I think this episode, “When the Seventh Bridge Falls,” might be as close as we’ll ever get to Miyazaki-directed Sherlock Holmes (putting aside the one he already did, which had the added bonus of cute anthropomorphized animals)…and yes, let us all be aware that the title phrase never appeared once in any of the original Holmes stories. That aside, this episode is something of a weird transitional moment where we, as the audience, are meant to move from a mindset of “oh, Lupin decided to blow up bridges this week? I wonder what wacky ploy this is part of,” to “blowing things up and causing dozens of deaths? Why, Lupin would never do such a thing. Treachery is afoot!” Want to watch along? Episodes are here and previous recaps are here.
What’s even weirder is that Zenigata, who quite loudly defended his rival’s honor in his last appearance, seems totally ready to believe this turn of events – not that I blame him, mind. Lupin’s body count is well into the hundreds by this point. Ah, but there’s a rub: the bombings have been going on, in what is either the canal city of Venice or its far less litigious sibling Benice, for days.
Ignoring the weird, Walter White-esque physique Lupin’s design has acquired in this (and only this) scene, what we proceed to see is a lot more like the shoe-examining scene from Sherlock’s “The Great Game.” Lupin’s marked out all the bombed bridges on the map, and out of nowhere starts prodding Jigen with hypotheticals about the next bombing. When Jigen doesn’t take the bait, Lupin brings up the approaching armored truck delivery, which delivers a hefty sum of the city’s finances on a monthly basis. Lupin asks which route it should take, since its intended route went poof with the first bridge. Lo and behold, the bombings leave only a specific and vulnerable path for the truck to take.
It’s a neat scene that highlights some well done visual story telling. We’ve seen Lupin do some pretty insane stuff before. At least as many of his plans involve him being about six steps ahead of his opponent in a very Batman-like way, while the other half involve that mad changeability and Joker-ness that I’ve harped on before. The point is that the plot very rarely feels compelled to show us how Lupin has figured things out, or what lengths he’s gone to in order to make fools of the competition (Cagliostro does this exquisitely with another scene in another one-bed room, where Lupin makes the false ring in plain sight but without commentary, saving it from being an insult to the audience’s intelligence and yet serving as clear foreshadowing in hindsight). Even Miyazaki’s first episode skimped on the details, preferring to play on the gang’s misinterpretations of Lupin’s movements until the heroic day saving came about. Having a deductive scene serve as Lupin’s introduction into this episode serves to give the audience important exposition while also making us privy to the thief’s thoughts. It also tells a great deal more than it speaks. Lupin is a smug bastard, lest we forget, something that goes on to get him in trouble with the villain of the week. And his interactions with Jigen serve as a pleasantly subtle reminder of this fact: he knows damn well what the plan is before he ever opens his mouth, and knows the information he prompts Jigen for as well; and yet he prods Jigen through the thought process just so he can have the satisfaction of explaining it. Thus do the two set out to find the bomb in the next targeted bridge, and to follow the bomber back to his lair.
Bless his heart, Jigen (like John Watsons both before and after him) is a straightforward guy, and isn’t the least bit ruffled by being led through his mental paces. Which is good, since he spends an unusual amount of time Watson-ing his way through this week. Previously able to read Lupin’s thoughts by a look or the jerk of his head, this Jigen is stone-cold dense about everything that’s going on, so that Lupin can do more smart people explaining. It’s not something I mind in small doses, since Jigen isn’t nearly the tech guy or nonlinear thinker that Lupin is (though he must have some talents that way, given the number of elaborate roles he carries out with little to no instruction from his partner), but it’s really obtrusive in the first half of the episode. He’s been struck, in other words, by the ranker parts of audience POV syndrome. Someone has to be as clueless (or more) than the audience, giving the character who is in the know a chance to explain what’s what. It’s not a fun role to have, and played up to frequently it almost always leads to a loathing of the afflicted character by the audience. To which I say, at least Jigen’s is sparing and couched in dialogue fitting his character.
Today that character is “Sailor Wolfman”
Anyway, that lair. It’s a stately mansion, and Lupin sneaks in only to be caught pretty much immediately. This scene is caught between the limitations of the time (the ceiling tile that must be animated as Lupin enters the rafters is a conspicuously lighter shade of purple than the rest of the ceiling), and a cute piece of visual snark (there’s a convenient peephole into the villain’s layer…that he built, the better to trap Lupin with). And once he has Lupin trapped, our Saturday cartoon villain (lest we forget that Miyazaki did not always have stunningly rounded antagonists) declares that merely stealing Lupin’s name to pull off the armored car robbery is no longer enough. Nope, the nameless but crazy old dude wants Lupin to carry out his years-in-the-making plan. And, considering how well he’s channeling Snidely Whiplash, of course he has an innocent girl (not Fujiko for once!) tied up in a ridiculous death trap if Lupin refuses.
Lupin’s interactions with the girl have a bit of a chivalric vibe, something Miyazaki is clearly more comfortable working with than the lechery angle. While there are a few seduce-the-girl moments in his run, by and large any girls-of-the-week tend to be younger and way less sexually drawn than the Osumi episodes would’ve done. It feeds into the controversy that Miyazaki de-fanged Lupin as a character, though I think it lends him more cohesion. There’s still something of a sense of charm about him, while also funneling any overt romantic gestures into his mutual flirtation with Fujiko. Giving Lupin a secondary girl to pursue has proven much more effective (read: less creepy) in the long-form specials, so I’m all props to Miyazaki for cutting it from the half hour format. But back to the matter at hand.
The plan, then, is to force the truck through an abandoned portion of the town that’s been marked for demolition. Dick Dastardly had also planned to blow up the rest of the city’s bridges to cause a smokescreen of panic, but Lupin insists that he’ll do things his way or not at all – and since Dr Claw has pretty obviously planned to murder the girl, take the money, and pin the whole thing on Lupin (probably banking on a familiarity with the first few episodes), this gives Our Heroes time to formulate a counter plan.
The post-WWII economy has not been kind to Benice
While Lupin’s counter plan is pretty much a revision of the “swastika intersection” heist a few episodes back, we do get a chance to see our boys in a new context. On the one hand you have the Voice of Evil on the radio, who’s been planning this gig for months, dialing into higher and higher levels of freak out as the truck approaches the town. Meanwhile Lupin and Jigen, who’re winging a plan they made less than eight hours before, sit blowing Hobbit-esque smoke rings until the truck rumbles in and they figure it’s time to get to work. Also, during that eight hours they had time to paint a backdrop so convincing it literally scrambles the driver’s brain.
What the Miyazaki episodes lack in Terrifying Faces, they make up in Background Fail
The truck is successfully herded into a waiting boat, where the good gentlemen thieves relieve it of its load. Which leads to ten seconds that still sort of puzzle me for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on. Here, look.
It has sort of a “bad dog” vibe, doesn’t it?
It’s weird, right? I’m torn, and far more hung up on these few seconds than I am the rest of the episode (which is perfectly pleasant and watchable but isn’t doing anything of profound interest, if I’m to be honest). On the one hand, it plays to characterizations that both characters have shown at one point: Green Jacket Jigen is quite the pragmatic and impulsive sort, shortsighted and tempered and more than happy to shoot an obstacle or two in the back (indeed, his code at this point seems to begin and stop with ‘so long as Lupin and I are in one piece, it’s fine’); and Lupin has shown in the above-discussed map scene that he enjoys having the upper hand, and is generally fond of not explaining plans because it’s more fun that way.
And yet, there’s never before been such a sense of inequality between the two of them. For the most part, if Lupin doesn’t explain things it comes with an almost-implication that he trusts Jigen to either know it’ll work out (see the prison break) or to put the pieces together himself. And Jigen, though loyal to a fault (it’s even in his introductory description!) has never been particularly beholden to Lupin’s bullshit. Osumi’s Jigen might be the only thing I really love about his run – a cocksure and snarky man (a feature that was likely more interesting to Lupin than a competent but dull yes-man) who’s more than happy to remind his egotistical partner how much he needs help or how stupid he’s acting, but works so seamlessly in tandem with him that you can’t ever imagine the two apart (even when they are). This episode brushes dangerously close to henchman territory, doing away with the equality of the show’s most fundamental relationship (alongside Lupin and Fujiko) in favor of highlighting…I’m not sure. It is, as I said, nice to see the process of his intelligence. I keep coming back to that Sherlock comparison, since the great detective is also self-absorbed and Kind of a Dick, and takes his companion for granted except for particularly dire moments. But if it comes to this, less a Cumberbatch-and-Freeman and more a Rathbone-and-Bruce scenario, I don’t want anything to do with it. Though knowing that these episodes found their balance down the line is a comfort if not a surprise.
To finish things off in the plot department, the climax is a pretty awesome boat chase, with Lupin riding a makeshift water-ski and Zenigata being in the right place for the wrong reason, but all you really need to know is that Lupin manages to shoot the culprit and rescue the girl while handcuffed, being shot at, and balancing on a very small and moving piece of wood.
A scene so cool it’s Hulu’s preview image
I can’t really say I’m sold on the whole Lupin-as-detective bit (never mind the time that it almost happened), or on this episode as a whole. It’s the first time I’ve struggled with something to say about the show’s development. It just…sort of is. Not as phenomenally fun as the best episodes of the show or as engrossingly odd and disastrous as its worse. It’s just pleasant, enjoyed and almost immediately forgotten. But just to make one more Sherlock related comparison: since it’s been openly admitted that this scene:
Is a deliberate homage to this one:
I therefore choose to believe that these disguises:
Are nods to Jigen’s two great outings as a sailor-pirate.
Nothing like idle time to make you play connect-the-dots with things you love.
NEXT TIME: Osumi’s swan song is his best work on the series, a winter mountain chase after a sacred statue. Behold a well-executed blend of comedy and action, and find yourself wishing that the guy who made this episode would’ve stuck around a little longer, or at least gotten here a little sooner. Hope to see you there!