Want to start at the beginning?
You know that story where Sherlock Holmes is trying to solve a case that everyone thinks was caused by a vampire, and for a while it seems like there might actually be one of the nosferatu, but then in the end Sherlock assures us of how it couldn’t possibly be a supernatural fanged being after all? This episode is like that. Welcome to Lupin III Part I, and my weekly attempts to prep the world for Miyazaki’s return to the franchise (you can check out the recap of episode one here). Come in, have a seat, and baffle along with me at how such a great series started off so very, very poorly.
“The Man They Called a Magician” starts with a scene straight out of a mobster movie. Some mooks in trenchcoats bust in with tommyguns blazing and ice this john, ya dig? But when they knock off to get friendly with some dames the punk that oughta be sleepin’ with the fishes gets up and is totally fine, see? Myeh.
After the Untouchables-esque cold open, we cut to the heroes protagonists likable characters jerks we’re following for some reason (and also Jigen) in a state of relative repose – Lupin is fishing in his underwear, like you do, while Jigen engages in target practice alongside the metallic love of his life. That beatnik they kidnapped to do the opening theme has finally mellowed out from the torture the producers inflicted on him, and sets the scene with a (more, somehow) mellow version of the one-word title song.
Jigen’s suit is having one of its fuzzy phases
From the window of the nearby safe house we hear that Fujiko’s taken up a love for singing bloody, thematically foreshadowing songs. She wandered out of a burning forest the night before, and Lupin was conveniently there to rescue her. Back outside, Jigen warns Lupin that Fujiko can’t be trusted, and Lupin brushes him off. Some variation of this conversation will continue to occur in virtually every heist Fujiko suggests, regardless of jacket color. It’s practically Jigen’s catchphrase, a statement so sad I don’t actually have words for it.
Despite being on fire when Lupin rescued her, Fujiko’s stockings survive.
As well as the pink, cylindrical….I’m gonna say padding?
Either that, or the world’s largest birth control pills
And then we cut to a view of Fujiko in the shower. Because it wouldn’t be Lupin III without hilariously out of nowhere nudity. Incidentally, the steam coming out of the shower head is yellow, so presumably we’re meant to assume that Fujiko made a daring off-screen escape from the toxic gas attack.
Meanwhile, this is happening:
Either Lupin is triple jointed, or Jigen took the time to make a cute little bow
Lupin puts his skill set to work by making a romantic dinner for Fujiko, and we learn that he is terrified of squid. If only Zenigata knew. Since he opposes the very idea of Fujiko being there, Jigen is presumably there to make his usual sexist comments and prove that he is somehow charming in spite of them.
There’s a cute homage to this little scene in The Woman Called Fujiko Mine, except there Lupin is cooking dinner to woo Jigen into working with him. That’s not why I’m pointing the scene out, though. Little moments like this immediately put episode two on a much stronger foot than the first one. We see these two at ease with each other rather than just giving and following orders with a side of snark.
Rather than have him hamfistedly introduce her as His Lover, we get the idea that Lupin cares about Fujiko because he’s taking the time for a small gesture like making a nice dinner, despite them being at a safe house in the middle of nowhere. There’s the barest hint of goofiness in his squid terror (Lovecraft would approve), and his putting an overly-long stemmed flower in his lapel. The Worst Line of Dialogue I Refuse to Let Go even gets a minor redemption later on (but not enough for me to stop harping on it). Moments like these give the character a human face, which is ten times as important if you’re going to have him go out and perform inhuman acts. And Lupin doesn’t leave nearly the mound of corpses in his wake here that he did at the race track.
The world of Green Jacket, sadly, has no effective dentistry
A shout from downstairs breaks up Lupin’s A+ attempt at seduction, and the character revelations continue. Lupin is shocked and almost fearful at seeing Jigen covered in what looks like red chalk dust but was probably intended to be flames.
To be fair on this one, you do see Lupin give a small shout of concern after seeing his partner (and maybe childhood friend, if you feel like cherry-picking manga factoids) hogtied in the last episode. But timing and execution is everything. Last time Lupin just kinda…got distracted by something shiny? If he came back and rescued Jigen, the director couldn’t be bothered to show us. Here there’s an immediate threat to contend with, and Lupin still waits for Jigen to say he’s fine before turning his gun on the intruder. And now, for this moment at least, I like Lupin. A character doesn’t need to be a sparkling paragon of virtue, but they do need to have flaws and people/things/ideals they care about. It makes them compelling, rather than the lead weight we’re reluctantly tied to.
The intruder goes by the name of Pycal, and he enters with the dramatic proclamation that he’s “come to take her.” In lieu of a screenshot, let me describe to you this odd little man. He looks like he has hollow bones and weighs as much as a wet towel, has probably never slept, and is rocking the emo swoop 30 years before its time. Lupin, being a prideful speechmaking guy, starts in on all the reasons this tiny birdman isn’t allowed in. Pycal walks right past in the middle of Lupin’s snark routine, which Lupin doesn’t appreciate.
Then Pycal sets him on fire, and goes right on up the stairs.
Should’ve worn an asbestos-proof suit
Both Lupin and Jigen’s jacket take being engulfed in flames surprisingly well, and Lupin tries to shoot Pycal in the back. Then he does it again. Then Jigen shoots Pycal in the head AND THE BULLET BOUNCES RIGHT OFF DID YOU SEE THAT. Ahem. Professional. They’re stunned. Jigen even practices his newly learned ventriloquism, announcing that his magnum is totally ineffective all without moving his open mouth at all.
Not one to take inevitable damselization lying down, Fujiko has some firepower prepped. Pycal slaps Fujiko for sensibly shooting at him with a machine gun and kidnaps her. Then he sets Lupin’s romantic dinner on fire, because the writers assumed we didn’t yet have a reason not to like him.
Our heroes (title under review) rush to the rescue and talk about where they might look for Fujiko, when this happens:
Why do I feel like they’ve had this conversation before, but drunk?
Our next stop is a cabin
in the woods oh yeahhh~.
Pycal menaces Fujiko and tells her to ‘give it to him,’ because the tension of this episode revolves around using vague wording in lieu of actual compelling mystery. We flash back to Pycal asking the same thing the day before. Fujiko alludes to a romance between them, Pycal threatens to set her on fire. Fujiko’s all ‘you can’t bring yourself to do it,’ which is a pretty good bluff for most shows. But this is Monkey Punch-following Lupin, so Pycal totally does it. And now we know how Lupin rescued her…not immolated, somehow. Nor was the thing she stole. Logic at the door, people.
Trapped in an enclosed space with a poor substitute of Sparky Sparky Boom Man, Fujiko goes the attempted seduction route. It works, but at what price?
The most disturbing stripper face ever, that’s what
She tries to shoot him once his bare skin is exposed, and it doesn’t work. Because the show is determined to really hammer the invulnerability thing in. The failed headshot wasn’t enough. He rips her clothes, leaving us to imagine the ambiguous rape and torture offscreen. Oh, joy.
But it’s okay! It turns out he’s only hanging her by her arms over the waterfall. In her underwear. That’s much more wholesome! She reveals that she hid ‘it’ in the dashboard of Lupin’s SSK. Clearly she hasn’t seen the opening, and doesn’t know how much Lupin hates his car. Whatever ‘It’ is, it isn’t going to last a day.
Back in the alleged car en route to a rescue, Jigen discovers the ‘it,’ which is actually three tiny slides. This is intriguing enough that the boys halt their very important rescue to stop, acquire a projector, drive all the way to an undisclosed location, and look at them. The slides each have lines and scientific writing on them, with white spots on one corresponding to black spots on the other slides. It is an impenetrable mystery for the world’s most brilliant thief (who has not, may I remind you, stolen anything in either of these episodes).
I’m not saying it was aliens, but…
Pycal shows up to taunt them for being stupid. Hey, show? Where are they supposed to be? Did they go all the way back to the safe house? Wasn’t Fujiko’s safety paramount mere hours ago? EXPLAIN. The show still isn’t sure we get that the bad man is impervious to stuff blowing up, so it also proves that chain guns and grenades don’t work on Pycal (who no one has yet called a magician). Neither does a rocket launcher. The nuclear bomb scene was cut for time.
Lupin and Jigen hightail it, resulting in one of those rare early lines (taken right from the manga) that actually make me laugh. Lupin puts on a boastful face, and then…
“Me, run away? Let’s do it.”
The pathetically defeated tone in Yasuo Yamada’s voice is what sells it. Run they do, only to find they were followed across hill and dale. Pycal is not only right on top of them, he’s now floating in midair. Were it not several years too early, I would be convinced the writers had been watching too many slasher movies. More screaming, flailing, and escaping.
Back at the cabin of solitude Fujiko has escaped, leaving a goodbye note for Pycal. We see Fujiko driving away with tears in her eyes, and I’m honestly not sure what they were going for with this. Because in their shared screen time he kidnaps, tortures, and possibly rapes her, and she pretend seduces him only to attempt murder as soon as his guard is down. Was I supposed to buy an actual romance here? Because you’re doing it wrong. And, break for confused coffee discussion.
Part two opens with Lupin jarring Jigen out of his duties as Lounge King, heir of sofas everywhere, by way of flamethrower. Because as we’ve established, Lupin’s kind of a dick. Anyway, he exposits to the audience Jigen that the magical flamey finger was actually a sophisticated back-mounted blowtorch (presumably immune to jostling from the heavy artillery) and the floating was just conveniently placed invisible glass. Then he acts like he’s going to shoot Jigen in the face with his newfound powers.
SO MANY SOFAS UNLOUNGED ON
Jigen’s reaction tells us some pretty fascinating things about Lupin. A big chunk of the episode’s been spent showing the trust and camaraderie these two have against their opponents…and yet, Jigen’s still afraid that Lupin will set him on fire for a laugh. Lupin’s not unlike the Joker here, capricious and playfully cruel, with a strange and violent sense of pride. I’d love nothing more than to see him play as the villain (Fujiko Mine flirts with the idea, but he’s still the sort-of day saver in the end). It’s terribly interesting, but I’m ultimately glad they moved away from this characterization. Villainous protagonists require self-awareness on the creator’s part and, at the risk of sounding cruel, a defter hand at writing than is on display here. But then, the great strength of the concept is how well it takes to different directorial visions, so I hold out hope.
Fujiko visits, looking for the slides, and Lupin jumps out a window trying to get to her (don’t ask). The ensuing head trauma allows him to piece together the solution to the microslides, thus joining the audience ten minutes in the past. Fujiko shows up yet again as the sun dramatically sets, and warns Lupin to be careful when facing Pycal. Then she sends Pycal a message to warn him about the duel, because apparently we were indeed supposed to believe she loves both of them. I sure am invested in her dilemma, what with all the development I was able to see.
Alright, let’s take care of this now. I love Fujiko. I really do. In the hands of the right writer (Yamamoto and Okuda, Miyazaki, even some of the specials) she’s a fun counterbalance to Lupin and a fascinating character in her own right. But she’s also the least consistently written of the five main characters, which has its roots in these early episodes/chapters. Monkey Punch originally set up a gag in the manga where every one-off female character was named Fujiko Mine. So when she became just one person, that left a wasteland of abandoned personalities and backstories, as well as a character without a real sense of identity (at another time I will enact a lengthy tongue bath over what a great year 2012 was for the character).
In the last episode she was a coy traitor. Here she’s a lovelorn bystander. Next time she’ll be a singleminded treasure hunter. It’s not that these traits are necessarily mutually exclusive, but there’s no guiding light. Does she love Lupin, or is he an easy stepping stone to her personal gain? How often does she use sex appeal versus her wits? Is she a cold manipulator, or self interested but still a team player, never leaving Lupin in a mess he can’t work out of? These have all been true over the history of the franchise (never mind her multiple physical redesigns). It makes her easy to single out as a weak point in the writing even for casual fans, which is a shame for a character that has the potential to be so great. But I digress. There’s not really a solution to be found on this one besides picking and choosing your writers. Isn’t that depressing.
Back at the part of the plot that involves semi-convincing conflict, Pycal is ready to react to Fujiko’s words and goes rushing off to a Field in the Middle of Nowhere. Apparently he owns a plane, because it was the ‘70s and why not. He takes the trouble of flying it to Lupin’s location, then jumping out and landing on the roof of Lupin’s en route
car. Apparently he really is a magician, because in the next shot he’s made it into the back seat, and none of the windows appear to be broken.
Also, Lupin has a second index finger instead of a thumb. Somebody call Ripley’s
To his credit, Pycal spends very little time gloating before shooting Lupin in the back of the head. Apparently nobody told the beatnik on audio that this would be happening, because the soundtrack turns into a horrified scream for a few seconds afterwards, complete with flashing black stills. Pycal escapes the car, conveniently missing the lack of brain matter all over the front windshield. But then, this was before Pulp Fiction, so how was he to know?
Turns out that even with magical invincibility sunscreen (did I spoil it?) a bullet to the back of the skull will still knock you silly. So Lupin sinks to the bottom of the sea in his ruined car. There, he hallucinates mermaid-Fujiko breaking up with him and squid-Jigen saving his brain-rattled hide. There’s probably some delightful symbolism about Jigen’s help being represented by the thing Lupin’s supposed to be terrified of (his own fear of weakness and growing reliance on versus ordering of Jigen, perhaps?) while Fujiko and her words of affection are an unattainable mythical creature, and the fact that Jigen’s the one who comes to his aid while repeating his ‘women can’t be trusted’ schtick. But I’m more perplexed as to how Jigen pulled him out from the totally sunken car despite still being (in reality) on the extremely elevated highway above where Lupin crashed.
SYMBOLISM. Or possibly just drugs
Because it’s only happened twice before, back at Pycal’s cabin we have yet another instance of Lupin Explains it All: the slides are a formula for a godmode sunscreen that deflects heat and bullets, though unfortunately it doesn’t last very long. And because Pycal doesn’t understand the Ozymandias school of expositing, he tries once again to use his flamethrower on Lupin. So our hero gets to give the remainder of his speech ON FIRE, looking more than a little like an avenging devil. For being probably accidental, there’s a lot of good fodder for evil!Lupin here.
At this rate I’ll need a counter for ‘terrifying Lupin faces’
The two have a torching battle and Lupin wins by virtue of having a higher SPF on. The not-yet-gang gather round to watch Pycal fall to his death, and as with the death of Bambi’s mother the scene switches before we can have time to contemplate the frailty of human mortality.
Back to vacation home we go, using the show’s first egregious foray into recycled footage as Jigen lays waste to an identical target to the one from the start of the episode. Inside, Lupin (still not understanding no-means-no) is dumped via vase to the head, and Fujiko drives off once it’s clear he doesn’t remember the formula. She’s also clever enough to set up the invisible wall behind her car, and watching Lupin run into it is the funniest thing in the whole episode, in a glorious Wile E. Coyote sort of way. Jigen and Lupin contemplate life, the universe, and everything as the episode ends.
I don’t really have a joke for this. it’s just a nice moment of quiet, well juxtaposed against the flashy slapstick of moments before and the explode-a-thon of the episode as a whole
That puts us two episodes down. If the first is a nearly unwatchable collision of nuclear tankers, this is a trolley that rattles down the hill, losing its cargo but coming to an ultimately unharmed standstill at the bottom. Pycal doesn’t really have much in the way of a character beyond how he functions in the plot, which makes it impossible to buy Fujiko’s supposed feelings for him (incidentally, for a one-off character there’s a rather baffling amount of fanart of the guy – no accounting for taste, I guess). There’s one or two good moments of comedy and a few of the tricks are clever, though they’re bogged down by Lupin’s exposition dumps and the deus ex sunscreen. Worst of all, Lupin still hasn’t stolen a damn thing (the slides don’t count – Fujiko stole those, so she’s our master thief til proven otherwise). Strangely enough, this is one of the few episodes that is directly referenced back to in Red Jacket, with the much better slant of Lupin and Jigen pulling outrageous escapes with Pycal’s tricks.
Look, I’m not saying every episode needs to follow an unshakeable format. That’s a trap the franchise falls into on its own, alas. But these are the first bits of animated Lupin a viewing audience is seeing, and they have no idea what it is they’re in for after two episodes. There’s no connecting story arcs, no similar themes beyond ‘wow, isn’t Lupin a cool guy,’ and no conceivable idea of what the overall goal is beyond puttering around blowing up boring people. A show’s got to have at least one of these. Just one, just a hook to keep the audience coming back out of a burning desire to know what will happen the following week. After this episode the first director was officially out on his ear, the producers seeing the warning signs as well. I’d like to say it’s a shame, but the next episode is actually worse than this one, so they may have been onto something.
NEXT TIME: Unconnected things involving more explosions happen on an island somewhere, Lupin romps through fields of flowers, and the science is extremely confused. Hope to see you there!
“Back at the cabin of solitude Fujiko has escaped, leaving a goodbye note for Pycal. We see Fujiko driving away with tears in her eyes, and I’m honestly not sure what they were going for with this. Because in their shared screen time he kidnaps, tortures, and possibly rapes her, and she pretend seduces him only to attempt murder as soon as his guard is down. Was I supposed to buy an actual romance here? Because you’re doing it wrong. And, break for confused coffee discussion.”
This is definitely the weirdest and vaguest part of the episode. I suppose we are to assume Fujiko and Pycal are old flames of some sort? Maybe she’s supposed to be like Joan Bennett’s masochistic femme fatale in Scarlet Street, who gets off on having her pimp/boyfriend slapping her?
The whole bit with Fujiko being so inconsistently written does come from her originally being several different women in the comics, as you said. In the comic, the Fujiko character is a woman whose brother was murdered by Pycal and she is out for revenge, yet she becomes infatuated with Pycal once he kidnaps and rapes her. I guess that’s supposed to be funny? At least in that context, it’s all black comedy with no attempt at serious drama or romance, but here we’re supposed to feel for Fujiko and take her emotions seriously, believing she’s really torn between an emo rapist/arsonist and the amoral Lupin.
I think what makes the early episodes so off-putting for some is the vague writing. Fujiko’s romance with Pycal. Linda and Lupin’s alleged relationship which only had them playing tag and possibly making love underneath a tree. Linda’s being a “witch” connected to the explosive pink flowers. It’s all underdeveloped, too half-baked for the viewer to make much of a connection with the plot or characters. I love the early episodes in spite of this weirdness since I love the pulp feel, but I do agree that most of them fail at storytelling and character development big time.