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Welcome to part one of the Lupin the 3rd special! This is where we look at films/specials that are all about our favorite thief! After such an enraging experience of watching of Norm of the North that will be topped by two other movies, I think it’s time to talk about one of the top 3 greatest animation icons of all time and has no equal, Hayao Miyazaki. Ask anyone who is into animation who this guy is, or heck, ask any film lover who this guy is, they will tell you that he is a one of a kind animation god. He executes stories and characters like no other, and has a creativity that animators and studios wish they could copy. Sure, not all of his ideas work, and his grumpy old man attitude can be a tad tedious, but those are just minor nitpicks since, when it comes to movies, I would watch anything he has done. I wanted to pick out a movie to talk about from him since his films are so special. I was thinking about talking about a TV show he worked on called Sherlock Hound, since it’s a wonderful hidden gem series that anyone should check out, but I haven’t watched all the episodes, and I want to make sure I see the whole thing before writing a review about it. I mean, how stupid would it be if critics wrote reviews of films or shows that they didn’t fully watch? So, what did I choose to review of the great Hayao Miyazaki? Well, I thought, “why not watch his directorial debut with Lupin the 3rd: The Castle of Cagliostro?” This 1979 film was the second film based off of the Lupin the 3rd franchise, and came out essentially a year later after The Mystery of Mamo. It’s an interesting fact to know that we can thank a lot of the current characteristics of Lupin the 3rd and the gang, because of Hayao Miyazaki and his Studio Ghibli partner/co-founder, Isao Takahata. It really does show off the best elements of the franchise, and cuts away all the tripe that would otherwise plague most anime these days. And if you are curious, this does mean I’m going to be talking about Lupin the 3rd more often now, because there’s so much to talk about with this franchise. Let’s get started on this great underrated gem.
The story once again revolves around our hero Lupin, voiced by David Hayter, and his best friend and partner-in-crime, Jigen, voiced by John Snyder. After a successful heist at a casino, they realize the bills are all forgeries. Lupin then hatches up a new plan to head toward a country where the forgeries might have originated. During a pit stop on the side of the road, Lupin and Jigen encounter and try to save a princess-in-distress named Lady Clarisse, voiced by Bridget Hoffman. After a creative car chase, they find out that she is the soon-to-be bride of the Count of Cagliostro, voiced by Kirk Thorton. Can Lupin and his friends find out about what the heck is going on and solve the mystery within the Grand Duchy of Cagliostro. By the way, the actors I listed are from the Animaze/Manga Entertainment dub. This film has a Streamline dub and the already-mentioned Animaze/Manga Entertainment dub.
So, what is so great about the second canonical film of the Lupin the 3rd franchise? Well, I find it to be a superior film to The Mystery of Mamo, and a lot of the Lupin the 3rd films/specials combined. Let’s talk about the designs for the first part. The art direction/animation has a lot of Miyazaki’s fingerprints. The characters are much more expressive, the lines are smoother, and the animation is actually quite fluid for the time. And that is saying something, since The Castle of Cagliostro came out essentially a year after The Mystery of Mamo. As much as I love the Lupin series from that period of time in the late 70s, the first movie’s animation wasn’t really movie quality. Everything here just feels more impressive in terms of the technical and animation side of the film.
Luckily, The Castle of Cagliostro is not just great animation from 1979 and has some really fun action sequences. The car chase that pops in at about five minutes into the movie is one of the best moments of any action/adventure film. It’s over-the-top, intense, there are stakes, and it put a smile on my face from beginning to end. There are many great scenes, from breaking into the castle to the climatic fight between the Count and Lupin in the clock tower. Another element that is lovingly executed is the slapstick. Unlike Go West!, the slapstick is restrained and is used only when the mood calls for it. It results in the comedy between the characters hitting its target, and makes me smile and laugh every time the quirky moments happen. The voice acting is top-notch. I think the Animaze/Manga Entertainment dub of the film is also pretty iconic and at the same level as the Geneon dub of the original Lupin the 3rd show. They get some pretty good actors for these parts, big and small, including David Hayter (Solid Snake from the Metal Gear Solid franchise), Kirk Thorton (Jin from Samurai Champloo), Bridget Hoffman (KOS-MOS from Xenosaga), John Snyder (Raoh from the Fist of the North Star animated series), Kevin Seymor (Tessai and Shijima from Ninja Scroll), Dorothy Elias-Fahn (Meryl Stryfe from Trigun) and the fantastic Michael Gregory (Professor Gill from the original Kikaider anime series, Laughing Bull from Cowboy Bebop, and Brilliant Dynamites Neon from Trigun). They all do fantastic work bringing the characters to life. One of the elements I love about Miyazaki’s interpretation of the Lupin cast is how he cuts the fat with everyone. Lupin isn’t as perverted as he is in the show, Fujiko isn’t seen as a great thief/sex object for Japanese sex jokes, but an actual great thief/character, Jigen is pretty much the same, and for what little time Goemon has on-screen, he is pretty humorous. I love the franchise, but I find some of its more anime trope-laden elements to be crude at best, and painfully distracting at worst. It’s like how in Lupin the 3rd: Jigen’s Gravestone, if you took out the scene where Fujiko is naked or just take her out entirely, you would lose nothing from the overall plot. I get why the Lupin cast is how they are, due to the time period they were made, and I still love them, but some of its elements either don’t age well or don’t translate well into other cultural mindsets.
If I had to pick apart a few things I didn’t like about the film, it was probably be because of the intense work schedule and elements that had to be taken out due to the said stressful work schedule, but I found some of the plot elements could have been handled better. Like, there is no mystery as to where the forgeries are coming from, since Lupin knows exactly where they are. While the plot element of Lupin knowing the countess from the past is charming, it could have been taken out. I also wish Goemon had more time on-screen. He had only 14 lines. Yeah, when you have a samurai that can cut a plane in half, you shouldn’t be underutilizing him.
In the end, The Castle of Cagliostro is one of the best adventure movies around. It’s fun, with likable characters, great action, and, for the time, amazing animation. Sure, it does have a little bit of fat it could trim from the plot, but for a first-time movie for Miyazaki, it’s pretty much spot-on. Not many directors can say their first movie was a huge hit. You can get either a DVD or Blu-ray version of this film from Discotek Media. I wish they did a combo pack, but overall, it’s a fantastic movie that I think anyone can enjoy, and not just fans of the franchise. Speaking of fans of the franchise, let’s dive into why making a film only catering to fans can be a bad thing with Lupin the 3rd: Green vs Red. Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed the review, and see you all next time!
Rating: Go See It!