Suave. Debonair. Prankster. Lupin the 3rd is the world's most wanted thief!
One look at the cover art says it all: Lupin the Third is gar-ooovy, bay-bay! For a thirty year old show, it is remarkably current. The '70s revival still has juice; Lupin's sideburns and attitude echo the hipsters of today. The animation is dated, but has a classic feel. Watching these six episodes I was amazed at how "now" it seemed.
Lupin the Third is a funky mix of humor, action, thievery, and sensuality. The characters are instantly defined, as comfortable as old shoes. The vibe immediately draws you into a sense of excitement, fun, and cool. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy…if you are ready to play, pop this DVD in and mellow out, man.
Facts of the Case
Lupin is notorious around the world for his thieving skills and laid-back style. Like Hannibal on The A-Team, he always has a plan. Fortunately he has two trusty sidekicks to help him with his schemes. Jigen is a bluesy beatnik with superior marksmanship. Goemon is a warrior who follows Zen but steals for a living. His ultrasharp sword slices steel, stone, or wood like a ginsu shreds tomatoes.
Lupin has a soft spot for Fujiko, the '70s answer to Lara Croft. Fujiko is hot, smart, and built. She often aids Lupin in his capers, but also has been known to work against him in pursuit of profits. Lupin would love nothing more than to seal the deal with Fujiko.
These fun-loving footpads are frequently foiled by Inspector Zenigata. Lupin and friends are Interpol's most wanted criminals, and Zenigata intends to put them behind bars. Unfortunately, his wits are not on par with Lupin's.
The formula has Lupin scoping out some huge score and enlisting the aid of his allies to get it. Zenigata catches on and steps in just in time to seize the loot. He usually captures Lupin, who manages to escape and steal another day.
"The Return of Lupin the 3rd"
"Buns, Guns, and Fun in the Sun"
"50 Ways to Leave Your 50-Foot Lover"
"Gold Smuggling 101"
"Cursed Case Scenario"
Lupin and his friends have appeared in an array of media. The original characters come from a manga drawn by Monkey Punch. There have been six movies and three television series devoted to Lupin; he is widely considered one of the best anime characters.
Lupin the Third is James Bond meets Charlie's Angels with Scooby Doo sensibilities. The opening animated flyovers of major cities are reminiscent of the Bond films, as are the megalomaniacal villains, stainless steel compounds, and plans for world domination. The teamwork, campiness, and glitzy settings evoke a Charlie's Angels vibe. The zany humor, hippie/yuppie fusion, drug references, and disguises play like a grownup Scooby Doo. Despite the obvious influences, Lupin the Third has its own fun flavor.
I've watched a fair amount of anime. Many anime shows are hyperactive, with stupid funny faces and high pitched voices. Some are spartan and edgy, with little movement and drawn-out glances. Before you know it, your head starts nodding; even great animes can be guilty of narcoleptic fits. Lupin the Third strikes a good balance between these two approaches. It took me about three minutes to decide I liked the show and was viewing quality work. No need to invest several episodes to decide if you like it.
Elements of realism give Lupin the Third a complex feel. The heists are accompanied by undercurrents of anxiety and nervous tension, just like real heist films. The drinking, swearing, and sexual innuendo are quite mature in approach. At times the series approaches true tragedy, such as when we witness the destruction of an entire village, or the death of thousands of innocent passengers. There are cultural references mixed in with pop-cultural references: discourse on Da Vinci is juxtaposed with lines from Back to the Future ("Let's make like a tree and get the hell out of here!"). In fact, many lines were borrowed from other films. Can you place this one? "Watch out for that last step, it's a dooozy!"
How can a thirty year old show have such references? Was Lupin the Third so influential that modern films are still borrowing from it? Well, no. The updated references are a byproduct of Pioneer's treatment of the series. The original show was in Japanese. Pioneer brought in quality American voice actors to dub the series. But they didn't simply translate the old dialogue, which is layered with hidden meanings and metaphorical references. They started from the ground up, creating entirely new scripts. The dialogue seems timely because it is. They maintained a '70s feel, but updated the words to appeal to modern American audiences. It works, too: the voice acting is top notch. No annoying screeches, long pauses, or overplayed antics mar the voice track. It is one of the rare animes where the dub is quite easy to listen to. This synergy of '70s animation with modern dialogue gives Lupin the Third a unique flavor.
Voice acting wasn't the only enhancement Pioneer made. The transfer is exceptionally clean and bright. The transfer is so good, I swear I can see the layers of cel animation moving. The colors leap off of the screen, particularly red and yellow. There is noticeable grain and frequent nicks in the film, but let's be real here…for an old anime series, they've done a fine job.
The music is sublime, aside from the somewhat annoying "Lupin the Thirrrrrrd!" that accompanies every action sequence. Composer Yuji Ohno has created an offbeat melodic world that is sophisticated and provocative. I doubt that most animated shows devote this much attention to music. The audio is neon bright and crystal clear. No wonder Pioneer slipped an ad for the soundtrack into the DVD case.
One of the best things about this series is the character-based humor. When we first see Fujiko, she is sunning on a Hawaiian beach. Two suitors simultaneously propose to her. While they are fighting, she picks one of the rings up from the sand and drops it down her top. Later, Goemon "encourages" Jigen to stop smoking by slicing his pipe in two with a sword. These little moments are priceless touches that breathe life into the scenes.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There is one major drawback to Pioneer's treatment of the series. They obviously focused on updating the episodes for a modern audience. They cleaned up the transfer, remastered the audio, rewrote the scripts, recorded new dubs…wait a minute, they rewrote the scripts?
Why yes, they did. This detail accounts for the loudest complaints about the DVD. Since they put so much energy into the dub, the subtitles got second-class treatment. The subtitles are barebones literal translations that make little coherent sense. If you are an anime purist and prefer listening to the Japanese track, Lupin the Third will be a frustrating experience for you.
One side effect of the rewrite is that the spoken words have little to do with the subtitles. For a fun game, watch the DVD in English with the subtitles turned on. Save for the grossest elements of plot, the tone and dialogue is completely different. This is another complaint levied against Pioneer. Some people do not appreciate the addition of cussing and sexual innuendo to Lupin the Third.
Personally, I appreciate the overhauled voice-script combo. The humor, pace, and tone are much better than we would have gotten with a shoehorned literal translation of the original dialogue. However, you must realize it is a departure from the original source, and you can't blame people for being upset over it.
The other weakness is the extras. The line art is black on a red background, which is a poor way to view line art. The other "extra" is trailers for Pioneer's other anime shows. I don't consider commercials to be an extra.
Star Blazers, Speed Racer, and other contemporaries of Lupin the Third took lots of shortcuts. The animation was often nothing more than a pan over a static drawing. We often saw the same animations recycled from episode to episode. Lupin the Third pulls the same tricks, but the series is so fluid and each episode so different that it appears fresh. The emphasis is squarely on fun, and the tone is decidedly more sophisticated. If you are an anime fan, you owe it to yourself to check this series out. After all, what other vintage series brings you face to face with Jesus, Nessie, King Tut, and a host of Bond villains?
Lupin, you are guilty of hundreds of thefts, petty larcenies, destruction of property, and other crimes. I will send Inspector Zenigata to fetch you immediately for trial. That should be fun to watch!
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