The Other Side of Animation 34: Lupin the 3rd: The Mystery of Mamo Review

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Parental Warning: There is some partial male and female nudity, but nothing like Game of Thrones or Orange is the New Black levels of nudity. Just be aware of this if you decide to watch this movie. Enjoy the review!

Well, Japanese Animation Month might be over, but that doesn’t mean I can’t take a look at some more Japanese-animated movies! I wanted to tackle something different in terms of famous Japanese animated films, since I want to save Hayao Miyazaki and Mamoru Hosoda’s films for special occasions. I then thought about all the movies based off of popular anime that are out there. They mostly are of low-quality, since they don’t really connect to the plot, have villains that will be found nowhere or even mentioned in the main TV series, and will have plot elements that would have been helpful in the main show’s story. And you won’t believe how true that statement is. Find a long-going anime series, pick out one of the films from said series, and watch them. This is why I wanted to choose a film from a long-running anime series that actually works, and that’s where one of my favorite anime characters of all time comes into play, Lupin the 3rd. The famous series began as a manga way back in 1967, and has spun off multiple TV series, TV specials, video games, live action adaptations, and movies. My first time experiencing the franchise was when it was on Adult Swim’s anime block on Saturday, and the very first episode I watched was A Bouquet of Bills Blossom in Rio’s Sunset, which was episode 2 of the second Lupin the 3rd TV series. The overall series is like a cartoon-ier take on heist films, where the episodes revolve around some kind of heist or job that Lupin and his crew are going to pull off. It’s a really fun, if a tad dated series that I could recommend to any new anime viewer. I decided to finally take it upon myself to check out and review the first full-length movie based off of the franchise, The Mystery of Mamo. The Mystery of Mamo was released in 1978. It was directed by Soji Yoshikawa, who worked on Tomorrow’s Joe, Armored Trooper Votoms, City Hunter, Cyborg 009, Future Boy Conan, and The Mysterious Cities of Gold. It had a pretty positive reception, but as someone who doesn’t watch a lot of anime anymore, what do I think of this? Well, let’s find out.

The gang is together once again after the mysterious rumor is circulated around that someone who looked like Lupin the 3rd was killed. Of course, by the stubborn nature of Detective Zenigata, voiced by Dan Lorge, this turns out to be false as he finds Lupin, voiced by Tony Oliver, to be alive and well. Lupin’s next heist is to find the philosopher’s stone. The twist that comes into play about this is because the heist is actually part of a bigger plan to find out about a mysterious individual known as Howard Lockewood aka Mamo, voiced by Paul St. Peter. Can Lupin the 3rd find out what is going on, with the help of his friends like the firearm specialist Jigen, voiced by Richard Epcar, the samurai Goemon, voiced by Lex Lang, and Lupin’s love interest/rival Fujiko, voiced by Michelle Ruff? Well, you will have to watch the movie to find out.

One thing I will say about having movie tie-ins with Lupin the 3rd is that the series was more or less just a series of heists that didn’t connect to one another, so really, the problems that a lot of shows have that I listed above don’t appear here. You can watch this and not have anything glaringly wrong with the TV series. As a first movie, the overall execution isn’t that bad. You still have a big heist, the finding of the philosopher’s stone, dealing with a mysterious little person, car chases, action, and the great interaction that has made these characters stand up through the passage of animation and time. I actually respect that this movie also tries to be a bit more with its themes, by being more philosophical with topics of identity, mortality, love, and honor. On top of the action and offbeat humor and exchanges, the film also gives time for the characters to talk and develop a little more with one another. It’s great when you find not just animated films, but films in general, that let the audience breathe, relax, and watch characters grow. Some of the action is quite impressive and fun to watch, with some scenes that inspire sequences you see in the next Lupin the 3rd movie, Castle of Cagliostro.

With that being said, I think its overly ambitious story becomes a bit too much for itself, since the last third is just bonkers. I personally think Lupin the 3rd, or at least during this time period of the franchise, doesn’t blend well with philosophical themes. It tries to reach for higher moments than most animated films during this time, but to me, it falls flat, and the big twist about who Mamo is doesn’t help either. Speaking of Mamo, I found him to be a boring villain. Not to say he wasn’t evil or anything, but his personality was not interesting. Another element that falls flat is the animation. It is the same quality of animation you see from the TV series of that time. It feels cheap, and it really pales in comparison to Castle of Cagliostro. I know that isn’t fully fair, but when the two films came out a year from one another, and the second one has famed director Hayao Miyazaki behind it, it’s hard to not compare the two. I also found the more perverse side of Lupin to be an annoyance, since The Mystery of Mamo carries the joke of Lupin always wanting to “Marvin Gaye” and get it on with Fujiko. It’s not that it isn’t funny, but to some, I can see them not liking the aggressiveness of Lupin, since in Japan, his womanizing sleaze is part of the comedy of the show. It’s just an example of humor not translating well into another culture. If you like this kind of stuff, that’s fine, and more power to you, but the partial nudity seen in this film could have been taken out without it affecting the film or story. I also found it odd that the film just ditches Goemon after a certain scene. He just vanishes for the rest of the movie. It’s like how the princess in Disney’s animated Robin Hood film isn’t seen for the third act, and then pops up at the very end. You are told why he leaves, but to not come back until the very end is odd to me.

The overall film might be a bit complicated, and it might not reach those big philosophical goals that it aims for, but The Mystery of Mamo is still a solid enough action adventure movie. If you want to buy this movie because you like action/adventure animated movies, or want to get into Lupin the 3rd, Discotek Media has the definitive edition of the film with a huge amount of content, including the different English dubs from the Streamline dub to Manga Entertainment’s dub. That is the one I watched, since the voices from Manga Entertainment’s version is what I personally think of whenever Lupin the 3rd comes to mind. It might not age as well as Castle of Cagliostro, but there is enough here to warrant a purchase and a watch. Well, how about we take a break from Japan, and let’s go over to Spain and look at an underrated GOYA award winner with Nocturna. Thanks for reading, I hope you liked what you saw, and see you all next time!

Rating: Rent it!

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