We’ve come to the first big hurdle of the series, as far as a lot of longtime Lupin fans are concerned. It’s all well and good to see darker, noir tinted versions of hitmen and thieves, but things get a bit harder to swallow when it comes to the franchise’s longtime beacon of well-meaning justice. Well, that’s how he’s remembered, anyway. We’ll get to that in a bit.
This scene has all the appeal of realizing your parents are still sexually active
Episode Specifics: As a condition for not being sent to jail, Fujiko teams up with Zenigata to lure Lupin out on his latest heist – the jeweled mask of scarred opera diva Aiyan, who’s said to be beloved by the opera house’s mysterious ghost. Not all is as it seems, of course, and Aiyan is far less a victim than a conspirator in her own disappearance.
Missing the referential riff on this episode would require roughly a century spent living under a rock – there’ve been at least a dozen different adaptations of Phantom of the Opera in English alone. Mostly this episode draws from the Webber musical and the 2004 film (including an establishing shot of the opera house straight out of the film, the under the stage cage, and Aiyan’s scar resembling Gerard Butler’s hilarious third degree microwave burns), but there’s also a nod to the 40s Claude Rains film with Aiyan’s facial disfiguration being caused by acid. The tomb-furniture is also a pull that was included in the silent Lon Chaney adaptation.
Lupin Lore: Let’s tackle a few of the smaller ones before we get to The Big Thing. The ‘entwined by destiny’ conflict between Lupin and Zenigata is a call back to the very first episode of Green Jacket (wherein they used a field of romantic arrest flowers rather than Romeo and Juliet). Fujiko teaming up with Zenigata to arrest Lupin was used in several episodes of Red Jacket (both of the ‘for your own good’ variety in “Lupin Dies Twice” and to save her own skin in “The Sweet Trap of ICPO”). The male gender symbol serving as a thinly veiled dick stand-in comes from the manga. And unwitting horseback kidnapping is also strange enough that I’m willing to call it a nod to Lupin’s…unconventional rescue methods in “Rescue the Tomboy.”
So, about Zenigata. It’s no surprise, given that Red Jacket was the longest running Lupin series as well as the one with the biggest ripple effect on pop culture, that Zenigata would be remembered through that interpretation – namely a dogged, good-hearted goofball besieged by poor timing and slapstick comedy, as awkward as he is determined. But let us remember that this show’s characterizations are Green Jacket based, with a few shades of noir thrown on top. And Green Jacket Zenigata is…not a nice guy, so much. He has no problems shooting at Lupin (yes, in the back as well) or taking actions that are dangerous to his quarry and his men if it means getting what he wants.
There are hints of a bumbler once Miyazaki took over directing, but on the whole Zenigata was an obsessive, dangerous and somewhat self-serving guy, less concerned with Justice as with Lupin (there’s even an episode where he puts his lot in with the mob, albeit grudgingly, in hopes of putting Lupin under arrest). And while it was pretty rare for Pops to be cast in a sexual light, it wasn’t exactly unheard of (as sweet as his intentions were meant to be, Tokyo Crisis can be a pretty uncomfortable watch – what with Zenigata being explicitly old enough to be his crush’s father and all).
All of that being said, the sex scene is the sticking point that I’d come closest to calling gratuitous. Zenigata’s appearances more or less drop the sexual lechery angle after this episode (which was always a stretch, even if you’re doing a dark take), with not a lot of mention of it from either of the two participants. Its existence serves solely to kick off Oscar’s character arc, to give him an easily pinpointed reason to hate Fujiko rather than being indifferent toward her as well as to kick the snowball down Madness Mountain. It’s an easily pinpointed plot contrivance that’s only loosely justifiable from a character perspective, and easily the weakest moment in the show.
Does Glaucus Pharmaceuticals have privately funded architects?
Suddenly Owls: The water giving the ‘power to forget everything,’ conveniently found under the conspicuous owl pillars, triggers the first of Aisha’s memories. Unlike the existing landscape it will evolve into later, the trappings here appear like props on drawstrings or pop ups in a book, looking deliberately artificial until the camera comes into focus on the little girl. It’s as though Fujiko’s mind is still attempting to reject the obvious artifice of the scene, only for it to gain increasing traction as the series goes on.
On a scale of ‘cringe’ to ‘steel-wool shower,’ how uncomfortable should I feel right now
You might remember me talking about the gaze last week, and the displacement of the sexualized gaze. Welp, it’s back now, and its purpose is to disturb the audience. Fujiko-Aisha’s helpless pose, prominent lips and lengthened ‘seductive’ eyelashes, and the way the camera pans over her are all quite common treatments of women in media. But the subject here is so obviously wrong (though the clearly abusive context is not yet clear), the colors sallow and sickly – whose eyes are we looking at the scene through, we’re meant to ask. And what is wrong with them? It’s working toward separating audience from gaze, undermining the assumption of visual sexualization, and it’s only going to get more uncomfortable from here.
The dub actually uses the phrase ‘squealing like a pig,’ and all I can think is:
Oscar, please never take any kind of canoe trips ever
Oscar Watch: Just as Fujiko is beginning to feel the first stirrings of memory-implant influence, so is the lieutenant (a not-too-talked-about background thread we’ll discuss in detail later). As I mentioned above, the beginning of the episode exists solely for Oscar’s character arc. Every second of screen time he gets is with the influence of the sex scene (compare his behavior in episode one, strained but still within protocol, to choking out a nosy officer in the episode opener). His behavior towards Zenigata will become increasingly tentative and eager to please from this point on – contrasting the fairly business-like tone of his questioning and in-check admiration for Zenigata, his questioning of the opera plan is plaintive and less substantive than it is seeking the Inspector’s approval.
Fujiko’s appearance forces him to begin to confront feelings he’s likely been repressing for years, with the niggling certainty that he’s going to come up short (as opposed to the admiring ‘well-maybe’ fantasy it could have existed as before – witness the vitriol that significant others of coveted celebrities receive). He absolutely cannot stand it, and any resentment he might have for the Inspector or his situation gets redoubled onto Fujiko.
That’s not all there is to it, though. Even with years of closeted self-loathing and unrequited desire added into the equation, Oscar comes right out the gate with both barrels of misogyny blazing. Part of that is The Thing Oscar’s story arc is doing (having to do with an examination and deconstruction of gay stereotypes), but it’s also the memory question. We’re persistently encouraged to look at Oscar as Fujiko’s foil, which would include having Aisha’s memories implanted (hence that questionable amnesia he seems to have prior to meeting Zenigata). And while Fujiko is comfortable in her body and sexuality, Oscar is most definitively not – he wears a high collared uniform, long sleeves, and gloves everywhere, ensuring that whenever he touches things there’s a layer between himself and the world. The two of them represent a school of thought about abuse victims, wherein a survivor of abuse might withdraw and repress sexuality completely or become outgoing in an attempt to have control over their situation (the fact that this is all falsely laid on the two of them is, all together now, for a later discussion).
Themes: The biggest thematic reasoning behind setting the episode Phantom style seems to center around the ‘river of oblivion’ bit, which introduces the first of the Aisha flashbacks (and I refuse to believe that the name similarities are coincidental). It’s also an interesting subversion to turn a tortured love story into one of the series’ only examples of traditional domesticity – while everyone else is wearing highly stylized clothing, Aiyan’s final outfit would be right at home in Jackie O’s wardrobe or a later episode of Mad Men, and there’s the mid-20th century mindset of a woman putting love and marriage before career or even personal wellbeing.
The script walks a fine line here: the relationship is genuinely happy and loving, and all of the eyebrow raising decisions (the acid, living underground) are suggested by Aiyan rather than Da Renzo. It’s clearly a healthy, loving relationship, and the tone doesn’t seek to condemn the pursuit of marriage and home-making (despite Fujiko’s confusion, there’s no condemnation of Aiyan for her personal decisions). But neither is it held up as the ideal, as it would most certainly have been in media of the show’s early 60s time period. The apartment is a spot of earnest happiness closed off from the opportunities of the world, strange and uncanny to the eyes of Fujiko and the audience. Equally important is the fact that we’re taking it in through Fujiko’s eyes. Normally, when a ‘live and let live’ type episode comes up in a show it has an air of field tripping to it – the main character is the ‘normal’ one, and they come up against alternative lifestyles or points of view from the guest of the week (generally mined for awkard scenario comedy unless it’s a Very Special Episode). A bit of lip service is paid to how we should all live and let live, and the Totally Normal main character goes on their way, the show now confident enough in its open perspective to slip back into the molds of traditional characters and storylines. Flipping that on its head, with the sexual and adventurous Fujiko as our POV character and the domestic couple as the ‘Other’ helps the episode get its fingers under the assumptions of the plot-setup – what is normal, what is expected, and particularly when it comes to female characters?
It’s the early stirrings of a third wave feminist perspective on the show’s part: not that women should seek to dominate or separate themselves from men, but that all individuals should be unburdened by expectations based solely on their birth sex (once again, a gross oversimplification, but otherwise I’ll fall into a full lecture on socially constructed gender roles versus inherent self, and I can already see your eyes glazing over). As more of the memory conspiracy goes on these questions deepen into discussions of how a woman’s identity is determined, how their stories are told and who has the right to that telling, but the sensibility begins to show itself here.