Reviewby Mike Crandol,
DVD 1: The World's Most Wanted
It's been 5 years since Lupin III parted ways with his criminal associates, but a mysterious postcard has reunited the master thief with crack shot Jigen, samurai warrior Goemon, and sexy Fujiko, as well as his old adversary Inspector Zenigata. Someone apparently has a grudge against the old gang and has invited them all to the world's largest luxury liner to deal out his vengeance. But Lupin and his pals waste no time in diffusing the matter and soon enough are back to their old familiar habit of circling the globe, looting all the way. Zenigata trails Lupin to Rio where the gang plans to steal the box office for the World Cup, and Fujiko has a run-in with the Loch Ness Monster in Scotland. Through Switzerland, Italy, and Egypt, time and again Lupin makes off with the treasure with Zenigata one step behind.
What can you say about Lupin III? The animation is primitive, the stories are hokey and often poorly-written, yet few would deny it's one of the greatest anime series ever created. 25 years later some of the most cutting-edge anime series out there can't hold a candle to these crudely-produced gems. That's because Lupin III features one of the most inventive and fun premises ever conceived and stars quite possibly the most memorable cast of anime characters ever assembled.
Anime has gotten way more sophisticated since Lupin's heyday in the late 1970s but has never surpassed this series' charm. Part James Bond, part Jerry Lewis, Lupin alternates between debonair and daffy without any feeling of inconsistency in the character; unlike City Hunter's schizophrenic Ryu Saeba Lupin comes off as a single multidimensional persona. Anime has never had a more indelible leading man. His cohorts are not so fully realized but are no less entertaining...straight-faced Jigen and Goemon serve as a foil for Lupin's outrageous behavior; they don't say much but one gets the distinct impression Jigen is just along for the fun and Goemon is there to keep Lupin from getting into too much trouble. Fujiko Mine's main function is as eye candy in the best Bond tradition but she is far from being just an object, and her double-crossing nature keeps Lupin and company on their toes and the plot-twists twice as much fun.
But it's Interpol Inspector Zenigata that almost steals the show from our beloved thief. There's a lot of Wile E. Coyote in Zenigata's fanatical pursuit of Lupin, and like the Road Runner series there's some kind of primal appeal in the Inspector's refusal to give up the hunt despite innumerable embarrassing failures. The audience knows "Pops", as the other characters refer to him, will never catch that Road Runn....er, Lupin, but it has become of matter of pride for the erstwhile detective and as anyone knows when your pride's at stake, failure is not an option.
So Zenigata chases Lupin and his gang all over the globe as the cunning thieves engineer all manner of outrageous heists, including making off with Rio De Janeiro's statue of Christ and lifting King Tut's burial mask from the Cairo museum. The individual plotlines are largely inconsequential, often hastily thrown together and not well thought-out. Lupin's appeal is in its overall premise. Every episode invariably finds the gang in a different corner of the world where Lupin schemes, Fujiko counter-schemes, a new villain is taken on (usually the target of said schemes), and Zenigata always shows up to complicate the matter. It's a simple formula but one that never gets tired thanks to the unique setup and sharp characterizations. One of the few anime where the protagonists are the "bad guys", Lupin III plays against the anime convention of heroic figures protecting the earth, and all these years later Lupin and company are still picking the world clean.
This batch of episodes dates from 1977; anime was still coming into its own and the animation is lousy by today's standards. But if placed in its proper historical context Lupin III's animation is actually pretty good. The movements are often herky-jerky but this is not the "comic-book with sound" that many other anime from the period are. The art design is a little shaky but it will improve in later releases as the artists hit their stride. For now though the characters don't look fully-formed. It's kind of like watching the first season of The Simpsons all these years later and being taken aback by the wobbly heads and funny-looking eyes.
It may look dated, but Lupin III is so old it's new again when it comes to its groovy instrumental music. This soundtrack out-bebops Cowboy Bebop with its bona-fide '70s funk. Lupin's memorable opening theme is still being covered by numerous music groups in Japan, where it is as instantly recognizable as the Flintstones or Scooby-Doo theme is in America. Pioneer has so much faith in Lupin's music they have released a soundtrack album, "The Sideburn Club Mix", in tandem with the DVD, and at least one more Lupin CD is guaranteed for the future. They should be well worth picking up.
I had high hopes for the English dub of this series, Lupin being the classic that it is. The original Japanese vocal cast is almost legendary but I figured if anyone was up to the challenge of matching it that it would be Pioneer, yet the dubbed version is disappointingly sub-par. Jigen and Goemon are stoic characters but their wooden performances make them seem completely devoid of any personality. Zenigata and Fujiko fare slightly better but neither have quite the edge to their voices that their Japanese performers bring to them. As for Lupin, his English voice captures the thief's wiseacre attitude but is too nasal and effeminate for someone who's supposed to be an international ladies' man....I kept waiting for him to make a pass at Jigen instead of Fujiko.
The script translation is questionable as well. Pioneer appears to have really sold-out with this series and has tailored the scripts to make them more "hip". Why should a show that is so obviously from the 1970s contain references to Shaquille O'Neal?
But for the most part the DVD itself is a good piece of work. The video quality is incredible for a show of this age and only the dated artwork belies how old it really is. The cover art wisely plays up Lupin's retro charm with a bright psychedelic layout. The menus seem to be designed to play up the series' similarities to Cowboy Bebop and look very similar to that show's opening credit sequence, but it fits in perfectly with Lupin's tone. There's a generous six episodes on the disc, but with 149 more to go there will still be a lot of volumes to purchase. The big news of course is the omission of "Hitler's Legacy", the third episode chronologically. Pioneer has promised the episode will appear uncut on a future volume but felt that including the episode on this release would give viewers a bad first-impression of the series. As anime fans tend to be a liberal bunch I can't imagine Lupin does anything in this episode that would offend potential buyers.
Despite its flaws this first Lupin III DVD is definitely worth having. Just hit "Japanese with English Subtitles", sit back, relax, and enjoy some vintage anime goodness. "Hitler's Legacy" should be along eventually, and in the meantime there's tons more adventures to keep you smiling.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : A
Story : B+
Animation : C
Art : C-
Music : A
+ classic anime that has never been topped for sheer entertainment
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