A great anime once grew from a novel about a wrongfully imprisoned man. This isn’t it, but there is some pretty absurd facial hair growth in time for Movember. This is the Lupin III Part I Greencap, and I warn you dear readers – you may wish to prepare yourself. Today, four episodes in, our titular thief finally steals something. Prepare the smelling salts.
By the way, the title sequence is going through a bit of an identity crisis. It’s kept the kidnapped beatnik musical track, but also added a voiceover of Lupin introducing the main five. It’s as though someone found the prior episodes to be confusing and non-indicative! It’s also a shocking spoiler for forty years ago, introducing Goemon even though he won’t be joining the can for another two episodes. Editing is hard, I guess. But all my snarking aside, this is an important episode! Let’s call it the ‘no-really-this-time’ pilot.
Episode 4, “One Chance to Break Out,” begin with Lupin and co. preparing to sneak into a heavily guarded industrial building.
Apparently the reason we haven’t seen Lupin thieving it up before is because he’s extraordinarily crap at it. He sneaks his way across some wires only to alert the guards, whom he strings up with what appears to be garrote wire. It’s okay, though. He’s under the impression this will only make them sleep and not, say, suffocate them. So I guess ‘delusional psychosis’ can be added to his list of potential character traits.
Hey Lupin, your dolls aren’t moving anymore
Lupin manages to unearth an enormous chest and hook it up to a crane before getting caught by Zenigata. As Lupin plans go, it’s not the greatest. The cops shoot Lupin full of holes, but it’s okay because they’re actually tranquilizer darts. Whenever I get angry about Zenigata’s characterization in The Woman Called Fujiko Mine, I just remember this scene.
Aside of the spectacular shootout, the heist itself goes off without a hitch. Jigen and Fujiko snag the chest and fly away in a helicopter, not seeming too concerned about their fallen comrade. The two seconds of animation required for a look of concern would’ve been stringent indeed.
No, bad. We’re talking about good things. This is the first episode to exhibit what will become a cemented Lupin tradition (for better and worse). While some stories do center entirely around elaborate heists, just as many begin with an incidental theft only to propel off into some strange other direction (sometimes involving Jesus’ vampire twin sister, just because). It also effectively sets up conflict in under two minutes, showing us Zenigata’s obsession with Lupin much better than his lengthy speech the first time he showed up. Instead of saying ‘it’s my destiny to hunt Lupin, and I’ll catch him no matter what but he’s outwitted me before and we’ve been doing this along time blah blah scenic flower field,’ we learn about him through his actions: he obviously commands a large and efficient force, knows Lupin well enough to make particular provisions for his capture, and his dialogue is considerably far removed from what would be bog-standard for the situation. It’s a good character sketch.
On the way to the prison Fujiko attempts to hijack the armored car carrying Lupin, but is rebuffed via rocket launcher. Like the police force tend to have, generally speaking. Fujiko swears that she’ll save Lupin…because he has the key to the treasure chest. And Jigen, meanwhile, insists they leave him be, since the thief can break out whenever he chooses to. Again, this is good character and dynamic setup. It pinpoints the roles of Lupin’s two partners in just a couple of lines of dialogue, and also highlights the tension between them. It’s not extensive, but a first episode doesn’t have to be. It just has to competently give an idea as to what the audience should expect.
Back in the car, Zenigata (you have no idea how weird it is to call him that) is gloating up a storm, bruising Lupin’s ego. Not just gloating either. Our ICPO man is a sea of smug, not impressed even by Lupin’s powers of levitation.
He doesn’t get those clothes, by the way. Zenigata instead orders them to give Lupin a straightjacket, in a voice indicating this will be dream fodder for months to come. He does let Lupin keep the pants though. Cause, y’know, otherwise this might’ve been a creepy abuse of power.
As it turns out, Lupin is under 24 hour watch as he waits for execution, and he immediately starts screaming that he’s not the real Lupin at all. You might say that death row is an extreme and implausible sentence for a thief. I’ll wait a minute while you scroll back up to the garrote wire picture. Or the remains of the racetrack from Zenigata’s first appearance. Lupin’s got a body count as high as a barrel of putrefying kittens, is what I’m saying. More eyebrow raising is the complete lack of any trial or even the mention of one. I get the feeling Zenigata keeps ‘forgetting’ to call his arrest in to the higher ups.
Actually, I’m not sure that an execution is really in the cards at all (at least at first). Zenigata brings it up as Lupin’s penalty, and we’re treated to a rather disturbing fantasy sequence of a court sentencing (in which Zenigata is the only witness) as well as three different flavors of demise (electrocution, firing squad, and noose, cause Zenigata’s the old fashioned sort). But wait, subtlety! The sequence ends with Lupin crying in fear over his sentence, and that audio keeps on playing as we cut back to the present.
Not exactly the happy face from the ride over. In fact, it’s made clear pretty quickly that Zenigata wants Lupin to escape. That’s not just an interesting character dynamic, it’s a clever setup for the show’s formula. Why, the audience would ask, is this guy still on the case? If he’s supposedly so competent, why hasn’t he put Lupin away and had done? If he just can’t, then he’s too incompetent and eventually a perfunctory irritation of the formula. So, how to strike the balance? Make it a game between the two of them, which lays the bonus groundwork for future exploration of thief and detective as foils.
Speaking of foils, Fujiko and Jigen are outside arguing over whether or not to break Lupin out – for a given value of arguing, anyway. Mostly it involves Fujiko trying to get in with increasingly over the top methods, and Jigen blowing them up. It’s pretty funny, too, by virtue of bigger and bigger objects (grappling hook, ladder, tunnel, helicopter), involving an uncannily exact response (Jigen just has enormous amounts of heavy machinery lying around, it seems) and the same conversation over what appears to be a whole year (which is a clever way to indicate the passage of time, given that it’s unusual for Lupin stories to take place over such a long period).
But where’s our title character during all this? Rocking the Edmond Dantes, of course. It’s been a year, and Lupin’s apparent execution is any day. The plot of this one is pretty slow build and repetitive, if in a generally engaging way. But strangely enough, it kinda works (if mostly in hindsight). The point of the episode is to wind up Zenigata and show his relationship to Lupin, and by the time he’s losing it it’s genuinely fascinating. If this can be marked as the character’s first ‘real’ appearance, it’s a good one. I, as the viewer, am invested in this relationship.
The name of the game for this episode, it would seem, is tsundere (years before the term came into common archetypal parlance). You have Zenigata crowing about execution then begging someone to rescue Lupin, Fujiko claiming she just needs the key only to tearfully mourn Lupin’s apparent demise, and Jigen quietly freaking out despite claiming Lupin could break himself out. After a year of waiting around for Lupin to get himself out of prison, Jigen finally decides the plot’s not gonna work without him.
I forgot to mention the Buddhist monk driving round the prison in increasingly fancy cars, mostly because he’s just there to be Jigen’s plot device. Now I’m wondering about that guy, though. Somebody tell me the adventures of the corrupt Buddhist monk, making his plush way to the top on the backs of condemned criminals and compliant cops. A sordid tale of the corruption of man and the calamity of the then-current era. No? Alright, moving into the second half then.
Jigen sneaks into the prison in an attempt to break Lupin out, but the thief’s having none of that. They do manage to have another one of their psychic conversations through the window of the cell, though. I’m beginning to wonder if Jigen’s actually part-Vulcan. It’s moments before the big execution, and we’re ready for our big twist. WHICH IS-
-actually pretty clever. A lot of Lupin stories focus on his abilities with strange and unexpected gadgets, like James Bond on the wrong side of the tracks. But if that’s all you see him use, is he really that special? It could be any schmuck, if they had the right points of access. What makes Lupin special is that he’s not just clever but resourceful, able to twist his own body into any disguise or any utility that suits him. It makes him a bucket of surprises as a protagonist, and makes Zenigata’s paranoia credible. We can now accept whatever he uses in the future, because we know any toys are just icing on top of an extremely hairy cake.
One of the guards is sent into the cell to grant Lupin’s last request for a shave (during which Lupin is a-okay with threatening casual murder) and is made a stand-in for our thief. Of course, since Lupin’s spent an entire year hollering about being a fake, who’s going to believe it when it actually happens? Just enjoy the foresight, and ignore the part about sending an innocent man to his death (our hero!). Zenigata catches him out for not knowing the prison uses an electric chair (ooh, look, a formidable antagonist!), but it doesn’t matter – Lupin still has time to escape, unless of course the credible cop wants to see one of his own men fried.
Meanwhile, on a shore somewhere:
At last Lupin reveals his motivation – being captured humiliated him, and he wanted to show Zenigata the same feeling by thwarting him at the very instant of his victory. So, what do we know about our main character? He’s resourceful, not a bit opposed to murder, intelligent and a diligent planner, and freakishly petty about his pride. He’s also pretty callous about the whole companionship thing, since he lets Fujiko figure out he’s alive on her own and does exactly nothing to reassure Jigen about the escape thing. Not exactly the cuddliest hero, but unpredictable enough to want to watch.
Oh, and about that whole treasure thing. Well, it was buried in a forest a year ago.
This little one minute of footage goes a long way to balancing out the tone of the episode, for those not so interested in the cool coolness of a hardened criminal. Sure, Lupin accomplished his goal to embarrass Zenigata, but by waiting a whole year he lost the treasure that got him arrested in the first place. Prideful, sure, but the pride’s ultimately a downfall. And what about his reaction? Are we to bear witness to more hair-trigger rage and well-orchestrated revenge? Does he berate Jigen for not keeping an eye on the treasure? Nah. They laugh and flail off into the sunset together. Because at the end of the day, it’s never come down to them having to choose the prize or their partnership. It’s a little shred of humanity, and it’s a great hook to end things on.
How do you make a successful first episode? You choose an adventure that showcases your hero’s skills, introduce the main players and the basics of their roles/personalities (through action rather than exposition), and you give an idea as to the bigger concepts that might get explored down the line. Most importantly, you give the ending a hook to come back to. But then, if things had started out with this episode, Miyazaki might’ve never been called in to save the day at all. Insert profound comment here, since I’m busy imagining how great 2014 is gonna be.
NEXT TIME: Introducing the last member of the crew and living plot device, Goemon Ishikawa! Because, as I believe we can all agree, sword vs. gun fights are cool. Oh, and we should probably talk about balancing casts and the completely different personality too. Hope to see you there!