It’s painful for me to admit, but I still haven’t entirely recovered from the passing of Monkey Punch. Perhaps this is just because of how important his Lupin series is to me personally, but I know that I’m definitely not alone in my sentiments. But if the latest Lupin anime Goodbye Partner and Fujiko Mine’s Lie have proven anything, it’s that Monkey Punch’s creation has been left in very safe hands.
What we see when examining the Goodbye Partner TV special and Takeshi Koike’s Fujiko Mine’s Lie side by side is that they have different types of appeal that should, by all intents and purposes, contradict each other. Yet, this in itself is part of the magic of Lupin, a series which will last forever – as long as those behind it can keep on drawing out that magic, that is.
Goodbye Partner: Wacky Science and Old School Cool
Lupin III: Goodbye Partner was our first slice of Lupin to come in 2019, as it aired as a TV special around the New Year period. At the time of its announcement, it garnered significant excitement from fans not just because Lupin would be wearing a black jacket for the first time, but also because of the intriguing synopsis.
TMS Entertainment teased that the ‘theme’ of the Goodbye Partner special would be that of ‘Jigen’s betrayal,’ Lupin’s long-time partner, at which the anachronistic samurai Ishikawa Goemon was ‘enraged.’ Given this synopsis, which hinted at a rupture in one of the most iconic partnerships in anime history, the special was really shaping up to be a truly original entry in the series’ 50-year history. What you’ll actually find when watching Goodbye Partner, however, is that it’s not very original at all – in fact, it prides itself on invoking the Lupin of a bygone age with its old school cool and wacky science.
In the first instance, the theme of ‘Jigen’s betrayal’ didn’t turn out to be as earth-shattering as you might think. To be truthful, it only makes up a small part of the overall special and seems to have been overemphasized in publicity for marketing purposes.
I’m totally cool with that, though, as what Goodbye Partner is actually about is a super-advanced AI that’s hypersensitive to the music of Chopin and tries to take over the world.
Now, that’s a concept that’s sufficiently bizarre on its own, but it’s made even more so by how seriously all of the characters in the special – including a fictional US President that closely resembles Hillary Clinton – take it.
I will admit that some viewers might be thrown out of the experience when watching the special because of this crazy, bizarre science – especially if they’re used to the more realistic tone of Takeshi Koike’s LUPIN IIIRD films – but I, for one, was absolutely enthralled as it took me back to the old school era of Lupin.
This type of crazy science was a big part of the ‘Saturday morning cartoon’ appeal of the original TV series, as well as the subsequent specials and films, and I’ve kinda missed that in recent years.
Goodbye Partner’s super-advanced AI really reminded me of the magician who uses mirrors in the original 1968 TV anime, or even the entire climax of 1978’s The Mystery of Mamo in how illogical and bizarre it might sound in concept, but how endearing it can be in execution.
That being said, Goodbye Partner certainly isn’t perfect. Rather, I found myself checking the time multiple times throughout the special’s fairly long 1 hour 30-minute run-time due to significant pacing problems, particularly during the second act.
Plus, a lot of the original characters were quite disappointingly one-dimensional when compared to how much better the series has gotten at this in the past couple of years – Arisa and Roy don’t hold a candle to such characters as Rebecca and Albert.
Even so, Goodbye Partner was able to successfully elicit some of the great things about more classic Lupin. In that sense, I was very much entertained. The fact that it was able to do this is, in turn, demonstrative of just how powerful the Lupin series and those currently behind it truly are.
Fujiko Mine’s Lie: Self-Confident Sexuality that Pushes the Boundaries
I’m especially confident about the future of the Lupin III franchise going forward when comparing Goodbye Partner to Fujiko Mine’s Lie, because Takeshi Koike was able to do almost the exact opposite of the aforementioned TV special in his own original film and still succeed all the same – showing the immense creative potential that the franchise can offer.
Echoing what fellow OTAQUEST staff writer Alicia said in her review of the film, Fujiko Mine’s Lie follows the logic of 2014’s The Woman Called Fujiko Mine in skillfully portraying the powerful sexuality of the character of Fujiko Mine with grace and style. It also manages to avoid the problem of the male gaze, which could sap the power of such sexuality by reducing it to an object, by employing intense realism.
Such realism, couldn’t be more different from the wacky, old school style of Goodbye Partner. I’d even go as far as to say that, if you showed the two films side by side, those with no prior might not even realize that they both belong to the same franchise and use the same characters.
That’s not to say, however, that Fujiko Mine’s Lie doesn’t have some unrealistic elements. After all, there still is a superpowered villain that can summon sandstorms at will. But what is key here is the tone and the overall purpose of the film.
Koike’s quest for a realistic depiction of these characters means that, even if the villain might have superpowers, his story of sexual awakening is still treated with dignity and grace. It’s also given real thematic meaning, as it showcases the power of self-confident female sexuality as opposed to objectified female sexuality, which Fujiko has long since opposed.
This realism is but one part of the appeal of the ‘new’ era of Lupin III. Yet, this ‘new’ era seems to be opposed in so many ways to the ‘old’ – as seen in the different styles and tones of Fujiko Mine’s Lie and Goodbye Partner.
Nevertheless, that fact that these two works that so effortlessly embody the ‘old’ and ‘new’ of Lupin III released within mere months of each other – and did quite well, at that – is surprising. This seemingly contradictory fact, however, is exactly what makes Lupin so special.
Lupin Will Live Forever
Lupin has long since acted as an incubator for the most talented creators in the industry. Indeed, one of the reasons why the series has evolved so much over the years is that different creators with different visions and aims are constantly coming in and out of the series, shaping and molding it to their specific desires, in turn.
This fact does, however, beg a simple question: why? Why do creators turn to Lupin, instead of just creating their own, original projects?
On a cynical level, you could certainly argue that it’s probably just easier to get a Lupin project off the ground than it is your own original anime project. After all, we’re talking about the choice of banking of 50 years of success, or taking a chance on the unknown – which one do you think producers are going to take?
Even if you’re locked into a Lupin project instead of your own, original project, you can still inject a lot of those original ideas into your Lupin piece. I’d wager that’s why we get bonkers stuff like the super-advanced Chopin AI in Goodbye Partner and the sandstorm summoner in Fujiko Mine’s Lie, to be honest.
But on a more artistic level, taking on such an iconic series so intently ingrained in the Japanese – and, indeed, global consciousness – gives creators a ready, influential vehicle with which they can tell exciting stories that might push the medium of animation and storytelling ever forward, just as Lupin stories have done in the past.
Adopting Lupin and the tropes that come with it also allows creators to push the boundaries of the Lupin series itself from within, giving them the rare chance to teach an old dog new tricks.
Fujiko Mine’s Lie is perhaps the most obvious example of this, as Koike attempts to mold Monkey Punch’s creation into a hard-boiled crime thriller. But even director Jun Kawagoe and writer Takehiko Hata do this on Goodbye Partner, as they are able to demonstrate that this old dog can still do that trick that people loved so dearly, so many years ago.
More generally, though, creators pushing the boundaries of the Lupin series also allows it to discover new methods of appeal, therefore allowing more and more diverse sets of people to enjoy its stories.
How many people got into the Lupin III franchise because of the more progressive The Woman Called Fujiko Mine, and how many more will because of Fujiko Mine’s Lie? How many people got into the franchise because of the more shonen-styled Part 4 or Part 5?
For that matter, how many people got into the franchise because of Hayao Miyazaki’s more romantic take on the franchise with 1979’s The Castle of Cagliostro? Because I know I did.
But the fact that TMS Entertainment has been able to nail both the past and future appeal of the franchise, that is to say the ‘old’ and ‘new’ era of Lupin III with Goodbye Partner and Fujiko Mine’s Line in the same year, mere months apart is nothing short of an incredible achievement.
This all comes down to the incredible work of the people over at the studio, such as Jun Kawagoe and Takeshi Koike, but also the hundreds of others who work hard to ensure little things, such as the way Jigen twirls his pistol or the Fiat 500 sounds, are just right.
These people are what give me confidence about the future of the franchise. They are the ones that make me believe in both the old school cool of Goodbye Partner and the self-confident sexuality of Fujiko Mine’s Lie. Their work makes me truly believe that Lupin III will live forever.
All of this means that Monkey Punch, wherever he might be now, can rest assured – his Lupin III is in very safe hands.