Or: Probably the Only Time You’ll See Hayao Miyazaki Compared to Frank Miller
Spring season is finally bringing us a new installment of Lupin III, dear readers. As much as I adore The Woman Called Fujiko Mine (and I do, emphatically), it was quite the departure for the series’ established MO – a contained, stylish thought experiment and deliberate period piece rather than a fast-and-loose adventure story with a consistent core cast. Meanwhile, the new “Blue Jacket” (premiere date undetermined at time of writing outside of the general spring 2015 timeline) seems set not only on returning to the adventure of the week formula but in finally updating the thief to the modern day – and I’ll be particularly interested in seeing how deep that goes. Annual Lupin specials might have had modern tech interludes (who can forget the oddity of Goemon using an iPhone), but the character writing has never really felt like it left the 70s.
In fact, while I’ll fight for the highest caliber entries of the franchise’s status as timeless classics, it can be really tough to sell a modern anime fan on getting into Lupin. Part of that’s the age (particularly in the art style), but beyond that I hear over and over again that the amount of content is just overwhelming. We’re talking over 40 years of animation, after all. And it’s not always evident from the outside how loose the continuity between series is – not to mention the many, many different tones and takes over the years, meaning there can be different “best starting places” for everyone. But I think I’ve finally got a way to explain it to people: Lupin III is like Batman.
Not the go-to comparison (that’s usually, off the cuff, “James Bond meets Bugs Bunny”), but it works. Trust me, I can prove it.
In honor of that anniversary, this month’ll be blocked out for a conversation on Awesome Stuff. This time around, I’ve divided out my top 20 favorite anime. By its nature the list is always in flux, particularly those at the high end of the countdown (I haven’t managed yet to touch Spice & Wolf or Mawaru Penguindrum, for example). But! Whether or not they move off of the formal list in the future, these are all series that captured my imagination, that showed me something new, creative, or different in idea or execution, and that I fully stand behind recommending.
(And if you want to lay down bets as to what the coming weeks will bring, please do be my guest).
Almost a year ago I started my very first ongoing series (a lecture series? Recaps? A bit of both, perhaps), concerning the classic anime Lupin III Part I (colloquially known as the “Green Jacket” series). I’ll say the same thing now that I did then (repeatedly, and for 23 straight weeks): Green Jacket is a charming piece of overlooked animation history, a testing ground for new ideas (as the first truly adult-oriented anime) and new talents (Hayao Miyazaki) often overshadowed by its Red Jacketed successor even in its native country. It’s well worth exposing yourself to.
This post is meant to give new readers a sort of helping hand. Putting aside (arguably) Goemon’s two introduction episodes, the series is completely episodic. They can be picked and chosen, in other words. And though I have a certain aversion to top ten lists claiming to list things that are Objectively Best (lacking, as they tend to, any consciousness of their authors’ inescapable subjectivity), lists along the lines of ‘Hey, This is Noteworthy or Good for X Reasons’ can do a lot as far as opening doors to unfamiliar audiences.
With that in mind, here are ten episodes of Green Jacket worth seeking out (if you’re in the US or Canada you can watch it here, and anyone not in need of subtitles can find the whole Lupin catalogue on Japan’s NicoNico).
(And yes, you’ll be seeing rather a few lists in the coming weeks – Auncle Vrai is feeling the crushing weight of writerly deadlines this month).
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.
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:
This has to be one of the weirdest Green Jacket episodes since we started this little adventure. Not in terms of content so much – you’ve got a girl, a chase, lots of guns and a few daring escapes, all pretty par for the course – but because of the weird behind the scenes tension that I may or may not be imagining. Because I just can’t see Hayao Miyazaki, the man who would go on to create so many dynamic and wonderful female characters, leading the charge on an episode whose first act can be summed up as “what is wrong with this girl, fighting back against the men who kidnapped her.”
By the way, the official title for this episode (as in the one that’s on Hulu and most episode summaries you’ll run across) is “Rescue the Tomboy!.” That’s….not so much what the subtitling team decided on, though.
Burning a late candle for this week’s recap, which is one of the last times we’ll be introduced to an Important Future Tradition – one the traditions nearest and dearest to my heart, in fact. But we can’t begin that way – there’s intrigue and such, and a good old return to ‘Lupin is the hero because the villains are even bigger assholes.’ This is “Catch the Phony Lupin!” and you can watch it here.
We open on a string of heinous thefts committed by a man in a gas mask.
No, not that one
There ya go
You can tell nothing’s amiss because he made sure to sign it as The Real Lupin. Maybe looking back on it from the present I’m attributing a newfound and unaccounted for sense of cynicism, but…really?
Obviously the common employee won’t be intimately familiar with how Lupin works, and since it’s the 70s the spread of information wasn’t exactly up to snuff with what it would be nowadays. Things like the gas mask could be totally normal, as far as they know. But signing your threats ‘the real Lupin?’ Nobody reports that to Zenigata? He doesn’t look at one of the crime scenes from this montage and say ‘huh, that’s slightly suspicious, I wonder if we should consider copycats?’ Pops has even gone so far as to open fire, and – ah, it’s going to be one of those episodes.