The AniGay Guide to Lupin the Third: Spotlight on Part 1’s “One Chance to Breakout”
The main entries in the AniGay Guide to Lupin the Third will tackle entire seasons of the show, but I’ll also be stopping along the way to spotlight certain episodes that I feel are representative of Lupin III’s overall approach to queer storytelling and therefore deserve close queer readings of their very own. “One Chance to Breakout” (Part 1, episode 4), which pretty much exists to compare Lupin’s relationships with Jigen and Fujiko, is the first such episode. Definitely go watch it before reading on!
So: After Zenigata successfully downs Lupin with a tranquilizer gun during a heist, Lupin decides not to fight his fate. If Zenigata had been using a real gun, Lupin would be dead, so (according to Lupin) there’s only one way for him to save his pride: to break out of jail. Jigen and Fujiko, both of whom Lupin leaves behind on the outside, cope with Lupin’s long absence very, very differently:
In my Intro to Part 1, I said that episode 1.4 was peak Crime Husbands — the Lupin/Jigen configuration wherein they’re clearly in a stable and loving (romantic) relationship. And while that’s certainly true, the Love Triangle configuration also figures prominently in “One Chance to Breakout,” making it the perfect case study for both of these Part 1 relationship structures and how they interact with one another.
The episode takes place over the course of a full year, which is (hilariously) communicated to us via the, um, prison chaplain’s increasingly expensive modes of transportation:
And just as the priest gets an automotive upgrade for each passing season, so too do Jigen and Fujiko get new chances to demonstrate their unique styles of commitment to Lupin — Fujiko by attempting to orchestrate increasingly elaborate rescue attempts, and Jigen by thwarting them (also in increasingly elaborate ways).
Fujiko’s “commitment to Lupin” is, of course, complicated by the fact that she repeatedly tells us that actually, her only concern is the key she believes he still has on him. But Fujiko’s feelings for Lupin are never not complicated by her feelings for money, to the extent that many — most? — of Fujiko’s characterizations (keeping in mind that Lupin III is nothing if not inconsistent) seem to have no real feelings for Lupin whatsoever.
On the other hand, we’re told repeatedly, directly, and throughout the series that Jigen couldn’t care less about whatever treasure they happen to be attempting (and, as often as not, failing) to steal. “One Chance to Breakout” hits us over the head with it. Fujiko’s flightiness (both towards and away from Lupin) can easily be explained by her obsession with wealth. But why, the show silently asks its audience, does Jigen follow Lupin to the ends of the earth, if not for the promise of treasure? It’s a question that is (almost) never answered explicitly, partly because it can’t be — though Lupin III rides and occasionally steps a toe over the implicit-explicit line, it still maintains a veneer of plausible deniability, however flimsy — and partly because it doesn’t need to be. Jigen’s feelings for Lupin and, in episodes like this one where they are returned, Lupin’s for Jigen, are expressed in very different ways from the overt (and variably truthful) declarations of love that regularly fly between Lupin and Fujiko. But they are expressed far more steadily and sincerely.
So, back to the episode at hand! When Jigen finally does concoct a way to help Lupin escape, it’s not because he suddenly started caring about the locked chest that got Lupin into this mess in the first place — it’s because he’s worried that Lupin might actually be intending to get executed. Luckily for Jigen, that priest has been there this WHOLE TIME, ready and waiting for someone to turn his identity into a classic Lupin III disguise. Jigen does just that and, decked out in priestly attire, shows up in Lupin’s cell and offers him a gun. Lupin turns it down, confirming Jigen’s assumption that this prison break is something he wants to do on his own. But not before he stops Jigen on his way out of the prison to request a last cigarette. And so begins Lupin III’s long tradition of romantically charged cigarette-lighting, -smoking, and -sharing scenes between Lupin and Jigen:
Above, in addition to partaking in the homoerotic implications of smoking a cigarette placed in his mouth by another man, Lupin is silently reassuring Jigen. Jigen’s patience and trust have won from Lupin this small and gentle moment that Fujiko, in her rush to unlock a treasure chest, is never afforded. (Fujiko, in fact, never actually interacts directly with Lupin during this episode after the initial failed heist.) As a result, when Lupin does finally break out of jail, Jigen is waiting outside like his prom date (more on that in a second), while Fujiko is off on a pier somewhere, having a very emotional moment alone with Lupin’s gun (??) and the ocean:
Fujiko’s melodramatic dock scene is funny, and the reason it’s funny is because of the contrast between how she’s been acting the entire episode, and how she’s acting now that she thinks Lupin is dead. Fujiko is staging this cheesy scene — with the dress and the over-the-top gun-throwing symbolism — for herself, because that’s the kind of messy bitch she is. And that’s great. Fujiko is great! But in “One Chance to Breakout,” Fujiko who, again, doesn’t actually interact with Lupin at all during the bulk of the episode, is not Lupin’s love interest. Jigen is. So let’s check back in with the boys:
Above, while Lupin and Jigen drive to where Jigen apparently hid that pesky treasure chest, we’re treated to Jigen’s extremely unsubtle jab at Fujiko’s inability to wait more than a year for Lupin’s return. Like Fujiko’s “rescue” attempts that Jigen repeatedly thwarts, Jigen’s offhand (or strategic?) comment here positions him not just as the person Lupin ends up with, but specifically against Fujiko as the person Lupin ends up with. This is also true about the contrast between Fujiko’s dramatic grief performance, above, and what happens next.
Lupin and Jigen arrive at their destination just in time to see it (and the hidden treasure chest) blown up to make room for new construction. They sit down on the flattened ground, good-naturedly resigned to having lost yet another score, and now settled comfortably into their Crime Husbands configuration. Like Jigen, after all, there are things Lupin cares about more than money — Jigen himself, for example. And below, in a mirror of the earlier cigarette scene, this time it’s Lupin who puts the cigarette in Jigen’s mouth and lights it:
By the episode’s end, this particular version of the Jigen/Lupin/Fujiko triangle has hit all the story beats of any given love-triangle-centric narrative: Two people pursue one man; one fails; the other literally walks off into the sunset with the object of their affection, laughing, with their arms around one another.
Like Rebecca said in her analysis of implicit queerness in Hikaru no Go, the only reason to assume Jigen and Lupin’s relationship isn’t intended to be read as romantic here is an insistence on viewing it through a heteronormative lens. But because you’re here at AniGay reading about how gay a single episode of Lupin III is, I’ll assume you’re open (lucky for you!) to reading “One Chance to Breakout” as the standalone queer love story that it is.
And on that “standalone” note, as I’ve said many times and will say again, Lupin III is wildly inconsistent, and the dynamics put forth in this single episode are no exception to that rule. There is no Lupin “canon” as we usually define the word, so the fact that Lupin and Jigen get a happy romantic ending in some episodes doesn’t mean they are “canonically together” any more than the fact that Lupin and Fujiko aren’t together in this episode mean they are “canonically not together.” But because Lupin canon is basically moot, that means that Lupin and Jigen are also just as “canonically together” because of this episode as Lupin and Fujiko are because of episodes in which they end up together. Cool, right? The mutability of Lupin canon is annoying for binary questions of canonicity and “representation,” but it sure is great for the overall theory that the way we think about queer canon needs to change asap.
“Hey wait!” you’re probably (work with me here) thinking. “Didn’t you say that when we talk about queerness in Lupin III Part 1, we’re talking about both Jigen and Zenigata?” Why yes, yes I did. And because “One Chance to Breakout” is like the gayest episode of anime ever (it’s up there, at least), Zenigata’s love for Lupin does figure heavily into it.
Above and throughout the episode, Zenigata takes us through what will eventually become a familiar refrain of excuses and denial all the while praising Lupin’s abilities, intelligence, acumen, passion… You get the picture! (In fact, in at least one later episode, Lupin is successfully able to disguise himself as Zenigata while waxing poetic about his own — Lupin’s — handsomeness without raising the eyebrows of anyone acquainted with the real Zenigata.) During the course of Lupin’s year in prison, Zenigata gets increasingly anxious not (as he says) about losing his quarry, but rather about Lupin’s wellbeing. And just in case there was any question of where Zenigata’s concern really lies, he’s compared explicitly with Jigen who is worrying about exactly the same thing:
Interestingly, Jigen (in his priest getup) also uses Zenigata’s feelings for Lupin as a way to express his own in a similar way later in the episode:
When Lupin does finally escape — in an absolutely bonkers way, naturally — Zenigata is predictably thrilled:
I said before that Zenigata’s relationship with Lupin is way more straightforward than Jigen’s, and I stand by that! Zenigata is at once a character with romantic feelings for another man, and a joke about the homoeroticism inherent in the cat-and-mouse cops-and-robbers trope that he and Lupin embody. That’s pretty much the situation throughout all the Lupin III series, with the usual caveat that there are small variations depending on who happens to be working on any given episode. For this reason, the Zenigata/Lupin dynamic in “One Chance to Breakout” actually kinda is a succinct blueprint for their dynamic in the series as a whole, which just adds another level to how tightly constructed this episode’s queer narrative is as a whole.
Next time on the AniGay Guide to Lupin the Third, I’ll be starting on the loooong, LOOOoong second part! It’s so long, in fact, that I’m planning on splitting it up into four parts, one for each of its seasons. Mostly, though, I’m psyched to get to the next Spotlight episode post, which will focus on what is probably my personal favorite Lupin III episode of all time: “Rose and Pistol” or, as it gets translated more frequently, “Shot Through the Heart.”