We come, at last, to the end of the line – the final time a green jacketed Lupin would grace the TV screens of the 20th century. And what an episode to go out on. It’s something like a distilled version of what the series became, a precursor to the Red Jacket tone that would come six years later, and a gentle tribute to the enduring and endearing spirit of Lupin and his gang. I may be a bit emotional about this. The final episode is titled “The Great Gold Showdown!,” and you can watch it here.
Pops and I will just be sharing an emotional breakdown in the corner
Before we get to the sappy stuff, though, I feel it important to note that I can in fact see the future. Remember back at the beginning of this trip when I said that Lupin’s early characterization is more or less the Joker? Well, in this episode Jigen and Fujiko are Batman.
Quickly, old chum! To the lair of larceny!
No, really. Fujiko is working in a jewelry store (let’s imagine it’s entirely filled with stolen goods she’s gotten tired of, shall we? Just to accommodate Fujicakes’ sense of humor) and Jigen in a gun store, and I’d wager they both own their respective, in no way suspicious, businesses. Or at least Jigen does, because he has a lair in the basement. Lupin talks to him out of a mounted lion’s head and he has a secret passage that’s operated by gunshot. How does that even work? If it’s a mechanism that responds to a specific pressure point, wouldn’t he need to get a new door every time he used it? Wouldn’t that be a huge pain, especially if it’s as heavy as the foley artists would have you believe/if it were to be any good as a vault? And what’s in there, anyway? Batpoles?
I guess it’s where he keeps the hat.
Like a good magical girl, one changed article of clothing makes him totally unrecognizable
Anyway, the three of them gather at the same nondescript apartment building that they’ve been using for the majority of the show, which is almost something like continuity if you squint right. This week’s heist is an enormous payout of gold unearthed by a collection of miners, who are having a great argument over who the buried gold belongs to. Being the generous soul that he is, Lupin is prepared to relieve them of this dire concern.
Like that episode I named as my favorite, the finale absolutely nails a sense of camaraderie alongside the various tensions between the group, rather than a bunch of disparate threads all loosely connected by way of the titular thief. Seeing Jigen and Fujiko work as an effective team during a high speed chase is a joy, and throwaway lines like that dialogue up there (not ‘hey this guy might be useful’ so much as ‘hey why haven’t you included him?’) go a long way to creating a sense of ease and warmth that feels like an emotional culmination of all the episodes that have come before it. If I’ve always taken to calling these four “the Lupin family,” this is the episode I would point to in order to define the phrase.
Elsewhere, Zenigata is doing his part to up the stakes on this daring escapade.
But only after observing the civil, gentlemanly rules of afternoon snacks.
Koichi Zenigata sticks his pinkie out and takes tea like a gentleman.
Am I using that adage correctly?
Despite having no concrete reason to do so, I choose to take this scene as a final means of showing Pops and Lupin as playful foils. Zenigata’s behavior is quite a bit like Lupin’s – relaxed in what others take as a tense situation, putting importance on minutiae, having an extremely thorough backup plan that he just hasn’t chosen to tell anyone else about. It’s one of the more disconnected comparison between them, since nothing in the editing or direction draws explicit attention to it, but that just makes me like it all the more, and it makes the final few minutes of the episode hit that much harder. They’re a bit too much like each other to ever really let go.
The plan for breaking into the bank is a pretty straightforward one (as Lupin plans go, anyway): they’ll dig up from under the vault, by way of train tunnel, and dump the loot into the getaway fiat. Naturally, the actual hard labor is Goemon’s job.
Things the samurai requires: tea and straw mats
Things the samurai does not require: protective head gear while tunneling under several tons of gold
There’s a theory floating around about Goemon being the youngest of the gang, which I’ve always been quite partial to. It explains why he always gets the scut work, why he’s the least often included/trusted member of the gang (alongside seeming to have the least experience – there’s a certain almost sheltered aspect to him at times, from being innocently flustered over Fujiko to seeming so pleased with himself at pulling off a disguise for the first time), and how Lupin’s still able to lead him round by the nose with relative ease. Even his design, particularly in this episode, gives him a fairly rounded and boyish look.
…never make that face again
Have you ever even drank before?
The heist goes off without a hitch – suspiciously so, in fact. It doesn’t take Lupin and company long to realize that some of the coins are actually fakes with transmitters inside, allowing Zenigata to track the loot wherever it goes. To formulate a plan and shake off their pursuers, a visit to the secret-unmentioned-vault is required. And the second they step in, we start to throw time and space out the window.
HOW OLD ARE YOU
The so-called Lupin Museum is filled to brimming with plans, equipment, and records of thefts committed by the gentleman and his gang. An enormous room full, we’re talking here. And this is supposed to be Lupin as a somewhat young man. Possibly. Probably? The eternal struggle to pin a sense of time on our heroes is a futility I can’t quite give up. It’s not the important part of this scene, either.
Besides the records there are rooms full of cars, guns, airplanes, and any number of fancy gadgets that would be a great help…if they weren’t all crumbling to dust that is. But Lupin brushes an entire collective history aside. It doesn’t matter that he can’t use any of this. It’s important enough that he saved it all – the memories of who he is, what he’s done, and the fullness with which he’s lived his live – but Lupin III isn’t about cool gadgets or fancy plans. In the end, the only thing these four need is the freedom to think on their feet, and each other. There’s never any talk of splitting up or dissolving the gang, even when Lupin’s hideouts are destroyed (though this is the conceit upon which Red Jacket begins), or any of them (even Fujiko) doing a bit of opportunistic back stabbing. When they’re pressed against the wall, and when it looks like things might no longer be a game, they hold to each other and accomplish incredible things. Without needing to have a big, inflated speech about the Power of Love or Friendship or what have you. They just do it, because showing over telling, especially when it comes to subjects of complex emotion, is the mark of a truly gifted storyteller.
They lead the police on a merry chase for a while by chucking the transmitters into garbage trucks and then heading to store their loot in a dump. Yeah, you can see where this is going, can’t you. Ultimately the trucks lead Pops right to his quarry, and we’re left with a genuinely tense, guns drawn standoff. Lupin’s ace in the hole is planting a bomb under their feet, claiming he’d rather die than be caught by his own stupid mistakes – of course he has no intention of doing so, but for the man whose pride has gotten him into so much trouble it’s a believable threat.
Goemon and Fujiko are bravely facing forward,
and there’s Daisuke “Wow, he sure is awesome isn’t he?” Jigen
Staging their final demise, the four climb into that fridge and set off the bomb. That’s right, even the terrible Indiana Jones movie is a Lupin reference. It just about works, too, with the four landing safely in the nearby sea and Pops completely distraught. And then:
And the final exchange of the episode sets Lupin’s eyes on the world, and all the many places he could go outside of Japan, with Zenigata in hot pursuit as always.
Don’t go, the lawyers will END you,
preventing an entire generation from knowing how great you are!
Thus ends the original run of Lupin III, on a note of beginning from nothing with only the important things – the bonds between the family we’ve grown to love, ambition for new adventure, and a clever scheme to accomplish it. Despite the ups and downs and occasionally dodgy…everything…I can’t think of a sweeter or more satisfying note to end on. I’ll miss the show’s unique, enterprising flavor, and the freedom it had to change and grow before becoming subject to its own popularity and formula. If only there had been a series in the modern age, a Green Jacket with the spirit to strip down to nothing but an examination of the characters and to take new and unusual risks in portraying what we know and love.
Well, maybe there is one. But that’s for another day.