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Lupin the Third Rewind: The Man They Called a Magician

By 7:22 PM


When engaging with Lupin the Third, the first thing you need to do — immediately — is suspend your disbelief. Gravity will be defied, plot armor will be donned and dropped in whatever way best serves the plot, and sometimes things will get downright paranormal. How paranormal? That's a good question.

We're all the way up to the second-ever TV anime episode, titled "The Man They Called a Magician." The episode is based on chapter 14 of Monkey Punch's original manga (released by TokyoPop as chapter 7, "The Hand Is Quicker Than the Spy.") In it, we meet Pycal: a man who can shoot fire from his fingers, levitate, and who (apparently) is impervious to bullets. Even for the notably resilient Lupin Gang, this is a lot.

Sleight of Hand

Pycal is Lupin's second-ever onscreen foe, and he's not messing around. Technically he's called "Paikaru," which is also another name for baijiu — hence Lupin's comment in the episode that his name sounds drinkable. Let's not get hung up on names, though. This guy introduces himself by setting Fujiko on fire, and that doesn't sit well with Lupin.

After a night resting up at Lupin's hideout, Fujiko is about to be treated to a big breakfast. Or she would be, if Pycal hadn't tracked her down, enduring a hail of bullets from multiple guns of varying sizes and leaving with her in tow. She has something he wants: some valuable slides of film, which she has since dropped off in Lupin's car.

On the one hand, Lupin is raring to rescue his lover. On the other, this dude just had machine gun death rained down on him, got back up, and set Lupin on fire with (it would seem) magic. Fortunately, Lupin can start to unravel most of his tricks. The last of them, it just so happens, can be figured out with the help of that all-important film.

Pycal isn't a magician, as it turns out. He is, however, in possession of some very cool science. Chief among these science-y things is a formula for a thin bulletproof membrane that, when sprayed on a person, makes them impervious to bullets and fire for a set amount of time. Lupin and Pycal eventually square off; but when  Pycal sets Lupin aflame again, all he manages to burn up is his own film. The encounter devolves into a fire fight, with the victor being whoever's bulletproof spray is freshest. That would be Lupin... meaning Pycal is eventually burned to death.


Love and Lies

Fujiko... sitting in a tree.

It's still early doors yet for Lupin and Fujiko, at least as far as the anime is concerned. As time goes on, their relationship (and what others think of it) will become a pivotal aspect of the story. 2018's Part V in particular relies heavily on examining all the relationships among the cast, with their strange romance being the strongest through-line. Having Fujiko finally demand to know what they are to each other, and getting an answer, is some of the most rewarding anime I've watched.

From the first episode, we get a sufficient surface-level view of their dynamic. She's operating in her own interests, with full awareness that Lupin has a weakness for her. Lupin is also aware of his weakness for her. And it's pretty clear that, whatever else he may say, he knows that any dealings with her have a high probability of ending in betrayal. He just goes ahead regardless.

Fujiko's in the midst of her own machinations with Pycal: carefully cultivating the same level of loyalty in him that she already has in Lupin, then sending them off to go toe-to-toe for dominance. Her aim is, of course, Pycal's film (or, more specifically, the formula on it). But she does, however briefly, show a bit of concern and emotional attachment for Lupin. It's when he's out of earshot, but it's there. And boy, will it stay out of earshot for a long time.

Paranormal Activity

Aspects of the sci-fi and supernatural — the ancient tech of The First, for example, or the strange history-magic of Part II's Rose of Versailles crossover episode — became more common in Lupin the Third the longer it went on. And, in particular, they became more baked into the anime's worldview the more Indiana Jones-esque it became. But Monkey Punch was no stranger to such things.

Kyosuke Mamo (a different Mamo from The Mystery of Mamo) was one of his creations: a mad sci-fi writer from the future who used his knowledge of time travel to attempt to put an end to the entire Lupin line. In fact, Mamo and Pycal would cross paths in the 2018 OVA Is Lupin Still Burning?, which Monkey Punch co-directed as a celebration of the manga's 50th anniversary. (Mamo will appear in Part I as well, with an altered back story... but all in good time.)

In other words, things of a fully sci-fi nature have always been welcome here. Which makes a character like Pycal all the more interesting. His story hammers home that, even in a world of strange happenings, everything must be somehow explicable beyond a hand-wave.

We see this in action constantly. Goemon's Zantetsuken operates well beyond the means of any real sword. But it's forged from a meteor and wielded by a legendary samurai. The gang regularly encounters technological marvels... but they are technological. At least, this is the general  rule. There will be several exceptions to prove it, especially when Lupin goes Pink Jacket. (Or when Mamoru Oshii gets involved... speaking of things for another time.)

Of course, in the next episode he apparently meets a witch named Linda... so perhaps this whole blog post will go up in flames like Pycal's film. I guess we'll see. And (like I mentioned last week) Pycal does come back in a TV special, armed with a new bag of tricks. Remember when I said he may or may not have burned to death? Yeah... it's complicated.

For now, if you want go back and watch from the beginning, there are lots of ways to do so — including a very nice Blu-ray set:

Lupin the 3rd Part I Blu-ray


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