Lupin III: The First Review: A refreshing reentry for anime’s most notable gentleman thief
There’s currently a trend in animation where nostalgic franchises and characters, like Scooby-Doo, Rugrats, and SpongeBob, are returning with more modern CGI animation rather than the hand drawn animation that they were initially created with. Because of this change, the characters tend to look bulgy and obtuse because of the sudden change to 3-D and they become more gross-looking in the process. There are certain parts of what makes them recognizable, like actions and looks, that are generally lost in the transition and it’s a change that never seems to work out. It pretty much always draws complaints from fans because of how off-putting things look in CGI and I’ll never forget the ire that remake of the first Pokémon movie got for its CGI change since it really looked terrible.
Anime has also tried to embrace more 3-D animation but has had its shortcomings. Most of the time, we get more of 2.5-D animation that has a 3-D depth to it but isn’t full blown CGI. It’s become more of the modern standard and can be seen in anime like Studio Trigger’s works and Attack on Titan. However, it hasn’t seen much luck with CGI as most of the shows and films that have used it, mainly video game adaptations, equally struggle to maintain the essence of the material its working with. There was one film though, that was able to effectively use CGI animation to bring its material to life and ironically, it’s based on one of the most notable anime series out there – Lupin III.
Both Lupin III’s manga and films are synonymous for their hand-drawn animation look, so it was a pretty bold choice for its latest film, Lupin III: The First, to switch to CG animation. I mean, it was a decision that made sense considering that the film was sort of a reboot for the series, but still a risky choice, nevertheless. Lupin III: The First beats the odds though with its animation to give a visually refreshing reentry into the world of Lupin III.
Over a decade after the WWII, the film follows the adventures of master gentleman thief Arsene Lupin III (voiced by Kanichi Kurita/Tony Oliver) as he attempts to steal a legendary diary to uncover the whereabouts of a mysterious treasure that his grandfather couldn’t even steal. However, he’s not the only one on the hunt for the treasure as a group of Nazi treasure hunters led by the highly aggressive Gerard (voiced by Tatsuya Fujiwara/Paul Guyet) and his right-hand scientist Lambert (voiced by Kotaro Yoshida/David Brimmer) are also after this treasure. Now, with the help of his crew and an inexperienced archaeology expert named Laetitia (voiced by Suzu Hirose/Laurie Hymes), Lupin must stay one step ahead of the Nazi’s while also escaping the grasp of Inspector Zenigata (voiced by Koichi Yamadera/Doug Erholtz).
Lupin III: The First isn’t exactly the most surprising or ambitious take that it could be. A lot of twists and turns you could see coming from miles away and there are few moments where you’re really left in suspense. Even when things seem doom and gloom for Lupin and his crew, it’s not too long until they make their escape and are back on top. Personally, it’s also a little slow and could’ve maybe used a few more actiony moments to pick up the pace and possibly utilize some of the Lupin’s crew a little more. Even for all these faults and flaws though, Lupin III: The First is a lot of fun and especially succeeds when Lupin is driving the story.
Lupin is just such a fun character whose energy and charismatic mentality makes him undeniably lovable. His youthful cockiness makes him seem like he’s bound for failure, but his ability to stay one step ahead of pretty much anyone makes him this unexpected threat that’s endless fun to watch. He’s easily able to constantly bring a smile to your face with how he turns the tide in his favor and his genuine passion for thievery makes him a delightful anti-hero that’s more heroic than most would think. Sure, it’s fun to watch him pull a fast one on Inspector Zenigata or these Nazi treasure hunters, but his fun is never at the wrong person’s expense. He has a genuine care for others that makes him quite an admirable thief and shows that maybe there is some honor among thieves. Even though it’s his film, he somehow steals the show, and this film is a great way for people to really fall for the character. Also, other characters, like Lupin’s partners Daisuke Jigen (voiced by Kiyoshi Kobayashi/Richard Epcar) and Goemon Ishikawa XIII (voiced by Daisuke Namikawa/Lex Lang) and quick-thinking lady thief Fujiko Mine (voiced by Miyuki Sawashiro/Michelle Ruff), do get some pretty rad moments as well.
As a whole, the story is pretty standard, but has its moments. The elements of betrayal and backstabbing that are usually found in a heist flick are there and pretty fun. There are some really stand out moments of Lupin pulling the rug out from under characters with his hidden wit and there’s a pretty amazing turn that happens between Gerard and Lupin towards the film’s ending climax that involves some masked trickery. Laetitia’s story and character are fine for the most part, although I do wish she wasn’t so helpless all the time and so deeply in awe of Lupin. She just feels so weak in the film that other characters easily overshadow her and there’s no real arc or moment for her to change that. The idea behind what this “treasure” actually is leads to some solid surprises and a really impactful finale. All in all, it serves as a nice introduction as to what Lupin’s all about and captures the wild wackiness of it to the very end.
The most commendable and standout aspect of Lupin III: The First is actually its CG animation as it works flawlessly with Lupin’s world. The character models are excellently designed and retain the characters’ iconic looks well. Nothing looks too out of place or strange and the movement of the action is really strong and detailed nicely. Director Takashi Yamazaki said he was inspired by Hollywood films when making Lupin III: The First and it really shows in the animation. The action is a little sleeker with its greater visual detail and elevates the hype of Lupin and his crew making their grand escapes. Also, that theme song from Yuji Ohno that gives off James Bond vibes is dope as hell.
Lupin III: The First is an incredibly fun introductory adventure that may be bare bones in its story execution but offers a refreshing reentry for anime’s gentleman thief and makes excellent use of CG animation to put a fresh coat of paint on a classic anime.