Lupin the Third: Part 5
by Rose Bridges,
How would you rate episode 17 of
Lupin the Third: Part 5 ?
I've enjoyed the standalone episodes of Lupin the Third: Part 5. At worst they've been silly but fun, and at best they're surprisingly compelling in their own rights. I think episode 17 is easily the strongest of these so far. Not only does it work as a gripping 20-minute mystery, but it also suggests a whole new type of story that I would be eager to watch. Lupin the detective, solving mysteries, doing good by those rich old ladies with priceless emeralds for once. What's not to love about that?
Mystery shows can be a lot of fun, but they also make me feel uneasy sometimes. If you're not the best at keeping track of small plot details or reading characters' subtle motivations, mystery plots can feel stressful with their injunction on the audience to "solve the case" before the characters do. So I appreciated that Lupin III's take on this genre is kept things relatively simple. You constantly think there's some new detail around the corner to shock you, but most of the clues are staring you in the face from the beginning. This is often the case, but other stories try to throw in lots of red herrings to throw you off the scent. The relatively small nature of this mystery—four potential suspects committing a murder in one room—keeps the story from getting in its own way. That doesn't mean you'll be able to guess the murderer on your own, but it does mean you can more easily follow Lupin's logic.
As it stands, I predicted that the count's murderer would be someone other than the three guests in the room. When there's a setup with a small number of suspects who all seem equally plausible at the beginning, it usually means something is afoot. It turned out that I was correct on a technicality: one of our three guys is still guilty, but he didn't technically commit the murder. Instead, he has an identical twin brother who did it for him, allowing him to be both suspicious and have an airtight alibi. (It helps that this twin brother was adopted out to another family, so no one else knew of his existence until now.) Allan Dubois would still be considered legally culpable for the murder, but he didn't technically pull the trigger.
In retrospect, Lupin III sets up lots of little signs that Allan is the culprit. At least, they're the kinds of signs you'd recognize if you're familiar with mystery plots, because they're all about trying to steer you away from Allan toward the other people in the room. Frederik Autorett had the weakest alibi, being just across the street from the scene of the crime; Pierre acts the most suspiciously when they arrive, showing up drunk and late to the second meeting. Even the maid gets a target painted on her back, and she may be the most logical guess if you're genre-savvy. Mysteries often end with the perpetrator as the party no one would've suspected, who had some deeply personal motivation that was previously hidden from the audience. All you have to do is watch a few episodes of Scooby Doo to know the villain is usually the most trustworthy person in the room, and that maid has a few suspiciously blank expressions in key moments.
Still, I appreciated that Lupin III went with the more grounded route. Allan also had the most personal and understandable motivation for killing the count. Not that people never commit murder out of sheer greed (Autorett) or frustration over business rivalries (Pierre), but Allan's wounds run the deepest, with the count indirectly destroying his father's life. Even if Pierre isn't doing as well as he could have, he did bounce back to some degree from his business ruin, but you can't so easily recover from the loss of a parent. Plus, there's the issue that the count is family too, so it's a much deeper betrayal.
There's still one part of this whole plot that's confusing to me, and that's how Mme. Maunbassant supposedly "set up" her own murder. It seems as though she would've had to know an absurd number of details about how Allan carried out the crime in order to do this. It's one thing to anticipate that someone used an accomplice, as all three men had alibis. It's another to know specifically that they'd be able to bypass your facial recognition software, which would suggest knowing that one of them was a twin. It would make sense that a family member might know of Allan's secret twin while the wider world didn't, but then she would have had enough information to confront him without sacrificing herself. Why does she even need to hire Lupin if she's so many steps ahead of him anyway? It makes for a fun additional mystery to solve, but it does kind of stick out in an otherwise simple sort of mystery plot.
All that aside, I had a ton of fun with this week's Lupin III. It's interesting that the episode that suggests a totally new type of show would be the one for Green-Jacket Lupin—the first Lupin TV series, which often struggled to figure out what kind of show it wanted to be. At the same time, it's arguably the most accessible of the early Lupin TV series, with its shorter run. Plus, it features some early work from future famous anime directors, including Hayao Miyazaki. (The only other reference of note in this episode is that "Jim Barnett" is an alias used by the original Arsène Lupin in Maurice Leblanc's stories.) This is also the only episode that leaves Lupin working without his famous team—forcing him to carry out everything himself for once.
Next week, we're back to more Fujiko and Zenigata, my two favorite characters, but I enjoyed seeing our famous thief shine on his own too. If this weren't episode 17 of an ongoing series, it might not be a bad place for a new viewer to get introduced to Lupin's character, with the caveat that he usually employs his wits to commit crimes rather than solve them.
Lupin the Third: Part 5 is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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