. It’s fine.
DEE: You can very much feel the kind of jazzy style of Fujiko Mine. It carried over the aesthetic while toning it back to that more family-friendly, shenanigans tone of the earlier Lupin incarnations, I think.
VRAI: Yeah, which… It does kind of depress me that—Blue Jacket is fine. I kind of like either the darker or the super cute, gentle variations on Lupin, and everything in between is kind of okay. But there were two movies that used the same designs from Fujiko Mine but had a different writer, and they are unpleasant.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Oh, really?
VRAI: Jigen Daisuke’s Gravestone is really unpleasant. There’s this whole sequence where Fujiko is naked and covered in oil and menaced by a rape robot.
DEE: I’ll avoid that.
VRAI: [crosstalk] It’s super awful. It’s bad. It’s kind of gay, but there are gayer series.
VRAI: Every Jigen backstory is kind of gay, but…
VRAI: Yeah, so I don’t know if you can tell, but I am kind of a big fan of this franchise. I haven’t seen all of it, but I’ve seen probably about half of what’s collectively out there. And like I said, I prefer the really dark, weird stuff and also the Miyazaki-leaning, really gentle stuff, because those tend to be the versions that at least do the most interesting things with female characters.
CAITLIN: Yeah. You know, it’s interesting because, out of all the characters, Fujiko is the one whose role in the narrative shifts a lot, depending on the director and the writer’s own feelings about women.
VRAI: Yeah. And some of that is from the manga, like originally Fujiko wasn’t even a character; she was a joke that every woman that Lupin met was called Fujiko Mine—which is partly what was taken from for this anime, why she has so many different backstories—but then that was eventually coalesced into one character who’s written with no consistency whatsoever.
CAITLIN: Her name also means…
VRAI: “Twin peaks.” Yeah, it’s a titty joke.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Yeah.
DEE: [crosstalk] It’s a boob joke. Yeah. So, that’s a great start. [laughs]
Great start for this feminist anime we’re talking about.
CAITLIN: Yeah! Right?
VRAI: Yeah, I—
CAITLIN: [amused] This is a story of overcoming.
VRAI: I’m so disappointed that the stuff after this anime has shown signs of sliding right back into mediocrity, because, like I said, Blue Jacket is fine, but there were those two really unpleasant movies. There hasn’t been another female director or female head writer, and it’s not like there’s a shortage of them in anime. And also, the 50th anniversary project is just remakes of stuff from the original anime and the manga, with an anthology style of different animators. And it’s boring! Thanks, I don’t want it.
CAITLIN: [disappointed] Yeah…
DEE: I’m sorry about that. Part V’s coming out in a few weeks, right? Isn’t it the spring season?
VRAI: Yes, that’s part of the spring season.
VRAI: So, I know you guys know a little bit of Lupin, but where are you at with this series?
CAITLIN: So, I have seen Castle of Cagliostro. I watched Episode 0.
VRAI: The gayest one, good.
CAITLIN: [laughs] Which, like The Woman Called Fujiko Mine, is an origin story—in case the name didn’t tell you everything. And I’ve seen scattered episodes on Adult Swim.
CAITLIN: My knowledge is not super extensive. Like, I know the background and I know the mythology. I know that Lupin and Jigen are pretty much husbands.
CAITLIN: [chuckles] Listen…
VRAI: It’s a harem. It is a full-on thief harem, and it’s extremely good. Sorry, I have feelings.
CAITLIN: [laughs] That’s pretty much the extent of it.
VRAI: How ‘bout you, Dee?
DEE: So, I had technically seen Castle of Cagliostro before Fujiko Mine came out, but we had a big Miyazaki Movie Day, and it was wedged somewhere in the middle and we were hanging out and chatting. And so I liked it, but it didn’t really leave a strong impression or anything, because I had no context for the characters or really anything about it.
DEE: And then Fujiko Mine came out that spring of 2012, which was… Streaming anime was really starting to take off, end of 2011 and beginning of 2012, so I actually watched that one week-to-week on Funimation’s website as it was airing.
VRAI: Oh, wow.
DEE: Without really any knowledge of the franchise. Like, I knew it existed, but I honestly didn’t even know the characters. Goemon showed up, and I was like, “Oh, he’s like a franchise character, I guess?”
DEE: I was completely blind, more or less, because, again, I didn’t really remember Cagliostro either. So, since Fujiko Mine, I have seen Cagliostro again; it’s a great movie. Fujiko’s very good in it, by the way.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] She is! They’re all so good in it.
VRAI: [crosstalk] She’s so good!
DEE: [crosstalk] I really like her in that movie. Yeah, I watched it when it came through in theaters this past year. I got to see it on the big screen, which was very cool. And then, I watched Part IV when it came out, so I’ve seen Blue Jacket, as well. It was fun. I enjoyed it. There were some episodes I really, really liked and others that were pretty meh. The ending got too damsel-y for my tastes, but it was fine.
VRAI: Yeah, that’s the Lupin experience, pretty much. I will briefly say that on the subject of this coming out at the beginning of the streaming boom, it basically revitalized Lupin’s existence here in the States. Because of all kinds of legal shenanigans, it never really got a foothold here before that, so that’s something to be grateful for. The reason Discotek has had such success in slowly, dedicatedly bringing over every aspect of the franchise and putting it all on Crunchyroll… you have this anime to thank.
DEE: That’s very cool.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] All right. Yeah.
VRAI: Yeah. Sorry, there’s just a whole other podcast in the legal shenanigans surrounding this series and the fact that it’s fanfiction.
DEE: [recovering from laughter] Uh-huh?
VRAI: We can’t go down that road! There’s already so much to talk about here.
DEE: I was gonna say, there’s a lot to talk about with the show proper, so…
VRAI: Mm-hm. This is very much a show about awful people doing awful things, and before… This is going to be a full spoilercast, so if you haven’t seen the series, I would highly recommend doing so before you listen any further. It’s a big, twist-based series. And I do want to warn that this series has multiple content warnings. Like, a lot.
DEE: [crosstalk] Oh yeah.
VRAI: For sexual—
CAITLIN: [crosstalk, alarmed] Uh…
DEE: We’ll tag it on the podcast post itself, too.
VRAI: Yeah. But just for reference, if you’re thinking about watching it after having heard this first 20 minutes, it’s got child sexual assault, sexual assault, psychological torture, physical torture, a lot of psychedelia, and memory—
CAITLIN: Just Oscar calling Fujiko awful names.
VRAI: Oscar is a little shit and also my boy.
VRAI: He’s the worst. He is likely the embodiment of internalized misogyny.
DEE: Yeah, this is kind of a show about assholes, with a few exceptions. I think Jigen’s actually a pretty decent dude throughout this, and obviously Goemon is a big moe ball of goof, so…
VRAI: [fondly] Ugh, Moemon.
CAITLIN: [fondly] Oh, Goemon.
VRAI: Even Moemon’s got the biggest virgin-whore complex.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Yeah, it’s…
DEE: Oh, yeah. No, he’s not a perfect character by any stretch, but he’s kind of likable in that you get the sense that he’s just so naive that he doesn’t even realize that he’s putting Fujiko on this pedestal.
VRAI: So, I did wanna talk briefly that this is the way a lot of people became familiar with Yamamoto, myself included, because it was due to the success of this series that Michiko & Hatchin was even brought over. So, what was it like to come back to this after Yuri on Ice took over the world?
CAITLIN: You know, it does have—I know she doesn’t like having Yuri on Ice compared to her previous works. You see shades of Fujiko Mine’s themes in Yuri on Ice. I don’t know if I would say the other way around, because Yuri on Ice is a much more positive series in general. There is a very strong sense of anger that comes from both Yamamoto and Okada. I think Mari Okada was the writer.
DEE: Yeah, Mari Okada is the writer, and I feel her handprints all over this thing.
VRAI: Very much. Yeah.
CAITLIN: I did an interview with her. You can read it on the site. If you haven’t, I recommend it because she gives—
DEE: With Yamamoto, not Okada. Just to clarify.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Yes, Yamamoto. Because she gave me some really cool answers. So, when she made this show, moe was still going very strong, and most shows that featured female characters were these pre-molded archetypes, and that was really frustrating for her, having to deal with it, and so she wanted to make something with more honest and uncomfortable depictions of women and something with more authentic sexuality to it.
Which, you can still see the honest sexuality in Yuri on Ice. You can see in some of the secondary female characters the same sort of frustration with male expectations. That is all over the place in Fujiko Mine.
VRAI: Mm-hm. And purely visually, there’s also the playboy sequence in Yuri on Ice with the cutout. The black silhouettes was first utilized here.
CAITLIN: And a lot of emphasis like subtle body language, and a lot of showing, not telling.
VRAI: Mm-hm. Yeah, boy, this show. I mean, maybe I’m biased because I wrote a lot about this show, but it definitely—
CAITLIN: I mean, same.
VRAI: —benefits from repeat watchings.
VRAI: I am amused by the fact that in an interview—I think it was the one that Wave Motion Cannon translated—she mentioned that when she was offered the anniversary project, she wasn’t necessarily interested in Lupin as a character, and she only wanted to do it if she could look at Fujiko a lot.
VRAI: I love her so much! She also did mention that she was the head of this project, but it was very much Okada’s baby—which, like you said, Dee, her handprints are all over this, especially with Oscar, I feel like.
DEE: Oscar and, I think, Aisha at the end, you can kind of feel it, especially some of the stuff with her relationship with her family and her mom, especially now that Okada’s come out with her biography and we know that her home situation was very rough growing up. I think you see a lot of those themes in her work.
CAITLIN: Yeah. The thing I always would say is: you watch Mari Okada’s work and you say, “Who hurt you?”
CAITLIN: And then you look at her autobiography and you say, “Oh! Everyone.”
DEE: Yeah. Yeah, there’s a lot of rawness in it. But I think most of her work—anyway, that I’ve seen—still tries to find that light at the end of the tunnel, which I think you even see with Fujiko Mine, although it’s maybe a little bit dimmer in some aspects.
VRAI: Yeah, and Okada gets dinged a lot for being melodramatic. I think it’s popular to poke fun at her for that, and I think that can be true when she does grounded series, but it’s really at home here with the stylized story structure.
CAITLIN: It works very well, and the statement that the show is making, because this is a show that has something to say.
VRAI: Mm-hm. It has a thought about a feminism.
VRAI: Which is a good way as any to segue into the visual design. One of the first things you learn about this show is a lot of people were turned off because there’s a lot of boobs. My god, there’s so many boobs.
DEE: [crosstalk] There are all the boobs.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] There’s a lot of boobs.
DEE: All the boobs are in this show. [laughs]
VRAI: Every boob is in this series.
CAITLIN: Every single boob! That’s why—
VRAI: [crosstalk] Which leads to a lot—
DEE: That’s why they’re not in the other anime, is ‘cause they’re all here. [laughs]
VRAI: Yeah, and I think it confuses people who haven’t seen the series why this is talked about as being very feminist, because “What do you mean? She’s naked all the time. That is not a feminism.” And you can’t say that the very streamlined, very disproportionate noodle designs are exactly—
CAITLIN: [saucily] Stylized!
VRAI: Yes, they’re stylized, but they’re not even like Michiko & Hatchin, which has very realistically proportioned women in it. But honestly, I’m so in love with the way this series portrays Fujiko specifically, but [also] women in general. This is one of the few times I have ever found an anime genuinely attractive.
VRAI: Like, Fujiko is a very sexy character. [laughs]
VRAI: Because there’s a specificity to the framing. When she is naked most of the time, she is choosing to be naked in those scenes. She has the power in that situation, and often she makes the people around her uncomfortable with her body rather than being there to be ogled at in that sort of “Aw, she doesn’t mind that she’s naked” way that you see in a lot of moe anime at the time.
It’s not “Ah, gosh, she just doesn’t know that it’s not okay to not wear clothes and dudes drool all over her.” No, this is very specifically “This is my body, and I have power, and I have the choice of what I want to do with it in this situation,” and it’s a unique feeling.
CAITLIN: It’s like when I’m just walking around my apartment naked, just because I don’t feel like putting on clothes.
VRAI: Mm-hm. And there are so many boobs, but you almost become desensitized to the nonchalance with which they’re shown in a very deliberate way that I find interesting.
CAITLIN: And her body is rarely shown without her face, and when it is, it is usually through the lens of a male character. It’s something that I think is very interesting, because the show does engage with the concept of the gaze and the power of looking a lot, I think.
I mean, the first time we see her, it is literally through Lupin’s eyes. So, when she’s just chilling out being Fujiko, being naked, it is very neutral. When she is trying to use her feminine wiles to get what she wants or there is a dude looking at her, that is when it focuses on her body without her whole face.
VRAI: Yeah, and the costume design, too, Yamamoto’s work… I can’t imagine how it must be for the character designers, but her characters very famously wear a lot of outfits. And what’s interesting about Fujiko’s to me is that her clothes are really practical unless she’s specifically trying to get somebody to sleep with her. They’re always cute.
She mentions in an interview looking at ‘60s Elle magazine stuff for fashion. Her clothes are really cute, but they’re also very practical for heists. These are things that she can move around in. In what I think might be the most magnificent murder I can think of, she wears the famous catsuit that Fujiko became iconically linked with—when she is beginning to have a mental breakdown and lose her sense of identity. And that is the most cold-blooded murder I’ve ever seen in my entire life.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Oh, geez, yeah.
DEE: Oh, that’s fantastic. I did not know that about the catsuit. I thought it was obnoxious that she had it zipped so low, and now I know why.
CAITLIN: That’s her classic outfit.
VRAI: It’s stone-cold murder, and it’s amazing. I’m always surprised by people who say that this series—I think it’s shifted a lot, and this is no shade on people who are like, “This series tonally didn’t work for me. I prefer the more lighthearted parts of the franchise.”
That’s fine, but there are a lot of specifically dudebro Lupin fans who are like, “This isn’t a real Lupin series. It sucks and it’s grimdark and edgy,” and all that. This series is chock-full of both visual and thematic references to the franchise. They did their research.
CAITLIN: Yeah. No, absolutely. It’s definitely coming from a place of someone who is familiar with the series, someone who has paid attention to the series, and someone who really just wants to talk about Fujiko for a while.
VRAI: Mm-hm. And it’s great! And just the very idea of centering your entire concept about the fact that this is an inconsistently written character that nobody actually gives a shit about, except as an object and/or prize and/or rival… you know, in relation to other people. Who is she when she’s alone? Nobody knows. Nobody cared.
CAITLIN: Right. Fujiko at her worst was just a damsel or a sex object. Even at her most interesting, she was the sneaky, untrustworthy woman that you can’t trust… because she’s a woman. It’s not because of who she is. She’s duplicitous because of her gender.
DEE: I really like her depiction in Castle of Cagliostro, because I don’t think those qualities are present. I think she comes across as a rival sort of ally character who goes out of her way to help this other girl out, and I really like that.
Also, the scene where she’s reporting and just turns around and clubs a guy in the face and then just keeps on reporting is maybe the best scene in that movie.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Yeah!
VRAI: It’s so good! And it’s weird, because her relationship with Clarisse is so cute and refreshing, and it feels like it should be in response to the specials that came after, despite it coming before, because so often the annual TV movies will set up Fujiko as a contrast to the good girl who Lupin is trying to woo in this particular go-round. Which sucks!
DEE: Yeah, I was gonna say, that’s not good. But, yeah, sorry, we were talking about how the way Fujiko is portrayed in other stuff, and I was like, “Well, I really like her in Castle of Cagliostro, so…”
CAITLIN: Yeah. [laughs]
VRAI: Miyazaki does great with her. His run on Red Jacket has an absolutely fantastic Fujiko sequence where she gets kidnapped and then just kicks a dude in the face, steals his machine gun and mows down an entire ship full of armed guards while just wearing a typical island sarong. It’s amazing. [laughs]
CAITLIN: [deadpan] I’m absolutely shocked that you guys are saying that Miyazaki wrote a woman well.
VRAI: [deadpan] I know.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk, deadpan] He is not known for that, at all.
DEE: Fair point, fair point.
VRAI: But speaking of Miyazaki, I know that, Caitlin, you wanted to talk about Lupin and Fujiko’s relationship, and I think—
VRAI: —Miyazaki’s version is the closest to what’s going on here?
CAITLIN: Yes, I think so. I haven’t seen a lot of Miyazaki episodes, but just going by Castle of Cagliostro, there is a very real affection there. She works independent of him. She works alongside with him when it suits her, but there is a sense that there is genuine—I don’t know. Maybe I’m just being a romantic, but I think they do love each other and they know each other really well, and they care about each other.
Just, neither of them is particularly—well, Fujiko in particular is not super inclined to working together with people unless there is absolutely, definitely something for her to gain. It’s been a while since I’ve watched Lupin, but there’s not tension there the same way there is in this. But yeah, there is a sense that they are friends, that they love each other, and they just do their own thing and occasionally get in each other’s way. [chuckles] But also occasionally help each other out.
VRAI: Yeah, Miyazaki tends to favor a more sexless version of that playful rivalry, but I think it’s similar to what’s going on here. I think Yamamoto called it them “enjoying” each other, which is a lovely phrase.
DEE: Yeah, I think it eventually gets to that point; I don’t think that’s where it is in the early episodes.
DEE: Because, early on especially, Lupin very much treats her as an object that he’s going to take.
CAITLIN: I mean—
DEE: He pretty casually gropes her during the Phantom of the Opera episode, and she is not happy about that, which I’m pretty sure is why she then sends him to his possible death in the next episode.
VRAI: [laughs] I vibed with that!
DEE: [crosstalk] But again, there’s that, too. She is more than happy to have Jigen and Lupin kill each other so she can get a stone bird.
CAITLIN: But at the same time, the scene with them in the pool earlier in the episode.
VRAI: I think there is always kind of a tentative mutual respect fairly early on, but it’s not a genuine affection until much later in the series.
DEE: I would agree with that. Because, again, there’s a certain callousness in the way they treat each other early on that, I think, by the time they part ways in those final two episodes, is no longer there. But, again, I find them both to be kind of assholes in the early going. I don’t think [unintelligible due to crosstalk].
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Well, they are assholes! They are assholes! [laughs] I mean, we had this discussion a little bit earlier. They are 100% morally grey. They are not good guys; they are self-serving thieves.
VRAI: Yeah, Fujiko’s a bad person, y’all! She’s very interesting and I like her, but all of these people are bad people—except maybe Moemon.
VRAI: Even him. He has been an assassin for hire for, like, a long time.
CAITLIN: They have a long history of being likable and they’re familiar characters, but they’re not good people. They’re not nice people. They are not people who I would want to hang out with.
VRAI: I do feel like we have to talk about the one place where this series shows its strings a little bit with the legacy characters. I hate this version of Zenigata. I get why it is what it is, because this series needs it to be that way to work, and early Zenigata is an asshole. But it’s the biggest departure from “He’s the goofy dad.” He’s Dad! Why is Dad being a creep?
CAITLIN: [sighs] Yeah, and I hear that one a lot. I’m not super fussed over it, because I see the role he plays within the narrative and why they needed him to be like that and why Classic Zenigata wouldn’t really fit.
VRAI: Yeah, it makes complete sense to me narratively speaking, but to me it’s just the place where I look at it as “This is what the narrative needs him to do” more than “This is the completely understandable germ within the early incarnation of his character.”
VRAI: Because, like, early Lupin is straight-up a rapist; Zenigata’s more just an asshole.
CAITLIN: Yeah. And in this one, he uses his power to get sexual favors.
VRAI: [subdued sing-song] Whee! He’s a dirty cop.
VRAI: Yeah. But, like you said, each man in Fujiko’s life represents a version of ways men and women interact in social systems, and he’s the guy who tries to take advantage of women because his power allows him to do so.
CAITLIN: Right. Each character, except for Lupin, has something that they want Fujiko to be. They have some assumptions that they’re making about her, and that affects her relationship with them. Jigen just sees her as a deceitful woman, because he’s had—
VRAI: [deadpan] Ah, well, they can’t be trusted.
CAITLIN: Yeah. “You can’t trust women.” So, he doesn’t trust her. And, I mean, he shouldn’t trust her.
DEE: I was gonna say, is that a Jigen character type, like he just doesn’t trust any woman at all? Because that’s not the vibe—
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Yes. That is established in the show mythology.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Oh, yeah. No, Jigen’s just straight-up a misogynist.
DEE: ‘Cause that’s not the vibe I got from this at all, in this particular incarnation.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] That is established within the show’s mythology—
CAITLIN: —that Jigen does not like or trust women.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Yeah, Jigen is the jealous boyfriend who gets really angry and grumpy every time Lupin goes after a girl! [laughs]
CAITLIN: [laughs] Yeah, so they gave him—
DEE: [crosstalk] That’s really not the vibe I get from Fujiko Mine with him.
DEE: For me, in this version, the vibe—and, again, I come at this as someone who really doesn’t know the characters that well, and I think Part IV maybe leans a little bit into everyone being kind of friendly, maybe—but I saw it as, especially early on, Lupin really sees Fujiko as a treasure to obtain, and Goemon has this idea of her as this girlfriend who… “They can save each other with their love” kind of thing, and like Vrai said about Zenigata.
But, for me, Jigen treats everyone like a person in this show. I think Fujiko’s an asshole and Jigen’s like, “Yo, she’s an asshole and you shouldn’t trust her,” and I don’t think he’s wrong.
VRAI: [laughingly] He’s absolutely not wrong.
CAITLIN: No, he’s not wrong.
DEE: But then you see him later with the living portrait, and, again, everyone around her is talking about her like she’s a work of art or a treasure to steal. And Jigen immediately just treats her like a kid. He’s like, “This is fucked up,” and tries to connect with her as a human. I thought that was sweet. So I liked Jigen in this version of the show. I did not know he was a straight-up misogynist, based on his interactions with a couple female characters in Fujiko Mine.
CAITLIN: And I think it’s interesting how how much we know the show’s context affects our perception. Because, yeah, I definitely see Jigen and I know that he hates women historically, so it’s like, well, he sees Fujiko as a woman who cannot be trusted. He doesn’t see Fujiko as Fujiko.
VRAI: And it’s interesting because neither of you is wrong, because Classic Jigen is very much the archetypal he-man woman-hater: “Hurf! I drink the manly whiskey!”
VRAI: And one of the things I do enjoy about latter-day Lupin is Dad Jigen, which is what you kind of get in the painted lady episode. He is always the character who gets stuck playing dad to younger, vulnerable characters. And he’s also one of the most—probably the most—consistently written character across the franchise, so this is all very interesting to me.
CAITLIN: Okay. Yeah. No, that’s true.
VRAI: Moemon is Moemon. It is interesting to me because when he’s first introduced in Green Jacket, Fujiko is pretending to be his girlfriend, so it’s like an entire legacy joke, and it’s good and also very cute, and I ship it.
CAITLIN: They had to start that up.
CAITLIN: And like you said, Vrai, he has a whole virgin-whore complex. So, it’s not that he doesn’t care about Fujiko. When she is falling apart, he takes her in and he takes care of her even though she literally throws the food he gives her in his face.
But at the same time, he is thinking, “Oh, she’s a wicked woman. She deceived me. I thought she was this wonderful ideal, but actually she’s kind of a whore.” He wants her to be Maria. He doesn’t like Fujiko; he wants Maria, and he calls her Maria, even after she tells him her real name. And so, he doesn’t really get to fully participate in her conclusion.
The one who stays by her side and sees this thing to the end was the one who took the time to figure out what was going on, who stood beside her, who tried to actually genuinely understand her. And he says, when the owls come, like, “Hey, what’s going on?” He’s like, “It’s not about trying to steal her anymore. I just care about her as a person now.”
Everyone else sees her in a certain way because of their own perceptions, and Lupin actually takes the time to learn about who she is, to figure things out when she can’t do it and give her the help that she needs to stand back up on her feet.
VRAI: Which, I will admit the first time I saw this series, my eyes rolled a little bit.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Oh, same! And I think that happens to everyone because it’s like, “Why is Lupin taking over? Why is Fujiko no longer the main character in her own story?” And then, the twist comes and you realize that it was all for a reason!
VRAI: God, the metastory of this anime is so very good.
CAITLIN: [groans appreciatively] I love it.
DEE: I was gonna say, do you guys wanna go into that?
CAITLIN: Yes. All right. So, the metastory. There’s a lot there.
VRAI: So, the series presents itself for most of its run as being the typical dark and gritty reboot where you go to an established character and give them a grimdark backstory that explains why they’re doing things.
CAITLIN: “Why does she steal? What happened to her? Why is she this mysterious and beautiful character?” And the theme songs support that.
VRAI: Mm-hm. Yeah, if you saw Maleficent in the past few years or Wicked, you know exactly the series, the kind of story that we’re talking about.
CAITLIN: Right. The way my friend Nick put it, that I have never forgotten, is “The Woman Called Fujiko Mine asks the question ‘Why is she like this?’ And then it answers the question, ‘Because fuck you, that’s why.’”
VRAI: [hums noncommittally] So, it transpires at the end that Fujiko does not in fact have a dark and troubled past; she has somebody else’s dark and troubled past. She was captured by a young woman named Aisha, who was sold as a young girl. Her father was killed. She was the property of a horrible pedophile, who physically, sexually, and emotionally tortured her, because he was trying to create his perfect maiden.
VRAI: And the experience left her unable to walk. But once he died, unable to let go of her trauma or move on from this trauma, she decided to continue to forward that trauma onto other young children and use them as means of trying to think about the lives she might have lived.
CAITLIN: Right. [sighs] And there’s so much there! There’s just so much there, like talking about the cycle of abuse. She doesn’t know what else to do but to inflict that abuse on other people and try to live vicariously through them.
VRAI: And also, the way that men control women’s stories and edit them and put as much trauma in them, as though it will make women more deep and perfect, and then they can save them and understand how deep they are.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Right, and when women try to get out of line, men have to bring them back into line. Like Luis Yu Almeida, Aisha, she set Lupin on Fujiko, because Fujiko was not acting in line with what she wanted.
VRAI: Right. And, at the same time, internalized misogyny, because Aisha is so mad that Fujiko isn’t broken by these events. Ugh, there’s so many layers!
CAITLIN: Ugh, so good! Dee.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] What do you think of the metanarrative?
DEE: I think it’s a good metanarrative, and I appreciate it. I agree with what you guys said.
DEE: I—I—I know you guys love this show. And I like it. I do. It’s very good and I appreciate it very much on a critical level. I think this is one of those shows that is just not really made for my fictional sensibilities in that: A) Fujiko is an asshole, so it’s kind of hard for me to root for her, especially after that school episode, which we haven’t really talked about. But she does sexually assault teenagers, who she’s their teacher at the time.
VRAI: Oh, yeah, it’s bad.
DEE: So, it’s real hard for me to give a shit after that. And again, I like Fujiko in the other incarnations of her that I’ve seen, so I came into the show with a positive feeling for her, and I did not remember that school episode at all. I halfway think I maybe accidentally skipped it when I was watching this the first time through, because that really smacked into me on this watchalong, and I’m not sure I’d have kept watching if I had seen that episode when it was first airing. That’s how much it put me off the character.
The other thing is, as much as I adore the series smacking down that idea that someone needs to be traumatized to be an asshole or be a thief or have casual sex with people or what have you, the fact that Fujiko doesn’t have a backstory at all—she appears to have sprung fully formed from the womb wanting to steal things—is disappointing to me, as someone who likes character stories and likes to know what your history is.
And the history doesn’t have to be traumatic, but it’s like, “What did get you into thieving?” Because most people don’t take things from other people for fun. And I say this as someone who—what, three months before Fujiko Mine came out?—had gotten burgled, and it’s a terrible experience. So I’m sure I’m coming off of that as well.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Oh, yeah, it’s awful! No, I mean, I have had that happen, too, and it was awful and traumatic. I just think—and this is not to discount what you’re saying—but I always thought of it as… I mean, we don’t know Lupin’s backstory, we don’t know Jigen’s backstory, we don’t know Goemon’s backstory. Everyone accepts them, like: this is who they are. We only impose the need for—I mean, I guess we kind of know Lupin’s backstory: he’s the grandchild of a famous French thief. But, like—
DEE: I guess what it is for me is we get some hints about everybody else’s situation in this show. And, again, I think this is an interesting idea, that it seems like everyone is trying to escape or is bound to their past in some way.
Like, Zenigata talks about how the blood between him and Lupin means that they will always be chasing each other and one of them will always be a thief and one of them will always be a cop. So, you have that kind of family history there.
And then with Jigen, we don’t know why he became a bodyguard, but we get a sense of how he becomes a thief, is this situation that happens with his old job. And then there’s hints with Goemon that he faked his own death or something and had to leave Japan. So, we get these hints of how the other characters got to where they are.
And I think it bugs me that we don’t get anything really with Fujiko. So, there’s a sense at the end where—I like that they reject the damaged woman narrative—I wish they had given me something to hang on to, because at this point, she kind of feels like a Mysterious Woman to me.
CAITLIN: See, that’s interesting.
DEE: And, again, that’s not the kind of storytelling I really enjoy, so I found it a little disappointing at the end, when it was like, “No, I’ve actually just always been like this,” and I’m like, “What does ‘always’ mean? How did you get into that? What drew you to this lifestyle?” It doesn’t have to be traumatic, but I wish there was something there.
CAITLIN: Right, because… I felt like that the opposite of the message of the show, that it was smacking down this idea of “She’s a Mysterious Woman,” because that had been set up over and over throughout the show, creating this sense of mystery not just around Fujiko, but around every other woman, that they’re all damaged or traumatized or something or other. So, of course you expect that out of Fujiko.
Then, she’s like, “No, this is just who I am!” I guess I can accept that she was a girl who realized she could use her body to get what she wanted, who enjoyed using her body to get what she wanted, and that she liked pretty, shiny things, and so she was going to pursue. I was willing to accept that about her.
VRAI: It is very interesting, because on the one hand I can’t not look at this series from a franchise perspective, where I’m seeing it like: this is an interesting meditation on the fact that the characters are always in that “comic book time eternal” now, where they’re the same age and design. But in 2008, they have iPhones now; that’s weird and unsettling.
And also, there are many different origin stories, most of which are contradictory in that kind of Killing Joke way or the fact that—there’s this OVA that left me feeling kind of the same way you do about Fujiko here, which is called Green vs. Red, which basically posits the idea that the reason there are so many different, contradictory images of Lupin is because Lupin is more title than person, and I hated that! I hated that!
VRAI: Because why am I investing in them if they’re not really characters with bonds that I care about? But it left me in a similar place to where you ended up. And obviously, I do think this series is genuinely critically good, but also, I have no distance from it whatsoever, so I don’t wanna step over you. Because, on the one hand, this is very much a series steeped in franchise lore, but it’s also meant to work as an intro and prequel for people, so that’s a valid feeling if you felt alienated at the end.
DEE: Yeah. I mean, obviously, it’s not like it alienated me from the franchise, ‘cause I then picked up Blue Jacket Lupin when it came out, so clearly there was something here that I was attached to and wanted to hang out with these characters some more. It’s just one of those things.
I talk sometimes in media about it functioning on both a “lower” and a “higher” level. I kinda hate that I use those terms, because it makes it sound like there’s a tier to it and I don’t think there is. But what I mean by that is, you maybe have a more meta or thematic level of what the story is trying to do, and I think Fujiko Mine accomplishes that level exquisitely well.
But then, you also have a lower level, which to me is that people who maybe aren’t digging into those themes are just enjoying a story about characters in some kind of a world at face value. I talk about one of the reasons I like Flip Flappers so much, is that it’s this really nice coming-of-age story about these cute girls—I didn’t mean “Cute Girls” in that sense—about fun girls going on adventures together and having this cute little romance, but then it also has all these thematic and metaphorical allusions and things going on on this upper level, that you can enjoy both sides of that story.
And, again, I don’t wanna yuck any yums, because I do think this is a show—and this is not even really a critique; this is just a personal reaction. For me, it does not succeed as well on that lower level, because I got to the end of the series, and I don’t really feel like I know Fujiko any better than I did at the start.
CAITLIN: Okay, I see what you mean.
VRAI: And it’s interesting because I saw a lot of a more virulent version of that reaction with mostly longstanding, gatekeeping Lupin bros, who were like, “What’s the point? She doesn’t actually have a dark and tragic backstory. This whole series was pointless!” And I’m like, “No, it wasn’t!” But the way you phrased it, it makes more sense, of “I don’t know this character.”
CAITLIN: Right. There is a sense of who Fujiko is, but, yeah, it doesn’t give us a sense of exactly what makes her tick other than that she likes shiny, pretty things and she likes sex.
VRAI: Which, I’ll be honest, every time this series has tried to do a definitive backstory, it’s been bad.
CAITLIN: I don’t know, I guess the meta-level of the series, it worked for me so strongly. The moment where she stands up and she says, “This is the story of the woman called Fujiko Mine,” it was overwhelming the first time I saw that. It just absolutely blew me away; literally walking around my living room talking about it for an hour afterwards.
It hit me so hard that, honestly, I didn’t even think about it any more, about that surface level—because the surface level, it is important, definitely. There are shows where I have had the opposite reaction, where I’m just like, “I am not into this. This doesn’t work for me,” and people are like, “Oh, no, no, no, no. But the meta!” And I’m just like, “I don’t care about the meta; I couldn’t connect to it.” So, definitely I see where you’re coming from.
I guess parts of it worked for me that didn’t work for you, and that’s fine. You know? It’s okay to disagree.
VRAI: I also think it might be an interest of Yamamoto’s, this idea that your backstory is less important than the person you are right now, and what you do in the now, that’s who you are, because there are definitely traces of that in both Michiko & Hatchin and Yuri on Ice. But, at the same time, it’s not a failing to not like that kind of story structure or to find it unsatisfying. That’s not a failing.
CAITLIN: Yeah, no, it is not a series that works for everyone, and that’s fine. I know people who couldn’t get—
DEE: I mean, again, do not get me wrong: I recommend this show to people. I think there’s a lot really good going on here. I can put on my Critic’s Hat, and we can talk about the good stuff it’s doing, for sure. It’s just, I don’t think it’s ever gonna make a favorites list for me. And that’s all I meant, was just on that gut, visceral level of “I’m super invested in these people,” it never quite pinged that way for me.
CAITLIN: Yeah, fair.
DEE: So, that’s all. And, again, not even really a criticism, because that’s completely subjective. Just something that you guys asked me my opinion and then it all just spilled out there at the end.
CAITLIN: Listen, it’s okay to disagree! [chuckles]
VRAI: No, I’m really glad. I’m really glad. Of the point that I think you have really strong actual critical opinions on, I saved talking about Oscar for last, because I’m just a big ol’ ball of feelings, but why don’t we start with the school episode, because I know you wanna talk about it.
DEE: I mean, I feel like I already did. I think it’s a really bad, off-putting episode. Again, I think there’s some interesting stuff in there, but the series seems like it really glosses over what to me is a pretty awful thing that happens, in terms of Fujiko fucking with these teenage girls—or at least people she thinks are teenage girls. And it was just very viscerally unpleasant to me and made it really hard for me to give a shit about what happened to her after that point.
VRAI: I don’t think that’s unfair. I think it is the ugliest episode of the series. I personally would also think it’s one of the best, in terms of what this series is doing?
CAITLIN: Yeah, it’s definitely—I have been able to just accept Fujiko’s not a nice person. What she’s doing isn’t right, but also, she does a lot of stuff that’s not right. She also kills people.
DEE: Yeah, but I think there’s this element in a lot of the other episodes where she’s manipulating somebody or she’s threatening or being really crass with somebody who is not a good person and kind of has it coming. And these are just kids; these are teenagers at a school. Some of them are kind of shitty, but it’s a very different context, and I don’t know if the series quite acknowledges that it’s just different.
CAITLIN: Right. Right.
VRAI: It’s interesting, because, yeah, it’s unquestionably wrong that she’s hitting on these students and feels up Oscar, who she may or may not know is Oscar at the time. To this day, I’m genuinely unsure.
CAITLIN: Yeah, it’s really unclear.
DEE: Yeah, I think that’s fair.
VRAI: I would not argue with you on that front at all, and being off-put by it is completely understandable. It’s also the episode with the rape scene, which may or may not be a penetration scene but is still very much an assault.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Yes, it is.
VRAI: Which, I find the framing of that really interesting, the fact that it’s obscured whether or not it’s a penetrative rape or if it’s just the assault of her consent and her body. I like that the framing of that is very much “It’s doesn’t matter whether real rape happened. The fact is that her control of her body was taken away from her and that’s awful and bad.”
CAITLIN: Yeah, it’s really funny though: when she wakes up, she looks and she—
DEE: [crosstalk] Yeah, that scene is also…
CAITLIN: Her reaction seems to be more “Goddammit! Did he have to make a mess?”
CAITLIN: [laughs] She seems…
VRAI: It is a weird reaction.
CAITLIN: She seemed more exasperated that he has just dumped wine all over her than the fact that he tied her up and assaulted her. I don’t know. I had no problem accepting that as part of the ethos of the show.
VRAI: It’s these two characters who are foils at their mutual worsts, I think, and it’s interesting how the various points of the episode—at least to me—play with shifting sympathies between them as they fuck each other over in genuinely horrific ways.
DEE: Yeah. I think that’s true. I think what maybe bugs me most about that episode is… Everything awful that Oscar does in that episode is framed very much—from the music to the cinematography to everything—it’s framed as awful, like you’re watching it and you’re cringing and it’s super uncomfortable. The stuff with Fujiko and the girls—especially when the girl Oscar is pretending to be, whose name escapes me at the moment—
DEE: Isolde—thank you—is framed much more as sexy and cool and “Look at this nice relationship they’re developing,” and I think that that’s what was off-putting to me about it, is it did not feel like they were playing that as uncomfortable.
CAITLIN: Right. No, that’s fair.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Yeah, that’s entirely fair. And I don’t want to speculate, but the way it’s framed, it feels like the show doesn’t think of it as awful but as harmless and transient, which is an element of queer stories I wish would go away.
DEE: [crosstalk] Yeah.
VRAI: So, you’re right. You’re right.
DEE: It felt like the episode was trying to engage with the Class-S genre, but Yurikuma Arashi and Flip Flappers did it a lot better.
CAITLIN: No, I think we can agree on that.
VRAI: Well, I mean the head student girl is Nanami, basically.
DEE: [laughs] That’s fair.
CAITLIN: It is a very pretty episode. It’s very, very well directed, and it has a lot of visual impact, which I think made it an easier pill for me to swallow, as opposed to the bad Cuba episode, which is the worst episode.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Which is the worst episode of the series, yes.
CAITLIN: So, I don’t have a good reason for it not bothering me, because these are things that in fiction do tend to bother me. But, you know, it’s like when we had our discussion of age differences, Dee could sort of file Tetsuya and Yui, like you could sweep them under the rug while Vrai and I are like “Ugh!” You know? It’s not a logical thing. Sometimes you look at it and you react, and sometimes you look at it and you just intellectually go, “Oh, that’s bad, but also, eh, I don’t know. Eh.”
VRAI: Very much what’s going on here, I think. Because, yes, objectively you are correct: it’s bad. It’s bad.
CAITLIN: It’s such a pretty episode, though.
VRAI: The actions on hand are bad. Oh, it’s so pretty! Oh, my God, I died, how pretty it is.
CAITLIN: Also, the scene with Fujiko and quote-unquote “Isolde,” before it turns into a rape scene, is… a lot.
VRAI: It’s a lot. It’s a lot! I really desperately need Yamamoto to direct a yuri series about adults.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] God, please! [laughs]
VRAI: I would die!
DEE: Yeah, I think there’s a lot of moments in this show—which, again, maybe is why it doesn’t resonate with me as strongly as it could—I think there’s a lot of moments in this that are very much the camera spinning to look directly at the audience that—the original audience was targeted at, which is straight men.
And I think the ending theme is one of those moments, and obviously the finale, when we get Fujiko also looking dead into the camera being like, “No, this is who I am.” What’s the line? “No matter how many pasts you try to give me, I’m still me.” Something to that effect. And I think there’s a lot of moments where the series does that, and I think that’s great.
But when you were talking about the ending theme privately, I went, “I had not noticed that either,” and the reason I hadn’t noticed it is because the ending theme would come on, I’d catch one shot of an underage girl in lingerie, and I’d go, “I don’t wanna watch this,” and I would just stop watching. I like the song, so I would usually let it run, but I’d be looking at my phone or something. So, then, when you said that, I actually sat and watched the whole ending. I was like, “Oh, yeah, this is super uncomfortable.”
But, again, it’s that element of “Who’s the camera looking at and pointing towards, and what audience is it directing this stuff at?” So, I thought that was kind of interesting.
VRAI: It’s not a subtle show, I don’t think, which I think it’s fair to critique it for. It’s Mari Okada: it’s as subtle as a brick to the face.
DEE: I think sometimes that’s totally okay, though.
CAITLIN: Yeah, one of my maxims is “Even if it’s ironic, it’s still shitposting.” And that applies to a lot of things. Even if it’s ironic, it’s still fanservice. So, I feel, with situations like this… because that was one of my big issues with Tiger & Bunny, is I would be like, “Guys, the fanservice in this show,” and they’re like, “No, no, no, they’re calling it out. It’s ironic.” I’m like, “No, it’s not. They call it out—”
VRAI: [laughs] No, it’s not!
CAITLIN: “—But then they also do things like showing shots of Blue Rose with her head not visible and just lingering on her body.” So, with stuff like this, I feel like if you’re going to specifically address this, you can’t be subtle, because if the layer gets lost on some people, then it has failed. If you are calling out fanservice, then you have to be like, “Hey, you like this picture of a naked lady? Well, you suck because of that!”
VRAI: Mm-hm. And it’s always interesting to me because my favorite part of the show is so subtle that literally I had to start a blog to talk about it, because nobody else— [laughs]
DEE: That is very true, which I do believe brings us to what I think we should now call The Chichiri Hour, which is when one of us talks for way too long about a character we like way too much. Vrai, would you like to talk about Oscar?
VRAI: [laughs] Oh, my God, I love this boy!
VRAI: He might be my favorite anime character now, just because I’ve spent so long just—
CAITLIN: He sucks, though.
VRAI: He does! He’s a piece of shit! He’s awful! He needs so much help! Please, someone help this awful boy.
CAITLIN: He just wants Zenigata to tell him “Good job.”
VRAI: Yeah. Well, that’s the thing. We never find out how old Oscar is, but to me he reads as like 17.
DEE: Yeah, he reads young. I agree.
VRAI: Mm-hm. Like very much the teenage prodigy who got through the ranks, partly because of hard work—he’s genuinely smart—but also nepotism.
DEE: Yeah. Also, Zenigata basically adopted him, yeah.
VRAI: Yeah. And he is genuinely awful, but it’s a combination of factors that I feel like he suffers in proportion to his awfulness throughout the series, and also he is a child, and I can see all of the factors that produced his shittiness and gave him no options to stop being shitty.
VRAI: Like his misogyny is very, very clearly learned from Zenigata, the guy who raised him; just looking at the way he treats Fujiko, the way he talks about Fujiko and other women. [dryly oblivious] I wonder where he learned this!
VRAI: And then, we haven’t touched on it, but this series is very definitively a period piece. It’s set in the early 1960s, which is the heyday of shock treatment and frontal lobotomies for gay people in asylums, so that’s plenty of incentive for this small gay boy, alongside of his toxic-masculine, misogynist dad, to stomp down real hard on those feelings and just be angry at the world and angry at himself and angry at women for getting to smooch the dudes he can’t smooch.
And also, the fact that he is also dealing with repressed memories in a way that’s never overtly addressed! And no one helps him! Nobody helps him, because he’s a guy and guys should be able to man up and take it themselves. So, to me, his awfulness is meted out by the punishment he gets and how just pathetic and sad he is.
CAITLIN: Do you think that the show was trying to say that he needs help and no one’s trying to help him? Or what do you think they were aiming for?
VRAI: I do. I genuinely do, because of what we know about Okada now and just because of the way it reads, and because this is a story about stories. I almost stopped watching this show after “Feast of Fools.” I’m very lucky that I actually binged this series all at once, right after it had finished, because I almost stopped watching when it seemed like he had fallen into the Dead Gays trope.
DEE: Yeah. In my memory, he did die. I had forgotten that he survives. You just have no idea what happens to him.
VRAI: Yeah. And I feel like, in this show that is so much about stories and narratives and who controls who, that’s on purpose, the fact that he is not neatly shuffled off once it’s no longer convenient and he’s had his big, tragic breakdown that’s convenient to the plot. He’s just at this loose end, and he’s broken and sad.
In the same episode where Zenigata has spent this big two-parter talking to Fujiko and how Fujiko is so fragile now and she needs his help and he has to look after her, he makes this one half-assed offering to his adopted son of “Hey, stop, I’ll help you,” after he’s clearly had a mental and emotional breakdown and undergone untold amounts of trauma. And it doesn’t work, because of fucking course it doesn’t work: it’s half-assed and way too late.
It just feels very on point to the fact that, yeah, he was always a little shit, but if he had options available to him, he might’ve turned out better.
DEE: No, I agree with that. I think this series frames Oscar as a sympathetic villain. I think he does have a villainous role to play. In a lot of scenes, he does some pretty fucking awful stuff, as we’ve discussed.
DEE: But they also ground him in this sense of, he genuinely loves Zenigata. I mean, when he—
VRAI: And he seems to have no other relationships.
DEE: No. And I don’t just mean that in the sense like “Oh, he’s obsessed and possessive,” which, I mean, he is also obsessed and possessive. But when he thinks Fujiko is torturing him, he does not hesitate to give up the case. He’s in so much obvious anguish from that, that you definitely believe that those feelings are genuine. And so, no, I agree with you, Vrai. I think the way they tell his story is really interesting and complex. I find him more interesting than Fujiko, if I’m being completely honest.
VRAI: Yeah. Well, he has a full story. He has a backstory; he has a present; he has an uncertain future.
CAITLIN: He has that tragic backstory.
DEE: Well, it’s not really a tragic backstory; he has a backstory. But I think it’s also the fact that we’re allowed to see him—not just at his worst, because we definitely see Fujiko at some of her worst moments—but I think the fact that we’re allowed to see him as openly showing affection and vulnerability makes a big difference to me in terms of humanizing people.
By the end of the series, I get the sense Fujiko likes Lupin? Other than when she’s having a breakdown caused by false memories, which doesn’t count, we never really get to see Fujiko raw, I guess.
CAITLIN: Yeah. No, that’s true. The way she kissed that screw at the end—
CAITLIN: —kinda gave a hint that she has some…
DEE: I think Fujiko’s the kind of character—and I think this is built into her character, too—who maybe never personally lets herself get too terribly attached, because obviously, I think, freedom and agency are a huge thing for her. So, I think we don’t necessarily see her openly expressing emotional attachment because of that sense of “Oh, I wanna be able to go and do whatever I want, whenever I want.” So, I get that.
Again, it’s just that sense of getting a feel for who this person really is, and Fujiko always slides out of the way right before you get a sense of that, which is an interesting way to write a character, but it makes it harder for me to sympathize.
CAITLIN: I think she’s sort of a power fantasy? I mean, she is a power fantasy.
DEE: Yeah. Yeah. No, that’s true.
CAITLIN: That’s definitely the way I feel about her, is—I mean, I don’t want to be like Fujiko. [laughs] But, like—
VRAI: No, but now that you say it, I think you could make an argument that the type of story that Fujiko and Oscar have are gender-swapped.
CAITLIN: Mm, interesting.
DEE: Yeah, I think I see what you mean.
CAITLIN: No, I could see it. I know we were talking about Oscar, but it did kinda snap into my head—
VRAI: No, no, carry on.
CAITLIN: The reason we don’t see Fujiko genuinely vulnerable, the reason we don’t see her in a moment of true weakness, as opposed to just falling apart because of her implanted memories, is because, like I said, she’s a power fantasy. They try to take the power away from her, and she takes the power back.
And I think that is something that a lot of women feel like they cannot do; that they have been disempowered, and they don’t know how to reach for it and take it back. And they don’t have the allies they need. Like, Fujiko has Lupin act as a true, genuine ally to her when she is coming apart. [They don’t] have the allies they need to be able to find the ability to take that power back.
So, yeah, I think of Fujiko as a power fantasy. She is, for me. And Oscar is this tragic figure, and part of that is he is also jealous of the powers that she has.
VRAI: Yeah, the only power that she doesn’t see, because she didn’t have to take it, is this power she has as a straight woman.
CAITLIN: Right. [hums skeptically]
VRAI: Or an implicitly straight woman, if we don’t include hitting on teenagers.
VRAI: Go on.
CAITLIN: I mean…
VRAI: You “mm”-ed.
CAITLIN: That scene with Isolde-slash-Oscar, she seemed pretty into it.
VRAI: Well, no, absolutely I would buy, but…
CAITLIN: And… what’s her name? Jigen’s dead, sad girlfriend.
DEE: Showed up in episode two. Yeah.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Yeah. Cicciolina.
CAITLIN: There were also sexual implications to that scene, as well.
VRAI: Oh, no. Absolutely, Fujiko is a bi character, but structurally speaking, she can move through the world—
CAITLIN: Sure. Sure.
VRAI: —as a… Yeah. I will say, on the subject of Fujiko being vague, there is that big old element of Oscar that doesn’t get… Where the fuck did he get that tattoo?
VRAI: He has a big ol’ honkin’ tattoo on him.
DEE: It keeps feeling like they’re going to address it, and then they never do. But didn’t you, Vrai—I think you pointed this out—isn’t Oscar’s tattoo very similar to the foot brands on Aisha?
VRAI: Yes. I am so deep into this that I honestly can no longer tell if it’s just me having a stringboard, or if it honestly was there all along. ‘Cause I came away from this show the first time with the conclusion that “Oh, this is what they were trying to tell us, obviously.” But nobody else but me seemed to reach that conclusion, so I don’t know anymore.
But I am dead convinced that Oscar was also kidnapped and implanted with false memories, which is why he’s a weird, feral child before jumping off that bridge as a kid and why he has the tattoo that looks like Aisha’s foot brands.
CAITLIN: Yeah. It’s a solid theory.
DEE: Yeah, I’ve read that essay. I think it’s a great essay, so I think that’s a totally valid interpretation and adds a really interesting layer to Oscar’s story and how, like you said, he works as Fujiko’s foil, and so you get these parallels between the two of them.
VRAI: Well, and there’s also so much gender shit with him. It feels like the story is talking back to narratives about gay men from the ‘60s and ‘70s in Western media—and also now; let’s be real—about how gay men just secretly want to be women, obviously. So while Fujiko is dealing with these ideas of being a woman traumatized by men, Oscar is dealing with these memories as a matter of “Well, you’re attracted to men; you must actually be a woman.” And it’s a major part of his character.
CAITLIN: It’s very Mari Okada.
VRAI: Very much! And I’ve toyed with the idea of “Is he assigned female at birth and presenting male?” which I think is interesting in certain ways, but I think this story and the themes hold better together if he’s assigned male at birth and dealing with these issues as a cis gay man.
DEE: Yeah, I hear that. Something that pinged on my radar when I was watching it with the dub was in that school episode, it seemed like they were making a point of avoiding pronouns with Oscar, and then I started to pay attention, because they kept referring to him as “the kid” or “that brat.”
And then, it isn’t until—I think it’s “Feast of Fools,” you said the episode is called, where it looks like it’s going to be the tragic finale and then isn’t, is when they finally start dropping “boy” and “he.” And I’m like, “Okay. All right, there we go,” but it seemed like they were almost intentionally keeping that vague for a while, which I thought was an interesting choice.
VRAI: Well, I mean, he is named after Oscar, probably, from Rose of Versailles—which, by the way, there was actually a Lupin III/Rose of Versailles crossover episode. It sucks.
DEE: [chuckles ruefully] Oh, that’s too bad.
VRAI: It’s really bad. It’s full of no-homo. Everybody thinks that Lupin is courting after a dude, because Oscar. [ironic] But obviously he has this sense the whole time. He knows that she’s a girl. No homo. [sincere] I hate that episode.
DEE: [chuckles] I don’t blame you.
VRAI: Lupin’s the most bisexual man alive! What are you doing?
DEE: [laughs] He does have a husband, so…
VRAI: Mm-hm. [chuckles] But yeah, there’s so much interesting, messy gender shit going on with Oscar that you could probably write 50 billion essays, which is why I will continue to be the one-man cheer squad for this character nobody cares about. Somebody make me a figure!
Those are my big, loud, messy feelings. I could continue to talk about Oscar, but I feel like I got all the relevant things out.
DEE: Yeah, we’ll link to some tags and categories and stuff in the AniFem post that hosts this podcast. So if you are listening to this on iTunes or Stitcher or wherever else, you can go there if you want to track down some links and read some more exciting stuff on The Woman Called Fujiko Mine.
VRAI: Yes, do. Mm, yes. And, oh, I’m very excited to announce that you can actually watch this series. It was kind of lost for a while, but VRV has it.
CAITLIN: I mean, it’s on Funimation.
DEE: Oh, that’s good. It’s on Funimation. It’s been there for a while, and since they have a deal with Crunchyroll, I’m sure it will eventually end up on Crunchyroll. It just isn’t there yet.
VRAI: Well, I checked recently-ish, and it’s only on Funimation if you have an account. But yes, do visit it; revisit it. [amused] If you haven’t seen it already and you made it to the end of this podcast, what are you doing?
CAITLIN: Well, we just spoiled all the twists for you.
DEE: Hey, they knew. They knew. They knew. We told ‘em before, so it’s all good.
VRAI: It’s true.
DEE: But yes, it’s definitely a nice one that’s worth rewatching, ‘cause once you know where the story is going, then rewatching it adds different layers of meaning to some of the early events.
VRAI: Yeah. And I don’t think anybody can say it’s not a smart series. It may end up not being for you, because it is very tonally dark and sometimes off-putting, so… But I love it. I love it so much. I have no critical distance.
Right. Any last items that you guys wanted to bring up?
DEE: It’s a good series. Recommended. Little late in the game to be saying that, but yeah.
CAITLIN: I love. [chuckles]
DEE: It’s very interesting. There’s a lot happening. Like you said, it’s a very smart series, for sure.
VRAI: Yeah. Cool. Thank you, everybody, for listening. If you enjoyed this episode, you can always find more episodes and watchalongs and retrospectives on our SoundCloud page at soundcloud.com/AnimeFeminist.
We have a Patreon, which is the way that we pay the bills. It really helps. Even dollar contributions really go a long way into making sure that all of our writers and editors get paid and so that we can do seasonal stuff like the premiere reviews, which are coming up, and there are so many shows this season.
CAITLIN: So many.
VRAI: So, if you could go to patreon.com/AnimeFeminist, we would really super appreciate that. You can also talk to us over the internet on Facebook at facebook.com/AnimeFem, on our website at www.animefeminist.com, where you can find more essays of the kind of stuff we do, or on Twitter at twitter.com/AnimeFeminist, or on Tumblr at animefeminist.tumblr.com, which I stock the queue for, so it’s real gay.
CAITLIN: [laughs] As you should be.
VRAI: [laughs] Thank you so much for joining us, and we’ll see you next time.