Shelf Life
Lupin the 3rd: Bye Bye, Lady Liberty

by Paul Jensen,

Ah, it's good to be back! I had to take last week off because I was busy floating down a river. No seriously, I was white-water rafting as part of a friend's bachelor party, which was a lot of fun for those of us who weren't suffering from terrible hangovers. As for the guys who were, I imagine they learned a valuable life lesson. Now that I've gotten all that outdoor activity out of my system, it's time to get back to the business of writing about anime. Welcome (back) to Shelf Life.

Jump to this week's review:
Lupin the 3rd: Bye Bye, Lady Liberty!

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Shelf Life Reviews

TV specials have become something of a tradition in the Lupin the 3rd franchise, and every tradition has to start somewhere. In this week's review, I'm taking a look at the one that started it all.

Lupin the 3rd: Bye Bye, Lady Liberty is the first in a long series of yearly TV specials starring Lupin and his thieving buddies, and it has all the bombastic excess you'd expect from something produced in 1989. Lupin treks across the United States in search of a football-sized diamond, and in the process dodges everything from helicopter gunships to parachuting SUVs with bumper-mounted machine guns. There's a shadowy organization based (very) loosely on the Freemasons in the mix, along with a newfangled piece of technology called a computer virus. It's big, loud, and sometimes ludicrous, and I'd argue that it's pretty entertaining as well.

Despite all that action and adventure, the story begins with Lupin on the verge of giving up his life of crime. With police organizations around the world compiling vast amounts of data on him and his allies, and with too many copies being circulated for even Lupin to steal, he tells Jigen that it's time to throw in the towel. Naturally, that declaration doesn't last long; with a hefty debt hanging over his head and the prospect of a huge score in front of him, Lupin agrees to join Jigen on “one last job” to steal a massive diamond called the Super Egg. The only problem is that the diamond is hidden somewhere in the Statue of Liberty, and no one knows exactly where. Lupin and company aren't the only ones after it, either; a sinister group called the Three Masons needs the diamond for their own purposes, and they have a seemingly endless army of masked minions at their disposal. Add Inspector Zenigata and a young computer prodigy to the mix, and you've got a recipe for plenty of mayhem.

Whether it's by design or coincidence, this special bears a striking resemblance to some of the big American action thrillers of the same vintage, which seems all too appropriate given the story's setting. This is a broad, entertainment-focused take on the franchise; the story has some basic themes of family and betrayal, but the priority here is hopping from one iconic location to another while fitting in as many action scenes as possible. The action itself adopts a similarly lighthearted tone most of the time, with Lupin using little toy ducks to take out enemy gunboats and employing a giant balloon in a suitcase to lift the Statue of Liberty off the ground and fly it to a hiding spot in Grand Canyon. Yes, you read that last part correctly. It's hardly the most serious or believable heist story ever told, but it does a nice job of providing the kind of giddy fun one might expect from a standalone Lupin special.

Of course, this special also benefits from one of the franchise's most consistent strengths: its characters. There's a fine balance of personalities between the central quartet of Lupin, Jigen, Goemon, and Fujiko, and this special does its best work when it puts as many of them together on screen as possible. Lupin is flippant and easygoing as long as he has Jigen or Goemon to back him up, yet is always able to make a turn towards competent or sincere when the moment calls for it. Fujiko doesn't link up with the rest of the crew until the latter stages of the story, but she has more than enough charisma to carry her earlier scenes on her own. Even Inspector Zenigata gets a couple of scenes to go all-out in his perpetual pursuit of Lupin. The more time I spend with this franchise, the more I'm starting to appreciate that half the fun comes from just watching these characters do their thing.

The downside of this special's frequent location changes and multiple converging storylines is that the plot gets bogged down near the end. The various heists and chases eventually culminate in Lupin's crew storming the massive headquarters of the Three Masons organization, while the baddies' power structure is upended by multiple betrayals. It feels like the script is trying to cram too much into these final scenes, especially when it throws in the last-minute twist of having the team thwart an impending nuclear apocalypse. The new characters unique to this special are also pretty forgettable compared to the core cast; there's a magic old dude in a robe, a rich young guy with too much ambition for his own good, a sexy lady with a secret, and a young boy who at least manages not to be too annoying. They're not especially bad characters, but it's obvious from the outset that they're less important than the recurring members of the cast.

From a visual standpoint, this special has aged pretty well. The main character designs are instantly recognizable, the art style is a good match for the tone of the story, and the animation is of reasonably high quality; it's not quite up to feature film standards but better than most TV shows of similar vintage. The visual direction in general is quite good, which is hardly a surprise given director Osamu Dezaki's excellent eye for action scenes. This Blu-Ray release does come with a dub, but be aware that it's an old one from back in the days when Lupin went by the name “Wolf” on some English audio tracks. On-disc extras include translation notes and a commentary track with ANN's own Mike Toole, and the case includes a reversible cover.

Viewed in isolation, Lupin the 3rd: Bye Bye, Lady Liberty is a reasonably entertaining Lupin adventure as long as you're willing to suspend the necessary amount of disbelief. Even though it gets bogged down in too many plot points near the end, there's more than enough fun stuff to make up for it. This is also a noteworthy entry in the larger context of the franchise, since it marks the beginning of a long line of TV specials. If you're already a Lupin fan, you'll want to check it out. If you're not, it's still a fun way to spend an hour and a half.

That wraps things up for this week. Thanks for reading!

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