Lupin III – The Hard-Boiled Bullet
Like a fair number of Western anime fans, my main experience with Lupin III is with the classic flick Castle of Cagliostro and a few TV episodes here and there. Always meant to watch more, but it’s always been unfortunately easier for me to put aside long stuff like Lupin III, Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Urusei Yatsura or whatever in favor of short series, movies and OVAs that build up on the ol’ to-watch plate. Maybe this new series will be the kick in the ass I need to plunge full-on into Lupin III whether it’s only partially representative of the Lupin experience or not.
The second episode of the new Lupin III series struck me hard because it’s so god damned noir in tone, style, look, story, character . . . you name it, this episode has it. I know only the most surface things about the Lupin III characters, but from what I do know, Jigen and Fujiko strike me as being the most at-home in a film noir. (Goemon is, of course, a friggin’ samurai, and Lupin himself is maybe a bit too free-flowing and fun for a super hard-boiled story like this . . . but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were several tales that proved me wrong.) Jigen in particular I could see being a detective in an L.A. noir in another life.
You’re usually one of two types of folks if you’re a noir hero: A desperate sucker (or a sucker whose false bravado hides his desperation), or you’re the man with a heart in a sick, decaying world. Jigen is clearly the latter. He’s tough but not uncaring; suspicious, but not unfeeling. He cares about honor in a world that has none, but he’s not a sap because he sticks to a code. Jigen’s character design here also screams noir hero. The thick, black, sketchy lines benefit him more than anyone so far — they give him a lean, tough look. Jigen’s gun looks bigger, his chin and beard longer and sharper, his fedora more menacing, and the deep shadows below the brim darker. Jigen might initially come off as built from the scraps of film noir, but he’s made in such a way that he’s his own person and nothing else. He’s an archetype, for sure, but an archetype that sticks.
As for the story, you can’t get much more classic film noir than this. You’ve got a self-destructive woman who tempts the hero; a gruff man with a hidden heart; layers of deceptive storytelling; and settings that seem built specifically to play with darkness and light. Film noir stories strike me as interesting because while they are often complex and occasionally difficult to keep straight, it’s rarely the details that matter so much as the chords struck by each individual beat. Details are hidden not because it’s clever storytelling, but because it means something that the details are hidden. In this case, Cicciolina’s desire for self-destruction had not disappeared; her plot is an elaborate suicide by the hands of the one man who touched her heart.
For me, when the details in a noir story come together like this, the feeling afterward is insanely harrowing despite the often dark, dour outcomes. Much of that feeling comes down to noir having a feeling that truly resonates. It’s the type of feel that can only be captured in a visual/aural medium. (Don’t get me wrong: I love Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, et al as much as anyone else, but the feeling from reading a book is something different.) When Jigen goes to Cicciolina’s body, opens the chamber of his trusted gun and finds no bullets within, that’s a Moment. That soft jazz, that dark church, Cicciolina’s pained confession, and that dark church with the Madonna on the wall . . . so fuckin’ perfect, man.
That’s the kind of shit that gets me. I’ll eat that up to the day I die.