The Spring 2018 Anime Preview Guide Lupin The 3rd Part 5
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Lupin the Third: Part 5 ?
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I love Lupin III. Not the titular thief, per se; he's fun enough, but he tends to be overshadowed by the supporting cast of his adventures, in my opinion. Rather, I love the concept of Lupin III as a franchise: a cunning yet incredibly dorky thief wanders the world looking for new and crazy heists to pull, perpetually hunted by his embittered detective rival and joined by a wandering samurai, a cool crack-shot, and the femme fatale who's capable of outwitting him. Despite being deeply rooted in archetypes of pulp stories of the 60s and 70s, I've always found Lupin III to be rather timeless in its execution, and the recent series of the past five years or so have been especially good.
Enter Lupin the III Part 5, which does an excellent job of tossing Lupin and friends into yet another crazy caper, and this time the group is embroiled in shenanigans tied as much to the deep web as the beautiful French locales being flaunted this season. Bringing Lupin III firmly into 21st century cybercrime is an excellent foot to start out on; I love the clash of the nü-hacker aesthetic with our heroes' 1970s sensibilities, and it's consistently exciting to see how Lupin's wiles get him by obstacles both physical and digital. The first half of this premiere is standard Lupin III material, with Lupin and Jigen having to bypass hundred-foot drops and whirling death blades to rescue the enigmatic hacker, Ami. While “disaffected techno-waif” is a standard cliché of a character, I enjoy her sarcastic interplay with Lupin, Jigen, and Goemon, and I hope that she will have more to do in the ensemble as the season continues.
By the time the episode ends, the scope of Lupin's adventures expands considerably and becomes much more interesting. This being the digital age, Lupin's foes gameify social media apps to enlist untold numbers of civilians into the Lupin Game, where the goal is to track the master thief's every move using a hundred million cell phones and tablets. As Lupin himself remarks with a wry grin: “Everyone in the world is a cop now.” I'm completely on board with the threat that this presents for Lupin, and having him figure out how to evade the watchful gaze of every smart device he runs into could make for a fun season.
Aesthetically, this is top notch material from Telecom Animation Film. The characters all have a weight and purpose to their movements, though they never lose the rubbery charm that defines Lupin III. The infiltration and vehicular chase scenes are a highlight, and if the series can keep the visual polish up, then Lupin III Part 5 will be just as fun to watch when the cast isn't sniping at one another. Lupin may be kind of a cad, and this premiere doesn't feature enough Fujiko, but anyone who digs Lupin III's throwback charm will find a lot to love in this series.
There's something inherently fun about a good Lupin heist. The franchise has a very recognizable style of seemingly insurmountable targets, intricate plans that inevitably require some last-minute improvisation, and just enough humor to make the act of grand theft seem impossibly charming. Judging by its first episode, this latest iteration has a good grasp of how to tell a story within that framework. The planning and execution of the initial caper are engaging to watch, and the ensuing twists and turns set up an intriguing new storyline.
As much as this episode plays with modern-day concepts like dark web markets and digital currency, Lupin and his crew remain refreshingly old-school in their tactics. Sure, Lupin's gadgets are a little more high-tech than they once were, but the gang is still breaking into a fortress full of hired goons through a mix of daring stunts, disguises, and quick thinking. The fact that they still drive around in the same old Fiat adds another layer of heartwarming familiarity, and yet it's that same iconic imagery that ultimately threatens to undo our heroes. The use of a social media game to track Lupin presents a clever challenge, since the crew's classic appearances now make it impossible for them to disappear into a crowd. It's a big obstacle, which makes me all the more excited to see how they'll overcome it.
The introduction of hacker girl Ami is an interesting twist, though even Lupin himself admits that she's not the first melancholy girl he's come across. The dynamic between her and the rest of the gang is what grabs my attention here; placing a tech-savvy shut-in into a group of adventurous but old-fashioned thieves brings out the contrast between them, but it also has the potential to make them a force to be reckoned with if they can all get on the same page. Ami will likely be the key to freeing Lupin from this net of crowd-sourced surveillance, but I'd honestly like to see her stick around beyond that to provide a fresh perspective on Lupin's world.
Ultimately, this episode has the same effect as most other strong entries in the franchise: it reminds me that I really ought to watch more Lupin. It may not offer any truly fresh takes on the old formula, but it does a good job of keeping it relevant and enjoyable. This isn't necessarily the best starting point for new fans, but it looks like it'll be another worthwhile installment for returning viewers.
Lupin III is one of the most persistently enduring of all anime franchises, with a new series, movie, or special seemingly coming up almost every year. There's a good reason for that: Arsene Lupin is practically the very definition of roguish charm, and watching him cleverly outwit whoever is pursuing him and still pull off whatever heist he's working on holds a lot of appeal to audiences who only wish that they could pull something like that off themselves. This newest installment doesn't alter that appeal in the slightest; in fact, it updates it for a new era and generation.
The way the series combines classic franchise elements with all the newest technology is perhaps the most interesting aspect of the first episode. Much like James Bond, Lupin rolls with the times, whether it's a special monocle which allows him to bypass sophisticated electronic security, hacking video feeds, or getting involved with the so-called Dark Web and the new ability to order illicit drugs online; his line about how it does matter if the money is physical or digital when it comes to a heist is a great exemplar of this update. Yet he's still got all of the classic moves, like the slick sleight-of-hand where he removes a bullet from the target girl's gun under the guise of hugging her or his extraordinary dexterity and dodging ability. Naturally a sexy but somewhat dangerous young woman (she keeps a handgun in the back of her panties) is involved, to, as are familiar accomplices like Jigen and Goemon. Fujiko Mine appears briefly, but that feels more like an obligatory cameo.
All of the daring infiltrations and escapes are fun to watch, but the most intriguing aspect is the Lupin Game being set up, where a challenge to find and snapshot Lupin and his crew is being spread across social media by the people he ripped off in this episode's heist. That takes the whole manhunt gimmick to a refreshingly broad new level and gives Lupin a challenge that I don't think he's had before. I'm somewhat curious to see how far the series goes with that.
I'm not curious enough to actually follow the series, though. The artistic effort does a respectable job of blending old-school character designs with newer production methods, action scenes are well-staged, and both the opener and the closer have that James Bond-style sexiness to them, but when all is said and done, this is still Lupin. If you weren't ever a fan of the franchise before (and I wasn't), I doubt that this debut episode will change your mind.
Lupin the 3rd is a venerable institution at this point, with its various adaptations spanning decades and splintering off in all manner of different directions. Hayao Miyazaki offered a family-friendly take on the gentleman thief, while Sayo Yamamoto demonstrated the diverse potential of the franchise through her own The Woman Called Fujiko Mine. And here in 2018, Yuichiro Yano returns after his widely acclaimed Part IV, to drag Lupin forward into the digital age.
That seems to be the theme of this particular Lupin saga: Lupin plus the internet. From its opening shots describing Lupin's online fame onwards, the global nature of information now seems primed to become Lupin's greatest foe, crowdsourcing policework, consolidating information, and just generally blowing up Lupin's spot.
This episode's particular conflict focused on Lupin hunting down the hacker responsible for a major dark web retailer's financial backend, and offered more of the dashing capers that are Lupin's bread and butter. I felt the pacing was just a tad slow in the first act, but by the time Lupin and his gang reached their target Ami, I was totally on board with the show's choices. Lupin excels in moments of high energy or comedy, but Yano's careful direction, along with the great music score, lent a real sense of almost mystical atmosphere to Lupin and Ami's confrontation. And once we arrived at a luxuriously animated car chase (no CG cars here!), it seemed clear that this will be another Lupin worth following.
I already mentioned the cars, but this episode's animation deserves credit across the board, along with its general art design. I particularly loved this episode's consistently gorgeous backgrounds, whose delicate linework and color splashes evoked watercolor paintings, but were so filled with flavorful details that they also succeeded in emphasizing the solidity of Lupin's world. And the big band soundtrack felt perfectly suited to all of this episode's manic ramblings, keeping energy high throughout.
All in all, this was a very respectable return for the master thief. This episode's heist and dialogue were all pretty by-the-books, but “a traditional but strongly executed Lupin” is still a very good thing. If you still have some fondness for the master thief, definitely check it out.
There's something wonderful about the ease with which the Lupin III franchise ages. Sure the original character designs look a bit anachronistic today (which is presumably why Fujiko's character is the one most frequently updated), but the classic caper storylines aren't dependent upon a specific decade. As long as the technology Lupin is using moves with the times, there's no reason why the story and characters shouldn't keep going. This latest edition of Monkey Punch's characters manages to capture the essence of what makes the story fun while still feeling like it works in 2018, making it a particularly effective update.
That Lupin's target is the cashflow of a dark Web site is very fitting. As he tells Jigen, crypto or hard currency doesn't really matter, and robbing someone of either still requires a key. The various acrobatics that he goes through to get to said key are pure Lupin zaniness – human parachute outfits, ridiculously precise timing, and a disguise based on research. That that last doesn't work is more an acknowledgement that the people he's going up against are just as likely to be technologically savvy as he is rather than a direct failure of his research and disguise; unlike in the past, when Lupin was more knowledgeable, he now has to be even more steps ahead of his targets. That would make it very much to his advantage if Ami, the technological whiz he “stole,” would stick around for a while, especially with the Lupin Game that Zenigata, in an unusually canny move, has set up in play.
That may be the most successful part of this update – the use of social media. Lupin's face has always been known, but now there's a platform for quick, efficient sharing of his image and whereabouts, along with the insatiable appetite for exciting new content. All of this spells trouble for the famous thief…at least, until he figures out how to switch things around and use it to his own advantage. Fujiko may turn out to be part of that turnabout, depending on what side she comes down on in this particular case. As we know from prior experience, Fujicakes is always looking out for number one before anyone else, and her own safety is her first priority. That said, she's not likely to want to see Lupin hang, and since she's very likely the assassin hired to take him out, how she handles this little game may prove very significant. Whatever the case, this is a fun new entry into the world of the planet's greatest thief. Blue jacket Lupin is off to a good start.
We live in an age where you get to say “Hey, Lupin's back!” every couple years, and for the last half-decade or the Lupin franchise has really knocked it out of the park. Pretty much everything has been a resounding success, from Sayo Yamamoto's beautifully grimy and politically potent The Woman Called Fujiko Mine to Part IV's nigh-on Ghibli-esque romp through a spectacular European aesthetic. Pick a Lupin production from the last few years and you'll find someone who calls it their new all-time favorite, and there's a sincere case to be made for each of 'em. They never let the thief rest for long, though, so he's back already with Part 5, and the theme this time – aside from promising to reveal Lupin's origin story at long last - is “what if lupin, but cellphones”.
Okay, maybe that's a little reductive, but they hit the gas on the techno-capitalist stuff right away – Lupin's first target is Marco Polo, a Silk Road-style dark web marketplace that distributes hard drugs all over the world (the episode opens with Lupin ripping open a fresh batch of meth which he confirms to be legit via an app, prompting me to wonder if they'd gone even harder-edged than usual this time with the character). He and Jigen are gonna rob all their digital cash, see, but to do it they have to go through Ami, the hacker who created Marco Polo's payment system and lives at the bottom of a cloud server in the middle of the ocean. Up until this point you figure “okay, so it's Lupin but he's gonna steal… uh, bitcoins or facebook or something” and while that might superficially be the case in more than a few of these episodes, this is all a bit of a red herring for what the episode is actually setting up.
Lupin winds up the target of LUPIN GAME, a worldwide social media phenomenon with millions of players that has gamified finding him, even to the point of mapping out all of his known identities and disguises, effectively turning the entire world into one giant Zenigata (for at least one more episode). It's an interesting wrinkle and a dynamite way to launch this series, which ultimately promises to reveal exactly how Lupin became the “world's greatest thief” in the first place (at least, that's what the promotional material is offering up). I'm pretty firmly in the camp that doesn't really care how Lupin became a thief – it's not particularly important to the character – but I've spent enough time with him over the years now that I find myself curious nevertheless.
Visually, sad to say, I wasn't too impressed this time around – Part 5 is being handled by a lot of the same team that worked on Part 4, but the aesthetic they went for is an uninspired compromise between the former series' sun-drenched Italian dreamscape and a standard TMS Lupin TV special. The character designs are still great, but they've been simplified and sanded down, the backgrounds are kinda dull and the animation definitely isn't quite as sweet this time around. It wasn't enough to put me off of the story – we've all sat through some dreary-looking Lupin and this isn't anywhere near the dreariest, but it's clear this isn't going to be another feast for the eyes like Part IV largely was (not to mention Yamamoto or Koike's works).
Presentation quibbles aside, I'm never going to complain about more Lupin, unless it's wildly uninspired or uninteresting and this is neither of those – seems like a fun, if completely unsubtle hook for a new season. If you're ride or die with Lupin's crew you don't need anyone to tell you to check in with this one, and I might tell a newcomer to roll on back to Part IV, but we're off to a mostly-promising start I think.
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