Gentleman thief Arsène Lupin III returns guns blazing for his first CG animated adventure.
“Don’t be a thief reluctantly.”
I’m not normally a fan of turning classically 2D-drawn characters into 3D. There’s a charm that hand-drawn stuff has that is lost in translation (and vice versa, though CGI to 2D is much less often seen). You often see this is when the animation is combined with live action elements – see the new Space Jam and countless awful Hanna-Barbera films like Yogi Bear – but it also can happen to animation-only movies like Spielberg’s 2011 Tin Tin. Going into Lupin III: The First I was unsure what to expect. Sure, the western versions I’d listed were pretty bad, but the last attempt to turn anime into CG, Mewto Strikes Back – Evolution actually looked pretty good.
Lupin III has always been a series filled with big wild expressions and animation, and it would be a shame to lose it all in favour of motion capture recording all the movement limitations our fragile mortal meat bodies have. But I really didn’t need to worry. Takashi Yamazaki, the man behind the 2019 Dragon Quest movie, came prepared to do the series and the titular character justice by giving us a story that feels equal parts fresh and classic at the same time.
The story deals with Lupin and his crew attempting to steal an old diary which supposedly leads to a powerful treasure called the Eclipse. However, the diary is taken by Fujiko who is being paid by Nazis to retrieve it (and you have to hope she isn’t wise to that piece of information). Meanwhile, a young woman named Laetitia is being manipulated by her Nazi adoptive grandfather Lambert to find an amulet which opens the diary and will lead them to the treasure. Laetitia doesn’t know it, but she is the diary owner’s granddaughter, and was made an orphan by Lambert. Oh, and Hitler is supposedly still alive.
The story might not be anything to write home about, but it sets the scene nicely for the typical Lupin III shenanigans you’ll come to expect. And it’s there that the film really excels. Director Yamazaki knows which parts of the Lupin canon to put front and centre, and balances fanservice with new elements and manages to craft a film that feels like it came from every era of Lupin’s animated history while also remaining its own thing. Anyone who’s coming in from Castle of Cagliostro will see lots of Miyazaki’s Lupin in this: with an emphasis on the gentleman part of his job.
Visually, the CG works surprisingly well. While a lot of the textures and lighting are uncannily close to the real world, the movie chooses wisely to not make the characters too realistic, and avoids the trap that Tin Tin and Christmas Carol fell into where everyone looks less like a person and more like prototypes for an Intragram filter that was promptly rejected. It was apparently Lupin creator Monkey Punch’s dream to see his character in CGI, and Yamazaki and Marza Animation Planet have done an excellent job translating the source material into the third dimension, giving us a film that looks extremely slick, highly polished and more dynamic than any 2D anime could be. Punch would certainly be proud.
But while all of the pre-established Lupin III stuff works excellently, the new additions aren’t as great. The designs for the new characters are forgettable, with Laetitia looking a bit too much like a generic Dreamworks person, and the other two about as cookie cutter as evil Nazis could be. The whole Eclipse McGuffin isn’t very strong either, but people go see Lupin III to watch things be stolen, and the object itself doesn’t really matter. It’s always the journey that matters with these films. Nazis as bad guys might seem like an easy choice, but it actually serves the narrative well, and lets the film feel a little more timeless. Throw in some predictably incredible music from Yuji Ohno who at age 80 is still absolutely nailing it (same goes for many of the series’ long-running voice actors), and you get a fantastically enjoyable film that moves forward with time, while also looking back and respecting its long-running history. After all, Hitler is clearly a callback to the first film, right?
Verdict: Takashi Yamazaki manages to expertly combine the most classic elements of the Lupin III franchise while modernising it, and – most importantly – makes something really, really fun.
Overall entertainment: 8.5/10
Sex: What is this, the Fujiko Mine series?
Lupin Suit Check: Red jacket, black shirt, yellow tie. Top notch.
Lupin Checklist: Yep, the group fights and goes their own way again
Lupin III: The First (2019)
Also known as: ルパン三世 THE FIRST
Director: Takashi Yamazaki
Writer: Takashi Yamazaki
Kanichi Kurita – Arsène Lupin III
Kiyoshi Kobayashi – Daisuke Jigen
Daisuke Namikawa – Goemon Ishikawa XIII
Miyuki Sawashiro – Fujiko Mine
Kōichi Yamadera – Inspector Koichi Zenigata
Suzu Hirose – Laetitia
Kōtarō Yoshida – Lambert
Tatsuya Fujiwara – Gerard
Kazuaki Ito – Bresson
Mitsuru Takakuwa – Adolf Hitler