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Despite mediocre animation and barely functional directing, this was a good episode due to the clever script by Dai Sato. I'd even go so far as to say this is the best episode yet due to the script. I was wondering what had happened with the previous Dai Sato episode, which was a boring trifle, but the man shows that he is still a master with this episode.
Lupin III was a product of the cold war, with its James Bond-inspired sexy spy action and intrigue, and this episode tells an alternative version of one of the pivotal events of the cold war, the Cuban Missile Crisis, complete with Kennedy, Castro and Khruschev lookalikes in analogous roles.
The episode is true to the spirit of the old Lupin III while being smarter and packing much more of a sting. With the old shows I often felt like they were never quite reaching the full potential of the material. When not about bank heists, the stories were often inspired by the real-life geopolitics, but more often than not the satire was blunted in favor of coy and facile slapstick. The writing was never smart or edgy enough.
Dai Sato here writes exactly the kind of story I wished I could have seen in the old shows. I wonder if he might not have been inspired by the recent spate of revolutionary biographical films like The Motorcycle Diaries and Carlos. Without glorifying the revolutionary, he casts a somewhat cynical eye on all the parties. He has the Castro stand-in drop a reference to a Japanese revolutionary who was his inspiration, presumably in reference to the late 19th century revolutionary and leader of the Shinsengumi Toshizo Hijikata, so that Japan winds up retroactively laying claim to the revolution. Classic subversive Dai Sato. Don't forget that Japan had its own red revolutionaries in the 60s with the Asama Sanso Jiken. Too bad he was unable to work in some reference to that.
The story is a bit needlessly convoluted, with several confusing time shifts to explain how Fujiko and Goemon got involved, but the story is full of smart touches and keeps you on the edge of your seat with its recreation of the tension of the Cuban missile crisis.
The revolutionary figure at the head of the story at one point is greeted by a chanting crowd, prompting Fujiko to call him a "rock star", which feels like a commentary on how pop culture today has turned onetime revolutionaries like Che Guevara into nothing more than empty icons on t-shirts. Fujiko asks him what his real motivation is - world revolution or merely the thrill of causing chaos - and his ambiguous answer that he just wants to keep dancing is satisfying for having a human ring rather than sounding like pat propaganda.
Fujiko comments on the hidden motivations of geopolitics of the cold war and beyond in the more cynical and informed voice of a denizen of the post-2000 era when she remarks that the reason for all the interest in the revolution on a puny Caribbean country isn't ideology but rumored oil reserves. The comment clearly is meant to evoke Iraq and inspire a healthy skeptical view of history.
Fujiko plays a fascinating combination of roles here, a regular Cassandra representing in a single individual the conflicting hidden currents of the powers at work behind the scenes. Journalist covering the Cuban revolution on the surface, she was in fact hired to assassinate the pseudo Castro, as we know the US attempted to do, while underneath she has her own motivations that remain tantalizingly murky to the end. This may very well be one of Fujiko's best roles ever.
The only disappointment is that none of the other cast members except Goemon play a role, and Goemon's role is a bit thin and underdeveloped. He seems to have been cast only so that he could serve in the climax. The absence of Lupin and Jigen seems to confirm this - they weren't needed for this story. The climax is admittedly quite brilliant in true Sato Dai fashion. It's the craziest and most fitting thing imaginable for a samurai cutting the missiles in half to solve something as insane as the Cuban missile crisis.
The drawings were weak. There isn't much good to be said about the animation. At some points the drawings were downright bad. Castro's hand was bigger than his head in one of the early shots, and in several other places the animators were clearly having difficulty rendering the character designs. That would have been less of an issue had the sakkans had more schedule to correct the drawings. Koike may draw cool characters, but clearly drawing cool characters is different from good character design, if the object of character design is to facilitate drawing by the range of drawing skill levels likely to be encountered by a given production.
At the very end Fujiko yet again bares her inhumanly firm tits for seemingly no reason whatsoever, which seems symptomatic of why the nudity bothers me - not because I don't like nudity as much as the next guy, but because it just doesn't make any sense and seems thrown in for no reason but to meet some kind of tit quota per episode.