Lupin III: The First (2019) Review
Lupin III has been an anime fixture for decades.
Somehow, someway, that lovable thief keeps popping up in films and TV series nearly every year. While you could make the argument that famed Ghibli director Hayao Miyazaki made him famous in the west, the fact is, Lupin has an enduring energy about him that ensures that he’ll always be noticed. That includes this most recent, and potentially risky, foray into computer animation.
While traditional hand-drawn techniques have always been a surefire way to translate the characteristics of the original Monkey Punch designers (read: Monkey Punch was an artist named Kazuhiko Katō, not a company name); Toshiya Umeda and his animation team managed to somehow nail this transition, despite the move to 3DCG.
Characters are still very much fluid, perhaps more so than a lot of similar western studios (even Pixar), but the core designs also never betray the originals. Lupin is still wide-eyed and goofy; Jigen still plays it cool, and so on. These are the gentleman thieves you fell in love with originally no matter where you started in the history of Lupin media; or they’re the cast you will fall in love with after watching “The First.”
That said, the film itself has issues, most notably with its pacing and narrative. We’re given plenty of time to linger with Lupin himself and his new cohort Laetitia (who is embroiled in a familial secret that also involves the Nazis attempting to rise to power in the ‘60s, it’s wild!), a few of the side characters aren’t really focused on enough. Somehow, the hour and a half runtime both feels too short and overly long, in the sense that I wish certain characters had more meaningful moments and the plot was more pushed to the side.
It’s strange, because despite my problems with some of the journey, I had a smile on my face nearly the entire time. Lupin is still timelessly hilarious, and should appeal to pretty much anyone who’s looking for a character to really dig into. The animation style helps tremendously, including his signature “swimming through the air” sequence that works while hand-drawn and translates here. I can’t stress enough how much credit should go to the team, as several other CG efforts in the past few decades have looked stiff and wooden by comparison.
Like most Lupin III: The First films, the latest adventure is self-contained, so it’s a good way to really acclimate yourself to this world. Be prepared to check your watch a few times when it gets especially sluggish; but the juice is worth the squeeze as you’ll be laughing again in no time.
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