Reviewby Mike Crandol,
Lupin III: The Secret of Twilight Gemini
The long-running adventures of master thief Lupin III continue in "The Secret of Twilight Gemini". Lupin and his partner Jigen are given a priceless diamond by an ailing Italian Don, which is the key to unlocking an even greater treasure buried somewhere in Morocco. The partners-in-crime waste no time in heading off in search of the loot, and once again Interpol Inspector Zenigata is on their trail. As can be expected, Lupin's cohorts Fujiko and Goemon also show up in Morocco, as well as a secret cult out to get the treasure at any cost. A mysterious young girl named Lara is Lupin's only hope for finding the hidden treasure and getting out of Morocco alive.
Few characters in anime history can match Lupin III in terms of longevity; for over three decades now he has been a regular presence on Japanese television as well as the star of some of the greatest theatrical animated films ever made. In a market where characters seldom last more than a few years, Lupin's rare timelessness makes him the anime equivalent of a Bugs Bunny or Mickey Mouse: he's an icon of the form. 1996's "Secret of Twilight Gemini" is one of the Lupin III made-for TV movies that have been an annual tradition in Japan since 1989. While it can't hold a candle to the classic Lupin anime of the late 1970s (in which anime-god Hayao Miyazaki had a large hand in), "Gemini" is nonetheless a well-written, rollicking adventure story with all the action, comedy, and fan-service that are Lupin III's hallmarks.
Many American viewers' sole exposure to the world of Lupin III is likely Hayao Miyazaki's incredible 1979 film "The Castle of Cagliostro", which is this reviewer's favorite Miyazaki film and the only Lupin anime that has been continuously available in America for some time. "Secret of Twilight Gemini" borrows many concepts and images from "Cagliostro"; the plot revolves around two sundered halves of a family heirloom (in "Cagliostro" it was a ring, in "Gemini" it is a diamond) that must be joined to unlock a hidden treasure, Lupin is repeatedly attacked by a group of assassins wearing robotic-looking jumpsuits, and the villain and his henchmen have a penchant for dressing up like the Ku Klux Klan. Almost 20 years separate the two films....the creators probably felt that "what was old could be new again", and the similarities may be an homage to the much older work. But to American audiences unfamiliar with the two decades of Lupin III in-between, it will appear the later film is nothing more than a pale imitation of the earlier one. Compared to "Cagliostro", "Gemini" of course falls utterly short of reaching the excellence attained by Miyazaki. If taken on it's own terms, however, "Gemini" is a modest but enjoyable production.
Though it takes a little while to get moving, the story is a solid action-adventure treasure hunt in the tradition of Indiana Jones, James Bond, and of course vintage Lupin III. Lupin enthusiastically pursues the ladies while searching for the other half of the Twilight Diamond, all the while evading Zenigata and the shadowy cult after the hidden fortune. A large political backstory and a high-level conspiracy are effortlessly woven into the tale, as are several action setpieces involving the usual Lupin mix of guns, swords, and motorcycles. That said, "Gemini" is a rather by-the-book Lupin III adventure, and lacks the creativity of other installments such as "The Fuma Conspiracy" or "Voyage to Danger". Fujiko and Goemon are given little to do, the wonderful character of Zenigata is underused, and Jigen drops in and out of the story to the point where you wonder why he's even there. Towards the end of the film several small plot holes begin to appear, and ultimately we are left with an entertaining but unremarkable entry in the Lupin III lexicon.
"Twilight Gemini's" artwork is a little below-standard for TMS, one of Japan's most accomplished animation houses. The animation is fuller than what is usual for Japanese television, but the character movements are unusually awkward and often unconvincing. The color palette is bland and drab, and the incidental characters are crudely designed, though the usual Lupin cast is all on-model. The exception is bombshell thief Fujiko Mine, but that is to be expected as it's something of a tradition that Fujiko's appearance is forever being tweaked and redesigned. This is actually one of the better Fujiko overhauls.
The film's several nude scenes may come as a surprise to viewers only familiar with the family-friendly "Castle of Cagliostro", but this is actually another Lupin III tradition that stretches back even to the Miyazaki-directed episodes of the television series. Fujiko is the original paean to fan-service, a role she shares this time around with the new character of Lara. Most of it is fleeting and harmless enough, but scenes in which a topless Fujiko is captured by the whip-wielding assassin Sadachiyo carry strong bondage and S&M overtones, making this film unsuitable for children.
Soundwise, "Twilight Gemini" is faithful to the classic Lupin III. The television series' original musical theme is still in place, and the score accurately captures the feel of the 1970's Lupin anime. Great care was also taken to make sure the characters still sound like themselves after so many years. Voice actor Kanichi Kurita has the rather imposing task of filling the shoes of the late Yasuo Yamada, who had voiced Lupin from the character's debut in 1971 until 1995. Kurita does a great job of recreating Yamada's role. This time around Lupin's American voice actor is Sonny Strait, who also does the character justice. It's interesting to note that in America Lupin has been voiced by several different actors through the years under a variety of distributors, yet each time he comes out sounding more or less the same. This helps to lend "Gemini" (and one assumes future FUNimation Lupin III releases) an air of consistency with the precious few other Lupin anime previously released in the U.S.
FUNimation has done a fine job with their first Lupin III DVD release. The main menu features several different backgrounds that randomly load each time the menu is accessed....this reviewer spent quite some time reloading the menu to see all the different pictures. The angle feature lets you choose between the English or Japanese opening and closing credits (handy as the English closing obscures a belly-dancing Lara!), which is a great alternative to following the Japanese credits with the English ones or omitting the Japanese altogether. However, it's a little disappointing a trailer for FUNimation's next Lupin offering, the upcoming "Harimao's Treasure", was not included with the sneak peeks.
Because of their age we will likely never see an official U.S. release of the great Lupin III films of the 1980s, nor the immortal 70s television series they were based on. However FUNimation has many more of the Lupin TV specials of the 90s headed our way in the coming months. While not as good as their predecessors, they are still thoroughly entertaining adventures unlike any other anime currently available in America. Action animation fans tired of giant robots, space operas, and martial arts will find in "Secret of Twilight Geminiâ€? a pleasant alternative to the normâ€¦.it's hard to go wrong with Lupin III.
+ old-fashioned action-adventure-comedy installment in one of the all-time great anime series
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