REVIEW: ‘Lupin III: The First’ is a Fantastic Heist Film Doing Justice to the Franchise

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Lupin III: The First
©️ MONKEY PUNCH / 2019 LUPIN THE 3RD FILM PARTNERS

Lupin III: The First is a Japanese CGI comedy action-adventure heist anime film based on the Lupin the Third franchise created by Monkey Punch. Marza Animation Planet and TMS Entertainment are the animation studios that bring the latest installment of the Lupin III franchise into a new animation style. Written and directed by Takashi Yamazaki, the film was initially released in 2019 in Japan. Now GKIDS Films brings the latest installment to North American.

The English release of the film features current cast members returning to their roles within the franchise. The cast includes Tony Oliver as the renowned thief Lupin III, Richard Epcar as gunman Daisuke Jigen, Lex Lang as samurai Goemon Ishikawa XIII, and Michelle Ruff femme fatale Fujiko Mine, Doug Erholtz as Inspector Zenigata. Laurie C. Hymes, J. David Brimmer, and Paul Guyet join the cast for new character roles. 

Lupin III: The First follows iconic gentleman thief Arsène Lupin III who returns in an action-packed, globe-trotting adventure to uncover the secrets of the mysterious Bresson Diary. A treasure that even Lupin’s grandfather, the great Arsène Lupin, failed to obtain. With help from a young prospective archeology student named Laetitia, Lupin must decipher the mystery of the diary and find its treasure before falls into the hands of a dark cabal.

A battle for the diary breaks out as a Nazi treasure-hunter group races to steal the diary and treasure to resurrect the Third Reich. Lupin and his colorful underworld companions undertake daring prison escapes,  trap-filled tombs, and aerial escapades, with the trademark wit and visual finesse that has made LUPIN THE 3RD one of the most storied animation franchises in the world. 

First and foremost, I absolutely loved the animation style of this film! Personally, I haven’t always been the biggest fan of CGI anime, because the quality can be hit or miss. More often than I have come across 3DGC anime that lose my interest because the characters look clunky, are designed in a blocky way, or movements seem stiff.

However, 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. 

It was a brilliant move to have the franchise’s current English voice cast to reprise their roles for this film. As a long-time fan of the Lupin III series, I honestly can’t imagine anyone else voicing Lupin and his crew. I’m thankful the filmmakers didn’t go another route using a different cast of voice talent for these roles. It honestly can’t imagine Lupin and the gang being voiced by anyone other than Tony Oliver, Doug Erholtz, Michelle Ruff, Richard Epcar, and Lex Lang.

Lupin III: The First
©️ MONKEY PUNCH / 2019 LUPIN THE 3RD FILM PARTNERS

The film’s writer and director, Takashi Yamazaki, does a fantastic job of crafting a brand new story that greatly adds to the franchise. Lupin III: The First has all the makings of a classic Lupin III film that allows it to fit into the franchise seamlessly. Complete with disguises, mystery, crazy car chase action, a globe-trotting adventure, and an insanely out of this world high stakes heist. The story pulls you in and makes you eager to see Lupin and his crew go on more wild heists and adventures together.  

Additionally, this film is sure to delight old and new Lupin III fans alike. The film’s story is easy to follow along, and it does a great job of introducing every character without making audiences feel like they need to have an in-depth knowledge of the franchise. While on the flip side, the film pays great homage to the franchise throughout the film that long-time fans will recognize and enjoy immensely. I would even say that the general audience who are unfamiliar with anime could find this film enjoyable. That is because, at its core, this film is simply a great heist film that takes the audiences on a thrilling adventure with a colorful cast of characters.

Speaking of the characters, one of my favorite things about the film is the female characters, Fujiko Mine and Leatitia. Both unique and have their own agency but are presented as capable and strong-willed in their own ways. I especially enjoyed Fujiko because in the film she remains a great example of how a female character can be strong, sexy, and have agency without sexualizing her. She is empowered by her feminine wiles and sexuality while also being capable of her own.  The film does a great job with Fujiko’s character and is a shining example of what makes a good femme fatale.

Additionally, the film truly captures some of Lupin’s character’s most charming aspects while also humanizing him. Something that I have always loved about Lupin is that he isn’t your typical hero. As a matter of fact, he doesn’t even think of himself as a hero in the first place. He is apathetic towards his good deeds and doesn’t look for recognition for them.

When it comes to Lupin, he is first and foremost a thief, and it is in his blood. As the grandson of the great gentlemen thief, Arsène Lupin, it is something he takes tremendous pride in and seeks to carry on his family’s legacy. So much so that it’s not just the treasure that Lupin finds alluring, but the challenging mystery and adventure of the next big heist. To achieve something that those before him were not able to do. And in a way, it is how he pays respect to his grandfather’s legacy.

Lupin III: The First
©️ MONKEY PUNCH / 2019 LUPIN THE 3RD FILM PARTNERS

My only critique of this film is that I felt the execution with Professor Lambert’s character and action felt rushed and ingenuine towards the end. I don’t want to give any major spoilers away; however, I will say that the pacing towards the end felt a little off. Thankfully, this small pacing issue does not ruin the film’s story overall.

Lastly, I was especially touched by the film’s dedication to Lupin III creator Monkey Punch, who recently passed away before the film’s initial release. In the end credits, there is a small note from Monkey Punch that states that he is glad to see Lupin go on more and new adventures and share these stories with the world. I felt it was a great way to end the film because it is a beautiful message to long-time fans and gives his blessing for Lupin III to go on even after his death.

Overall, Lupin III: The First is a fantastic heist movie that does justice to the source material.  I can honestly say, not since Count of Cagliostro has a Lupin III film resonated with me so deeply. This film left me wanting more! The story pulled me on and makes me eager to see Lupin and his crew go on more adventures and pull off bigger heists in the future. This is a tremendous addition to the Lupin III collection that delivers a brand new story and never before seen animation style for the franchise. This is a film that is sure to delight new and old fans alike. Lupin III: The First takes audiences on an exhilarating globe-trotting adventure filled with action, mystery, and a cast of colorful characters. This is a film that is sure to delight new and old fans alike.

Lupin III: The First debuts in North American theaters October 18 (DUB) and 21 (SUB)

'Lupin III: The First' is a Fantastic Heist Film Doing Justice to the Franchise
  • 9.5/10
    Rating - 9.5/10
9.5/10

TL;DR

Overall, Lupin III: The First is a fantastic heist movie that does justice to the source material.  I can honestly say, not since Count of Cagliostro has a Lupin III film resonated with me so deeply. This film left me wanting more! The story pulled me on and makes me eager to see Lupin and his crew go on more adventures and pull off bigger heists in the future. This is a tremendous addition to the Lupin III collection that delivers a brand new story and never before seen animation style for the franchise. This is a film that is sure to delight new and old fans alike. Lupin III: The First takes audiences on an exhilarating globe-trotting adventure filled with action, mystery, and a cast of colorful characters. This is a film that is sure to delight new and old fans alike.