So a funny thing happened this past week. Lupin III Part 5’s 24th episode came out, and effectively concluded the series. Err… Ooops.
Alrigh, Look, I admit it. This is definitely an odd place to be in, because despite my rather lukewarm reception of the back half of this fifth series, I still consider this show to be one the best things to come out of the Lupin III franchise in some time now. To that end, I had intended to get back on the weekly episode bandwagon and review the remaining episodes, but personal life and just an inherent failure on my part to make time, led to us being where we are today. Lupin III Part 5 is done, and I think I can chalk this series up to another one of those shows that I started to blog, got fairly deep into, and then kind of dropped off from (and without any credible good reason).
It certainly seems a bit too late to go back and write about the past eight or so episodes individually, so I’m making the executive decision to not do that. I do, however, still have some things that I want to talk about with regards to this series. The final arc, in particular, is noteworthy because it has some things that it does really really well and some things that it just… Shouldn’t have. Basically there’s some moves that this series makes near its end, that should have lasting effects on the Lupin III franchise as a whole. That, is exciting stuff, but it is unfortunately bundled with elements that really dampen the overall quality of the entire show, as well. Its these things, I think, that make this a show something really worth discussing, breaking down and analyzing.
And yes, A part of me really does wish that someone else had actually given this series its due and reviewed it on a weekly basis to completion. But… Well… We have what we have here. Yes, I did indeed disappoint at the very least myself as a Lupin III fan, but well… I still want to try and write about the show, even this late in the game.
Alright… Enough beating around the bush. Lets talk about the last chunk of Lupin III Part 5 episodes, and dive into what I think works really well and what kind of doesn’t.
I suppose before we get to the meat of the series’ conclusion and the last story arc, I suppose its worth talking about the glut of “filler” episodes we got in between the Dolna arc and the final “peopleLog” arc. There’s not a lot to really say here, other than I think these “filler” episodes were actually not really all that filler. They certainly seemed that way at first, much like many of the other “flashback” episodes we saw throughout the series, but each of these episodes provided both some character development and vital setup for the final arc.
The most throwaway of these is probably the Lupin detective story, which honestly doesn’t really have a huge purpose in the grand scheme of things. Yes, it proves that Lupin is fairly smart and clever, and good at deductive reasoning, but its something that the entire franchise has kind of already shown. Beyond that? Well each episode did what we’ve seen these kinds of episodes do before; highlight something about Lupin’s supporting cast. Jigen, Fujiko, Goemon and Zenigata each got another round of development and exploration. And from that exploration, came a few little nuggets of information that we hadn’t seen from the franchise or even this series, up till this point.
What were they? I am so glad you asked. Lets start with the first one, Lupin and Fujiko having been possibly engaged at one point. This really is a dramatic shift, because it not only tells us that Lupin and Fujiko were actually in a relationship, but that they stayed in said relationship to the point of almost settling down together. And we’ll get back to that, particularly in the final arc discussion, but lets move on for now.
So… Two, Goemon and Lupin have always had a bit of an odd friendship/rivalry dynamic. This is key, because there’s always been the question of why Goemon, despite being super strong and powerful, seems to hang around Lupin. The “filler” episode with Goemon at the helm, really illustrates how oscillatory their relationship really is.
Moving on, three, show us how Zenigata is actually a pretty good match for Lupin, and may even be a better thief than the main man himself. Finally, there’s four, Jigen and Lupin’s friendship, and how it is inherently one of solid brotherhood. The two support each other through thick and have a different dynamic to the one that Lupin and Goemon have. Its a much more traditional, friendship dynamic, than it is say a rivalary or even a partnership. Alright, so… All these points play well into the final story, where Lupin finally comes face to face with this season’s villain, Enzo.
Now… Enzo and his whole PeopleLog app situation, is a story that I think is really a mixed bag more so than anything else we’ve seen thus far from this fifth series. Yes, I realize that I mentioned some issues I had with the Dolna arc, but I really do believe that that arc as a whole was pretty abysmal, to say the least. You can ignore that arc almost entirely, and be pretty much okay, save for a few scenes at the end.
The thing about the PeopleLog story, however, is that its got some real high points and some real low points (and all of them kind of matter). The highs are really impressive here, as they actually do push the franchise as a whole in bold new directions. The lows on the other hand? Well, its something that you just don’t expect from a show that’s set a pretty darn high bar of quality with regards to its writing, characterization, pacing and general storytelling.
Yeah, you guessed my implication with that sentence correctly. The final arc of Lupin III Part 5 has messy characterization, off quilter pacing and even breaks some general storytelling rules. In a rather weird change of pace, its the execution this time, rather than the concepts, that ends up coming up short (take a look at my Dolna arc post to see the opposite in action).
I mean, there’s some solid ideas here. The whole “social media and data prediction” angle that the entire show started off with, is taken to its natural, extreme conclusion in this arc. Lupin’s actions and moves aren’t just broadcasted to the whole world now, they’re collected into data by this “PeopleLog” App. What this leads to, is the app and technlogy, analyzing Lupin’s patterns and predicting both his moves, and more importantly, his weaknesses.
Enzo’s plan, to demonstrate his app’s power by capturing Lupin is a sound one. The PeopleLog App, analyzing Goemon’s insecurities and providing Enzo with a weapon to use against Lupin? That’s pretty darn smart and well set up. Fujiko and Lupin’s relationship issues coming back into play and the couple trying to figure out where they stand amidst all of this? Really cool.
The problem, however, is all around Enzo himself. Enzo… Isn’t a good villain. Heck, I’d argue he isn’t even a real character. Enzo is the show’s cardinal sin of storytelling, because the show makes Enzo into whatever the plot needs him to be.
Ami needs a connection to the overall story? Make Enzo her father. Ami needs issues to work out with said father who never went after her? Make Enzo completely cold and focused on his peopleApp. Lupin needs a new rival and someone who’s going to face him head on with modern technology? Enzo can do that. Albert and the shady governments of the world need an opposing force to them? Well… Make Enzo a misunderstood anti-hero! Oh and Ami needs to kind of transition away from Lupin and needs a conclusion to her daddy issues? Enzo can actually, quickly, realize his failures and reconnect with his daughter at the end, as well.
See the issues here? Enzo is doing too many things, and those things all kind of clash and contradict one another. The show and its writers just have no idea how to resolve the whole Enzo thing AND all their other plot threads in four or so episodes. Everything, as a result, is kind of rushed through and adjusted on the fly. The victim of all of that, is most certainly Enzo and to a lesser extent his story arc as a whole. The two kind of have to adapt and mold themselves to the story’s larger goals, rather than inform or shape the story themselves.
So yes, Enzo is pretty much completely botched, which makes his threat level and the general story lose a lot of its impact and power. Enzo’s characterization, his change of heart and his reconciliation with Ami are all extremely jarring, weird and feel unearned. Him beating Lupin, and then being by beaten by Lupin is all too sudden. Which in turn, makes the pacing of the story beats feel equally broken and rushed. Bad Pacing, bad characterization, and the characters and events being in service to the plot in a less than organic way? Well.. These are things that I believe don’t work, and are the proverbial “lows” of the final arc.
Alright, so… Now that I’ve listed all the bad stuff, lets switch gears for a second here. I mentioned before (twice actually), that there’s some really impressive stuff in this arc as well. What IS that stuff exactly? Well… The stuff that does work, is actually related to what the show does with Lupin himself, and in how it answers the question that its been building up to since the very start; What exactly is the deal with Lupin and Fujiko?
Now… Lets start with the big bombshell, which kind of ties into the big question. In its last episode, the series does something truly unexpected and amazing with its so called solution Lupin’s ongoing struggles with the PeopleLog app. See, in the last story arc, the idea is that PeopleLog is an application tjat analyzes data and uses it to predict things. Thus, basically technology is able to stay on step ahead of Lupin by basically predicting every move he’ll ever make. The only way for Lupin to come on top here, is to have some information or data hidden, therefore staying ahead of PeopleLog and its analyzation ability. And look, I totally expected Lupin to have some trick, or secret up his sleeve because well, that’s how this kind of story goes.
What I didn’t expect, however, was for the show to flat out admit that the Lupin III that we’ve seen all these years, the recognizable and very famous character, was always a fake. Lupin, in a bid to finally prove how much Fujiko means to him, rips off his face, revealing it to be another one of his many disguises.
MAN, is that a huge shocker, and one that sends wave rippling through the entire franchise. This moment? Its such a huge game changer, and it suggests that even Lupin’s closest friends, his allies, and the fans and viewers who’ve followed him for so long, ALL don’t really know him at all. Plus the show, with its blacked out silhouette depiction of Lupin’s real face, makes the bold move of not even really showing the audience Lupin’s true identity. He’s an enigma, a mystery, and a question that really may never be answered.
Here’s the thing though, I think this not only works, but is the single most brilliant thing this show has done. This little moment, by itself, breathes a ton of fresh air and opens up so much potential for a franchise that’s long needed a bit of a boost. This kind of franchise level plot twist, that redefines everything while keeping everything in tact as well, is the sort of thing that I think many long running franchise fans dream of.
And as if the idea itself isn’t impressive enough, using it to kind of evolve Fujiko and Lupin’s relationship, to the next level, is something else entirely. So, on that note… Let me dial back for a second, because the whole Fujiko and Lupin relationship itself gets such a huge upgrade in this show that it, itself requires some exploration.
Now… As you may recall from some of my earlier posts on this series, I’ve mentioned how stale the Lupin/Fujiko dynamic had gotten in recent years. The game of cat and mouse between the two, and the rather odd suggestion that Fujiko didn’t really care for Lupin, was something that just didn’t sit all too well with me. What this show did, in response to decades of the same pattern, is systematically change and update this couple’s dynamic for the modern age.
First, the show jumped forward in time, and showed us a Lupin and Fujiko that had parted ways. Then, with our curiousity peaked, the show went on to slowly go back and time and build up the idea of Lupin and Fujiko actually becoming an item. The most important part of it all, was most certainly getting Fujiko to show affection and interest in Lupin himself, something that I think has gotten lost in the franchise in its more recent incarnations.
Then, with Fujiko and Lupin’s entanglement being a lot more believable, the show presents the idea that Fujiko and Lupin DO actually end up dating and living together for a while. That’s a huge bombshell in itself, but what it leads to is a pretty reasonable conclusion. The actual relationship itself ends up fizzling out, because the excitement of the chase, the courtship and the dance is just gone. Fujiko and Lupin get bored of one another, despite caring for each other deeply.
To each of them its hard to really gauge or interpret how the other feels. Fujiko’s whole thing about not really being sure of what she is to Lupin is a really great question. The dialogue of her asking Lupin of asking taht question is particularly poignant.
“Am I a prize to be won? A port for your ship in a storm? Just another lover?”
Those are all valid questions, and valid things that I think the franchise has hinted at for Fujiko. They’re also all not quite right, and I love how Lupin’s big conundrum is trying to explain the depth of his connection and love for Fujiko. She’s certainly been all those things to him at some point, but as he himself rightly points out, there’s more to it than that.
And in the end, Lupin’s response to the question of who Fujiko is to him, is a beautiful one. As Lupin the 3rd rips off his recognizable face, he reveals the real depth of his relationship with the woman he loves. Fujiko isn’t just a friend, or a woman he pines for, she’s the one person that he wants to be vulnerable with and more importantly, be himself around.
By revealing his true face to her, Lupin makes the ultimate statement that, regardless of what the world knows or doesn’t know, Fujiko gets to see a side of him and a part of him that’s exclusive to her. She’s that special, and I think that statement, made in such a franchise shifting way, is something that us romantics can really appreciate.
If there was a way to convince and win Fujiko’s heart for good, than I think you can’t get anything much better than this. This is the show’s writers basically giving Fujiko a special place in the Lupin III franchise lore. It’s cementing her above Lupin’s other girls like Rebecca or maybe even Ami (Although that’s a bit more of a one-sided crush than anything else). And I think that, plus the overall changes to the franchise that this big moment makes, makes the high point of this last arc, pretty darn high.
And yes, I realize that the show kind of walks back some things a bit by the whole “we all stay the same” moment at the very end. Yes, Lupin, Fujiko, Goemon and Jigen are still a crew, yes they’ll still be going on adventures. Yes Zenigata will still go after Lupin. Those things can’t change, as they are forever in the genetic makeup of what makes Lupin III such an endearing franchise.
I don’t think anyone really wants the core of the franchise to change. But at the same time, the small tweaks that this fifth series makes to the overall franchise, by adding in characters like Albert, Ami and Enzo, plus the big ramifications of Lupin’s true identity and his evolved relationship with Fujiko? Well, that’s what makes this fifth series such a hallmark.
Its these changes, that I think make Lupin III Part 5 something that no fan of the franchise should miss out on. Said changes inject some much needed excitement, mystery and wonder into a franchise that was pretty stale and complacent for a good long while. They also give future stories a lot of potential and wiggle room to work with.
Which, by the way, is what I believe Lupin III Part 5’s real accomplishment is. Despite a rather middling second half, the show presents some really clever and unique ideas, and puts the franchise in a place where there’s tons to look forward to. The world of Lupin III is a lot bigger now, with more players and characters spinning around the fulcrum that is Lupin III himself. Where the franchise goes from here? Well… I’m definitely excited to find out.
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