This has to be one of the weirdest Green Jacket episodes since we started this little adventure. Not in terms of content so much – you’ve got a girl, a chase, lots of guns and a few daring escapes, all pretty par for the course – but because of the weird behind the scenes tension that I may or may not be imagining. Because I just can’t see Hayao Miyazaki, the man who would go on to create so many dynamic and wonderful female characters, leading the charge on an episode whose first act can be summed up as “what is wrong with this girl, fighting back against the men who kidnapped her.”
By the way, the official title for this episode (as in the one that’s on Hulu and most episode summaries you’ll run across) is “Rescue the Tomboy!.” That’s….not so much what the subtitling team decided on, though.
Laugh to keep from crying, folks
Yup, there’s a musty time capsule element to this episode so strong you might pass out from rolling your eyes. And at the same time it immediately undercuts itself, like our man Miyazaki (maybe there’s someone else I should be crediting as well, but write what you know) is fighting the hoariness of the writing with everything he’s got. The script is constantly throwing out lines like this:
Menfolk: unable to operate for even a fraction of a second on their own
That sort of mentality isn’t so uncommon in media in the late 20th century, be it eastern or western (how many American movies from this time period have some kind of dumb line about needing ‘a woman’s touch?’), so one would be prepared to put up with it. But then the immediate follow-up is our heroine being reminded that her father was self-sufficient for a long time before he had a child.
‘Ah,’ you might say, ‘so this episode will be about poking fun at some of the classic damsel tropes and asserting something better.’ And you would not be 100% wrong. Rie is quite different as far as this show’s girls of the week have gone. But as I mentioned above, this is also the episode where Rie is a tomboy because she actually shows a capacity to defend herself/attempts to get help.
Just give me a minute to recover from the whiplash
It might be a bit easier if we back up and start things from a plot standpoint before going off onto one of many possible tangents. Rie is visiting her uncle’s ranch, and is unknowingly being used as a hostage. Lupin’s agreed to rescue the girl who doesn’t know she needs to be rescued, because Rie’s father (the man being blackmailed) was once an associate of Lupin II.
Not content to have his partner be merely Watson-like, Papa Lupin got the real deal
Oh, and Jigen starts out knowing less about all of this than we do. Lupin just shows up on horseback and dumps an unconscious girl in Jigen’s arms, expecting him to roll with it.
For when you find yourself caught between ‘plausible deniability’ and ‘unwitting corroboration’
And Jigen does, in contrast to the guy from the last few episodes who’s insistence was on having a plan no matter what and thinking things through. In all honesty, this episode is the closest to capturing the feeling of Jigen in the early episodes, and I really couldn’t be happier about that.
Suddenly we’re back in the strange disjunctions this episode pulls off with such frequent aplomb. We might have the return of Jigen’s borderline-psychic bond with Lupin, but at the same time this episode only functions if the titular thief is a completely different character than the one he started out as. Looking at the Lupin from the beginning of the series, who wouldn’t take no for an answer in anything and had a body count higher than the population of some small towns, Rie’s reaction is one we should be rooting for.
In fact, let’s imagine that the kidnapper isn’t Lupin for a minute. An underaged girl is kidnapped by a man she’s never met, who assures her he’ll take her to her father if she just gets in his car and stays quiet. She has no idea where they’re going, hasn’t heard from her father, and is in a place she went to willingly. That is not a charming adventure scenario. That is an episode of True Crime waiting to happen. And what does Rie do? Makes noise to alert rescuers, slows down her kidnappers as well as she can, calls the police as soon as she’s in the vicinity of a phone, and rigs up a pretty cunning trap to give herself time to run. This girl is AWESOME. But the script seems to have a somewhat less heightened opinion of her behavior.
That’s the lazy eye of considerable brain trauma
No joke, the arc of the episode centers around Rie falling for Lupin’s charms and learning to trust him, before finally discovering her father’s past and realizing that having been a thief doesn’t automatically make someone an evil person (more specifically she realizes that she misjudged Lupin, and thus applies the same lesson to her relationship to her father).
Who is this kind gentleman outlaw, and what did he do with Green Jacket Lupin
So in order for all of this to not be completely skin-crawling, we have to move almost completely into the portrayal of Lupin as a hero on the wrong side of the law. We’re in full Castle of Cagliostro mode, or at least Miyazaki’s early approximation of it. A sheltered but good hearted girl is rescued from suffocating danger, shown adventure and a glimpse into the complications of adulthood by the worldly but gentlemanly Lupin (a safe sort of romantic object onto whom a young person could put affections without needing to feel frightened of being pressured – and isn’t that a far cry from the thief we started with), and is left behind with a newfound appreciation for the world and burgeoning maturity due to the encounter. It’s wish fulfillment, the same as the series has always been. It’s just that the wish fulfillment is aimed at a more innocent audience. So it really pains me to say that I’m not sure it works here.
The resigned affection of a basically-married man
To be clear, it’s not our kinder, gentler Lupin that strikes an off key note with me. It’s not even Rie’s turn around, despite the rather eyebrow raising reactions of our main cast to her behavior. The problem here is an issue of time. Everything that doesn’t work about the episode – the gender role weirdness, the extremity of Rie’s reactions and how quickly they change, the fact that Lupin built a giant tree crossbow in the space of a cut – are all down to the episode’s pacing, and the fact that there’s a lot more development here than 22 minutes can convincingly convey.
The best thieves must be skilled in building last minute doomsday devices.
Then they work on their twirlable mustaches
Over the course of a 90 minute special, this is a much more sensible sort of progression (Stolen Lupin copies it beat for beat early on, with the former partner being Lupin’s instead of his dad’s and an added revenge aspect in the third act), if without the sort of concentrated bursts of charm that Miyazaki still manages to pull out here. What’s left is a bunch of really nice little touches surrounded by a breathless, and somewhat mystifying, 20 minute chase scene.
By all means consider it worth your time, for the surprisingly gentle finale and the well-executed moments of sweetness around the recurring characters we do get to see. It just remains a product of its surroundings: not just the time period and the thought process of the time but the continuing strain on the budget, which results in a lot of audio de-synch and mid/distanced (and thus far less detailed) shots of the character models. Backed into a wall you do what you can, and it’s nice to see the series try something new even as it begins to recognize its own end.
As an audience privy to all of Lupin’s doings we forget that ‘Pops’ is really a very familiar private joke. It’s unexpectedly touching to see Lupin’s affectionate smile as he corrects himself, as if remembering the less than friendly image he’s supposed to keep up
NEXT TIME: Remember when we naively thought computers would be able to predict the future, because we didn’t realize that they’d just be watching us all the time? See Zenigata battle the proto-Skynet, and Jigen make entirely too many death penalty jokes. Hope to see you there!