The moment I saw the first teaser for Lupin III: The First, the movie immediately shot up to the top of my “must watch” list for 2020. Not because I have any great attachment to the character — the only Lupin movie I’ve seen to date is Hayao Miyazaki’s masterful The Castle of Cagliostro — but rather, because I loved the look and feel of the animation.
For all of its technical advantages, 3DCG animation can often look flat, stiff, and lifeless, especially when compared to the heights of 2D animation. But with Lupin III: The First, it looked like director Takashi Yamazaki (Dragon Quest: Your Story, Space Battleship Yamato, Returner) had overcome that. The animation was as crisp and detailed as one expects from 3DCG, but the characters’ movements had an energy and even zaniness that was a joy to watch.
Lupin III: The First was released in Japan on December 6, 2019, where it was a critical and commercial success. It’s slowly making its way Stateside this fall and winter. Here’s a quick round-up of what Western critics have to say about the latest adventure of Arsène Lupin III and his comrades.
LaNeysha Campbell, “A fantastic heist film doing justice to the franchise”:
Marza Animation Planet and TMS Entertainment truly exceeded my expectations with detail in the animation. From the texture of the clothing and hair to the facial expressions and the character’s movements’ fluidity. Additionally, I have to applaud the animators for a great job with capturing the original character designs and then flawlessly bringing them to life in a never before seen style for this franchise. Every scene is beautifully designed and animated in a way that does justice to the Lupin III franchise.
Alex Dudok de Wit, “Overall, it’s damn good fun”:
This is a family caper, as silly and playful as its title. The plot — a mash-up of Mesoamerican adventure, Mesopotamian mythology, and Nazi intrigue — is essentially a vehicle for the outlandish action and chummy character comedy familiar from Lupin’s previous outings. In that sense at least, The First is firmly anchored in the franchise’s past. The gadgets are quaint, the overarching frame of reference is Indiana Jones, and a plot point involving rumored sightings of an aged Hitler suggest that we actually are in the 1980s.
David Ehrlich, “Animé’s most iconic thief survives an iffy digital makeover”:
At its best, Lupin III: The First is a tribute to the enduring appeal of Monkey Punch’s greatest achievement, and a reminder that it can survive any kind of upheaval even if his story remains rooted in the mid 20th century. But while Lupin will never get old, this Botox-injected take on the character can make it feel like he’s trying a bit too hard to stay young. It would be wonderful if Yamazaki’s film helped bring Lupin to the rest of the world, but here’s hoping that any further CG adventures do more to bring the rest of the world to Lupin.
Drew Taylor, “The classic animé aesthetic is transformed for 3D”:
This is truly the first time that a computer-animated feature captures the look and, more importantly, the feeling of animé in a truly authentic way. In the past, it feels like animé studios (like Studio Ghibli) when bringing to life CGI creations, has leaned on a cel-shaded aesthetic, which is undeniably beautiful but also distancing emotionally. It looks like hand-drawn grafted on top of computer animation, and oftentimes ends up feeling like a video game instead of something more cinematic. Lupin III: The First takes a different approach. The characters are fully rendered, as they would be in a DreamWorks Animation or Pixar film, but everything about them screams animé. It’s hard to describe, but when you see it, you cannot take your eyes off of it.
James Whitbrook, “A gorgeous adventure about finding family and punching Nazis”:
Thankfully, like many of the thief’s heists, The First’s leap to 3DCG is a risk worth taking: Marza Animation Planet and TMS Entertainment’s animated spin on the world of Lupin is one of the most breathtaking translations of a typically 2D character to 3D we’ve seen in years. It’s as if Monkey Punch’s manga, or the beloved animated series and movies that spun out of it, leaped into an extra dimension — faithfully keeping the exaggerated aesthetics and movements that have defined Lupin, Fujiko, Jigen, Goemon, and Zenigata across decades of works while rendering them with a fidelity that sits alongside the likes of Spider-Verse as some of the best in the field.
Lupin III: The First just finished up a limited theatrical run here in the States. It’ll be released digitally on December 15 and on Blu-ray on January 12. More information can be found on GKIDS’s website.