May 172012

Something that’s always annoyed me in fiction is how fictional nations will be conjured up and inserted into the real world. You look at Marvel Comics and you have places like Dr. Doom’s Latveria. The writers didn’t want to have him take over an actual Eastern European country, so they dreamed up some small Transylvania-like place and shoved it into the cracks of the Balkans. The concept works, and it isn’t one that particularly bothers me in and of itself, but it’s an example of sidestepping reality in order to shoehorn a foreign, fictional concept into the story.

They do this in order to maintain the political status quo. They don’t want to turn the US into something different, since they want to keep the familiarity of New York and the like, but they don’t want to use anything else in an inaccurate manner. Makes sense I guess. I can imagine people getting irked over some comic book dude taking, say, Hungary and turning it into a dictatorship controlled by some egomaniac in a power suit with mommy issues.

That’s what I really dug about this week’s episode of Lupin. They clearly wanted to do a play on the Cuban Missile Crisis, but they wanted to take some historical license with it. That’s an awfully romantic picture of Castro they paint there, but they wanted to use him as yet another foil/pawn for Fujiko to manipulate while using the USA/USSR bit as a backdrop. They could have created a completely new Caribbean nation and had it play the same role as Cuba, and its revolutionary leader could have been Fujiko’s plaything.

And they do just that, but they don’t plop it down in the Caribbean we know. Everything in the Lupin world is slightly out of phase. The world has the same map, but nothing goes by the same name. The tensions are the same, but the world leaders are completely different. This is the Cuban Missile Crisis, but by changing everything’s outer appearance they’ve turned it into its own thing.

Someone might find this lazy. “They just renamed everything. That’s nothing!” But I think it’s pretty damn clever. By doing this you make everything familiar. Anyone with a modicum of world history knowledge knows what’s going down, so there’s no need to over-explain things. At the same time, that familiarity makes changing history that much easier. It’s familiar, but it isn’t the same, so the way the show plays with history (Goemon cutting the needless nuclear war) doesn’t feel as revisionist as, say, X-Men First Class and its similar set-up. Not that said revision is really bad, but it avoids some of the “really, you’re gonna go there” vibes that playing with the real names can create. Those vibes don’t go away completely, but they’re lessened. At least for me.

In a way it’s just a matter of appearances, and it’s a bit of a shallow observation in that regard, but I got no problem with finding meaning in the shallow end of the pool.

But damn, man, Goemon did in one swipe of his sword what Magneto did with all of his might. and I’m really liking his interplay with Fujiko. She’s playing to whatever little boy still lives inside of his stoic, cold-blooded heart. She isn’t playing the unattainable goddess like she does with Lupin, and she isn’t playing the femme fatale like she does with Jigen. She’s toying with him by being the flirty schoolgirl he never got to meet since he’s lived the life of a cloistered monk even amongst his peers. It’d almost be sweet if we didn’t know everything Fujiko does is an act.

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