Certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society. Also writes for Bounding Into Comics and God Hates Geeks.
3DCG Anime Has Never Looked So Good
Lupin III: The First is the first time the character has transitioned to 3DCG animation. Lupin III was created in 1967 by Kazuhiko Kato aka Monkey Punch and the Lupin III manga debuted in Weekly Manga Action that same year. The first animated series began airing in 1971. Lupin III has stayed relevant over the last five decades since he never leaves the spotlight for very long.
Apart from the manga franchise, Lupin III has also spawned two versions of an animated pilot film, six different animated TV series, eleven theatrically released animated films, two live-action films, five OVA specials, twenty-seven animated TV specials, two musicals, countless music CDs, and even a few video games (yes, this is pulled from the Lupin III Wikipedia page).
The 3DCG film picks up during World War II in France. A highly valuable artifact, a book known as the Bresson Diary with an intricate clockwork-based explosive lock, is currently in high demand by the Nazis. The diary is said to lead to the whereabouts of some of the most valuable treasure known to man. Professor Bresson is seen handing an amulet to an infant girl right before her parents get into a car wreck. A bearded man named Lambert is then shown taking the amulet from the accident.
Ten years later, after Hitler’s death, the Bresson Diary is being showcased as part of a Bresson memorial at a local Japanese museum. Lupin attempts to steal it and is intrigued by the diary because of his grandfather’s connection to it. Meanwhile, Lambert is working with Gerard, a man who believes that Hitler is still alive, to obtain the diary for the resurrection of The Third Reich.
The storyline of Lupin III: The First isn’t totally original, but it is also still fantastically entertaining despite its familiar plot. The film has several story elements that are lifted directly from the Indiana Jones franchise specifically Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade. It’s an adventure based around a rare and cherished historical artifact, one of the main characters is obsessed with archaeology, the bad guys are Nazis, and treasure hunters must be triumphant over three puzzling trials in order to reach said treasure.
For anyone not familiar with the Lupin III franchise, the likes of Lupin, Jigen, and Goemon are thieves, so they should be considered villains. However, Lupin seems to steal for the adrenaline, the experience, and witnessing and holding treasure most human eyes have never seen. He doesn’t want to kill or take advantage of anyone. He seems like a decent guy that steals for the greater good. His family’s connection to the diary is what got him chasing it, but he wants to see it to the end just to see what could possibly be worth all the trouble.
The animation of Lupin III: The First is so fluid and crisp. It captures the essence of the Lupin III that you know and perfectly and flawlessly catapults those beloved character designs from traditional to computer generated animation. Fight scenes and chases are fast paced without being blurry or indecipherable. Lupin’s movements in particular are rubbery and silly to an incredibly amusing extent.
What really sells the animation apart from the perfect character designs are the facial expressions. These expressions never look lifeless or stiff; they always look genuine. Lupin’s large monkey lip and the way he laughs out of the corner of his mouth looks amazing, as well. The film is able to realistically light every sequence with hair and clothes looking particularly impressive. Lupin III: The First is pure, gorgeous animation to behold.
Many of these anime films that are based on massive franchises are usually crafted to be one-shot adventures. This means that you don’t have to be familiar with the entire back catalog in order to enjoy the current outing. The Lupin III franchise is overwhelming, but Lupin III: The First is a self-contained outing that is enjoyable whether you’re a die-hard fan or are completely new to the character. The film does have throwbacks to The Castle of Cagliostro and the Part IV television series during the opening credits, so it may have other hidden gems for longtime fans as well.
If Lupin can look this good in 3D animation and still be this fun, then there’s absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t get more films of him in this format. The story feels a little borrowed, but the inclusion of a micro black hole generator known as The Eclipse gives the plot some unexpected uncertainty. Lupin III: The First is a sleek, loose, vibrant, and almost lifelike take on the character that is unbelievably entertaining from start to finish.
There are about an hour and forty seven minutes of bonus features included with the DVD/Blu-ray of the film. The original English voice cast has an audio reunion that clocks in at around 52:57. This includes Michelle Ruff (Fujiko), Tony Oliver (Lupin III), Laurie Hymes (Laetitia), Paul Guyet (Gerard), Doug Erholtz (Zenigata), Richard Epcar (Jigen), and Lex Lang (Goemon). There’s a very quick segment from the Japanese Yellow Carpet Premiere that is about 1:19. Interviews with the Director and Japanese cast are 33:45. This is broken up into three segments featuring Kanichi Kurita (Lupin III) and Daisuke Namikawa (Goemon), Suzu Hirose (Laetitia) and Tatsuya Fujiwara (Gerald), and Takashi Yamazaki (director).
There's a CG Model Gallery that is a photo gallery of the individual 3D models of the characters, but the coolest special feature is the Animation Breakdown that spans 18:11. While it isn’t as detailed as you may hope it does showcase what went into the animation process. Each sequence begins with a storyboard. Characters are then added in a 3D environment and camera framing is decided. The length and camera angle are fine tuned. Then simulations of characters’ clothes, hair, and effects (smoke, clouds, machine gun fire) are created. Lastly, colors, contrast, and lighting are adjusted to match the setting. This is all broken down and showcased in various layers and videos in this special feature.
As a quick note, the English Voice Cast Reunited and Interviews with Director and Japanese Cast features are only available on the Blu-ray. The film is available as a 2-Disc DVD/Blu-ray set and a gorgeous limited edition steelbook.
© 2020 Chris Sawin