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With the state of animation where CGI is becoming more common to the medium, animated properties are slowly and surely starting to slip into the transition that, let’s be real here, the same transition that video games ran into going from 2D to 3D graphics. Remember how long it took for so many game companies to finally crack the code? Not all of them were Nintendo, and so many franchises and companies paid for their failed attempts with games that weren’t great. So, what does this have to do with animation? Well, animation has and is going through those transitional phases. If you pinpoint certain parts of animation history, you can see where certain transitions to higher-end technology led to some clunky moments. I still remember when anime went from hand-painted to digital painted animation, and how they had to work with lighting and how not to make everything look so garish. Luckily, one franchise has been able to make that leap, and I can now talk about it! Today’s review will be of Lupin III: The First.
Directed by Takashi Yamazaki, produced by TMS Entertainment and Marza Animation Planet, and brought over to the states by GKIDS, this is a monumental film for the franchise, as it’s the first film in the historic manga/anime franchise to be in full CGI. While CGI animation made in Japan is nothing new, it has taken a while for some franchises to take that first step. It was shown off at Annecy 2020 Online and got relatively positive reviews. GKIDS then gave it a limited theatrical release back in October, and now, well, here we are. Does Lupin make the jump to CGI? Or should this thief have stayed in the realm of 2D?
So, this time, our story with the lovable thief has Lupin, dubbed by Tony Oliver, wanting to steal a special diary called the Bresson Diary, something that the Nazis were looking for back in World War II. As he tries to steal it the first time around, he is thwarted by the combined forces of a young woman named Laetitia, dubbed by Joy Scattorin, and the ever committed Inspector Zenigata, dubbed by Doug Erholtz. After escaping the grasp of the police with the help of his buddies Jigen, dubbed by Richard Epcar, and Goemon, dubbed by Lex Lang, Lupin finds Laetitia’s home and makes a deal with her. The diary is important to him due to it being one of the few items his grandfather couldn’t steal, and Laetitia is the granddaughter of the original author of the diary. Can they make a deal and unlock this diary’s secrets while avoiding the grasp of an evil organization that wants to use the diary’s secrets and treasures to bring back the Nazi party? Well then, you can easily assume what happens, but you will have to see for yourself.
How about we talk about the CGI animation for this film? How does it compare to the director’s other film from this year, Dragon Quest: Your Story? Personally, while I think some of the same issues can be seen in terms of animation with both films, I think it looks better than Dragon Quest: Your Story. On one hand, the previous film failed because it tried to be a CGI version of the game, and used a lesser version of the game’s iconic art style. At least with this film, everyone looks like they do from the manga and anime. While it may have been more bouncy and cartoony in its movements, the characters are still way more expressive and have their little quirky movements and traits that make them stand out from one another. They honestly do look like they were translated right from the anime and into 3D models. It’s quite impressive. There was an effort to take advantage of the animation being in CGI. While it’s not Hotel Transylvania in terms of cartoony animation, it still has some pretty good comedic animation. The action is also stylish and fun, due to how it plays like a mixture of a heist and an Indiana Jones-style adventure film. It might go into the area of sci-fi in the third act, but it at least feels more cohesive than other films in the franchise that try to mix it up, and it doesn’t work 100%. Sure, I wish Jigen and Goemon got to do a little more, like maybe they have their exclusive bad guys to fight, but this film is mostly about Lupin and the film-exclusive character Laetitia.
So, as we talked about the animation, how is the story? Well, while simple, and the film is more or less the same kind of Lupin III plots we usually get, I rather enjoyed my time with the plot. If I had to pick a theme that this film focuses on, it’s another feature film about family, the legacy they leave behind, and how you honor said legacy. Lupin and Laetitia both want to fulfill the legacy left behind by their families, and while it’s not going to be an incredibly deep film, it’s more focused than most Lupin plots that devolve into pure shenanigans. I found that Lupin and the gang worked off the villains and Laetitia pretty well, and that’s not always a certainty with films from this franchise. The director has said that he was inspired by what is probably the best film in the franchise, Castle of Cagliostro. Once learning about that, it is easy to see the connections there, and while that can be considered a pro and a con, it’s better than a lot of the specials and films that have come out in the past. Plus, with something like this new CGI film, you want to see a lot of the traditional Lupin elements. You want to see Zenigata get excited about capturing Lupin, you want to see Goemon be the stoic samurai, you want to see the love/hate relationship between Lupin and Fujiko, and you get the idea. It might be familiar, but it’s a good kind of familiar. This also means rehiring the iconic voice cast of the original red jacket series with Tony Oliver, Lex Lang, Michelle Ruff, and Richard Epcar as the iconic characters.
So, what do I not like about this? Well, as much fun as the overall experience is, I think the villains are the weakest part of the film. They are just typical modern-day (well, modern-day for the time in which the film takes place) Nazis that want to revive the plans and ways of Hitler. Now, it is nice the film is very anti-Nazi, and I am by no means looking for a sympathetic portrayal of one, but the villains don’t leave that much of an impression. The only kind of amusing thing about one of them is that the main bad guy looks like an anime-version of David Lynch.
Outside of that minor issue, Lupin III: The First is a great action-adventure film that easily rises to the best that the franchise can offer. It’s digitally available right now, but you can get it on Blu-ray and DVD in January. I hope this film was successful enough to bring back Lupin to the theatrical side of things and we can see more of his shenanigans in the future! For now, we will have to travel back to the stone age as we look at The Croods: A New Age next time!
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