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"The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk" - Hegel
Philosophical musings and trippy imagery are the order of the day in this episode, which is a mindf*** and a half. This episode is also the best in the series so far in my opinion. Too many of the previous episodes have been either side-stories which although fun seemed merely to be biding time, or else hobbled by weak directing or animation. This episode didn't have fantastic animation per se, but it felt strong overall in every respect - directing, script and animation - and most saliently, it finally did what this series should have done a lot sooner, and that's dig into the meat of the show's hinted-at running story.
After so many coy hints in previous episodes, this time clear revelations are made about what the deal is with the owl-men and Fujiko's flashbacks. It's still impossible to piece everything together clearly, but for the first time in the series you come away feeling like what you're seeing makes sense - not in terms of the story, which is still unfolding, but in terms of the show's identity. The show didn't seem to know who it was much of the time. I feel they waited to long to tip us in on the very basic premise of the show. Instead of doing 9 meandering episodes with little progress in the main story save hints in flashbacks, the whole series should have been devoted the main story. It feels like in this episode, for the first time, they've created an episode squarely focused on the main story of this series, and done it in a way that's entertaining rather than merely clumsily artsy.
This episode was difficult to penetrate, but also undeniably brilliant and engrossing. I think it's the most cleverly and methodically constructed episode so far. The script and directing work in sync to create a labyrinth of the mind in which you never know what is real and what is imagined, all while the back story gradually comes into light. The episode teases you about what is real and what is imagined, and how to piece together the confusing information and strange images you're presented, much as Lupin doesn't know whether he's finally woken up to reality or is still dreaming yet another dream within a dream. Your expectations are constantly upturned, and the truth is hidden somewhere within the haze.
The script courtesy of Dai Sato is dense and full of literary allusions and quotes and foreign words and witticisms. The storyboard is by Yoshimitsu Ohashi. Ohashi has had a long and prolific career directing and animating dating back to Nadia of the Blue Water. Most recently he directed Sacred Seven. He was also character designer and chief animation director of one of my favorite anime, Green Legend Ran.
Ohashi's storyboard does a fantastic job putting Dai Sato's script into dramatic form and playing off the allusions and hidden meanings in the script. Every moment seems to drip significance both visually and verbally in a complex cross-hatching. A butterfly drifting across the screen at a certain moment echoes something in the script on the tip of our understanding. The episode has many striking images such as the candyland of the infant Fujiko, Lupin transpierced by an owl, and the actual photos of flowers that litter the episode. (Mixing in live action bits at significant moments is a tactic used previously in Kemonozume.)
With its references to arcane literary, philosophical and mythological figures and foreign words from Minerva and Glaucos to Hegel and memento mori and Fräulein Eule, this episode is ripe for analysis. It downright begs the audience to (try to) deconstruct its various hidden meanings. There's also a fascinating repetition of images and words throughout the episodes, such as the butterfly that appears at various moments, and the repetition of the word Fräulein Eule. It's a great script and impressive in a different way from Dai Sato's already impressive script for episode 7, showing Sato Dai's versatility.
At a more basic level, it was nice to see Lupin finally given a big role, and the interaction with Zenigata was satisfying, especially the surprise moment where right as they're facing one another off, they're attacked and wind up having to join forces. The only disappointment is that none of the other side-characters were present. It seems to be policy in this series that only two or so of the main characters are present in each episode, never the whole gang together.
Incidentally, in terms of the animation, there's one lovely bit of animation at the point I mentioned above where the masked men leap up from the flowers and blast away at Zenigata and Lupin with machine guns. I assume this must have been animated by Shin Itagaki. I wish the whole show moved like that scene. Other notable animators in the episode included Hideyuki Motohashi and Kenichi Shima. Kenichi Shima is a youngish animator about whom I don't know much other than that he was involved in Tatami Galaxy, Redline and Brave Story - as well as this cool little vid with music by Satoshi Murai. He just seems like an animator worth keeping an eye on for some reason. (What a coincidence I singled him out - I just noticed he is the animation director of the next Fujiko episode.)