#64 : Lupin III: The Fuma Conspiracy

L3_Fuma_1This release could be the spiritual successor to a former release of Lupin III, The Castle of Cagliostro. Oh, so does that mean that this was directed by Hayao Miyazaki? No, but the head supervisor, Yasuo Otsuka, was around with Lupin since the beginning and he has worked with Miyazaki and company several times in the past. Returning to a classic green jacket as opposed to the early 80s pink jacket, Lupin returned in 1987 onto the direct to video OVA market with Lupin III: The Fuma Conspiracy, or Lupin III: The Plot of the Fuma Clan.

L3_Fuma_2On the other hand, The Fuma Conspiracy can be considered… well… a supposed black sheep in the long going adventures of our favorite jacket wearing, sideburn clad thief. Not so for me, or maybe other fans, but from what I have heard from so-called experts say Japan often looks at this one with an odd face. Why? Well that classic voice cast that had been with the characters since the beginning was replaced. Perhaps for budget reasons, but the choices of Toshio Furukawa (Lupin), Banjou Ginga (Gigen), Mami Koyama (Fujiko) and Kaneto Shiozawa (Goemon). I love all four of them as actors from other productions, I mean come on! But, this is like the George Lazenby cast placement when everyone expects Sean Connery (James Bond reference in case that went over your head) and b.t.w. I love the film George was in (any fans of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service?).

L3_Fuma_3Also different is how this OVA starts. We see our cast at a wedding… OK, so the quartet are looking to steal something here? Maybe, but this is Goemon’s wedding. Wait! Goemon, in a romantic relationship? I thought he only followed the way of the samurai and his partner was his sword. Yeah, well… things change. Now… there is this vase that belongs to the family Goemon is marrying into and Lupin and Fujiko have interest in grabbing it. Not so much for the vase itself, but for the hidden secret to a great treasure. Now this is sounding like a Lupin caper. But don’t forget, we have another party interested in this vase and the treasure that I have not mentioned yet. And can you guess who they are? Hint… read the title again. Yup, Lupin has to go up against the Fuma clan and… and… don’t forget Inspector Zenigata is here as well.

L3_Fuma_4Back to the idea of this production being a spiritual successor to the classic The Castle of Cagliostro. As I mentioned earlier ‘oldman’ Yasuo Otsuka oversaw production at Tokyo Movie Shinsa and the green jacket was re-instated. So what else shares commonality with the 1979 Miyazaki film? Well, remember that yellow Fiat 500 with the crazy supercharger from Cagliostro? It’s back and welcomed; indeed. And it is an even larger car chase than before. Another shared Cagliostro trait is the fact that this is more of a family friendly outing for our quartet. The red and pink jacket entries from the late 70s and early 80s brought Lupin closer to how he is in the manga. Although the original green jacket series from 1971 began as a very hard edge adaptation until edits were brought into play. Ironic?

When watching the commentary on the DVD that I own, I heard references to how The Fuma Conspiracy looks more similar to western styled shows of the area. Though I agree to a point, the movement, color and environment does slightly favor something from Tiny Toon Adventures. And this is appropriate as back in the day Japanese studios did a lot of the grunt work for animation made for the western market, particularly the U.S. And for Tokyo Movie Shinsa, the studio who has worked on all the classic Lupin titles, also did the animation for… Tiny Toon Adventures. Could have been the exact same staff?

For one of the longest running franchises in Japanese animation, Lupin III has been told and retold in a number of formats. Lupin III: The Fuma Conspiracy represented Lupin’s first foray into the new boom of the OVA market in the mid-1980s. Though the home video market has changed, Lupin has not. This is yet another solid green jacket adventure for Lupin III… do you see this large smile on my face?

#40 : The Castle of Cagliostro

There is one truth to this movie… it is magical. It is such a refined piece of work that has one name written all over it. That name is Hayao Miyazaki and this was his rookie outing as a director of a feature film. And he did it well. Just look at the care and precision and you would think this guy would go on to make and define the concept of what many consider top quality anime. And that would be the case. Hot off the press from his time working on Future Boy Conan, Miyazaki would leave his swan song for the 1970s with that little Lupin III movie that could, The Castle of Cagliostro.

coc_1I often wonder how many people know about this film? Definitely diehard Miyazaki fans and older fans who have been around for a while we know all and love it (at least I hope you all love it?). But, this is a true story, I wonder about younger or casual audiences. Once at my local anime shop they had a Jeopardy game going and the final question was… What was Hayao Miyazaki’s directorial debut? I was out of the competition, but I was all over it. The room was mostly those in their teens and early 20s and they could not come up with The Castle of Cagliostro. Being well into my 30s I blurted out the answer and one person asked how did I know? My answer… I’m old (wah wah wahhhh…)

coc_2In all seriousness I am not old, just classic. Just the same as The Castle of Cagliostro. This is a fine film and Lupin in this film is honored more like the original Arsène Lupin of Maurice Leblanc than that of the manga of Monkey Punch; he a true gentleman. And as much as I prefer the harder edged Lupin character, I can’t help but love this version of the master thief. In a similar way I look at this film kind of like my love of James Bond movies. I prefer the harder Bond be it George Lazenby, Timothy Dalton or Daniel Craig. But sometimes the films of Sean Connery or Roger Moore carry the character so well that I can allow a little more chivalry. Plus, Lupin has that awesome green jacket. I love that green jacket.

coc_3Besides all the Lupin-ness that is Castle of Cagliostro, this movie is pure Miyazaki. The look, the movement, the comedy is what we all have come to expect from the great director himself. From the word go Lupin and Jigen rob a casino and get away only to realize all the fortune that they heisted is plain and simple… fake. Counterfeit. And in a crazy fashion they cast the cash to the wind and we get into the titles with that beautiful ballad Fire Treasure. What a start! And then you get into one of the greatest car chases ever, antics working with and against Lupin’s rival Inspector Zenigata and a clock tower fight with the Count of Cagilostro that has been referenced in various forms from The Great Mouse Detective to Batman: The Animated Series. Funny thing in regards to The Great Mouse Detective is that Disney had to animate it with CG because it was difficult, yet almost a decade earlier the crew at TMS who made this whole movie did it all by hand in less than a year. Props to you Japan, I love ya for not denying the fact that stuff can get done!

coc_4Now some thing that came to me as I am an astrology buff. Yes I find weird connections to astrology because I am a dork. Isn’t it funny as how the seal of the Count of Cagilostro is a goat-fish… Capricorn. He is after all power ambitious, reserved and a little kinky (chasing after Clarisse). All descriptive of a Capricorn. Capricorn is also the sun sign of our director Miyazaki-sama as well. Too many connections. Though I am not saying Miyazaki is like the Count. Because that Count is a dirty old scoundrel of a man and Miyazaki is the premier definition of a taskmaster professional.

It’s not my place to say anyone should see a particular anime. We have our own unique tastes, BUT… Castle of Cagliostro is a very big exception. Watch it, own it, download it, spread it on toasted bread if that is your fancy as I don’t care how you appreciate this movie. I only care that you do appreciate this movie.

#29 : Lupin III (Series 1)

No anime collection is proper without the adventures of Lupan San Sei, Lupin III. A product of the late 1960s counterculture in style and attitude, only one production of the famous thief can claim to be the closest to Monkey Punch’s original manga… sort of. The original Lupin III TV series of 1971, the ‘The Green Jacket’ series, is a study of two different visions in regards to production and outlook. Beyond that, this is the series that is official swinging 60s cool.

liii_s1_1The two visions in question look at being authentic to the original source material and a softened version by following the source material’s source material. The original concept of the show was directed by Masaaki Osumi and followed the approach of Monkey Punch’s manga. That being said, for approximately the first third of the show, the direction was hard boiled and mature. Adult oriented programming is often taken for granted today as normal, but for the early 1970s, this was untested ground. Ratings suffered and Osumi was soon shown the door to be replaced by the young and hungry Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata. Not overly enthusiastic, they took the job and followed the marching orders to clean up the show and make it appeal more for families and children. At first there were a handful of transitional episodes that became out and out fun and non-offensive adventures of the week.

liii_s1_2And due to the split nature of Lupin III, I have a love/hate, well more disappointed than hate as I can’t hate this show. As famous as Miyazaki and Takahata are and as well produced and fun the later episodes are, I really love the original vision of Masaaki Osumi. The attitude and grittier look are just brilliant. Lupin is not as much of backstabbing bastard as the manga, but he is still a bit of a scoundrel. And this kind of goes for the so called team of four: Lupin, Jigen, Goemon and Fujiko. It seems all four of them will one up each other to be on top (maybe not so much Jigen?) and that is a nice thing to see as it is four egos on a rampage. Particularly Fujiko, who I think suffers the most during the change. The big haired bombshell who would shoot Lupin in the back and have him in the sack as well gets a hair cut and her hemlines extended. Fujiko is a strong, independent and sexy woman who may be the most cutthroat of the bunch becomes almost a backup figure. Big mistake. Let Fujiko be Fujiko.

liii_s1_3So with all the grit and angst of the original one third of episodes, it should be a dark show with nothing funny. OH NO! Funny is the word of this show from the word go. My favorite episode, One Chance to Breakout, is comedic genius. After all what would happen if Lupin gets caught by Zenigata? He stays put and acts like a crazy man for months and months and months until he decides to leave. And poor Fujiko tries to break him out and every single time Jigen pulls her back to say let Lupin do his thing. It’s mature comedy, smart comedy that if you love Monty Python or Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb you will get it and in spades. Funny and bit bizarre on the side of being experimental. It is a shame they left the original intention behind, but at least that much got through the system.

liii_s1_4Also to make a small comparison to the Patlabor OVA to Patlabor 2: The Movie, we see a couple storylines in the Lupin III TV Series that ended up being used… again! After all episodes six and seven of the Patlabor OVA are similar to the plot of Patlabor 2: The Movie (similar yes, same no, Patlabor 2 is beyond perfect). As for Lupin III, you have an episode with a guy who makes counterfeit money with a clock tower/mountain and another featuring an odd guy named Mamo. I think these sound like a couple movies that featured Lupin a couple years later? Recycling done right.

Beyond the matter the of vision or production, the adventures of Lupin have always been about style. Cool style baby, YEAH! And that style looks damn good with a green jacket, a good addition over the red (not saying one is better, but from style preference, I like green). And I give the original Lupin III credit for the audacity to push animation into a more mature waters. After all, grown up kiddies still need cartoons too.