This episode is brain-bogglingly bizarre. Of all the other things I could say about it – that it smacks you out of nowhere with surprise heartwarming-ness, that its ending is rather un-Miyazaki-like, or that it debatably sets up Lupin’s future big screen debut, the fact of its sheer oddity is the most important to know going in. Because while Lupin III is not adverse to taking on outlandish concepts (mind controlling cults being a popular choice), it usually comes from the viewpoint of letting Lupin unmask the magician as a sham. It’s pretty rare for them to play the speculative angle straight, though when they do it does tend to be memorable – here I am thinking primarily of that Red Jacket where Lupin met Jesus’ twin sister, the first vampire. I’ll wait while you check that out (I KNOW RIGHT? ). Want to watch along today? Episodes are here for American-types and here for international readers.
So the first surprise of “Beware the Time Machine” is that it involves an actual, apparently functional time machine. A time machine that doesn’t seem to have any form of butterfly effect whatsoever, but I really only bring that up as a nominal nod to how nearly impossible it is to write sound time travel scenarios. Mostly I don’t give a damn whether the time loops are logical, as long as the writers are using them to explore interesting concepts with the characters.
Anyway, Old Man Jenkins up there introduces himself as Kyousuke Mamoh (apparently he comes from that mirror universe where you have to add every possible phonetic letter to the subtitles, killing Kyosuke Mamo along the way), and tells Lupin that in four days he’ll disappear. He’s from the fuuuuuuuture, y’see, where his family was eventually wiped out by Lupin XIII. But just killing Lupin isn’t enough. He has to fuck with him for those couple days first, giving the notoriously clever and observant thief time to figure out his weakness.
I’m getting ahead of myself on that last part. The majority of the episode is a game of psychological warfare, one that Lupin is losing despite his more and more aggressive attempts to prove how not-worried he is over the whole thing.
You can observe from the eyes how Totally Fine he is
The time machine effects – here meaning fog, sparkly aftereffects, and the semi-rarity of actual diegetic lighting – must’ve taken a lot out of the budget for this episode, because there’s an unusual amount of still shots going on. Lupin and Jigen break into a house wearing totally different outfits than they have on in the car there, for instance.
Inside the heist-house Zenigata is lying in wait for Lupin, with said thief already disguised as the victim-to-be. Part of me wants to call this clever, since the scene revolves around playing up Zenigata’s expectations for far longer than is strictly necessary (in yet another example of Lupin fishing for compliments from his “Destined Rival”) and that will make it sort of a reap-what-you-sow kind of thing for at least the first few instances of Mamo’s own mind games. On the other hand, the Lupin Empire rears its ugly head again. Normally I can brush it aside as the writers wanting to give Lupin’s operations a convenient sense of scale through telling, while only showing us the usual four-man (or less) operations that actually make up Lupin’s life. Not today, though. Today –
Sorry, what was I saying? That maid is very distracting
Right. Today Lupin’s scheme revolves around not only dressing as the victim, but also replacing Zenigata’s troops with Lupin’s own hires. No. One of the most endearing things about Zenigata is the absolute devotion he engenders in his police force. They’re ready to go to whatever stupid end of the earth they need to, and they’re willing to pull out of the case if it’s not Zenigata who’s arresting Lupin (hi again, Orders to Assassinate Lupin). There’s something understated and yet critical about our good officer having that support network there, one that elevates him above (in most cases, anyway) the level of pathetic found in your usual destined-to-fail types. He’s the world’s greatest cop barring one arrest, after all, and it’s important to see characters in the world of the story who clearly believe that of him (this one doesn’t count, since they weren’t Zenigata’s cops to begin with). As part of my long held desire to exert Character Continuity into a series that actively scorns it, I hereby declare this as the moment when the Inspector decided to vet all members of his force personally. There are flowcharts with birthdays and family members on them, which is the least Pops can do since once you’re on the force you won’t be seeing home for a good decade.
Someday I’ll get tired of this screenshot. Today is not that day
They don’t get to gloat long, though. The statue disappears without a trace, in the first of many wrinkles in time that are totally uninterested in collateral damage. Also, time machines give you the power to visit people in their dreams, which allows Mamoh to exposit the details of time travel to Lupin without actually having to meet him again.
If we could just find that book, we could all be as good as Lupin.
Though the Background Fail makes that goal a bit suspect
I’m also not entirely certain that this MamoH isn’t a bit of an early play on L Ron Hubbard: he’s a Hugo winning science fiction author who also made great and noteworthy studies of space-stuff but was eventually accused of going nuts in the 60s when he in fact discovered a Great Secret of Science. This is at once an extremely bizarre thing for a 1972 episode to be referencing, since the Western boom wasn’t really happening at the time, and yet not at all implausible – the Church of Scientology actually goes back to the 50s, and the major center in Los Angeles was founded the year before the anime went on the air. What we can take away from all of this is that one of Lupin’s descendants will eventually lead the charge in taking down Scientology, thus ratifying Green Jacket as a great herald of a better future.
What really makes the episode worthwhile, though, is the aforementioned character study stuff. The best science fiction, after all, was as much about revealing human truths as it was about neat future tech or weird aliens. This episode isn’t exactly Asimov or Ellison (English major cred, fnar fnar), but the direction practices an effective brand of subtlety. Moments like Lupin grandly decrying Mamoh™ as a fraud are all grand gestures and shouty sound mixing with impersonal framing shots; which then read so much more resoundingly butted right up against Jigen’s quite remark about how much it’s getting to him, and the quiet close-ups of small gestures like a bead of sweat or the tentative movement of Lupin’s hand. Those scenes are the best, really experimenting with the visual language of the medium right in among all the plot-weirdness.
Things end up coming to a head when Lupin, feeling cornered, tries to marry Fujiko to ensure his name will still be carried on. Which means, of course, that Fujicakes is back on damsel duty. Actually, her writing specifically feels like something more out of an Osumi episode – this is patently unfair of me, since all the scripts are credited to Soji Yoshikawa, but the fact remains that Fujiko is one of the clearest quality bumps from the first to second halves of the series. You can even mark the change by her haircut, as we’ll see next week.
Either way, still touching
And as much as I want to let it go, because Fujiko does indeed get some shining moments in the “long haired” episodes, I can’t. Because it leads us right into the “Lupin is Kind of a Dick” portion of the episode. After Fujiko gets sent to the past Lupin’s only reaction is disappointment in not being able to carry on his name. Okay, he brings her back, but that…we’ll come back to the ending in a minute. Then he pulls a fake disappearance himself, just to make sure Jigen and Goemon would really miss him if he were gone. They do.
A special shout out to Kiyoshi Kobayashi,
because Jigen is heartbreaking in this scene
Jigen and Goemon’s grief-stricken fight gives the only mostly dead Lupin an idea that is at once completely stupid and thoroughly befitting the show: Lupin tricks Mamo into believing he’s gone back in time with a few cheap sets, and then has Jigen and Goemon destroy the time machine. Which was a real, functioning scientific marvel now lost to humankind. You win some, you lose some.
This was before the series learned not to date itself.
So, Goemon was70 when he learned how to use an iPhone?
Now, about that ending. It’s really nothing much for most shows – they get rid of the time machine, Fujiko’s okay, and everybody laughs. I like to think that’s where the episode ends. Because then I can talk about how much I enjoy this episode, with its over the top slapstick and rubber faces, and the effectively ratcheting tension of the villain’s escalating mind game, and the directing finesse that I talked about above.
But it doesn’t
Do I honestly need to belabor the point of how stupidly out of character this is, how cheap, or how much it befits a much stupider sitcom than the madcap adventure stories this show delivers? No? Okay. Fuck this ending, B+ on everything else.
Suffice it to say Yoshikawa also wrote The Secret of Mamo, which brings back our villain of the week and places and equally weird amount of emphasis on the love-declaration aspect of the Lupin/Fujiko relationship. Oh, that movie. I wonder if it is indeed meant to tie into the chronology of this one. Time travel does mean that his descendants already probably exist…and Lupin does destroy the last Mamo at the end of the movie. But then again, that’s still Lupiin…unless it’s actually the clone that lived, or one of a succession of clones, making him the thirteenth one…but the movie version of Mamo’s supposedly been around since the dawn of time, collecting various dictators for his Garden of History…but maybe Mamoh was an offshoot where he had children by a mortal woman, meaning that this Mamoh mistook Mamo for a descendant rather than the still-living original, but that would mean –
…See you next week
NEXT TIME: We’re on a boat! There’s an emerald to be stolen (if it hasn’t been already), a cat with an evil genius eyepatch, and a surprisingly fleet-footed Inspector on the dance floor. Hope to see you there!