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DVD ReviewLupin the 3rd is one of the most popular characters in Japanese anime, a fixture in movies, TV series, and OVAs since his introduction over 30 years ago. Like his namesake Arsčne, Lupin is a famous thief and ne'er-do-well, able to pull of elaborate heists and still remain one step ahead of the police—in this case, the bumbling Interpol agent Zenigata. Despite his villainy, he's clearly on the side of good, since he frequently finds time, amidst his schemes, to defeat villains far worse than he, or any in his band of compatriots (including classic swordsman Geomon, Chicago gangster Jigen, and the beguiling Fujiko, the only woman in the group).
Lupin the 3rd began as a Japanese television series in 1971 that ran 25 episodes. The series proved popular enough to revisit six years later, and the six episodes on this DVD come from the second Lupin series, which ran from 1977 to 1980. Yet another installment followed in 1984, following a number of theatrical features (the most entertaining of which, The Castle of Cagliostro, was acclaimed director Hayao Miyazaki's first film). In all of his various incarnations, Lupin himself remains fairly static—he's a charming character, humorous, big-mouthed, reckless, and consistently good for a laugh.
The series itself isn't quite as reliable. Considering the lengthy history of the franchise, I'm happy to say that the storylines are episodic in nature (so if you are new to the show, you don't need to worry about back-story or motivation). This means, of course, that the shows must stand alone, and they seem to fail almost as often as they succeed. Take this disc, for example. Four of the episodes (The Return of Lupin the 3rd, Buns, Guns, and Fun in the Sun, Gold Smuggling 101, and Shaky Pisa) are great fun—elaborate capers that manage to offer a consistent mix of familiarity and surprises (though don't expect anything revolutionary, since this is a 25-year-old series about an archetypal character). The other two, though, are dull and predictable, and mostly absent the series' usual humor, particularly the Loch Ness Monster story 50 Ways to Leave Your 50-Foot Lover, which isn't nearly as clever as its superfluous title.
Nevertheless, the series retains a retro charm. The character designs are distinct and unique, and though they are frequently drawn off-model, they are instantly appealing (provided their extremely long, skinny legs don't freak you out). The animation is simplistic but stylish, with fairly elaborate backgrounds by anime standards. The formulaic scripts are forgivable for the inclusion of running gags and slapstick comedy (try to count how many times Lupin must nurse his tattered tush). Each episode takes place in a different country, which allows for a lot of varied scenery, but Zenigata is never far behind. Lupin the 3rd has likely endured because it always includes these expected elements. Like the James Bond films, it's less about a particular story and more about keeping alive an iconic character.
Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B-
Image Transfer Review: For a series that's over 25 years old, Lupin looks quite impressive (especially considering the less-than-stellar quality of many anime releases that are far more recent). Colors are a little muted, but fairly solid, with little evident cross coloration. Blacks are a little weak, and detail suffers in darker scenes, but I suppose that is to be expected. Most will likely notice the scratches and grain clearly visible in the source materials, but the presence of such is never distracting, and I've seen worse on discs of newer series.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: Audio is offered in either English or the original Japanese, and both stereo mixes are about as plain as they come. Dialogue is always clear, never overpowered by the score or sound effects. However, both the dialogue and music are lacking in fidelity; lacking low end, they sound a bit airy and harsh at times. Considering the age of the material, I'm not too disappointed. At least it's stereo rather than mono.
Audio Transfer Grade: C+
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 30 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring Armitage III, Gate Keepers, X, Fushigi Yāgi, Vandred
Extras Grade: D
Final CommentsLupin the 3rd is as classic as anime gets, and it's easy to see why the character has endured for 30 years. These six episodes from the second Lupin series may look a little dated, but they remain an entertaining diversion, thanks in large part to the colorful characters and the tongue-in-cheek humor. If you like what you see here, be sure to check out The Castle of Cagliostro, one of the best spy-caper films I've ever seen.
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