Why Lupin the Third: A Woman Called Fujiko Mine’s Ending Doesn’t Work
Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine is one of the few anime that is perfect in every way – but has all that perfection destroyed by a single decision at the very end. Spoilers, by the way. Also, content warnings: child abuse and sexual violence are discussed in this post.
The Lupin the Third franchise is a mostly age-appropriate episodic adventure anime series where you can pretty much start anywhere, which is why it has experienced such longevity over literally decades with multiple incarnations of the timeless characters.
Personally, if you asked me where to start, I would say The Castle of Cagliostro, directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Because it’s a classic, eat your anime vegetables. I would also say that the latest film, its first 100% CGI venture, Lupin III: The First is also another good place to start.
However, these are not where I started.
Way before Yuri on Ice came out as the most significant anime ever, the work of Sayo Yamamoto quite took me. I had just finished watching Michiko and Hatchin and decided right there and then that I had to watch her other series. This left me one series, The Woman Called Fujiko Mine.
And it’s so good. Despite the ending, I still kind of recommend it but with the warning that the end may ruin everything you watch in it. Just watch it anyway and ignore the ending, is what I am saying.
Unlike the rest of the Lupin franchise, this entry focuses on Fujiko Mine, treating Lupin and everyone else as supporting characters. It’s also a lot more adult taking on a psychological genre and sexuality being prominent. And the visual direction is so far removed from, well, most anime. And it is pretty beautiful.
And up until the ending, I considered it better than Michiko and Hatchin.
Unlike most of the Lupin franchise, which tends to have its episodes, OVAs, and movies be as stand-alone as possible, The Woman Called Fujiko Mine follows an episodic model but with an overarching plot that frames it all together. Through the episodic heists and hi-jinx of Fujiko Mine, our heroine starts to recall repressed memories of childhood trauma where she was in a cult, experimented on and sexually abused by a man dressed as an owl.
And the tension is built up from the story, asking will Fujiko get revenge or justice? Or will there be some other bitter conclusion? Basically, how is this revelation going to get resolved by the lead character? And how will she move on after the fact?
So it was disappointing when Fujiko’s “past” and what we thought was the conspiratorial organisation keeping tabs on Fujiko got retconned.
In the final episode of this series entry, this beautiful reimagining of Monkey Punch’s characters and world, which had gone out of its way to being as different and far removed as possible, ends up resigning itself to something more comfortable in the end.
All of a sudden, Fujiko’s repressed memories are not her memories. They’re this other girl’s memories, who has been living vicariously through Fujiko’s exciting life via sci-fi explanations.
This is called a retcon. This means the storytelling people changed their minds about the plot and story at the last moment.
Oh, but that’s not all. This ending also pulls a How I Met Your Mother problem.
So if you saw How I Met Your Mother back in the day, you were probably very annoyed by the decision to kill off the mother in the final episode. Like the audience only had one season with this character, which is putting it overly generously, by the way, and then suddenly she’s ripped away from them at the moment they were just starting to connect with her. Though at least with this example they managed to cram in a lot in the final episode to give her a final character arc.
Unlike what happens with this character who’s name I can’t remember, I only place she’s the daughter of the evil owl man and the real victim in all of this. And because she’s introduced at the last minute, there’s no time to connect with her, so the emotions here just feel manipulative and forced. This is atrocious storytelling.
So for a good, I don’t know – 5 – 7 years even – I kept debating with myself whose fault this was. And initially, I figured, oh its must have been Mari Okada, the actual writer. It must have been her fault.
But after watching Maquia, I kind of changed my mind on this because it also had similar devastating themes without retconning. And from what I understand, there’s a similar heavy storyline in her manga O Maidens in Your Savage Season.
And so after that, I was like maybe it was Sayo Yamamoto. But at the same time, that seemed unlikely too.
The fact is I don’t know whose fault this ending was.
But I have new information to help me speculate further outside of blaming one woman for one bad creative decision.
So yes, Yamamoto was the series director, and Okada did not write every episode but was in charge of series composition and was the single writer for the final episode.
However, unlike every other episode in the series, which had about one to two episode directors, the final episode had four altogether, including Yamamoto.
Now I haven’t seen Shirobako before, but my gut feeling is that there were too many cooks in the kitchen for this finale.
I’ve tried to find a source to back this up with no luck. Still, I have a hunch that someone, probably a man, either at the studio or some other high power, maybe even Monkey Punch himself, didn’t feel comfortable about Fujiko Mine being a rape survivor. I feel that from someone else’s perspective, doing this would have forever “tainted” the “fantasy of Fujiko Mine”.
I’m aware that sexual assault is stigmatised, but its even more stigmatised in Japan compared to other developed nations. Something like only 4% of rapes in Japan gets reported. And victim-blaming is common.
And yeah, it is worth pointing out that this anime came out pretty much in a pre-#MeToo time or #WeToo as it is known in Japan. Seriously feminism in Japan is critical right now, you’ve got no idea.
So now I have extra bitter feelings about this ending because now I can only assume that rape-culture in Japan dictated Fujiko from standing up to her abuser. By denying that it ever happened.
The ending gaslights the audience. But also, the actual rape survivor in the story gets scapegoated as the villain, and her conflict is resolved with the sweet embrace of death. Like she is portrayed sympathetically, but also kind of a psycho, and it’s all just a bit overkill.
I’m really concerned about the women and girls in Japan who watched this and potentially got conditioned or impressed upon further by the rhetoric of what’s going on in this ending. I mean, alternatively, they could have been inspired instead to potentially stand up to their abuser, or at least have a piece of comfort media to address that.
So this is getting a bit political and heavy now. I’ll just circle back to the function and logic of storytelling.
Once again, I don’t know whose creative decision it was; maybe it was part of Yamamoto’s and Okada’s vision, but I find it highly unlikely.
There’s a certain professional writer called Henry Galley, who fairly regularly though unscheduley makes guest appearances on a YouTube channel I’m fond of called Diregentlemen. And in one of their collab, podcast-style videos, they talked about sexual awakening stories.
Henry Galley, who is asexual, said that sexual awakening could be essential to people’s identities. And that it can be even more critical for character’s who have been the victims of sexual assault to reclaim their sexuality healthily hence the term sexual awakening.
And I think this example of sexual awakening storyline applies to what The Woman Called Fujiko Mine was trying to achieve with this version of Fujiko. But yeah, because of that retcon, that potential sexual awakening story shifts to the other girl, and she doesn’t get that because she dies.
By the way, this character who has been living through Fujiko is disabled. And it is worth noting that killing off characters because they are disabled and/or traumatised is ableism. It’s also not healthy to portray sexual assault survivor’s only way of finding peace is the recourse of death. This is a real garbage ending.
Stories about people with disabilities and their sexualities do exist. The semi-autobiographical I’m Special and Other Delusions We Tell Ourselves is about a gay man with cerebral palsy. But in terms of character’s with disabilities going through the awakening of their sexuality, I can only think of The Shape of Water. To my mind, it is a somewhat rare story that we need more of.