Imagine that you’re reading a novel where the latest fad is modern medical technology, and at the end the characters agree that ‘well, this is cool and all, but it’ll never be quite the same as leeches.’ That’s the closest equivalent I can give to the weirdness of “The First-Move-Wins Computer Operation.” If you didn’t know anything about advances in animation or the history of Lupin III or a single other scrap of information, you could still look at this episode and say ‘why yes, that was definitely the 70s.’ Incidentally, you can watch along here.
If we let this go, one day they’ll be travelling around in our pockets,
Controlling our brains!
This week the meddlesome FBI is getting in the way of Zenigata’s eternal-destined-rivalry with Lupin by bringing a state of the art computer to Japan (this is before Pops is stated to have joined Interpol, making the expenditure of funds even more baffling). This enormous, wall-sized computer is so advanced that it can predict a person’s actions down to the last detail. Naturally, they’re using it to catch a cat burglar. Don’t get me wrong, if we were talking about manga-Lupin, or even the Lupin from when we started this little adventure, this would make a lot of sense. That guy had a body count to fill a church, ties to the mob and his own little criminal underground, and was a happy participant in sexual assault. That guy they should definitely catch, because who knows what the collateral damage of his amusement might be on any given week.
But that guy’s not really around anymore. Instead, they’re spending millions (possibly billions) of dollars to catch this guy:
Fostering closeness by steadfastly refusing to get enough furniture
And while this Lupin is as prideful as he’s ever been, there’s a heightened sense of playfulness to it that makes the stakes sort of fizzle out. Both lighter and darker takes on Lupin have their decided merits (my two favorite installments, after all, represent either side of that extreme spectrum), but they do require distinctly different approaches to the material from a writing and staging perspective. The pacing of this episode adopts a split style, spending half the time with Lupin and half on the police attempts to formulate a plan against him. A very serious plan that involves having a full scale toy train in the station.
Did you plan to deliver that money by train just so you could play with your toys?
How long has that even been there?
This kind of narrative setup is quite common in procedurals – the audience follows along with the cops as they try to outwit the killer/terrorist/notice these are all much more severe than gentleman thief, but with the catch of also knowing more than the cops by being privy to the criminal’s actions. Rather than a process of learning with the protagonists, the tension comes from wondering when the gap of knowledge will close and whether it will be too late. It’s a good storytelling technique – things like Death Note and several James Bond movies use it to great effect. But it only really works if the villain is actually threatening or about to do something horrible.
While 90% of the renderings of Jigen’s face in this episode are terrifying,
it’s not quite the same thing
This Lupin’s so cuddly that the image of him holding a gun is an occasion for shock and awe.
“You just shot all those people with red paint?
You’re blowing my mind right now, Lupin”
The most effective episodes of the Miyazaki run have been quite content to let Lupin be the point of view character, using Zenigata as a reluctant ally or a looming threat to drive forward a sense of urgency. “The Emerald’s Secret” comes closest to aping the above formula in reverse, with Fujiko and Lupin trying to solve the mystery of the fakes and Zenigata trying to figure out the angle from the other side, but that was an altogether more claustrophobic story to work within. So what we have is a plot that’s perfectly functional as outlined but could probably have worked with a shift in perspective.
Anyway, Lupin’s train robbery goes down exactly as the computer planned it, and Lupin is saved only by Zenigata jumping the gun. This leads to a car chase through a sudden spate of fog with convenient plot timing, and Goemon and Jigen get themselves arrested. As per usual, the cops display no excitement at the prospect of having two of the world’s most efficient assassins on their hands, though at least Pops is allowed the foresight of realizing they’ll be a useful bit of Lupin-bait.
The back half of the episode is more or less a reverse of “One Chance to Break Out,” but with Lupin working to extract his team from jail rather than himself. But unlike the other brief times that there’s been a police capture, we actually get to see a bit of Goemon and Jigen in prison. From this we learn two rather interesting things.
Have you accepted the computer into your hearts?
Jigen has a real core of cautious superstition to him. In past episodes he’s served as the cynic or dissenting voice to Lupin’s plans, the one who’ll inevitably go along anyway but wants to make sure the main character knows what a bad idea the whole thing is. Come to think of it, he’s basically the McCoy of the series. It makes sense for a character that came up as a gunman in the underworld and works with someone like Lupin on a regular basis, but man is it weird in this episode. He’s practically ready to base a religion on the fancy pants computer, so completely in awe of it is he and convinced that they’ll never be able to outsmart it. One gets the image of Jigen being an imminently practical guy, endlessly mutable in the heat of the moment but somewhat spooked by flashy shows of intellectual prowess (see also his excellent raiding plan, which involved shooting stuff and, as back up, shooting even bigger stuff).
He’s a man who knows his own limits, and has become so adjusted to surviving within those parameters that he needs someone like Lupin to force him outside of his comfort zone of world-weary survivor cynicism. It’s why he’s a thief and no longer a hitman (not that he doesn’t end up fulfilling that role quite frequently in pursuit of treasure anyway) – Lupin makes his life exciting, full of potential that outweighs threat. So seeing Lupin outsmarted it enough to bring the whole world down on his ears. Which may be why he’s reverted to compulsively making noose gestures.
Meanwhile, Goemon looks like the easily spooked kid at camp.
Samurai don’t learn about felony laws
The other interesting thing is how sure Jigen is that they’ll be getting the axe. Obviously there’s a lot more directly provable death on his and Goemon’s hands than Lupin’s, what with those signature weapons and all, but there’s not even the token discussion of little things like trials or prison time or how Zenigata continually put off having Lupin executed. There’s a dual sadness in knowing they’ll be bit players at the end of it all, going to the gallows without the sensation of a trial and not even worth putting in the effort for, not even missed by their anime – but also the strangely warming knowledge that none of that bothers them enough to quit following Lupin, despite his high profile status compared to other things that could surely earn them enough money with the same amount of dirty work.
Elsewhere, Lupin sequesters himself in a library for giants, where all of the books are literally as long as his forearm. This could be bad perspective on the part of the art department, but I choose to believe that computers were invented by giants in the Lupin universe – remember, this is the same franchise where Jesus had a vampiric twin sister. He decides on a plan, knowing that the police will already be one step ahead but unwilling to leave his companions behind. In the midst of all this Zenigata is about having a nervous breakdown over Lupin being right in his grasp, and I try very hard not to think about how that computer could work in enough unknown variables to predict Lupin’s increasingly gadget-heavy plans to the letter, only to learn that the computer is just feeding them SAT answer sheets.
Sometimes the subtitles do my job for me
In the end, Lupin’s last minute decision to change his plans is what saves them – while the cops prepare to swarm the original getaway vehicle Lupin preps the hang glider of extremely intimate escapes, resulting in maybe the second most repeated screenshot after the raining money.
…where were you keeping that?
Yeah, the moral of the story is that despite having access to all of Lupin’s behavioral traits, the computer’s algorithm couldn’t create a plan that took the thief’s known capricious nature into account. Sorry, that would be Human Nature, with big capital letters.
I would dearly love to see a modern update of this specific plot, taking into account the proliferation of tracking, personalized computing devices (which Lupin himself loves to use), and the rapidly increasing abilities of artificial intelligence. Basically I’m saying I want to see Lupin fight the Terminator.
While I might’ve given it grief for falling back on the last prison escape episode (ages and ages ago), I like what this episode is trying to get at even if it executes it somewhat clumsily due to the framing issues I mentioned before. While Lupin might appear foolish and carefree there was always a definite sense that he had worked out six different plans beforehand a la Batman, and was only playing the idiot to give himself that much more of an advantage. Explicitly playing up the idea of making it up as he goes makes him vulnerable, and will open the door down the line to some really beautiful moments of impromptu teamwork with the other members of the Lupin family, making his gang not just extra eyes and ears for carrying out a job but a vital patch to a deficit in the thief’s core abilities (and considering Lupin is only going to get more improbably skilled and flawless in the Batman-level planning in the various series that follow, this was a good seed to plant). I mean, provided you believe he didn’t plan out spontaneously changing his mind (where did all of those supplies come from? Common prison stock, was it?).
Sriously though, computers. How do they even work.
NEXT TIME: The grand (by which I mean we have a budget again) finale of Green Jacket. Going out in classic style, with a fond shake of the head and more than a few tears in one eye. Hope to see you there!