This week’s episode is pretty true to form and self-contained, since its main contribution to the overall plot is introducing Jigen. But there’s a thing or two we can talk about anyway.
Episode Specifics: After pushing her luck a bit too far at a mob casino and wagering herself to the owner, Fujiko sets out to earn her freedom back. The casino’s owner, Cicciolina, gives two conditions: she must steal a .357 magnum from a man named Daisuke Jigen, and witness what will happen to the end. Of course, Jigen and Cicciolina have a history and of course her husband’s death wasn’t what it seems – we’ve got a stone cold pulp fiction here.
As I mentioned, the main function of this episode is to introduce Jigen to the cast (in a manner of speaking, anyway). Secondarily is the first discussion of the idea of ‘pasts,’ which we’ll revisit further down the page. The story draws very heavily from noir in terms of visual tone and narrative structure – pretty much all it needs is a little less color and an embittered narration from Jigen (who, even more than Zenigata, fits the embittered noir PI archetype to a T).
From the minute she walked in, I knew the dame would be trouble
As for more specific references, the ‘mobster’s wife falls for bodyguard’ plot is straight out of Pulp Fiction, from the ‘watch my emotionally alienated wife while I’m unavailable’ thing, to the shared dance scene (of two wildly different tones, but there you are), to Jigen saving Cicciolina from an overdose. And of course, perhaps one of the most important (or at least best remembered) plots from the film is about a hitman who realizes he wants to get out and start over.
Lupin Lore: Not a lot of specifics that I was able to pull from this one so much as a general feel. It’s almost a running joke at the point that Jigen’s love interests end up dead or betraying him, and it’s fairly consistent for his backstory to feature the American mafia (both Red Jacket and Episode 0 use it). It is rather interesting that they avoid giving a concrete explanation for the Magnum – it’s certainly Jigen’s most prized possession, but the details don’t play into the origin story.
This episode is the beginning of the ‘spot the Lupin’ game (made much easier in the dub with Sonny Strait’s distinctive voice). Like the owls, you can usually find Lupin in the background (or someone who might be Lupin), even if he’s not a proper part of the episode’s plot. Of course it leaves one to contend with issues like ‘how did he get shot in the eye and live (though we don’t see bullet impact or blood in his case),’ and ‘what was he doing there anyway (besides stalking Fujiko),’ but it’s an interesting easter egg.
Suddenly Owls: Relegated to the background in this episode, with the one major notice being the window pictured above – given how much the episode dials into the themes of watching and being watched, it would make sense to make Almeda a looming background force rather than an overt presence.
Oscar Watch: None this week! Then again, it does seem to take place in America, which is outside Zenigata’s district. Actually, what is Zenigata’s limit in this series? He’s obviously centered in Paris at one point, but if this is meant to be a prequel it would be before he joined the ICPO (because Green Jacket Zenigata works for Japanese law enforcement). Thinking I may just have to call this one a continuity snafu and step away.
Don’t worry, I’m here for you
Themes: There are two major themes to talk about in this episode. The first is the idea of the past and its cumulative effect on the present. There’s a rather delicate balance to the story wherein Jigen comes to stand both for and more than himself – he came to represent past mistakes and regrets and transformed Cicciolina’s rather existential ennui into active suicidal tendencies. The past gives her reason to act, but it also restricts her, a duality that several of the episodes go on to explore in various capacities. Fujiko’s mantra is about outrunning the past, but it’s when she turns around and breaks from it (whether it’s hers or not is not so substantial as the way it affects her) that she’s truly freed. And on a meta level, here we have a prequel story asking questions about how and why the past is important, and to what degree.
The other thing is the watching/watched motif, which is pretty self-explanatory within what we’ve talked about so far – every action Fujiko takes is a manipulated one, and we as the audience are also implicated in that amidst all of the watching owl eyes. But it goes beyond the composition and into the camera. Yes that’s right, we’re not getting out of here without discussing the gaze.
For those of you who haven’t taken any film theory (or any analysis of visual media), the gaze has to do with the way the camera looks at things. While there are some films (usually made by high schoolers just discovering a camera) that exist entirely in unmoving and static framing, usually shots are used to draw the audience’s eye to certain things or create a point of view (think of the mask POV in Halloween for a really overt case). Generally this leads to what’s known as the Male Gaze – the idea that overwhelmingly the camera will look at things through the mindset of a heterosexual man to the exclusion of any other perspective. Think of any anime beach episode, where the male protagonists are usually presented from relatively neutral mid-shots, while the female characters will have a panning or focused shot of their bodies, usually with special lighting etc. While overt fanservice is the extreme case, it comes in a wide spectrum of overtness. There are examples of the Female Gaze as well (think Twilight) but they are by far less pervasive than the former.
Fujiko Mine knows this. Oh boy, does it know it, and it plays with it all the time. As often as Fujiko is naked, the camera only draws particular attention to it when she’s using it for seduction – compare her conversation with the guard in episode one or her pole dance in this episode with her stripping in front of Jigen (the bath scene) or Goemon (on the rooftop). The former are heavy on the emphasis of sex and sexuality as befits the character, while the second batch of scenes stay in the mid-shot while the conversation continues, no more oddly than it would if it were a male character. Of course, there are some members of the audience that will still find that sexually appealing, but it’s not the explicit intent. By the end, the show throws so much casual nudity out that it comes right around to making some people uncomfortable. The show saturates itself with it, normalizing the female body rather than using it as an exactingly posed item on display. As much as Fujiko’s attitude towards sex is nonchalant and mature, it wants to impart the same feeling to us.
And even modifying the use of the gaze isn’t enough – it wants us to be acutely aware and made uncomfortable by it as well. That’s where the nightmare scenes come into play…but we’ll talk about those when the time comes.