For the sake of mental shorthand, I tend to file this episode as “Goemon vs the virgin/whore dichotomy.” That’s not exactly marketable, but it gives the episode more credit than most reviewers usually do (take a drink every time a review refers to the Goemon episodes as unnecessary or ‘throw away,’ and you’ll have a nice little buzz going within the hour).
Episode Specifics: Fujiko has disguised herself as a governess for the royal family of Astria, looking to get close to the train full of treasures they’re transporting. Also onboard is one Goemon Ishikawa, a newbie assassin tasked with killing the king. Charmed by “Maria” and her charges, and with the train threatening to derail after the efforts of a second assassin, Goemon finds himself lending his aid – only to find out he fell for a woman he wasn’t expecting.
You may notice a few things about that quick summary up there, foremost the fact that Fujiko has a whole lot less to do than her male costar this time around. It weakens the episode somewhat to have acting-Fujiko rather than actual-Fujiko for most of it (even “Prison of Love” dropped the act by the halfway point), but it does encourage us to ask ourselves about how Fujiko is perceived (and how often that’s connected to how she wishes to be seen vs predetermined expectations).
As far as film references go, I’d imagine that at the very least every westerner would pick this one up immediately – a governess named Maria taking care of motherless children from Austria Astria, with a prominent connection of singing between them? I’m just disappointed there weren’t more Nazis (seriously, the Lupin franchise has not been shy about Nazi episodes, there’s room). In many ways that was a film about finding one’s place, a prominent theme in the episode (of course, the movie’s solution was ‘recreate a nuclear family,’ which Fujiko has no interest in). There’s also prominent use of the ‘traveling across map dots’ montage that was made so iconic by Raiders of the Lost Ark, as well as the car full of world treasures (THEY BELONG IN A MUSEUM). Indiana Jones is a set of films calling back to the adventure serials of the 50s, quite in line with the kind of escapist fantasy Marco casts Goemon as being part of (I’d go so far as to say Goemon himself buys into this action hero mentality more than he lets on, his desire to ‘save’ Fujiko preventing him from seeing past her disguise as both Lupin and Jigen do).
Shots like this leave me rather confused at the juncture of Goemon’s obvious youth
and inexperience vs the cavernous face lines he has going on
Lupin Lore: As I hope you would expect, this is a big one for Goemon references. There are the incidental ones, like the screenshot above (he says the same thing about Clarice in Cagliostro) and hallmarks like slicing off clothes and “once again I’ve cut a worthless object.” More intriguing is the fact that Goemon’s character is the only one that sets up a more or less lead-in to his first Green Jacket appearance, where Fujiko is acting as his girlfriend as part of a con. The growth of his feelings for her over the course of this series, and the confusion over how much is ‘real’ versus his ideal of her, adds a pleasantly complex layer to his behavior later (as much as one can bring continuity into Lupin, anyhow). The overt playing up of the age thing (which was more of a feeling/fanon before) is also nice to see – while the other three are obviously fairly secure in their skills, he’s just taking his first job in the underworld.
Not sure if Lupin or voice actor conservation
On a more general note, ‘bitter relative of conveniently orphaned heir to nonexistent kingdom attempts to murder his way to the throne’ is more or less the plot of 2009’s Lupin III vs Detective Conan (and I have now used the word ‘vs’ enough to warrant a drinking game).
Suddenly Owls: Threatening architecture and mind-altering drugs aside, this is our first glimpse of an actual (robotic surveillance) owl. Meanwhile, people watching this for the first time are having their first stirrings of mild confusion.
Oscar Watch: No cops this week! Because assassination of international royalty is not as important as the flashy cat burglar.
With double-sided tape on my hips
Themes: Raise your hands if you’ve come across the virgin/whore dichotomy! I want all those hands up, because even if you didn’t have the terminology for it you’ve definitely seen it. The term comes from the Christian Bible, referring to the two most prominent Marys: Mary the Madonna, ideal of motherhood and so pure she was taken directly from earth into heaven; and Mary Magdalene, who gained a historical reputation as a prostitute and dire sinner (a rant for another day). In fiction, this manifests as female characters being defined by pure=good and sexual=bad (think here about any film where the hero chooses between the ‘good girl’ and the femme fatale). Obviously this is a problem, as it automatically traps both us and female characters into perceptions based wholly on sexuality (as well as the false equivocation that a woman’s interest in sex would make her a somehow evil/untrustworthy/dangerous character for the usually-male hero).
I don’t know that we can say that Goemon’s arc is about out-and-out destroying that dichotomy, but it certainly takes pains to question its validity and origin through Goemon’s eyes (and as I mentioned, more than any of the others he seems to cast himself as a sort of Adventure hero). The majority of the episode, where Goemon perceives Fujiko as the innocent, maternal ‘Maria,’ takes place on the train – the confined and claustrophobic spaces are a noticeable change from the previous two episodes, which even indoors had a feeling of height and room to the spaces. It lends to a feeling that the characters are trapped – by the movement of the train, by their roles and the actions they impose (Marco the child-king, Fujiko the nurturing bystander, Goemon the honorable assassin, so on), and by the performances they put on for one another. It’s no coincidence that the other passengers we see are members of a circus troupe – performers painted and exaggerated to absurd degrees in a way that stage actors wouldn’t be. The theatricality is as useful as it is obviously manufactured and ridiculous, and as easily discarded as the changing of one’s mindset and makeup.
By contrast, when Fujiko is revealed (physically and by role) the two are standing on an open rooftop that marks the return to the ‘silhouettes on stage’ imagery (note also that the camera changes from mid- and close-up shots to wider, more background inclusive poses once Fujiko is cut from her unusually restrictive for the character outfit). When Goemon unmasks Fujiko he reveals her as a sexual being, a dangerous one (the gun), one that he should now know to distrust. And yet…he finds that his feelings remain the same despite not being directed towards an acceptably ‘pure’ object. He finds himself beginning to puzzle over Fujiko as a person and individual, not what she represents as A Woman.
With the main five introduced, it strikes me how much the series echoes Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s novel Herland (by far her most famous, likely-to-be-assigned-in-high-school story is “The Yellow Wallpaper”). Herland was a part-novella, part dialectic about three guys who stumble upon a society consisting only of women (keep in mind that this was published in a time where women had roughly the same rights as a nice appliance, and the work gets more radical even as it is also more depressing). The three guys get captured, there is much bewildered discussion about the shocking discovery of women being people, and so on. It’s not so much a gripping story as an argument played out with paper dolls. The men are made to represent three viewpoints – one who wants to put women on a pedestal, where they should be protected and cherished by men (theoretically a magnanimous gesture, but ultimately dehumanizing in its own way); one who wants to dominate them, believing that’s what they really want; and the narrator, who has the radical idea of treating women like equal beings. You could parcel that out pretty neatly to Goemon (who wants to ‘save’ Fujiko and struggles with perceiving her in terms of extremes), Zenigata (who wants to save Fujiko and is simultaneously a TOTAL CREEP), and Lupin (who views her as his equal rival) respectively – as much as the story is about Fujiko defining her story it is also about how the world defines her, something that will continue to change and evolve as the story goes on.