Burning a late candle for this week’s recap, which is one of the last times we’ll be introduced to an Important Future Tradition – one the traditions nearest and dearest to my heart, in fact. But we can’t begin that way – there’s intrigue and such, and a good old return to ‘Lupin is the hero because the villains are even bigger assholes.’ This is “Catch the Phony Lupin!” and you can watch it here.
We open on a string of heinous thefts committed by a man in a gas mask.
No, not that one
There ya go
You can tell nothing’s amiss because he made sure to sign it as The Real Lupin. Maybe looking back on it from the present I’m attributing a newfound and unaccounted for sense of cynicism, but…really?
Obviously the common employee won’t be intimately familiar with how Lupin works, and since it’s the 70s the spread of information wasn’t exactly up to snuff with what it would be nowadays. Things like the gas mask could be totally normal, as far as they know. But signing your threats ‘the real Lupin?’ Nobody reports that to Zenigata? He doesn’t look at one of the crime scenes from this montage and say ‘huh, that’s slightly suspicious, I wonder if we should consider copycats?’ Pops has even gone so far as to open fire, and – ah, it’s going to be one of those episodes.
The last throes of noir Zenigata
In defense of the copycat thief, he apparently took the time to learn Fujiko’s quick change technique. By which I mean that during the heist, while being chased by Zenigata’s troops, the thief is wearing a hideous brown jacket. When he begins to shimmy across an escape rope and they open fire, he looks like this:
Fire randomly! Our poor, underfunded department can definitely afford the bullets!
But wait! You say, having watched the episode ahead of me and wanting to get to the point. The person on the tightrope was actually an android. Wasn’t it the one wearing the jacket? This would be a fair assessment, except that when the robot is revealed it’s not wearing a jacket or even the tattered remnants of a jacket. Lest we forget, continuity is hard. Especially when your show’s cancelation is imminent and you’re clearly trying to hoard whatever assets you have left (the background cycling later in the episode is truly something).
The thief-who-isn’t-Lupin makes his escape, with the real deal on his trail, and they head back to the island. Naturally, Lupin’s established ego of unusual size doesn’t care much for someone pulling crimes in his name, so what we have on hand here is a revenge case.
This entire episode is taunting me with Spiderman jokes
I included that screenshot up there no because it’s deeply relevant to the plot at hand, but because it’s sort of its own little marvel. In an episode that’s pretty clearly pinching its pennies (this is way better budgeting than the ending of Evangelion, but you can tell the end was nigh), this is an unusually specific design. They actually took the time to dirty Lupin up, and to keep that look consistent for the entire time he’s under the truck (which covers two cuts, and could easily have been forgotten in the hand-off around the team). In a show where 90% of the instances of characters being affected by the environment is used for two second reaction shots, this is a truly nice touch. Plus, it lends itself to one of the delightful little contradictions about Lupin’s character: he might wear high class clothes, but those clothes are probably disgusting a good share of the time (let’s count the number of times he crawls around sewers alone), and quickly discarded as a tiny little show of wealth.
Lupin makes it to the island of imposter thieves by tying a steel drum to the back of their escaping speed boat, and claiming to be a petty thief named “Daisuke Ishikawa” in search of training. Yes, that is the only mention of either of those characters we’ll be getting in this episodes, though it’s rather sweet that those were the first names he thought of. During all of this there’s also a lot of EXTREME CLOSE UPS of the two condors perched in the village tree, which will in no way turn out to have an effect on the third act.
It turns out that the entire island subsists on a thievery-based economy. As you might have guessed, this has left them all poverty stricken. It’s tough to fence identifiable stolen goods when they’re all coming from one quickly-traceable island. And rather than stealing cool weather machines (yeah, that happened) or nano-machines that can create sentient islands (yup, that happened too, but let’s pretend like it didn’t) this group is only smart enough to steal paintings, statues, and nice furniture. It’s not so much times of hardship as it is Darwinian law taking its natural course.
And because thieves are not usually a group prone to Lupin’s gentlemanly airs (irony incoming momentarily) they naturally elect to have him murdered.
That tiny, bloodthirsty child will someday grow up
to star in many Monty Python movies
However, Lupin receives a brief reprieve, tamping down on the serious Deliverance vibes I was getting from this crowd. Rather than being killed on sight, they determine that he can prove himself in their traditional challenge of being chased down a mountain by giant boulders. So now we know why their population has stayed so small and why no one was smart enough to suggest stealing life-improving technology.
We’ve also solved the mystery of what happened to Lupin’s teeth
Lupin survives by the skin of his….I’m above using that colloquialism, but only just. Anyway, he’s got massive internal bleeding and probably broken bones, so they throw him into their prison untreated and figure no one’s going to come looking for the guy anyway. In a truly avant garde move that has nothing to do with the strained budget I mentioned earlier, Lupin being injured is about the time where the audio starts to go alarmingly out of synch, eventually resulting in Zenigata’s assistant moving his mouth for a good three seconds before any dialogue starts coming out. See, it’s symbolic of the inner ear damage, and….stuff.
And it turns out they were right about the miraculous recovery, because once our hero wakes up he’s able to engineer an escape for himself using frayed ropes lying around the cell – the guards hear a crash and come in to find what looks like a suicide, only for Lupin to get the best of them. Did I ever mention part of the point of bringing Miyazaki and co. in was an attempt to make the program accessible to a wider age group?
You know, for kids!
A quick bit of snooping reveals that the copycat thieves are all following a code of thievery written by Lupin I. As we discussed last week, there are any number of Lupin artifacts out there designed to keep the descendants busy and away from more sociopathic disputes. We must assume that Lupin has never seen this book before, not so much because he’s shocked to hear about it as because of this:
I may actually be suffocating under the weight of this irony
Turns out escaping was even timelier than planned, because Zenigata shows up on the island the same day as Lupin. He’s even got a photo, shocking the villagers with the revelation that they have the real Real Lupin on their hands (it’s cool though, they’ll just casually murder the world’s most competent thief once the cop’s out of their hair).
That…that is not a mugshot. Where did you even get that
So…this is an island close enough to the coast to be reachable within a few hours. And nobody noticed – oh, forget it. I’m in danger of falling down a well of plot holes here. And they actually do have an explanation on this one (it seems to be the Cool Idea upon which the entire episode hinges): every house in the village is fitted with a set of rope pulleys. With enough force, the ropes can flip over the floor and conceal the nice homes with more stereotype-appropriate squalor for any potential guests.
But what matters isn’t even that. Pops got there late enough in the day that it would be dangerous to go back to the mainland, so he’ll need to stay the night. Or, because I like to attribute some savvy to the good Inspector, let’s say he lied and wants a good excuse to snoop around.
…They’re making it kind of hard for me to interpret ‘secret genius’ here
The villagers bring the Deliverance vibe right back, giving one another knowing grins and throwing Zenigata into the foulest smelling disguised-hut they have. So disgusting is the smell (how do they accomplish this? Do they just smear the decoy rooms with dirt and leave them to molder underground? Wouldn’t that start to contaminate the nicer areas over time?) that it prompts the triumphant return of our Terrifying Faces spotlight.
And then, a miracle occurs.
This is the beginning of the Lupin/Zenigata team-up friends, and it is magical. Combined with Zenigata becoming gradually less bloodthirsty and Lupin getting more gently teasing with the whole ‘Pops’ thing, this is where we get the actual friendly rivalry that so many people associate with these two characters (done to 110% perfection in Cagliostro, but if I blow that pipe any more my lips will fall off). Lupin clues Pops into the floor switching trick and lets him retrieve the crown the imposters stole earlier before putting him out of commission and taking his place so that he can trick the villagers into giving him the location of the book.
Yes, this definitely looks like a book written by a Frenchman.
Wait, how did they even get this book? What do you mean the episode is over?
Actually, it’ not quite over. Not before Zenigata reminds us all of his competency by cutting off Lupin’s seabound escape routes, and the EXTREME CLOESUP CONDORS swoop in to make the money spent on their shots worthwhile.
Somebody needs to tell Stephen Colbert about this idea
And Lupin drops the book in the ocean. Then the episode is over.
My kneejerk reaction is to be mean to this episode, with its sloppy animation and weird gaping plot holes and the sad lack of anyone for Lupin to play off of for most of the episode but…but I can’t. This is the beginning of Koichi Zenigata, World’s Greatest Cop – he might not have caught Lupin, but he’s arrested literally every other criminal he’s ever met. It’s a wonderful balance for a character whose entire job in the plot is to be a failure. And even if it’s treated more or less as a throwaway here, it’s clear that they pretty quickly realized what a golden dynamic it was. There isn’t a single episode using the team-up premise that has failed to endear me to it, and that prevents me from using my critic claws in any meaningful way. And for all that the larger picture gets fuzzy and oblong shaped, the little touches are so damn fun and visually interesting that it’s really hard to begrudge them anything. Who am I to begrudge them changing up the formula, when sticking to it like glue would get the series in such trouble down the line? And who goes to Green Jacket for something that makes the tiniest bit of sense, anyway?
NEXT TIME: the direction gets into a knockdown drag-out fight with the screenplay, resulting in one of the weirdest disconnects in the entire series. Behold, as we explore all of the various meanings and uses of the word tomboy, from the 70s love of gender roles to Miyazaki’s clear desire to start creating dynamic heroines. Hope to see you there!