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Warning/Parental Heads up! This is a very violent special. You will see limbs fly off, blood, and visions of beheading individuals. There are also some sexual tension and minor pot smoking. This is absolutely not meant for a younger audience. Viewer’s discretion is advised. Hope you like the review!
When you have such an iconic cast of characters like Lupin the 3rd does, it’s always a bit concerning when the film decides to focus on just one of them, and that one isn’t Lupin. Sure, you can make an interesting story or experience with someone like Fujiko and Daisuke Jigen, but then you have Goemon. From all of my years of loving Lupin the 3rd, Goemon has been one of the more frustrating characters on which to focus a story, because of his stoic samurai character. He’s kind of boring, and only gets fun when he uses that sword to do over-the-top sword slicing stuff. That’s why today’s review is probably going to be the best way to form a story around him, Lupin the 3rd: Goemon’s Blood Spray.
Directed by Takeshi Koike, Goemon’s Blood Spray is the second of specials that connect back to the Fujiko Mine mini-series that may or may not take place at the very beginning of the Lupin the 3rd timeline. Listen, with continuity for this franchise, you just have to wing it, and not think about it so hard. Anyway, let’s dive right into this little gorefest.
The story takes place after Jigen's Gravestone, as we see our gang of likable thieves stealing from a Yakuza-operated casino ship. While on the ship, Lupin, dubbed by Keith Silverstein, Jigen, dubbed by Dan Woren, and Fujiko, dubbed by Cristina Vee, are just there to steal the money. Goemon, dubbed by Lex Lang, is there to protect a Yakuza boss from harm. Unexpectedly, a third party is thrown in the fray with a killer known as Hawk aka the Phantom of Bermuda, dubbed by Kirk Thorton. Hawk is sent to kill Lupin, Jigen, and Fujiko. Goemon tries to defend the three and fails to do so, but they are then saved by Inspector Zenigata, dubbed by Richard Epcar. Can Lupin and the gang avoid the killer ax swings of Hawk? Can Goemon redeem his failure to take down the giant killer?
Like I mentioned above, while Lupin, Jigen, Zenigata, and Fujiko are in the film, much of this film's focus is on the lone swordsman, Goemon. So, how do you make a character, which is usually untouchable, vulnerable? It's rather simple, set the story with Goemon before he's the unstoppable swordsman that he is in the main series. The plot is fairly basic in this film as it places Goemon against Hawk, and the main goal and drive of the story are for Goemon to achieve that level of swordsmanship that can put him on the same level or higher than Hawk. It's a very samurai-style film, but it fits. A lot of that is because the special knows what it needs to focus on and to have a threat that can propel the story forward. One of the best parts about this special is Hawk. Along with Jigen's Gravestone's Yael Okuzaki, Hawk is one of the deadliest threats in the Lupin the 3rd universe. He's big, strong, stoic, unmoving, and versatile with his two axes. He's not a dumb or typical hired hitman villain either. Due to being an ex-military soldier, Hawk can and will adapt to the situation at hand. Even using bullets on him does not work. I love that he looks like something out of a Hong Kong or early 70s/80s action flick. He would fit perfectly in films like Commando or any of the action films Hong Kong was putting out at the time.
So, since this is pretty much Goemon's story, what do the other characters have to do? Well, a lot of the plot that involves Lupin and Jigen starts and stops at the cruise ship heist at the beginning, and then becomes the targets of Hawk. Fujiko doesn't have a whole lot to do, and I think that's good. The problem with the last special within this Lupin continuity was that she did little, and was mostly fan service. In this film, she bails at the halfway point while Goemon is training. Zenigata has a bit more to do this time as he tries to not only capture Lupin and Jigen, but also find out why Hawk was there in the first place. The rest of the cast are setups for Goemon's story, including the gang of yakuza that Goemon was protecting back on the ship.
Animation-wise, it's on par with the last special. The darker outlines, slicker designs, and action sequences are all beautiful to look at and watch on screen. The movements are so fluid, and you are constantly hooked to see how the fights pan out. Like I also said above, this is a very violent film. Not early 90s anime violent, but you will see limbs fly, blood spray, and Goemon get a part of his arm sliced like a Deli slicing roast beef. You will be getting action sequences that can be compared to the ones you see in Sword of the Stranger. The dub cast is also pretty spectacular. We have the returning cast of Keith Silverstein as Lupin, Dan Woren as Jigen, Richard Epcar as Zenigata, and Cristina Vee as Fujiko, but the two newcomers, Kirk Thorton and returning Goemon voice actor Lex Lang are wonderful additions to the cast. Kirk brings this weathered and tired portrayal to Hawk, and Lex brings his A-game and his best Goemon performance to date. Of course, this wouldn't be a Lupin special if it didn't have a pretty cheesy rock song at the end of the special by Rob Laufer.
So, what did I not like about this special? Well, while it is stripped down, I would have loved a bit more connection and explanation about who hired Hawk to kill Lupin, Fujiko, and Jigen. They don't explain it, despite this special being a sequel to Jigen's Gravestone. Was it Mamo who sent Hawk after the gang? What happened to Hawk after the fight with Goemon at the end? I think turning this into a 90-minute feature would have helped flesh out the story more. I still love the plot, but it needed to either cut more or expand more.
In the end, Goemon's Blood Spray is a thrilling violent romp, reminiscent of some of anime's best action films. I highly recommend picking up the recently released Blu-ray from Discotek Media. It's very entertaining, violent, and it made a usually tough character to make interesting, well, interesting. It's still not Castle of Cagliostro, but I consider it one of the best specials out of the Lupin the 3rd franchise. Now then, we shall move from the blood-soaked lands of Japan to the shivering mountaintops as we look at DreamWorks and Pearl Studios' Abominable.
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Rating: Go see it!