Grim_Noir: Hail! Hail! The Lupin Gang’s All Here

Italian Game poster

Title: Lupin the 3rd: Italian Game (anime TV movie)

Chief Director: Kazuhide Tomonaga

Director: Yuichiro Yano

Script: Yuuya Takahashi

Character Design: Hisao Yokoborii

Art Director: Yasuhiro Yamako

Based On The Characters Originally Created By: Monkey Punch

Music: Yuji Ohno

Produced by TMS Entertainment

(currently unlicensed in North America, but TMS is showing it at anime cons)

Reviewed by Grim_Noir

As an old-school otaku and a fan of the Lupin gang (ever since I spent way too many afternoons pumping quarters into the Cliff Hanger arcade machine), I have to admit I am of several minds about the latest TV special, Lupin the Third: Italian Game.

Arsene Lupin III, for the uninitiated, is a third-generation master thief. He is the Franco-Japanese grandson of Arsene Lupin, the protagonist of a series of French pulp novels. Lupin III is only interested in heists that have been categorized as impossible. To add to his own personal degree of difficulty, he always sends a calling card to the police, warning them that he is about to commit his crime.

Lupin Gang

Lupin’s right-hand man is the sharpshooter Jigen. Jigen had a “misunderstanding” with his mafia bosses in Chicago (regarding a woman) and now he hides out with Lupin, usually in Asia. The swordsman, Goemon, is often dragged into the gang’s adventures. He is a descendant of the famous “Robin Hood of Japan,” Goemon Ishikawa. Goeman wields a blade that can cut through absolutely anything (usually played off for comedic effect). Completing the gang is the athletic con woman, Fujiko Mine. Lupin’s unrequited love/lust for Fujiko is the driving force behind many of the gang’s more unproductive criminal enterprises.

This quartet has robbed their way across Europe and Asia (with occasional pitstops in North America) for forty years. They are pursued by the dogged Inspector Zenegata (also a character dealing with the legacy of his forefather, the legendary Edo-era sheriff of Japan, Zenigata Heiji). Zenegata heads an INTERPOL task force charged with bringing in Lupin. His strong sense of Justice means he will sacrifice Lupin’s capture in the face of a greater villain. This has made him a bit of a joke in the law enforcement community, which only feeds his rage against Lupin.

Recently, the emotional balance of the Lupin gang has been completely overturned by Lupin’s on-again/off-again ex-wife, heiress Rebecca Rossellini. Rebecca is a bored millennial, a former gymnast and an amateur hacker, who has discovered she has a real knack for the type of capers Lupin specializes in. Her adrenaline addiction and genuine affection for Lupin make her a true wild card, even in a series as crazy as Lupin the Third.

Lupin and Rebecca

The tales of Rebecca and the Lupin Gang can be seen every Saturday night in Cartoon Network’s Toonami anime block. What the …Italian Game movie starts out to do is an old-fashioned compilation movie, but very quickly takes an odd swerve to try to be its own thing… while still recycling footage from the current Lupin III (Series IV)…, while also honoring the fact that 2017 is the 50th anniversary of the original Monkey Punch manga that began it all. The final effect feels like an alternate universe “clip show” with Easter eggs.

The frame story of Lupin the Third: Italian Game begins when Lupin is approached by a descendant of the Count of Cagliostro. Both he and Lupin have been contacted by a mysterious “Masked Count” who challenges them to find the lost inheritance of Cagliostro. (This set-up is simultaneously a tip of the hat to Hiyao Miyazaki’s Lupin movie, The Castle of Cagliostro, AND addresses the idea of living up to ancestors in the Lupin universe.) In between this all-new framing story, viewers will sit through slightly re-animated, slightly repurposed versions of Lupin III (Series IV) episodes 1, 3, and 25.

I have always said that a new Lupin series, special, or movie is always a cause for rejoicing. Like cold pizza, even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good. But Italian Game still has me scratching my head. The over-arching story IS pretty good. It is a big-screen Dan-Brown-style historical action-mystery, complete with a big budget Bondian finale. And for new fans, there is a quick catch-up on an entire season of the new series. However, for fans of the current series, the episodes don’t quite have the same character motivations (for better or for worse) and the insertion of complete half hour episodes into this plot has the effect of mini-puzzles in a videogame: You’re just waiting for them to be resolved so the main story can move on.

On the other, other hand, when the audacity of the Lupin Gang’s storytelling is firing on all cylinders, it is still better than 90% of any entertainment out there; streaming, commercial, animated or even live-action. When Lupin the Third: Italian Game is licensed in the U.S., I will definitely be adding it to my collection, but I will grudgingly admit it is not a Lupin for everyone.



ol' Grim hisself

* GRIM_NOIR saw Castle of Cagliostro in the theater, back in the 90s, and plans to see it again when it returns to theaters, September 14th and 19th. Please comment below and/or follow @Grim_Noir on Twitter or “Friend” on Facebook or Good Reads to end his self-delusions.

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