The infallible information source Wikipedia quotes Shinichiro Watanabe as being inspired by Masaaki Osumi’s Green Jacket when he was working on Cowboy Bebop. This is the episode that sells that idea for me, and not just because I can’t bear to imagine a director I respect so much drawing strength from the Formula One episode. The title of this week’s episode, “Killer Sings the Blues,” really clinches the comparison. You know, besides the Spike-Lupin, Jet-Jigen, Faye-Fujiko comparisons. Want to watch along? Episodes are here and previous recaps are here.
They brought back the beatnick-timed-explosion combo for this week’s opening, and wouldn’t you know it? I actually found myself feeling a little nostalgically fond. Which is odd, because I spent an age dragging my feet on this recap. ‘Ugh, didn’t we just escape this guy?’ my persistent procrastination practices seemed to grumble (perturbedly). We were indeed graced just last week by newly minted head Hayao Miyazaki, but don’t let me lazy inner monologue get to you. Other than the fact that it benches Fujiko to damsel duty for pretty much the entire episode (an admittedly sizeable but), this shows a real ‘what-could’ve-been’ shine for Osumi. You can almost hear him saying ‘fire ME, will you? I’LL SHOW YOU with quality output that was missing in consistency before when it would’ve been useful. SO THERE.’
We start in the procedural style, with our guest of the week and a total stranger discussing what’s about to go down with the plot. A hitman’s hit town and is looking for Fujiko, saying his life depends on seeing her again. His name is Poon, which is perhaps the most unfortunate thing this episode could’ve possibly done. This is the guy we’re hanging the episode’s emotional hat on. I imagine you, my dear readers, might have been mature enough to go right for the sexual reference that would’ve made Monkey Punch proud. But I’m stuck some distance back, on the fact that it’s a name that makes every single character forced to speak it sound not unlike a very shrill Pokemon. Especially Fujiko, since most of her dialogue this episode calls for a plaintive and keyed-up note. Poon is not a name you can insert into serious conversation, particularly if that conversation is in Japanese. Then again, as a child I was incredibly attached to a group of characters with names based on (at best) vegetable puns, so what do I know?
Back with our main cast, Lupin and Fujiko are having a date-drive, which will increasingly seem like the only place such things are allowed in the world of Green Jacket. They’re also going around hairpin turns way over the speed limit without seat belts, but it’s cool – as we know, Lupin’s bones are made of rubber. Not to mention most cars made in the 70s were screaming metal death traps. The real purpose of this scene is to showcase what will become a more-or-less standard state for their relationship. And considering how much shit I gave Osumi for certain Really Terrible attempts at writing ‘romance’ for Lupin (in general and with His Lover Fujiko), I concede that this is an excellently done scene. Lupin makes a pass at Fujiko only to rebuffed. Then he exposits the job for the week, a heist to steal plans for a rare computer chip, and suddenly he finds his efforts a touch more warmly received. Just describing it like that, it’s pretty obvious that a betrayal is going in the mix somewhere. But the dialogue and the performance of the actors come across as genuinely sincere and touching, talking about their relationship as a beautiful moment in the present that washes away any bad blood or past betrayals. While other Lupin projects (Secret of Mamo in particular, as well as Fujiko’s Unlucky Days/The Columbus File) have played up the Lupin/Fujiko romance, they tend to frame it much more in the sense of a traditional eternity-and-declarations love story. And that has its charms, don’t get me wrong, but it never feels as genuine to me as moments like this do. Part of the joy of Lupin and Fujiko as characters is the way that they flout conventions, living outside of society’s rules in ways we wish we could. And their relationship is part of the canon’s bedrock: fish swim, birds fly, Bioware games have good writing, and Arsene Lupin loves Fujiko Mine. But they’re not so much the white picket lovey-dovey types as two waves that keep crashing into each other (and have a great time doing so). And honestly? I find their affection more endearing knowing that they can freely spend time apart or close to other people and yet still feel so strongly when they come together again. That’s unusual, and it’s worth preserving. Oh, but speaking of eternal devotion –
Do I have to explain this? I don’t, right? The dartboard of jilted heartbreak speaks for itself, yes?
Pro-tip: that only works if you actually leave
As you might have predicted this lasts all of five seconds, and Jigen lights up like Christmas the moment Lupin comes in…only to deflate again when he introduces Fujiko as a part of the heist. Something awful apparently went down offscreen, because in contrast to his chivalric cool-speechifying Goemon’s reaction to Fujiko is now rage-slicing a defenseless table. Then he takes his toys and goes home, saying that he doesn’t like involving women with work. His rage must be partially fueled by amnesia, then. Yes, I am determined to crowbar character continuity in if nothing else.
One scene change later we see Lupin breaking into an undisclosed Bad Guy Headquarters (rent ‘em by the week!), and I learn that the Muppets apparently made a big splash with Japanese mobsters.
I had no idea Miss Piggy went through a brunette phase
We’re privy to some pretty nifty camera work in this scene. As the thug dives for his gun we zoom in on it and rotate as the thug’s perspective would, finally coming back over the desk with an (unsuccessful) shot at Lupin. In other words, this is one of the first times the camera is treated as if it were a manipulate-able physical object rather than a static picture frame. Even in today’s anime it’s much more common to see the objects in the world move while the perspective stays objective, so it’s even more supremely cool to see something like this way back when.
Lupin (who’s actually Fujiko, so multiply the awesomeness sixfold) has been acting as a sharp-shot distraction while the real Lupin steals the documents. And while I can’t convey its beauty in screenshots, I would like you to know that Jigen steps off of a warehouse roof and lands in the SSK with a totally nonplussed look on his face. I’m not sure if the fact that it happens without fuss in the background of the frame makes it better or just makes the lack of detail in the animation more lamentable.
Our titular hitman enters in time to bump into Fujiko (who needs to wear Lupin’s suit all the time, seriously), and the shock leads to her getting shot mid-escape. It turns out that Po-Pornstache Assassin PI was once Fujiko’s partner and lover. They were an unstoppable team until the creatively named entity The Organization, presumably having left their robes and nobodies at home (a Tom Selleck reference and a Kingdom Hearts reference in one paragraph…swing for the fences, strike out at the plate), branded Fujiko a traitor and ordered Poon to kill her. By all appearances he was just a really lousy shot and she escaped from her supposed coastal grave, but I don’t think I’d be spoiling much to tell you he hit a glancing blow on purpose.
Back at the hideout Fujiko’s in a bad way, and needs to have the bullet removed pronto. Naturally, at this exact moment P-ersistent Pursuer and his mobster hanger on storm in, taking Fujiko and the documents. Lupin quite rightfully points out that moving a patient already bleeding and in danger of infection with an easily-lost foreign object in their body is not the best course of action, but to no avail. He can only pursue, cutting to commercial with yet more interesting camera tricks.
Back in the less-than-Safe-House, Jigen would like us to know that he definitely doesn’t care what’s happened to that stupid Lupin.
It’s not like I like him or anything. S-stupid
Until the second he calls, anyway. It’s practically this episode’s running gag. Lupin’s trailed his quarry to the wood cabin of villainy that is the only secondary hideout in the Green Jacket verse.
There’s a twenty murder minimum, but the timeshare’s to die for!
Before the final confrontation Lupin needs to fill his ‘Kind of a Dick’ quota, so he challenges Jigen to make a run at the house despite knowing there’s a machine gun poking out the window. Because hey, if they die it just means they weren’t interesting enough to hang out with you, right?
Since they can’t get in and P-rodigious Sunglasses Guy won’t leave Fujiko behind, Lupin comes up with a rather ingenious plan. I’m not sure what pine forest has readily available bamboo lying around, but we’re going to go with it. The thief builds a crossbow and shoots a radio into the cabin, informing the assassins that without surgery Fujiko is going to die. P-robably Not Medically Licensed Assassin refuses to let outside help in, but insists that he’ll do the surgery himself with radio instruction…after he wastes valuable time having a flashback, of course. While I think the idea of the episode is a solid one, is there really a single person, even at the time, who wouldn’t have been able to guess that P-Seriously How Long Do I Have to Avoid This Fucking Name was in love with Fujiko? The structure of the show, with its mysterious-intent, sparse flashback, fractured exposition, third act reveal setup plays the assassin’s affections as if they should be a surprise. But really, it would’ve been a lot more interesting to let it play straight off the bat, and let actual communication occur. It could’ve made for a better version of the Pycal love-conflict (using that word as loosely as possible in this case), and might’ve been an effective tool to examine Fujiko’s growth and change. The scene of Lupin coming to terms with his genuine feelings for the lady thief is a nicely understated one, effective in isolation if a bit baffling when compared to its prominent accepted state in previous episodes, but it leaves me wanting more. It’s not the story that’s wrong, it’s the framing.
Everybody drank the tsundere kool-aid!
This episode also marks the advent of five-minute Goemon (relatively speaking), who shows up to deliver the surgeon’s tools and promptly bows out of the episode again to the tune of a bamboo-flute sting. He’s resigned to his place already, it seems.
But he provides mood music free of charge!
Thankfully, Lupin has no intent of actually coaching commuter surgery, and uses the tools as an opening to sneak into the house to retrieve Fujiko. Because if it was a bad idea to move her before, it’s definitely a way better one after hours of infection setting in! P-Dude is ready to shoot Lupin to keep Fujiko by her side, only to find that she’s equally willing to put a bullet through his chest protecting the thief. And with this somber realization that Fujiko is willing to go so far for one man (in spite of her opportunist nature), even against someone she once cared for, we cut to…a seizure inducing nightclub.
Like Commander Shepard, the one thing Lupin can’t do is dance
It goes down like status quo says it must, with the added ‘well duh’ level: perhaps, Lupin, hitting on a woman post lover-murder would not be the most opportune time to get lucky? And the episode ends with Fujiko on the docks, staring out into the sea. The effect they’re going for (quietude in the midst of a raucous lifestyle) is somewhat lost by the club music in the background, and the fact that this is just a two minute tag after the already effective shooting scene. Were they afraid that, since the show as a whole was trending that way, they couldn’t leave the episode without some kind of gag?
As a whole, this episode leaves me torn. There’s a lot of excellent elements that make me say ‘yes, I absolutely want to see more of this show’: there’s some stylish direction in the action scenes, the concept for the episode is bittersweet and intriguing, Lupin’s finally achieved a medium where he can be ruthless while still having an element of audience sympathy, and jealous-Jigen is one of the things I truly lament losing in the Miyazaki run (where he’s rather nondescriptly the able-shadow slash right hand of Lupin’s plots). On the other hand, Fujiko has regressed from member of the team to object being won (barring the awesome disguise scene); and the execution is cut down by the limited budget. Witness! Fujiko falling through the air in the same position, as if they couldn’t afford to animate her being affected by gravity and instead just dragged one image along the background! More than that, the fact that they clearly couldn’t afford to animate a wider variety of flashbacks sort of kills that kind of episode. The idea of a history-mystery is that unknown actions in the present are gradually revealed by pieces of the past: the first glimpses are vague, and then we see more and more elements of the picture over time until clarity is afforded. But they couldn’t do that, so instead we just watch the same cliffside shooting over and over until the director feels it’s been adequately beaten into our heads.
To return to the Cowboy Bebop affair, I can understand how an episode like this would be inspiring. There’s many good ideas stymied by the limitations of the time, and it seems that Watanabe knew just what to lift. He even uses the flashback setup I was discussing above to great effect in the two-parter “Jupiter Jazz” (my favorite episodes of the series). And for all of its flaws and all of my gripes, knowing that it would give birth to something so great? I can’t help but think fondly of this episode in the end.
NEXT TIME: A counterfeiter who makes legendary forgeries, you say? And he lives in a clock tower? Where have I heard this setup before…? Hope to see you there!