Follow Monsters of Television on Twitter

Wednesday, 22 of September of 2021

Season in Review: Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine

“Now cease everything you are doing to gaze at me, only letting your heart still strum.”

Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine title cardAround the sixth episode (“Prison of Love”) of Lupin The Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine, I started to feel slight glimmers of what the show may have been after. After the ninth episode (“Steamy Desire”), I had a bead on the series. By the end of series, I realized I had been more accurate than I thought. Fujiko Mine is, from the onset, about gazing, what that gaze is capable of, and how it entangles all of us, male and female. It’s about spectatorship (in the broad, psychoanalytic sense, not an individual’s reception) and its ability to satisfy wish-fulfillment impulses when we sit down to consume media.

I’m stating the obvious, though. The series isn’t shy about its aims (the words of this post’s epigraph are the first words you hear at the start of each episode), but despite its willingness to show how gazing and vicarious thrill rides through fiction fulfill us (or even sustain us), it still ultimately reaffirms the power and importance of the straight guy’s looking, and that’s hardly anything new.

This will be a spoiler-heavy discussion of the series, so if you’re at all interested in watching it (and you should be), come back later. I linked to the show’s Hulu page above, and you can watch it there. If you’ve already seen the series in its entirety, let’s continue. Just let me don my owl mask first.

Fujiko Mine was triggering thoughts of Mary Ann Doane’s The Desire To Desire, a canonical women’s studies film theory text. While the book is concerned with the women’s film of the 1940s, the book can make larger points about the female spectator and the female character in the context of visual culture. A lot of my thoughts here are inspired by that book, mainly chapters 1 and 2.

Through the book, Doane analyzes what it means to have films address themselves to a woman spectator that have central female protagonists in a medium that normally assume a male spectator with a male protagonist. In that dynamic, a female spectator shifts through various forms of identification, including the near-hermaphroditic position of being a woman who assumes the gaze of a male, objectifying  the women on screen while still being, societally, woman.

 Fujiko Mine puts this notion to work within the confines of its text. As the finale reveals, Fujiko’s life for the run of the series has been, in some senses, observed (if not orchestrated) by Aisha, the daughter of scientist abducted by a lord who was running mind control experiments on young girls decades ago, including Aisha. Aisha has continued these experiments and has, from her near-incapacitated state in a theme park castle, observed the results of mind control and implanted memories as a series of “What if…” scenarios for the life that was denied to her. Aisha ends up being captivated by Fujiko’s life of casual sex and globetrotting thievery, among the unlikeliest of these scenarios she has viewed.

This reveal, Aisha’s viewing of the events of Fujiko Mine, places her within the context of a spectator watching a film (as it were), one that has a female protagonist, and one that fills in missing parts of her clearly sheltered life. It’s a vicarious-ness that moves beyond Doane’s conceptualization of the female spectator in the women’s film in a way that I admit I haven’t completely worked out, in large part because too little is known about how Aisha observes Fujiko’s life. Flashes to some earlier experiments are not from a first-person perspective, but I don’t want to read this as Aisha not having access to the point of view of the experiments.

Now think about how Fujiko is presented to the viewing audience. This is, of course, almost entirely nude (her groin is shadowed or hidden). It becomes painfully gratuitousness as the series progresses, unmotivated and unnecessary. As Twitter friend of mine noted while I was catching up on the series, her nudity in the first three episode is motivated in ways to seduce and distract, allowing her to escape, taking advantage of their (Lupin, Daisuke, and Goemon) gazes.

Even in these instances though, Fujiko is still there to be looked at for the audience, to be studied, and desired. It’s not different from many other similar instances of female nudity (but at least it’s not being doing to hurry along exposition), so Fujiko is consistently objectified. Aisha’s viewing does this within the diegesis, assuming a non-first-person POV (and even if not, she still treats Fujiko as an object to be played with), and it does acknowledge a sense that there’s pleasure to be garnered in this treatment of the female form even as a female spectator.

So the show is oddly progressive in acknowledging this complexities involved in objectification, pleasure, and empowerment from female nudity. It becomes web of gazing that demonstrates how prevalent the notion of the heterosexual male gaze is in our society, and how women are not immune from being forced to adopt (or may even desire to adopt) this perspective.

But I feel like Fujiko Mine ends up reaffirming the overwhelming power of the male gaze rather than fully embracing the disruptive possibilities its overall premise hints at. I don’t feel particularly surprised by this given the series’s ultimate treatment of Oscar (he ends up a psychotically-obsessed, misogynistic homosexual male), nor was I surprised since it also ends up privileging Lupin’s gaze among all others.

It begins in one of the episodes I mentioned before the jump, “Steamy Desire.” As Fujiko rampages for initially unclear reasons sparked by a girl who is a living working of art, Lupin spends the episode protecting his theft (the girl) and attempting to figure out what is different about Fujiko. By the end of the episode, and this is where Doane really kicked in for me, he starts diagnosing her hysteria and thus her.

This is not at all different as to how the (always male) doctor in 1940s medical melodrama would often act. Writes Doane (page 43 of my paperback edition, emphasis mine):

Thus the doctor is given extraordinary powers of vision which have the potential to go beyond the barrier usually posed by an exterior surface. In this branch of the “woman’s film,” the erotic gaze becomes the medical gaze. The female body is located not so much as spectacle but as an element in the discourse of medicine, a manuscript to be read for symptoms which betray her story, her identity. Hence the need, in these films, for the figure of the doctor as reader or interpreter, as the site of a knowledge which dominates and controls female subjectivity

Lupin, of course, is not a doctor, Fujiko’s body is still a spectacle (and, for what it’s worth, I’d argue that the performances often found in medical melodramas often become spectacle, thus rendering the body just as much a spectacle for the spectator as it is a thing to be read in the text), and Lupin’s gaze is ultimately both medical and erotic as he believes his understanding of Fujiko’s condition will help him bed her.

When Lupin begins to diagnosis Fujiko, that’s when Fujiko recedes from the narrative. She goes into a psychological funk, ends up staying with Goemon in a cabin, and Lupin’s ability to see, to gaze, is put front and center.

Again, Doane (page 56):

The phenomenon of the mute woman is, however, only an extreme instance of a more generalized strategy whereby the films simultaneously grant the woman access to narration and withhold it from her. The woman’s narrative reticence, her amnesia, silence, or muteness — all act as justifications for the framing of her discourse within a masculine narration.

This is what happens in Fujiko Mine. Fujiko does not understand herself, her memories, why she thinks she’s been physically and emotionally scarred by owl men, and she is unable to explain it herself. It falls to Lupin, in the series’s trippiest episode (episode 10, “Dead City”) to investigate, a thing only possible if a character has an active gaze. And while this episode challenges his gaze as reality and illusion blur in all sorts of wonderful ways, Lupin’s ability to see is still so powerful that he is able to piece together the mystery of Fujiko’s history (or, rather, constructed history) by the finale, and, indeed, he’s the one explaining everything at the end.

Fujiko is revealed to have this agency, this liberation despite the supposed constructedness of her life, that Aisha did not, and does not, control her, but it’s all thanks to Lupin and his amazing eyes (that really only fail him once when he fails to identify Aisha’s mother as a woman under the owl mask). It’s Lupin’s investigation that ultimately frees Fujiko from her fake memories, not any impulse of her own.

 It’s disappointing. While Fujiko reclaims the sense of verve and power she had before “Steamy Desires,” she owes that to Lupin. And in a way, his ability to figure her out, to explain her, he makes good on his boast to have her.


I’d like to be clear that I do find the series engaging and interesting and it’s by far one of the most beautifully animated series I’ve seen in a while (seriously, it’s just stunning to look at). My problem with the series’s politics aside and its lackluster, explain-y finale (though the roller coast sequence is fun), I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it people, and it’s likely to stick in my mind for a while.

I do want to point you to Violence Jill‘s posts on the series (part 1, part 2, part 3). She seems a bit more optimistic about the series as a pro-feminist (or, at the very least, less sexist than I think it is), and is considering Fujiko in the gothic literature tradition.  Coincidentally, Doane discusses gothic heroines, literature, and women’s paranoia films in chapter 5 of her book. So, yes, I’d point you to read Violence Jill’s posts and chapter 5 of Doane for another way to think through the series.

Leave a comment