Sunday, January 10, 2021

Lupin III: The First

Ahnenerbe was a National Socialist think tank that dissolved ignominiously in 1945, but it has had a weirdly lasting influence on pseudoscientific paranormal archaeology. Many of those prehistoric alien “reality” TV shows would have been right up their alley. However, the secret underground surviving members of Ahnenerbe finally meet their match in a roguish master thief, the grandson of the notorious Arsene Lupin. After building an international fanbase in a long-running manga series, five editions of an anime TV series, numerous specials, and six previous anime theatrical features (including Castle of Cagliostro, Miyazaki’s feature directorial debut), the endearing cat burglar gets the full 3DCG animated treatment in Takashi Yamazaki’s Lupin III: The First, which releases Tuesday on DVD.

Everyone is after the “Bresson Diary,” when it is displayed as part of an exhibition of the late French archaeologist’s work, but it is the sticky-fingered Lupin who snags it. However, he agrees to team up with Laetitia, an earnest young archaeology student, who had been manipulated by Dr. Lambert, her evil adopted grandfather, into nearly stealing the diary herself, in order to learn its secrets.

She and Lupin quickly figure out the diary reveals the hidden location of the “Eclipse,” an ancient invention of vast power. Of course, Lambert’s employers at Ahnenerbe would use it to re-establish the Reich. To foil their scheme, Lupin enlists the help of his regular cronies, Daisuke Jigen and Goemon Ishikawa XIII (the direct descendant of the celebrated “Robin Hood” samurai), as well as his friendly rival Fujiko Mine and his incorruptible nemesis, Inspector Zenigata (having transferred from the Tokyo Police to Interpol).

III: The First
(which it isn’t, but whatever), has a lot of rollicking period action that is a lot of fun. You can see the influence of Raiders of the Lost Ark all over the film. Yet, beyond the impressive 3DCG animation, stuff like story, character development, and English voice performances are basically on the level of a really good Naruto feature film. It is entertaining, but it does not feel as “special” as most of the anime films GKIDS distributes (like Miss Hokusai, Napping Princess, Nightis Short Walk on Girl, Ride Your Wave, etc.).

Of course, if anime action is what you are looking for, Yamazaki delivers plenty, employing cool-looking soon-to-be wrecked vintage cars and planes. Everything truly looks great in
The First. Arguably, this is one of the finest representatives of both computer-generated animation and 3D animation. It is all kinds of stylish, particularly because jazz musician and long-time Lupin-composer Yuji Ohno returns with a genuinely swinging “crime jazz” soundtrack. It just doesn’t connect very often on an emotional level. We definitely root for Lupin, but he is a little obnoxious sometimes in this film.

Still, for viewers who want to kick back and indulge in some escapist thrills,
The First is a solid bet. Yamazaki comes up with several nifty gizmos and maintains a galloping pace, while staying true to the capery spirit of the franchise created by Monkey Punch (a.k.a. manga writer Kazuhiko Kato). Recommended for fans of Lupin and traditional shonen-style manga-anime, Lupin III: The First releases this Tuesday (1/12) on DVD and BluRay.