Lupin III: The Woman Named Okada Mari

I was one of the many excited to hear the news about this season’s currently airing Lupin III TV series. My eyes lit up upon catching sight of phrases such as “characters designs by Koike Takeshi” and “more like Monkey Punch’s manga.” Redline–if anything–looked pretty cool, and I remember those original Lupin III comics that I read in high school being pretty wild. However, I met the phrases “directed by Yamamoto Saya” and “written by Okada Mari” with a degree of reservation. Yeah, I enjoyed Michiko e Hatchin, but more for the writing and setting than anything else; and while Okada Mari is loved the net over for being a great writer, I personally find her style cliched and boring. But hey! If they stick to the formula, it should be fine, right?

I don’t want to bust out an obnoxious “WRONG!”, but I’m not liking this show as much as I thought I would. That is to say, I do like it–I do make a point to watch it more or less as it comes out (once raw, once with subtitles)–and I do think it’s a refreshing change of pace, both for anime as a whole and for the Lupin III franchise. The issue is that the show tries to do a lot of things I like, but at the same does a few things I don’t like so much.

For starters, the artwork. As opposed to being slightly more stylish renderings of Monkey Punch’s original designs (which the original promotional image led me to believe) the character designs are more modern takes on the designs from the original TV series. Which is fine. They look good. The issue is how they try to recapture that Monkey Punch brand sketchiness, and this is mostly in the crosshatching filter they apply in place of traditional cel shading. It looks good as stills, but when actually moving in action it only really works some of the time.

I think it’s an ambitious look to shoot for, but a lot of time and energy needs to be lavished on every frame to make that sort of style work, and you simply don’t have that kind of time on a TV budget, so some of the time it just comes off as half-assed. Also, if you actually look at Monkey Punch’s original manga, it wasn’t so much that he used messy pencil marks for the shading, it was his linework that was sketchy and wild. I think if the show wanted to shoot for a kind of retro, hand drawn style, it should have gone for the Hakaba Kitarou (or Zetsubou Sensei) approach and just put a parchment filter on top of everything, while keeping the outlines kind of rough and unfinished looking. At least in the episodes where it would be difficult to maintain that rough linework, that rough filter would still take on the bulk of the work of making things look textural and hand-drawn.

My second issue is with the writing… as I feared, it’s just too safe! It’s not off-beat and weird like true Lupin should be. To be fair, I do remember a lot of those manga chapters being pretty dumb, but when they hit, they hit. If they could just take that original strangeness, refine it, and make that into a series, I’d be all over it.

One issue is that the series at times has a really bad sentimental edge. While I didn’t mind the kids in the third episode, I don’t feel as if they added anything in particular to the story. I really didn’t like the episode in the opera house, where the whole story behind it all was some dumb love story between not-at-all developed side-characters that I couldn’t be asked to give a crap about.

And in stark contrast to the show’s light sentimental edge, the way it tries to heap on the dark adult atmosphere is kind of laughable. That said, I do appreciate that brand of pulpiness more than I appreciate sentimental stuff. This criticism is mostly focused on the show’s latest episode (the sixth as of this writing) which between its crappy all girl school otaku-bait setting and gratuitous sexually charged scenes just seemed like they were trying too hard to get someone out there up. Up until that episode the nudity had just been there as another element to cement the show’s kind of seedy atmosphere, or had been used humorously like in the sex scene between Fujiko and Zenigata in the fourth episode. As far as I remember, the sex in the original manga was never really meant to be sexy, and mostly just existed as a gag to cement the idea that the grandson of master gentleman thief Arsène Lupin is just a stupid pervert.

But my biggest problem with the show is mainly the focus, and it’s something I feared when I first saw the title of the show and the promotional artwork. Let me just say it straight: I never liked Fujiko very much. I kind of liked her silly design, but I only ever just saw her as the set-up for a joke, or to throw a wrench into things at the last minute. She’s okay, but she never had much personality.

That said, the show is going a long way to give her personality, which I really appreciate. But still, despite how interesting they’ve made her, I think it’s a waste to focus so exclusively on her, and somewhat forsake the characters that really make the franchise strong. Yes, I know, I realize that is the very point of this show. Doesn’t mean I have to like it.

But as far as giving the characters new and improved personalities goes, I think the show has done very well. While Jigen and Lupin have more or less remained the same, Goemon and Zenigata have been re-written nicely. I had always felt Goemon was a bit too much of a straightman without much personality, so him being portrayed as something of a dork is refreshing. On the other hand, Zenigata’s portrayal as a twisted and crooked cop is a great contrast to how he’s usually portrayed—as a giant dork. Even Oscar, the silly fujoshi-bait character is kind of interesting.

And for all the missteps I’ve whined about in the show’s writing, they’ve pulled off some good episodes. Heck, I even liked the dumb girl’s school one on my second watch through. While it was filled with a lot of the silly lesbian fanservice stuff I’m not really a huge fan of (I know a friend of mine is probably scowling at me from across the Pacific for writing this. Sorry!) the school girls randomly firing machine guns at Lupin and the recount of the sex scene between Zenigata and Fujiko were delightfully irreverent Monkey Punch-esque touches that I would like to see more of in this show.

The fifth episode was probably the most Lupin-ish so far, and one of the better ones. Lots of really nice exaggerated expressions, crazy outlandish scenes, and good solid writing. The first was also quite good, and led me to believe that the show would be more in the line of giant over-the-top stories like that. Jigen’s story was a bit too over-dramatic for my tastes, but still delivered the kind of story I was expecting out of this show.

Given the show’s about half-way through, I’ve more or less accepted the fact that this isn’t the show I Want It To Be. And with that in mind, it’s a well made and enjoyable show. Maybe I should just watch Lupin VS The Clone again to get my dose of Monkey Punch weirdness in anime form.


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