The 2nd Dimension

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Viewing Journal: Lupin III - The First Haul

DVD Info

See below


Arsene Lupin III is the grandson of the master thief Arsene Lupin. With his cohorts Daisuke Jigen and Goemon Ishikawa XIII and his love interest Fujiko Mine, he pulls off the greatest heists of all time while always escaping the grasp of Inspector Koichi Zenigata. [Source: ANN]

I have not seen a lot of Lupin III other than Miyazaki's Castle of Cagliostro and a handful of TV episodes, but I have always been curious about it since it is such a classic. After seeing this collection of five Lupin movies, I can see where the appeal for the character comes from, but the success or failure of any particular story ultimately lies in the hands of the individual director.

Lupin III is a classic James-Bond-type character but with even more of a free spirit since, as a criminal, he is not bound by the limits of the law; and, as a manga/animation, he is not bound by the laws of physical or logical plausibility.

Lupin's free-wheeling, consistently good-natured confidence is what makes his character so appealing. He is a thief, but he is a "gentleman" thief, and as such only steals from those who deserve to be stolen from. In the end he may or may not get the treasure but regardless he'll usually help a person or two along the way.

The rest of the regular cast consists of Lupin's sidekick Jigen who reminds me of cross between a sharp-shooting cowboy and a pulp-movie private eye. Then there's Fujiko who is like Lupin's version of the Bond-girl. Then there's the master samurai Goemon, who adds the eastern flare to a mostly Western cast. Finally there is Zenigata, the bumbling international police detective who has dedicated his life to trying to catch the thief.

The only problems I had with this cast is that for some reason the writers seem compelled to include all of them in every movie. For some of the movies, I think the story would have flowed a lot better and felt much less awkward if it just focused on just Lupin and maybe a sidekick or two. Zenigata is one character who could have definitely been left out of a couple of the movies, but I guess they want him in there so you never forget that Lupin is in fact a criminal after all.

As for the movies themselves, how good they are depends on the approach that the director decides to take. Some focus on action, some on cliches, others on comedy. But I think the best results come when the story, tone, and characters are consistent. In this collection, the ones that do that the best are The Pursuit of Harimao's Treasure and Dead or Alive. But just to be fair, I'll go over them all individually...

Voyage to Danger
Overall= D / Story=D / Video=D / Audio=C-

Out of all of the movies in this collection, I liked this one the least because it is constantly pulling its punches, resulting in weak action and characters.

To start with, the villains are not nearly as strong or ruthless as they need to be for an action/adventure movie. They are constantly falling for any number of cliches. For instance, at one point Lupin asks for a final request (to smoke!) before the villain kills him, and he actually grants it! which then gives Lupin a chance to escape. Then there's the tired cliche of the villain going gaga over the sexy girl, which allows her to infiltrate his operations.

Plus, scenes that start off as suspenseful have cliche or anti-climactic pay-offs that are supposed to be funny but end up being disappointing, if not annoying. And I know I'm not supposed to take this too seriously, but the whole part with Lupin stealing the submarine stretches even my suspension of disbelief threshold. Of course, you could argue that that it is all done in the name of parody, but if so it's still ineffective because there is no sense of self-mockery that you need in any good parody. You could also argue that it's just good campy fun, and, when done right, that kind of thing can bring a lot of energy to a show. But here the cliches and weak storytelling deflate any potential energy out of those scenes. And regardless, characters still need to be consistent in order to make it entertaining.

The animation in this movie is also substandard. The movement is jerky and the art is downright unattractive. So yeah.. wasn't too crazy about this one.

Dragon of Doom
Overall=D+ / Story=D+ / Video=D / Audio=C-

After watching this movie for a while I started to notice some consistencies between this and Voyage to Danger. They both had crappy animation, anticlimactic suspense scenes, the mind-numbingly illogical plot lines, and the same tired cliches (I guess having a final request for a smoke is a supposed to be a running gag?). So much so that I eventually started to wonder if they both had the same director. As it turns out they do. That was a relief since it meant that the other movies, which have different directors, could possibly be better, which they are.

The Pursuit of Harimao's Treasure
Overall=B- / Story=B- / Video=B / Audio=C

This is the first movie in this collection where I could actually start to understand Lupin III's appeal and potential. It's no more believable than the other two, but at least this one is much more of an obvious action/comedy making it a lot of fun to watch. The villains are weird and ruthlessly evil. They do have weaknesses, but those weaknesses are consistent with the tone of the movie and the character's personality.

Another thing that I like about this one is that it presents Lupin as an actual thief instead of a treasure-hunter-for-hire. So it actually makes sense when Zenigata comes chasing after him. Of course, as a result Lupin is less of a sympathetic character (at times he at least seems to kill some cops to escape); but that didn't make it any less fun to watch.

The animation is also a lot better. It is both simple and dynamic and meshes well with the action/comedy plot.

The Secret of the Twilight Gemini
Overall=C- / Story=C- / Video=D+ / Audio=C

This one is a adventure story. It has a decent story, but nothing about it stands out as exceptional. It goes back to presenting Lupin as more of a treasure-hunter than an actual thief, so someone new to the Lupin III franchise might wonder why the cops are always after him. (As my wife said, "Why are they chasing after him? He doesn't seem like such a bad guy.") The art and animation are detailed, but not particularly attractive. But, again, it's a relatively good adventure story, so from that perspective it's worth seeing.

Dead or Alive
Overall=B+ / Story=B / Video=B+ / Audio=C

Now this is what a Lupin III movie should be: a fun action/adventure storyline with a strait-up bad-ass villain, and Lupin attempting to steal a countries' national treasure. Plus all four of the Lupin quartet are there from the beginning so there's no need for awkward, forced introductions later on. The action is frantic and makes for some exciting fight and chase scenes. Lupin may have have some unbelievably outlandish means of getting out of situations, but at least they are logical given his situation. For instance, my favorite one is near the end when Lupin, having lost his gun, fires a bullet by wedging it into a crack and then throwing a knife at it. Not remotely plausible, but cool nonetheless.

The treasure this time is protected by a nanomachine security system whose technology may be wild, but which makes from some wickedly cool action scenes. The animation looks a little dated, but even so has a level of detail and dynamic movement that you don't see much these days.

The reason that this movie sticks out is probably because it was directed by the original creator of Lupin III, Monkey Punch (yes, that is the name he actually goes by). The guy obviously knows how to handle his own characters to bring out their full potential.


So Lupin III has a lot of potential, but the quality of any particular movie is still hit or miss. I'd recommend this pack only if you are a Lupin III completist. But for those who only want to see the good stuff, I recommend The Pursuit of Harimao's Treasure and I highly recommend Dead or Alive.

Many thanks to The Question for letting me borrow this pack.

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