And now, one of the first works of animation spearheaded by an unknown director named Hayao Miyazaki. He and his future Ghibli-partner Isao Takahata were brought on to inject fresh life into Green Jacket’s abysmal ratings (with original director Masaaki Osumi coming back for two more episodes). I’ve been waiting for these. While Osumi’s episodes range from fascinating trainwrecks to having their own weird if inscrutable charm, watching the Miyazaki run is like seeing a master in training. They’re fun, sharply written, creative, and make the BEST use of Fujiko. And yes, maybe I will propose marriage. If you’d like to watch along, you can find Lupin III Part I on Hulu and previous Recaps under the tag. Let’s get started, shall we?
Even the episode’s title, “The Gang’s-All-Here Playing Card Strategy” sounds like the shows been dying for this moment to arrive – so much so that they had to cram as many excited words in there as possible). We open on a soon-to-be-mark in what will become the classic Lupin tradition: he’s fat, surrounded by ungainly wealth, and his head was pulled from the womb by extremely vigorous forceps. This cranially deficient megalomaniac is named Mr. Gold, which on the cleverness scale is right up there with naming your villain “Mal.” He’s counting his money and cooing over his Plot Coupon, a deck of cards that supposedly brings luck. But Lupin calls and is kind enough to warn Mr. Gold that he’ll be relieving the man of his treasure.
Get your diplomas and your cheap alcohol, because we’ve finally graduated from “thief” to “gentleman thief.” Up to now there’s been a serious lack of focus in the series, which is a mixed bag. On the one hand it allowed for spontaneity in the narrative, without the necessity of the heist formula that Red Jacket would eventually become super glued to. And on the other hand, the early stuff is so all over the place in tone, style, and objective that there’s no real reason to keep coming back. If later series and specials fall into a rut of routine then the second half of Green Jacket is that formula’s new-car smell, with the jobs spanning any number of setups or careening off into totally different paths after an initial or planned theft (as some of the best Lupin episodes do). It’s a comfort food strategy to be sure, but when competently executed a gathering of stand-alone adventures are nothing to sneeze at.
Following the title card the scene changes to the night of the heist, where an elaborate soiree is being held. Because that’s what you want to do when you’re trying to protect your valuables. Invite a lot of strangers over and house them in a room with multiple exits. And no, the police guard is not enough. Not even the guy standing on the rough in the bright red trench coat.
Lupin is no match for the power of the Canadian Mountie
Not to mention the fact that Zenigata now gets to be a permanent fixture in the cast, after only showing up in two of the seven preceding episodes. This will mean that his competence will eventually start taking a hit, but nothing is perfect. Except Inspector Koichi Zenigata, the World’s Greatest Cop.
I see you’re here to ignore – is that logic? NEVER LEAVE
Here we see a common trope that seems to exist only so our heroes can get away with the heist – the victim never listens to the police that they themselves called over. Ever. Ugh, they seem to think. These people I asked to protect my precious valuables are cramping my style. Can’t they just INVISIBLY keep anything bad from happening? And unlike many cases (even on this very show) of this concept proceeding on its merry way, here it’s got a kinda-sorta explanation. I don’t know if you’d believe this, but the coneheaded guy with the enormous mansion and clearly legitimately-gotten-gain isn’t exactly on the up and up in the business world.
But wait! Before we go on there must be a very important history lesson, one of my favorite oddities of anime. This isn’t quite on the level of Joan of Arc being a magical girl or Cesare Borgia being possessed by a demon, but ‘magical playing cards causing Napoleon’s victory streak’ is pretty great in its own right. It wasn’t general Winter the brutal cold fronts that have warded off nearly every invasion in Russia’s history! He just lost his magical cards. It’s like historical revisionism with 70% more YuGiOh.
The fish lady knows what I’m talking about
Zenigata saves us all by serving as a Lupin alarm clock. While it technically counts as fairly ham-fisted exposition, I am completely in love with the way the good Inspector talks about Lupin in this scene. He makes these grand pronouncements about Lupin’s talents at disguise and safe cracking, and it feels less like telling the audience ‘these are things we haven’t used on the show yet’ and more prideful boasts of ‘this is how great and awesome my rival is, so show some respect.’ This is the road that will eventually take us to Zenigata’s life totally falling apart when rendered Lupin-less (The Fuma Conspiracy, Farewell to Nostradamus), and it’s one of the most endearing facets of his character in the right hands.
I’m a fan of personal taste allowance,
but if you don’t love this man I must conclude you’re wrong
Lupin declares that he’s already stolen the cards so that Gold will open the safe himself, his eyes wide as a child on Christmas morning after a hearty dose of LSD.
My God, it’s full of cards
And speaking of introducing aspects of the canon that will become favorites of mine, we have our first instance of Girlpin. He’s cleverly observed that no one notices the beautiful girl until after she’s taken off her glasses.
Learned the lesson of every makeover movie ever
Points off for having Zenigata ordering Lupin be shot (ah, so that’s where Fujiko Mine took it from). I choose to rationalize this, in light of the previous glowing compliments, as Zenigata unconsciously believing the thief to be bulletproof…and able to fall several stories safely. Yeah, that’s it.
Speaking of important character traits, Lupin shows his first hints of Robin Hoodery. He took the cards not so much to win Fujiko’s favor but because he couldn’t stand Gold’s faux-gentleman airs. While it doesn’t differ too hugely from his previous ‘eh, I felt like it,’ school of motivation on the surface, it does explicitly lay out a line that he won’t cross. It makes it okay for us as the audience to root for him without guilt, knowing that he’ll only target people who can take the hit or who deserve it in some way. Plus Gold uses cute children to deliver bomb flowers, so it’s on.
Jigen keeps a spare Lupin inside his hat for emergencies
Insidious bomb flowers that blow a person up and…somehow require only leg casts and traction and not full body burn treatment. But that wouldn’t be as exciting for a hospital escape! It’s like that scene with Chekov in Star Trek IV, except with less Cold War and more Hitlerstache doctors wielding submachine guns.
Eyeless Jigen wins this week’s terrifying screenshot by a country mile
They eventually sneak out by hiding Jigen in a coffin, which mob hospitals apparently keep just lying around. It also gives me the opportunity to remind you, my dear readers, of the number one rule of Lupin III: context is for the weak.
No guys, we can’t pretend he was my brother. Fiancée or bust
Most of the rest of the episode could be summed up with car driving and “Yakkety Sax” in the background.
It seems every time Lupin and his merry gang try to settle down with their prize the cops are hot on their trail. Jigen is increasingly certain the cards are cursed, but Fujiko won’t hear of it. But it totally makes sense you see, because she hallucinated the deck’s Joker telling her she was fated to have them. I’d like to point out that it was snowing out, and she’s not the sort of gal that dresses in hypothermia-resistant clothes, but let’s roll with the acid trip. It’s a good bridge for directorial transition.
One deck to rule them all
The gang splits up to try and shake the cops, agreeing to meet back up at a mountainside safe house. Fujiko and Jigen wind up cornered inside in a situation very like an Inspector-flavored zombie apocalypse. Those two would kill each other within the week, or be the best reluctant team ever. But I digress – the cards are indeed bad luck, on account of the Ace having a tracking chip inside (ace in the hole, I see what you did there). But it’s a bit late to be finding that out now, with nowhere left to run. Gold, being a Close Personal Friend of the police commissioner, sees fit to take command of Zenigata’s operation and orders the not at all thuggish cops to storm the house.
On a distant cliffside Goemon, who has spent most of the episode speaking in the language of emphatic eyebrow wiggle, accuses Lupin of not caring about the whole tear gas zombie-thug-cop invasion going on below. And because we’ve established previously that Lupin is Kind of a Dick, he plays it completely nonchalant. I’m not sure if this is a testament for Lupin’s deliberately poor communication skills or against Goemon’s observational abilities, because Lupin’s pretty obviously planning something tree-related during the whole conversation. Regardless, Goemon storms down to the house to do some Day Saving…after Jigen does most of it first.
They saved their pennies and dimes for this baby
Goemon’s entrance doesn’t get half the frames that Jigen’s burly brawl did, so he ends up appearing vampire-style from nowhere with some cool hero-type dialogue that he was probably practicing the whole way over.
The stoic speechifying is cut short by Lupin’s rescue plan…that wasn’t on Goemon’s back when he walked off. And we don’t see Lupin or anyone else touch him on the way here. Sure, why not.
Maybe next time, Goemon
Outside, Lupin sneaks his way in disguised as Gold and carries out his plan. Why charge your way heroically through the barricades when you can fly your allies away on a kite? I’m pretty sure something with that much mass would need a lot more run up and resistance than one car, no matter how fast it was driving, but it’s sweet and I can’t bring myself to care because I am an enormous hypocrite. Fujiko’s hallucinations start again as the cards thank her for saving them from Gold and fly off into the breeze, thus bringing our episode to a close.
This is a strong foot forward for the fledgling show runners – the heist leads to a unique set of circumstances rather than the formula dictating the whole of the episode, all five main characters are given a chance to shine in their own right, and there’s both good comedy and action bits (the Jigen fight scene might look like nothing special today, but the smoothness of it for the time is pretty incredible!). One bone I have to pick before we move on, however, is Zenigata. Well, not exactly a bone as an odd and staring ‘bwuh.’ I was one of the people who, on first watch of The Woman Called Fujiko Mine, couldn’t believe the audacity of having such a cruel interpretation of Zenigata. But looking at this episode…yeah. It makes a lot more sense, doesn’t it? While it does introduce the first seeds of honest respect and a bit of overzealous foolishness with the cake diving, the good Inspector also has Lupin shot at, indirectly tries to light him on fire, and seems to have no problems letting Gold’s personal police carry on when they have clear murderous intent (and I don’t buy for a second that Zenigata wouldn’t know who was and wasn’t part of his force). He’s dangerously obsessive here, almost Javert-like in his dogged pursuit of the letter of the law.
If this were a later episode of this very series we would have a scene where Gold’s mobster ties are revealed and Zenigata takes him down, commissioner ties and nearby-Lupin be damned. I’m not sad that the series moved away from this interpretation of the character – particularly as it relates to his honorable nature in pursuing what he believes is right versus what the law dictates (see also Voyage to Danger, which Osumi came back to direct funnily enough). It’s a character type that doesn’t fit with the legitimizing of Lupin’s motives, at least not as far as keeping the balance of the series is concerned (he’s not meant to be the Sheriff of Nottingham, after all). But I do miss the wild card element and the real sense of threat from our technical antagonist, especially when it has the potential to be played as a game of wits between two ambiguous rivals more obsessed with each other than any collateral damage it might cause. But those are pipe dreams for another day and another interpretation in the vast world of possibility that is Lupin III.
NEXT TIME: We try a do-over on the ‘tragic former lover’ angle, wave a reluctant re-hello to Osumi’s directorial style, and witness one of the birthing influences for anime great Cowboy Bebop. Hope to see you there!