There aren’t too many characters like Mine Fujiko in mainstream anime – a woman who will unabashedly sell her body to get what she wants. That’s why viewers calling what this series does “fanservice” are really missing the point – it’s not fanservice Lupin III is selling, it’s sex. You saw the same in classic film noir from the 30’s right up through neo-noir like “L.A. Confidential”, but even in those big Hollywood films the quid wasn’t always quite so pro quo. That’s why it doesn’t surprise me to see Fujiko causing such consternation among some fans, because she’s a feminist’s nightmare, yet she’s also extraordinarily capable and self-reliant. She’s one interesting dame.
Even with all that in mind it was still a little jarring to see the episode open with Fujiko and Inspector Zenigata having sex on (and under) his desk, as part of her bid to win her freedom after her latest arrest. His deal – she has to help him apprehend Lupin as he tries to steal the invaluable mask of opera star Ayan (Fukami Rica) who wears it as a result of disfiguring burns she received due to an “overzealous fan”. Of course as Zenigata says in an utterly noir moment, “A dame’s never existed who didn’t betray somebody”, Fujiko is going to try and steal the mask herself – but he knows this, and doesn’t care.
Zenigata is a pretty dark soul. He doesn’t care about the mask, or about Ayan – he just wants Lupin. And no to arrest him but to kill him if possible, because he believes it’s in his blood to kill those with Lupin’s blood. His assistant Oscar (why Kaji Yuuki? Why??) is clearly in love with Zenigata, and insanely jealous of Fujiko, who he calls first “Pig Woman” and then “Spittoon”. And Lupin never disappoints once he leaves his calling card, so you know he’ll show up. And as interesting as Fujiko is, Lupin is more than her match as a character – one of anime’s great trolls, ever-smirking and always a step ahead of Zenigata, brought to glorious life by Kurita Kanichi.
There is a plot here, surrounding the “Ghost of the Opera” and Lupin’s attempt to steal the mask during a production of “Tosca”. This is utterly preposterous and quite silly. It’s apparent immediately that the “ghost” is propmaster Darenzo (Nakano Yutaka), though his reasons only become clear with the reveal that “Ayan” is actually former stagehand Nora (Toujou Kanako). The idea that Ayan intentionally disfigured herself so that she could escape the limelight and live with Darenzo in the catacombs beneath the stage merely because society would disapprove of their love is hardly believable. But that’s not really the point. The point is that the episode is once again incredibly stylish and funny, the opera is beautiful, and Lupin is hilarious as he runs rings around Zenigata, Darenzo and his fellow thief. I especially loved the moment when he disrupted the show by appearing on stage in a horse costume, really giving Kurita-san a chance to show off his comedic chops.
As much skepticism as I had about Yamamoto and Okada taking the reins of this franchise – and that was a very healthy amount – up to this point it seems to be a surprisingly good fit. I don’t remember Lupin being quite this sexed-up before and that’s hardly surprising, given that it’s those two in charge, but the combination of the sex, the snappy dialogue, the fantastic Watanabe Shinichiro-produced soundtrack and the unique animation style is working like a charm so far.