Sunday, January 17, 2021

Lupin III: The First

Since its initial publication in 1967, the Lupin III series created by the late mangaka Monkey Punch, which chronicles the misadventures of a gentleman thief descended from Arsène Lupin, has entertained audiences around the world through numerous iterations that continue to be produced to this day. While I was aware of the character for some time, I didn’t get my first true exposure to the series until Lupin III Part IV: The Italian Adventure, also known as Blue Jacket due to Lupin’s jacket color in said series, first aired on [adult swim]’s Toonami block, and from there I was instantly hooked.

I was then curious when I first heard about the series’ first computer animated feature, Lupin III: The First, through a Japanese trailer, finding the animation faithful to the series and being curious to see whether it would ever be dubbed into English. Later, I was even more curious about seeing this movie when an English version was eventually announced, especially when the first English trailer confirmed the return of the Blue Jacket voice cast, though I opted to wait until it was out on Blu-ray to see it due to a limited US theatrical screening taking place in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Having finally gotten the chance to view it safely, I would say the wait was well worth it.

In World War II-era France, Professor Bresson (Marc Thompson) places the Bresson Diary and an amulet in the care of his family, who make their escape before Bresson is killed by Nazis. Bresson’s family are further pursued by Nazis, causing a car crash in which the family’s daughter and the amulet are the only survivors. Over a decade later, the once-lost Bresson Diary is to be displayed in a museum, the legends surrounding it making it a target for both Lupin III (Tony Oliver) and Fujiko Mine (Michelle Ruff). Having infiltrated the museum as a security guard, a woman named Laetitia (Laurie Hymes) manages to get away with the Bresson Diary for her own purposes, though not before Lupin catches up to her and the Diary falls into Fujiko’s hands.

Laetitia (Laurie Hymes) needs the Bresson Diary for her own purposes.

While there is a focus on original characters, the film is very much a Lupin III story. Special attention to detail is made to create an authentic Lupin III experience, including the relationships and personalities of the established characters, even up to and including a title card reminiscent of those found in some of its anime adaptations. Thankfully, the story itself is also executed very nicely, with some expansion on Lupin’s character in a way that doesn’t feel out of place.

As for the original characters, they are written well in their own right and help expand on the world of the series. Without going into too much detail, Laetitia is easily one of the most interesting characters introduced for the film, as her story provides the backbone of the plot. It’s also interesting seeing how her relationship with Lupin develops over the course of the movie, to where you almost want them to be together even though you know they can’t for various reasons.

As the first Lupin III film to be animated in CG, it’s fortunate that it manages to capture the art style of the series perfectly, something director Takashi Yamazaki made a special point of during production. The character models also include extra amounts of detail, as do the backgrounds, however all of it is done in such a way that it keeps the familiar visual style intact and the more cartoonish characters don’t clash with the more realistic backdrops. On that note, said environments are so detailed that some shots almost look like live-action, an impressive feat in its own right. I will also mention that there a few scenes close to each other that featured prominent product placement for the popular Cup Noodle brand of instant ramen, however said product placement is worked in very organically without feeling too brazen about it.

Lupin III makes a flawless leap to CG.
From left: Lupin III (Tony Oliver), Ishikawa Goemon XIII (Lex Lang),
Daisuke Jigen (Richard Epcar)
[The instant ramen has Cup Noodle branding in the actual film.]

Though the Blu-ray I watched the film off of contains both the Japanese and English audio tracks, my opinions are based on the latter since that’s how I decided to experience it. In general, it’s obvious that the animation was designed more with the Japanese audio in mind, however the English dub does manage to work with the lip flaps, even when it occasionally looks slightly off.

As for the English dub, many of the voice actors are those returning from the Blue Jacket versions of the Lupin III anime, and said voice actors continue to pull off their roles spectacularly. As far as I am concerned, Tony Oliver is perfect for the role of Lupin III, as his performance brings out all the nuance of Lupin’s personality. Much like the anime, Lex Lang doesn’t get to do much in the role of Goemon Ishikawa XIII, however what little speaking time he has is used to great effect and is fitting for the quiet swordsman archetype.

The voice actors for the new characters put in great performances as well. Laurie Hymes, who is prominent in the role of Laetitia, shows a lot of range that makes her an excellent foil for Lupin. David Brimmer also has a strong performance as Lambert, as does Paul Guyet as Nazi loyalist Gerard, even managing to pull off an authentic German accent.

The song used for the film’s title sequence is “Theme from Lupin III 2019”, a more bombastic cover of the anime’s title song by You & The Explosion Band, which still fits very well with the tone of the movie. From there, the Lupin III theme is used effectively as a leitmotif, managing to work with many situations when mixed accordingly.

Lupin III: The First is a fantastic entry in the Lupin III franchise. The faithfulness to the source material and the surprisingly seamless transition to CG makes it a must-see for fans, though the self-contained nature of the story makes it easily accessible to first-time Lupin III viewers as well.

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