You know how you make a crazy person look good? Ensure that everyone around them looks twice as nuts. “The Coming of Goemon the 13th” is about as straightforward as titles get, if with a bizarre aura of retrospective about it. Modern viewers will know Goemon as the living plot device and/or the world’s manliest moeblob, as well as an integral part of Lupin’s adventures. Integral in the sense that if he were left out there would be a pitchfork happy riot, anyway. The trouble with a character who springs from a gimmick (anachronistic samurai! Why not!) is that the writers will always have to think twice as hard about how they fit into the flow of a given narrative. Sometimes this manifests with audience POV-type characters like Fry of Futurama, or fish-out-of-water comedic relief like Starfire of the animated Teen Titans. Inevitably, though, there will be a rash of jokes near the beginning that quickly peter out excepting when the writer needs to explain something to the viewer or thought of a funny one-liner. It’s inconsistent, is what I’m saying, if common enough that you’re likely to unconsciously write it off as status quo.
But that’s really a discussion for another week. First, let’s look at the introduction episode, the one where the writers thought the character would be coolest, and isn’t it nifty how they shake up the established dynamic. Want to watch along? Lupin III Part I is over on Hulu, and older recaps are t0 your right. Goemon Ishikawa XIII is a man who does his training in the traditional way – in the woods, with no one around to help in case of an accident or equipment malfunction. Today, he has an unexpected audience.
Lupin’s playing the part of a talent scout for heroes, happily reminding me of Tiger & Bunny and the stone-cold fact that Lupin is suitable for all crossovers, ever. Even better is watching Jigen play the ‘American’ gunman, which seems to involve cocking his hips to spine-breaking proportions and pumping his fist a lot. All that’s missing is the tan.
It would seem that Lupin’s ego is such that he felt the need to teach this samurai from nowhere a lesson in talent. Goemon makes quick work of Jigen’s bullets, though, prompting a truly magnificent ‘oh, shit face’ from the thief.
Plot to humiliate a random man thwarted, Lupin’s ruse traps him into following Goemon back to his house. There he explains the Zantetsuken, which was made by forging together the three greatest samurai swords. If a Mary Sue could be an object, it would be the Zantetsuken. BUT WAIT, it gets more dramatic. Goemon has been ordered to assassinate a man by the name of Lupin the Third…though he doesn’t know what the guy looks like. If you think that sounds like the setup for an 80s sitcom mixed with Inglourious Basterds, you’d be totally right. It only lasts about three minutes before falling apart, but in the meantime this happens.
I’m still puzzled as to why Goemon uses the English word instead of ‘koibito’ or something equivalent (could be a 70s thing, akin to Lupin using ‘Fujiko-kun’), but it does have an undercurrent of innocent charm to it. This Goemon is a lot less stoic than the later versions of the character will be, but it seems the incredible awkwardness with women is there from day one.
The two thieves beat a hasty retreat, and we see a bit of Lupin the dirty fighter. Challenged the master swordsman to a rooftop duel? Seems legit (sometimes I think Goemon believes he’s in a Kurosawa movie). Then Lupin throws liquid fuel on him, and that’s an actual thing so be afraid. Exposed to air, it immediately catches fire, which works awesomely until Goemon shares the burning love with the thief. The immolation bit is a tribute to the historical legend of the first Goemon Ishikawa, which Lupin helpfully points out for the viewing audience. Since Goemon is Japanese in origin, you can talk about the source material as much as you want without angry Frenchmen beating down your door (not that they know there’s cause for concern yet).
By the way, points for Lupin actually having burn marks under all those bandages, instead of just using the easy visual shorthand. Because we’re still in a bizarro land where Jigen does the research, he tells Lupin about famed assassin “Momochi the Killer,” who was thought dead but was apparently just chilling in the woods training a successor. Much easier before GPS. If you’ve guessed who that successor is, you get golf claps for knowing about the laws of narrative conservation of detail but not much else.
Back at the house of samurai, Goemon is listening to a prepared tape of Fujiko’s voice, which they might want you to assume was prepared for the occasion. I myself wonder if Fujiko is just ahead of the times regarding those weird anime girl alarm clocks. His master breaks in to yell at him, stopping just short of saying “YOU’VE FAILED ME FOR THE LAST TIME,” and Goemon insists that his girlfriendo Just-friends-really hasn’t been the thing distracting him. As you might’ve guessed, this episode is the central point of the argument that the Fujiko Mine anime works as a green jacket prequel. If that’s the case, I’m less focused on the duel of the century than I am suffused by a deep sadness at losing such a cripplingly cute relationship.
Speaking of cute relationships, we’re now in the process of raking that over the coals.
Fujiko’s story is that Goemon saved her from an assassin, then assaulted her as a ‘reward’ for his help (she later turns around and feeds the opposite version of this story to Goemon, in order to force them into a duel). I’m extremely torn on this plot point. On the one hand, sexual assault is a serious, traumatic thing, and given the high amount of victim-blaming that tends to happen it’s important to see portrayals where the listening character isn’t immediately like “well, what were you doing to lead them on?” either directly or implicitly. Even capable individuals can wind up in situations where they’re overpowered or incapacitated. And the chivalric impulse is completely fitting for Goemon, as well.
On the other hand, we have to consider the issue of character consistency, and Lupin has to be hitting the stupid pills pretty hard for this to work. He knows that a) Fujiko is pretty capable of taking care of herself, b) points out that she was likely working a con on Goemon, and c) has been privy to multiple instances wherein she works both sides for her personal gain (like, say, the first episode). He’s not even pretending to go along with a backup plan in his pocket, as he does in later adaptations – he’s totally taken in. Did the third degree burns give him mental trauma as well? This is the problem when you try to condense a running gag into one character, boys and girls. Nothing makes sense anymore.
As expected, the setup is a trap ordered by Goemon’s master. But no time to show a harrowing escape – there’s an awkward scene shift to get to! Our wronged samurai is listening in on his master’s conversation with Fujiko, ready to make an old man shish-kebob. Sensing this via good old plot sensitive martial arts awareness, Momochi makes up confesses the terrible story about a certain organization’s (is it HYDRA?) super advanced computer that spat out Lupin and Goemon as assassination targets. He didn’t want to do it though, you guys! It’s just this shady organization forced him to on pain of death.
Thankfully, Goemon isn’t falling for all the trippy 70s imagery, and pegs Momochi as suffering from age-denial. Which…you spent years training a successor just to kill him, thus regaining a title you’ll likely only be able to hold for another few years, at which point your art will die with you? That’s a long stakes game you’re playing there, sir. Momochi escapes, taunting Goemon with the assertion that Lupin would’ve killed him without hesitation. This is truer than he’d anticipated.
Goemon wants to settle things, and Lupin wants to adopt a samurai into his motley crew crime syndicate of three. Then they have a chase over multiple lanes of traffic, leaving the SSK to into the many cars behind it because Lupin hates both one of the world’s rarest cars and civilians. This scene was recreated to pretty breath-catching effect in the special Episode 0: First Contact, but there is (oddly enough) one thing they left out.
I love that little toy, actually. It’s like the paradox of dark Lupin encapsulated in cheap plastic. Behold its cute face and apparent harmlessness, and the liquid burning death squirting from his nose. If only he’d get a boutonniere, he could make a gimmick out of it (Batman reference, drink). Goemon deflects the shot but fails to realize he’s standing on a gas truck, and burning death comes to hundreds of commuters.
No, you don’t get to play that card. All I’m getting out of this is that the news of the Lupin world is run by some insidious 1984-esque government that’s determined to keep the public compliant as it allows a mass murderer to run free for the sake of the entertainment conglomerates of the world, implying that the lives of the individual common man are meaningless if it feeds into a greater sense of spectacle enjoyed by the few granted liberty from social parameters. That’s surprisingly edgy of you, show.
The episode ends with Goemon acting as a precursor to Vegeta, swearing that he alone can kill Lupin before taking it out on some innocent saplings. All I can thing is that they missed a great fourth wall opportunity by not having Goemon cut the camera. Missed opportunity sums things up pretty neatly, actually. There are some good things about the episode, and there’s no way they could’ve had the future clairvoyance to realize what an unspeakably charming team Fujiko and Goemon make, but the episode as a whole has some real pacing problems. It’s this endless, tiring series of escape and rematch, not giving any of them the proper time to build into a sense of grandeur or real tension. If anything, what this one needed was some streamlining. Let me get my time machine, and I’ll go tell them.
NEXT TIME: We ignore the awesome samurai in favor of dead mobsters, and I’m completely flabbergasted to realize one of the cheapest narrative tricks in the book hasn’t been pulled out yet. But on the bright side, Jigen doesn’t disappear for half the episode. Hope to see you there!