Arsène Lupin the great master of disguise and gentleman thief was created by Maurice Leblanc in 1905. The character originally came to life through a series of short stories within a French magazine. Popularity pushed him into novels and over the last century or so he has been found in various manga series, television programs, movies, games, and more. In 1967, Japanese artist Monkey Punch created Lupin III, grandson of Arsène Lupin for a series of mangas. This character became hugely popular in its own right spawning its own multi-media empire.
I first discovered the character via The Castle of Cagliostro, the wonderful debut film from Hayao Miyazaki. To tell the truth, I thought that was the film I had ordered when I received this Blu-ray to review. I admit disappointment when I discovered what had arrived was not from Studio Ghibli but rather Lupin III: The First, the 3D computer-generated film that came out last year. That disappointment quickly disappeared once I actually began watching the movie and was able to enjoy it for its own merits.
This film marks the character’s first foray into computer-generated animation and there was much controversy amongst the fandom who have a great love for traditional hand-drawn animation. Coming to it having only seen Cagliostro, I can’t say how well the film continues the tradition of the character, or how well the animation compares. My preferences do lean towards hand-drawn but they did a fine job creating this film with computers. Everything naturally looks much smoother and processed than it would use more traditional elements, but it also looks quite beautiful. The action scenes are well handled and there are explosive moments involving the story’s big weapon that could not have been done in this manner with traditional animation.
The story is fairly generic, Saturday-morning cartoon fare. Or it would be if they still made cartoons for Saturday mornings. It begins, as these things so often do, with Nazis. In occupied France, Professor Bresson hides his diary and amulet which hold the key to discovering an immense treasure called the Eclipse. He is killed by the Nazis, but his infant daughter survives. Fast forward a couple of decades to the 1960s when the diary (but not the amulet) resurfaces and is promptly stolen by Lupin III (Tony Oliver – all voice actors noted are from the English dub). It is then promptly stolen from him by Laetitia (Lauri Hymes), the granddaughter of our Big Bad – Lambert (David Brimmer), who wants the Eclipse for his own nefarious reasons. She doesn’t have it long before the diary is again stolen, this time by Fujiko (Michelle Ruff), who will be familiar to fans of these stories. Jigen (Richard Epcar) and Goemon Ishikawa III (Lex Lang), also major characters in these stories, show up to rescue Lupin III a time or three. Naturally, Lupin III’s nemesis Inspector Koichi Zenigata (Doug Erholtz) from INTERPOL shows up as well.
Again I’m not well versed enough in these stories to know how well the characters are handled, but as a newcomer, I found them interesting and enjoyable. The voice actors do a fine job. I watched it with my nine-year-old daughter and opted for the English dub. The original Japanese version is voiced by actors who have often played these characters in other stories.
It all boils down to an Indiana Jones-style chase that winds up in a cave filled with all sorts of booby traps. Laetitia begins as a villain, but it turns out her grandfather has been manipulating her all along, and really all she wants to be is a good archeologist. It’s up to her and Lupin III to solve the clues and find the Eclipse. I won’t spoil what the Eclipse is or what the bad guys want to do with it, mostly because I’m not entirely sure myself. It doesn’t really matter, you can call it a MacGuffin if you want. What matters is the bad guys want it for evil purposes and our heroes must stop them.
It is likely a lot of fun for kids and fans of the Lupin stories. I enjoyed it in the same way I enjoy watching other fairly tale animated movies and series my daughter enjoys. On its own, it is something I likely won’t go back to, but when my daughter wants to watch it again, I’ll gladly put it on.
Available on January 12, Shout! Factory and GKIDS present Lupin III: The First in a standard Blu-ray/DVD package and a nice-looking Steelbook. Extras include interviews with the director and Japanese cast, a CG model gallery, an animation breakdown, a Yellow Carpet premiere and theatrical trailers and promos.