by Mike Crandol,

Rupan III: The Fuma Conspiracy


Rupan III: The Fuma Conspiracy
Rupan III's samurai partner-in-crime, Goemon, is getting married to the daughter of a venerable Japanese clan. But the wedding is crashed by a group of ninja out to steal an ancient family heirloom that reveals the location of a hidden fortune. Rupan, Jigen, and Fujiko foil the theft, but the ninja make off with Goemon's bride as ransom. The Rupan gang set out to rescue the damsel-in-distress from the Fuma clan and protect the family's treasure--though Rupan and Fujiko might just make off with it themselves. In the process they run afoul of Inspector Zenigata, who entered a monastery after thinking Rupan was dead. The ecstatic Zenigata wastes no time in rejoining the police force, and soon enough the hunt for Rupan is on again.
Of the all the Lupin III movies released over the past 25 years, The Fuma Conspiracy easily ranks as one of the best. For legal reasons the American release changes the title and name of the lead to “Rupan III,” but this entry in the series is a major part of the Lupin canon and is far superior to many of the later TV specials featuring the character. Its premise is simple but it serves as an effective frame for some of the most memorable of Lupin's hijinks, brought to life with vibrant and expressive character animation of rare quality for anime. The touch-and-go plot makes the film a poor introduction for series newcomers, but established Lupin III fans can't afford to miss it.

Less than five minutes into The Fuma Conspiracy, “Rupan” and company are off and running on their latest caper to rescue Goemon's bride-to-be and beat a group of ninjas to her hidden family loot. The fast-paced tale leaves dealing with the evil Fuma clan largely to Goemon, freeing up Rupan and Jigen to play their usual cat-and-mouse games with Inspector Zenigata. The film's highlights have nothing at all to do with finding the treasure or fighting the villains but with dreaming up the most improbable chase sequences imaginable. The wild car chases seem to have been conceived with the express purpose of topping the famous sequence from the beginning of Castle of Cagliostro, and they succeed brilliantly. Zenigata's Interpol cruisers pursue Rupan's Fiat over a bridge mid-collapse, and later through a crowded city marketplace and the inside of a hot springs resort. These excellently-animated joyrides are so exciting that one is almost disappointed when the movie gets back to the plot, and their incredible energy stands as one of the high points of the entire franchise.

But Rupan manages to entertain even when he's on foot. There's a fun new bit of tension between the usually agreeable Rupan and Goemon, the samurai warrior not wishing to despoil the family treasure of his intended, Murasaki. The bride herself is spunky and determined without being obnoxious or overbearing; she is more memorable than most of the series' guest stars and fits in nicely with the usual gang. And Zenigata is especially engaging this time around – at the start of The Fuma Conspiracy he believes Rupan is dead and has lost all purpose in life. The look of joy on his face when he sees his arch nemesis again is priceless.

If there's a problem it's that the movie is too darned rushed. At a breezy 70 minutes, there is not quite enough time to expound on all the intriguing plot points. An opportunity is missed to open the film with a potentially exciting action sequence that would illuminate just why Zenigata thinks Rupan is deceased. The story of how Goemon and Murasaki met is told only in a brief flashback, and the tidy ending is trite and forced. Fortunately the somewhat hollow storytelling is easily overlooked in light of the movie's immense charm and first-rate technical merits.

The Fuma Conspiracy is quite possibly the best-animated installment of the series. Anime has never been noted for great character animation – in which characters express their personality through their movements – but this film is full of it. Rupan capers about with impish indifference no matter his predicament, and Fujiko's ladylike grace dissolves into half-crazed leaps and bounds when the treasure is finally discovered. Goemon's deadly stealth has never been so expertly visualized. Even the automobiles show an enormous amount of personality during the numerous chase sequences as Rupan's little Fiat cheerfully careens up, over, under or around anyone and anything in its path with an army of squad cars in relentless pursuit. Everything onscreen is perpetually in motion, giving the movie more sparkle and life than most other anime out there today.

The design work appears to be heavily influenced by The Castle of Cagliostro, and the characters look more Miyazaki than Monkey Punch. Like Cagliostro, Fuma Conspiracy is more lighthearted than most Lupin fare; one could almost say the two films belong to a separate continuity. The rounder designs lack Monkey Punch's raw edge, but then again so does the softer storytelling. On the whole the Miyazaki-influenced look suits the film nicely, is more visually appealing and lends itself better to animation. What is missing is the usually jazzy music, which is here replaced by a goofy, congenial, and decidedly nondescript score. That 70s funk is sorely missed.

Something else is curiously absent from the film: Yasuo Yamada, who provided the Japanese voice of the title character in every other production until his death in 1995. This time around Rupan is voiced by veteran voice actor Toshio Furukawa, who sounds like a much younger version of Yamada. Furukawa nails the essence of the character's personality but makes him sound more like a novice scamp than the experienced thief from other adventures. The rest of the original cast does a fair enough job. Rupan's English voice likewise lacks the edge of Yamada, but is a decent match to Furukawa… whether or not the dub is a success is open to interpretation.

This is another simple yet solid release from AnimEigo. There are no flashy menus and the extras consist solely of a still-frame gallery and voice actor bios. But the picture quality is great for a film of this age, and it doesn't look nearly as old as it really is. The vocal tracks are a little quiet but turning up the volume a few notches remedies that problem. The cover art is pretty cool, but I can't for the life of me find a scene like it anywhere in the actual film.

There are many reasons why Lupin III is one of the holy grails of anime, and The Fuma Conspiracy is one of them. As a low-profile release from a low-profile company, it may be tough to find a copy in stores, but it is readily available from AnimEigo's website. The only reason not to buy this film is that that the “Rupan III” title doesn't match the other Lupin DVDs on your video shelf. And that's a pretty stupid reason.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : B+
Animation : A+
Art : A
Music : C-

+ exciting animation brings one of the best Lupin III movies vividly to life
somewhat shallow storyline....and who's "Rupan" III, anyway?

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Production Info:
Director: Masayuki Oozeki
Screenplay: Makoto Naito
Kiyoshi Miyaura
Toshifumi Oda
Original Concept: Maurice Leblanc
Original Manga: Monkey Punch
Character Design: Kazuhide Tomonaga
Art Director: Shichirō Kobayashi
Animation Director: Kazuhide Tomonaga
Director of Photography: Akio Saitô
Executive producer: Yutaka Fujioka
Producer: Kōji Takeuchi

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Lupin III: The Fuma Conspiracy (movie)

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