I spent this week’s recap struggling not to scribble a hearty Mirrorverse beard on my computer screen, because today’s episode, “A Wolf Calls a Wolf,” (prep your reference shots, because that was one of the names Lupin went by Stateside for a while) stars the anti-Goemon. It’s my only explanation. Of course, this is also the most competently directed episode of the first set, so perhaps I should’ve expected madness. Get out yer handkerchiefs dearest readers, cause we’re about to wave a tearful farewell to director Masaaki Osumi. Then we have to let him back in with a reluctant expression for episodes 9 and 12 (the latter being one I actually like a fair bit). Beyond that, (pre)Ghibli hills as far as the eye can see. Want to watch along from the start? You can find Lupin III Part I on Hulu and past Recaps under the tag.
No sense counting your clever and lighthearted heists before they’re hatched, especially when there’s some A+ scenes yet before us. This week we start with Our Hero(ish) Lupin, who you may recall declared himself able to do anything, failing spectacularly in his attempts to recreate the training montage from Kill Bill. He’s going through all of this to steal the Book of Secrets, which details the forging of the legendary sword Zantetsuken. Then he too can wield the Mary Sue of inanimate objects, or at least fence it for a good price. To be fair, the end result of his training is probably fairly accurate to what the average person would look like after trying the same thing.
Even his blush stickers are bruised
The bandages are obviously to prove a comedic point, since he sheds them almost instantly once he hears that Goemon will be at this challenge as well. But you can’t say ‘it’s for comedy’ and have that be the in-universe reason that something happens (unless you have a meta-type character like Deadpool), so I choose to believe he was trying a sympathy bid to con Jigen into doing the housework. Lupin strikes me as the sort of person who wants absolutely nothing to do with whatever isn’t his current flame of passion, like that asshole roommate who just keeps passing the stack of dishes and eating off of napkins until you finally cave and scrub out the baby mold spores first.
I’m just going to have to get used to this Green Jacket madness where Jigen is in charge of info snooping, even while he has simultaneously put down roots in his couch. He gives us a history lesson on the Zantetsuken – all without moving his mouth, because this episode skimps a LOT on lip flaps even when the speaker’s face i in plain sight – as well as the tidbit that the Book of Secrets was originally stolen by Lupin’s ancestor. And mention of a previous Lupin means it’s time to play ‘This Could Be Cool (in Another Series)!’ One of the tough things about having an escapist-type protagonist (that is, one that the audience likes to fantasize about being instead of as a medium for the emotions of a theoretical situation – a James Bond rather than a James Sunderland) is that they usually tend to have a freakishly polished sense of competence about them. Either they’re insanely skilled and charming (Commander Shepard), or they’re not but people treat them like they are anyway (Bella Swan). And that’s great in some ways, until you have to actually write a narrative. Then it becomes extremely boring, because there’s not a lot that can surprise a perfect character. Good conflict is usually born from a person’s flaws, and the way they change (themselves or the situation) in reaction to challenges.
For Lupin writers this generally tends to translate into playing on his clearly enormous ego to some degree, and observing the ways it gets him into trouble. This can be another character manipulating him via his pride (the subject of one of my favorite Green Jacket episodes), or having him underestimate a situation – which can often work nicely into playing him as a foil to Inspector Zenigata. Blood Seal: Eternal Mermaid (the 2011 TV special) went a step further by toying with the concept of a latent inferiority complex, an idea that I buy 110%: Lupin obsessed over his grandfather’s accomplishments and whether he could ever match up, as well as if the entirety of his life had been spent just trying to chase a ghost. Now, the special didn’t really deliver on these ponderous questions, but let’s imagine it anyway. In a universe where the Lupin creators didn’t spit on the ancestral grave of continuity and incur its Bambino-esque wrath, this could be a downright fascinating character arc. You could take it any number of directions from denial to quest for validation to disillusionment, depending on how heroic or villainous you felt like portraying the thief, and you would have a sense of growth and even real potential change in how he relates to the other members of the core five. For all the people who complained that a show titled The Woman Called Fujiko Mine didn’t have enough Lupin in it, there’s easily material in this theme that could sustain a series (if done by similarly masterful hands). See, now I’ve made myself sad.
STOP TAUNTING ME
Back in the land of lowered expectations, Lupin tells Jigen that he’s not allowed to come on this job as it’s a personal family thing. This is writer speak for ‘Jigen is too competent, so the episode will be half as long if he comes.’ Incidentally, I’m not sure if Jigen’s ‘I don’t get to go’ face is terrifying or heart-pulpingly sad, but I do know I’ll be seeing it the next time I tell my dog he can’t walk with me in subzero temperatures.
Sad puppy or startled ostrich? You decide
With Lupin’s fedora wearing anti-stupid measures disabled, the set switches to the ultimate showdown challenge what-have-you in question. We know that this is evil-Goemon because he’s introduced on a cliff surrounded by crows. Not to mention the shot-reaction-shot of Lupin driving and Goemon EPICLY SITTING is likewise straight out of Kill Bill…or, if you want to be boring about it, the samurai films they’re both drawing from.
Just like this.
Yes, Zantetsuken is powered by crows. Evil crows.
After yet another song extolling the singability of Lupin’s signature pistol, we see him pulling the old ambush-and-replace gambit on one of the Trial’s participants. Luckily this man looks pretty much exactly like our thief to start with, meaning that Lupin needn’t put any actual work into his disguise beyond ‘take everything not nailed to the guy and scowl a lot.’ I’m…also not sure that guy’s still alive, since Lupin hit him in the head with a rock of equal size to his skull. So we can add one more to the Lupin Body Count.
Turns out the other finalists for this extremely exacting, exclusive trial are a drunk, a mop, a hippie, a greaser, and a go-go dancer who’s Totally-Not-Fujiko. No, guys, her name is Fujinami Ginko (throwing it up last name first in this case). That’s not the same at all – there’s extra letters in it. It would seem that some jealous rival was plotting her death via wardrobe, because while her outfit’s extremely cute it also handily showcases every last stab-able and squishy organ. It would seem that she’s actually done her homework on this one, and is the first to best Goemon’s trial. Okay, so all the dudes are in her employ so it’s entirely possible she fake-won, but…just let me have this. I so badly want it to be real. I will clap my hands like a hungry seal at Sea World for as long as I must to have Fujiko actually be a badass swordswoman. Having won, she seems pretty content to enjoy the spoils.
I hope she’s checking for a pulse, because he hasn’t blinked in five minutes
Here’s the thing. Remember when I brought up bizarro-mon? This guy here is it. Over the years Goemon’s had a fairly consistent personality, in that most writers don’t have a strong idea of how to work him into the plot so he ends up as a stoic background prop. What we’re seeing right here isn’t just an issue with later Goemon portrayals, it’s straight up broken from his last appearance. This is the stoic, awkward sword guy. Mister ‘I never touched her, I swear, I just love her so much.’ Girlfriend on a pedestal dude. He likes women in equal proportion to how awkward he is around them – I’m pretty sure it’s what the fangirls find appealing. And I think we’re supposed to buy that he doesn’t recognize Fujiko. Either he is quite dim and suffering the costume-blindness that often afflicts one-off characters, or he’s playing dumb to get another shot with her. And as I am a stoic professional myself, I have no opinions on which one of those it might be. The point being that him taking advantage of the attractive-girl situation isn’t something Goemon, as we’ve seen him before, would do. For the sake of my own broken brain continuity I’ll say he’s trying to impress his yet-another-creeper-Master who’s watching offstage, and is blushing like a madman on the inside while also being ecstatic.
Lupin isn’t so on board with this ship, causing him to accidentally shout the challenge into submission. Goemon knocks him out anyway, because this is the mirror universe and a cheap opening shot is just as good as an honorable duel. Maybe he was frightened by the sudden appearance of Canadian Lupin.
He just wants to be your buddy, guy
Before passing out Lupin’s able to plant a bug on Goemon’s clothes, and listens in on the samurai and his master. Let me condense a chunk of expo-dump for you: Zantetsuken 2.0 is almost done, and Goemon’s supposed to test it out to prove his worth – conveniently, a certain Lupin has snuck in for him to test it on. We know Goemon’s not yet hardcore enough because he doesn’t squeeze defenseless songbirds to death with his bare hands. It would seem Goemon has some weird codependency issue that causes him to devote himself to total assholes. Don’t worry, this one will be dead soon. Tell me about the rabbits, George. Then Goemon can take up with our asshole Lupin. As an aside, when Goemon destroys the bug-that’s-actually-a-bug the sound translates at ear-piercing decibels on the other side, which is a nice touch of realism to go with our samurai and dynamite-aganza.
Trying to figure out what’s what and having left his metaphorical canary-in-a-coal-mine at home, Lupin sneaks into Fujiko’s room. He’s thwarted by floor tacks, but Fujiko’s nice enough to take off her disguise and come out and talk to him about her plan. Or at least, I think she took it off.
Must’ve taken it off between shots. Yeah, that’s it.
Fujiko proves not only that all of the Trial participants are in her employ, but also that she’s a master quick change artist. After rifle-whipping Lupin into unconsciousness, she heads to a drop point for automatic weapons. That sounds like the kind of subtle tactics that our lady thief is fond of, right?
One does not wear the same scarf to raid as they do to taunt.
Also color consistency is hard
They shoot their way down to the super-secret cave basement where the Book of Secrets (which is actually a collection of scrolls) is stored. They almost make it, but it turns out that the guy who could cut bullets can still cut bullets. It’s also the weirdest have your cake and eat it violence cut I’ve ever seen. Goemon bisects a guy with his sword, spray of awkwardly colored blood included…and then the body falls to the ground in one piece, no muss no fuss. I’m gonna file this under the ‘continuity is hard’ section, because of the extra effort a blood puddle would’ve required. He lets Fujiko go, because he still loves her he doesn’t kill women. She teases that she might cause him trouble later if he lets her go, and he has this adorable unfitting smirk on his face when he tells her to get lost, and why don’t they interact more in other adaptations you guys.
I’m cool. I’m good. Serious, analytical approach to classic media is back on. Fujiko is a smart lady, so she cuts her losses and runs. Also, her scarf changes back to yellow before she leaves, because raiding time is over and a fashion faux pas is serious business.
And that was episode se-oh, there’s still ten minutes on the running time. In the commotion Lupin steals the scrolls, which are actually dynamite set to explode. Which he was apparently holding for the whole of the last conversation. Either they had the world’s longest fuse that Lupin somehow failed to notice, or they lit magically out of pride that Goemon was calling attention to them. If he hadn’t come in time, would they’ve just exploded while Goemon was sitting there looking cool? Because that would’ve ruined the effect somewhat. In yet another moment of nonsensicality the samurai takes time to gloat about tricking Lupin (you know, the cut-first-words-later guy), so he gets buried in debris and gives Lupin time to sneak up on the bastard of the week. And so Goemon’s master relates the secrets of involved in the Book of, or at least how they came to be: 25 years ago, y’see, Lupin’s dad made a habit of taunting strange swordsmen on mountains while wearing the worst mullet-top hat combo ever, presumably also multitasking the difficult job of ignoring his infant child. Papa Lupin severed the Master’s sword with only a dagger, thus lighting a burning desire for self improvement in the man. And by self improvement, I mean ‘he stole Papa Lupin’s dagger to gain the Plot Powers of the Lupin line.’ Yeah, that’s right. Turns out the Mary Sue of blades wasn’t JUST forged from three of the most legendary blades in history. It was the dagger that made it really special, because no one can be more awesome than a Lupin. Am I watching a show or reading atrocious fanfiction?
It’s not as bad as all that in the long run, though. Goemon declares that since his master stole the secret of the scrolls he doesn’t have any more right to them than Lupin, and that the two will have to duel for possession of the Book. As we discussed several pages ago, Lupin is terrible and bad at kung fu (look, an intentional character flaw! They’re trying!). What he’s not bad at is out-thinking the competition by playing the fool, something this battle shows off to pretty great effect: Lupin gives the old man the run around while triggering Bugs Bunny style traps on him, eventually landing him in a pit. The entire battle is one of visual opposites, with the straight lines and harsh movements of the old man versus the rounded armor lines and almost skipping run that Lupin’s rolling with. It’s excellent visual shorthand for an old concept.
A quick lesson in comedic history: dating all the way back to Shakespeare (if not earlier), one of the rock-solid conflicts of comedy is flexibility versus rigidity. Comedy lives in the subversion of order and expectation, and more often than not it embodies that in its hero. Lupin has an almost rubbery physicality, particularly in later versions, and a fondness for flouting social conventions. I don’t just mean the thieving, but his approach to human interaction as well: he’s a downright internet troll in some incarnations, he’s as content to walk around naked as he is in his stylin’ suit, and he’s more than comfortable cross-dressing or flirting with men and women if it gets him what he’s after. He’s absolute freedom, which is a big part of what makes him so appealing.
Goemon hands over the scrolls, insinuating that he’ll be
taking up stalking waiting for Lupin to duel him.
And like the borderline sociopath he is, Lupin vowed to collect that man
Because this show suffers 50 First Dates style bouts of amnesia, the duel of destiny actually starts up less than a minute later. And the last few minutes of this episode proceed to be completely awesome, in the most unquantifiably heart warming way.
Except this bit. WHY ARE YOU A BOBBLE HEAD?
It’s less an honorable duel than Goemon falling into a hole, beginning the long tradition of his serving as straight man (except in Red Jacket, where he’s a gloriously sarcastic straight man). This hole exists so that Lupin can give him a hand out of it, and I will give it more credit than it deserves by pegging the whole thing as a metaphor for Goemon breaking free of his meaningless assassin lifestyle by bumbling into the thief’s life.
Elsewhere, more driving ensues. Jigen’s back, by the way. Remember him? The writers finally did. He’s just in time to bear witness to the sword-versus-SSK showdown, AKA example 837 of how Lupin despises his car. They play tag with deadly weapons before collapsing into a pile of new-BFFs, and the only way I can even begin to share this awesomeness with you is visually.
Commentary after I gather up my melted heart
The ending of this episode, as well as episode 12, are so great that they make me mourn a bit for what Osumi might’ve done in the future. Not that I forgive him for working out his directorial kinks on the truly awful start of Green Jacket, but there’s a glimpse of the truly appealing character interaction I love mixed in with the weird psychedelia and cutthroat violence. I can only assume these were the moments Shinichiro Watanabe was speaking of when he said Osumi’s Green Jacket inspired him to make Cowboy Bebop. For that, all flaws aside, I tip my hat to the man.
NEXT TIME: A challenger appears! The very first taste of Miyazaki-Lupin involves cursed card deck, the introduction of Lupin’s calling cards, the A-Team coming together, more charm and warmth than you can shake a stick at, and the triumphant return of our favorite lawman. Hope to see you there!