Lupin the Third (TV 2015)
Episodes 1-16

by Rose Bridges,

How would you rate episode 13 of
Lupin III: Part IV (TV 2015) ?

How would you rate episode 14 of
Lupin III: Part IV (TV 2015) ?

How would you rate episode 15 of
Lupin III: Part IV (TV 2015) ?

How would you rate episode 16 of
Lupin III: Part IV (TV 2015) ?

*Ratings for this series will begin with the start of the second cour at episode 13.

After months of waiting, the new Lupin III: Part IV anime (otherwise known as "Blue Jacket") has finally arrived on American shores. It premiered in Italy in the summer, in Japan in the fall, and now we can finally watch it, too. While it's not the first Lupin III series since the franchise's 1970s-80s heyday—that would be the deconstructive prequel series The Woman Called Fujiko Mine—it's the first to star Lupin III himself. It's also seen as a "return to form" for the franchise, after Fujiko Mine took things in a darker and artier direction. But is it really?

Lupin III: Part IV fits the bill with more similar plots to the classic '70s and '80s series, so fans who felt frustrated by the style of Fujiko Mine can rejoice. However, it's a reboot through a glass darkly, keeping the image of The Woman Called Fujiko Mine in its rearview mirror. This series is a shade grittier than Classic Lupin, with episodes focusing on more serious issues like prostitution or teenage gang membership. Still, there are plenty of lighthearted, even outright silly episodes interspersed with the drama.

More importantly, Lupin III: Part IV keeps up the stellar aesthetics of its immediate predecessor. Even people who weren't into that series' deconstructive themes or convoluted plot could appreciate its art; the dark shadows and charcoal edges of animation visionaries Sayo Yamamoto and Takeshi Koike. Yamamoto didn't return for this series or the earlier movie in the same style, Daisuke Jigen's Gravestone. Even so, her style choices are here to stay, with the Blue Jacket series re-adopting Takeshi Koike's character designs and Yamamoto's bolder colors and lines. It's not an identical aesthetic—this show is much brighter—but it's a great "update" of that style to a lighter emotional tone. Overall, Part IV just looks amazing, with top-quality shot composition, animation, and lighting. It's one of the best-looking recent anime series this side of Kyoto Animation. The musical score isn't anything to sneeze at either, full of brassy noir-ish jazz, while retaining plenty of its own unique accents.

The series takes place in Italy and San Marino (a small mountainous country entirely surrounded by Italy, on the eastern part of the peninsula). The setting is a love letter to the franchise's large Italian fanbase, who got to see it first when it aired on their screens in August. It isn't superfluous for the rest of us, either; Lupin III: Part IV makes great use of the Italian landscape, culture, and society (along with how the Japanese protagonists clash with it). Lupin's new bride, Rebecca, is a Sammarinese aristocrat and a refreshing addition to the group. It's easy to see how she appeals to Lupin, but she's not just another Fujiko. Rebecca shares Fujiko's confidence and sexiness, but with more boldly awkward edges, making her an even freer spirit than the series' trademark femme fatale. She feels like a wholly realized character in how her interactions shake up the rest of the cast. Lupin III needed to break the Smurfette Principle to update for the 21st century, and Rebecca is an excellent way to do it.

Much of this review has compared Lupin III: Part IV to other series, just because it's impossible not to with a franchise this old and established in anime. So I'm sure more than a few of you are wondering: "do I need to watch any previous Lupin III material to understand this series?" The answer is "yes…and no." You don't need any knowledge of the franchise just to understand what is happening on-screen, but you will get much more out of the story if you're familiar with who Lupin, Jigen, Fujiko, and the rest of the gang are. For example, episode 13 is pretty much entirely centered on the depth of Zenigata's obsession with hunting down Lupin, and it's much funnier if you've watched his futile chase across multiple series. Rebecca's presence is surprising precisely because we know it's a fact of life that Lupin will always love Fujiko. There are even riffs on specific classic episodes throughout this series. Luckily, "getting into Lupin III" is more like getting into Pokémon than the labyrinthine decade-spanning franchises like Gundam that are tied up in more intense world-building. With a few exceptions (like The Castle of Cagliostro), the same group of characters are portrayed in the same ways across all versions. Watch a few episodes of Part I or II or a couple of the movies (The Mystery of Mamo is my personal favorite), and you should have some idea what to expect.

Speaking of the characters, I really appreciate the return of Goofy Zenigata. I've made no secret about my adoration for The Woman Called Fujiko Mine, but I was frustrated with how it reduced Zenigata to a corrupt creep. It was an important change for that story's purposes, but it made his presence on screen unsettling, when he's usually one of the show's funniest characters. Luckily, he's back to his old bumbling self here, routinely (but not always!) failing to capture Lupin, with an obsession that's more loving than sinister. Watching Zenigata go after Lupin should feel like Charlie Brown failing to kick the football, or Wile E. Coyote vs. the Roadrunner, and he's back to that cartoonish futility here. In the one episode where Zenigata does actually achieve his goal (episode 13), it's about his slow realization that that's not really what he wanted.

Lupin III: Part IV hasn't lost its most immediate predecessor's bold aesthetics or weirdness. For example, episode 16 includes a skirt-chasing lesbian dachshund. The show knows no bounds in how weird it will get, but instead of pursuing the goal of some grand, overarching theme, it's in pursuit of silly fun. Not every episode follows the same tone either, which can lead to some bumps in the road; the Mona LiSA caper in episode 14 was more formulaic when it wasn't difficult to follow, and the teachers vs. gang member student story of episode 15 leaned a little far into After-School Special. While not every episode will be equally entertaining, they're all entertaining enough in big, bold ways that anyone can enjoy. I've seen Lupin III described as "James Bond meets Bugs Bunny," and Lupin III: Part IV just might be the perfect mix of the two.

Rating: A+

Lupin the Third (TV 2015) is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Rose is a music Ph.D. student who loves overanalyzing anime soundtracks. Follow her on her media blog Rose's Turn, and on Twitter.

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