What They Say:
Hard-boiled, cocky, classy and silly – these words only begin to describe the amazing master thief Lupin the Third. With the help of some quick gunplay by his partner Jigen, Lupin takes on the world in elaborate heists, classic car chases, and nasty explosions. Fujiko, a buxom redhead with a penchant for betrayal, always gets tangled up in Lupin’s capers. The stoic but swift swordsman Goemon is just as inclined to kill Lupin as he is to help him, and Lupin can never seem to lose the relentless Tokyo Police Inspector Zenigata. What sort of trouble will this band of misfits get into next?
Contains episodes 1-23.
The audio presentation for this release is pretty solid overall but it’s not exactly consistent. The show is only in Japanese but we also get it in both the original stereo mix and a 5.1 upgrade that was done for the Japanese release. The technical problem is that while the 5.1 is consistently encoded at 448kbps, the 2.0 mix varies between episodes with some at 224kbps and others at 448kbps. It doesn’t make much of a difference overall but it’s a bit disconcerting to see such inconsistent encoding issues. The show is one that doesn’t go big in a lot of ways considering its age, but the 5.1 mix gives it some additional clarity and feels cleaned up more. The stereo mix feels more true to its original mono mixes that it must have been. Neither track really stands out big but they’re both clean and clear with no problems with dropouts or distortions and no scratchiness either. The show plays well across the forward soundstage but it’s not one that will leap out at you.
Originally airing in 1972, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. The twenty-three episodes are spread across four discs with six on each except for the last that has five. The series has a very good bitrate to it, playing off the higher audio encoding, with it generally sitting in the mid eights as it goes on. The series is showing its age in some ways, but the source materials here are in excellent condition with a very, very clean look that avoids any cross coloration that might otherwise be glaring. The colors look very good here even as it uses a generally darker palette to it and it avoids any significant blocking and even little in the way of noise, leaving it to a more natural film like grain throughout that’s not distracting in the slightest. I really came away from the visual presentation of the series with very positive thoughts.
The packaging for this release is decent overall, though not without some minor problems. The case is a double sized keepcase to hold the four discs with hinges inside, making for an easy retrieval of all of the discs. The front cover artwork uses the four primary characters in bold if somewhat garish colors that does work well enough as they’re distilled down to their basics. That dominates with no real background to speak of here and we also get the standard English language logo that gives it some consistency with other sets over the years. The back cover is a bit harder of a sell as it has four sections along it from top to bottom, each with different background colors. The top goes for the basic premise in white text against green while also listing some of the talent and episode counts, going for orange and blue text there which is even more awkward. A small strip of shots from the show goes through the middle and we get another with a blue background that highlights all the extras using red and orange text on the blue. The techincal grid is the easiest to read as it has the production information in red on orange while the grid is standard black and white. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design works off of the cover artwork and uses the same layout and artwork across all four discs where we get the four characters in their primary colors. It all looks good with the black background giving it more definition and does set the mood well enough. Menu selections are standard and easy to access with orange text and literal bullet points used to navigate it. Submenus load clearly and episode selection is decent enough as it covers two pages, three episodes to a page. Language selection is generally decent but we had a couple of incidents where what we selected didn’t translate into actual playback, mostly with subtitles being off and on, and there’s nothing highlight as to what’s actually selected once you press the button.
The extras for this release are really quite good, which is far too understated. There are a series of commentary tracks, similar to what we saw on the Discotek movie releases before, with Reed Nelson and others talking up the historical side of the show and what it contains with the people behind it. We also get some very extensive liner notes and details about the show, along with some intriguing essays, that really brings to bear everything that this show has going for it under the hood. The really big win for me here though is the inclusion of the two twelve minute pilot films that were produced. While the show has a lot of good stuff coming from the manga, the pilot films really capture it even more both in terms of character designs and the raw sexuality of it, making for a really, really fun viewing of it all.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
After the original manga run, which ended the year this came out, a TV adaptation of the Lupin the Third property certainly isn’t a surprise. This original season of twenty-three episodes has some interesting pedigree to it as it can toss around names like Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki as directors. Their work here largely influenced the direction that the animated incarnations would take for years, both in the future TV series and the various movies and specials. The anime does shift away from what the original manga is like in a lot of ways as the sexuality is greatly diminished, but there are some elements of it to be had here.
Having seen a lot of the movies and specials and a chunk of the other TV series, there aren’t too many surprises with how this standalone season works. The show opens in a kind of awkward way just doing an episode focused on someone with money that comes up with an elaborate way to kill Lupin. It’s kept simple in that it largely deals with just Lupin and Jigen, the primary core of the series in general. But the series doesn’t take too long to bring in Fujiko as well. She’s the amusing addition to the gang that gives us a lot of episodes that focuses on one big aspect of her; that she’s primarily there to take advantage of Lupin at key times during his heists to get her own way, generally leaving him empty handed. Jigen’s continually frustrated by it but Lupin is just smitten with her in a way that he isn’t with other women. And rightly so as Fujiko is the epitome of a certain type of woman, one that fits his lifestyle and cravings in a big way.
The fourth member of the group is introduced later on as well with Goemon, who at first is being shown as the other master assassin of the underworld. There’s some tension between the two as they’re close to going against each other and Fujiko is manipulating the whole situation. Having the pair adversarial for a bit is fun, especially as others take advantage of it as well, since it sets the tone of the relationship in a neat way. While they do come to work with each other, it’s more a tolerance on Goemon’s part with his classical Japanese approach to things. Goemon’s never been my favorite of the group but he has some good moments here, especially as he’s so unlike the others in a lot of ways with his more reserved nature.
The series runs through a lot of somewhat standard capers where all sorts of treasures are at stake, from precious paintings to gold and all other sorts of wealth and cash. There are also some episodes that deal with more sentimental treasures as Lupin’s family past comes into play as some of his grandfather’s costume bits and equipment shows up when a rival family from the past comes to Japan to show them off and entrap Lupin. There’s also an episode that takes the suspension of disbelief up a notch where someone from the past has gone far into the future and found that family lineage is at stake as Lupin the 13th will end his family line. And that has him screwing around with Lupin the 3rd in order to secure his family down the line. It’s an amusing bit of time travel but it’s just so out of place in the series that it really makes the dynamic weird.
A series like Lupin can be hard to talk about when looking at it at a whole simply because it’s all standalone stories. There are some very fun things here once it finds its groove and a whole lot to like as we see the early form of the characters and their capers. I also like that out of all of them, Fujiko is the only one that changes outfits regularly. She’s got a good bit of a sexpot feel about her here, and they do play that up a few times, but she’s the one that’s the most conniving here and does it all with a wicked grin and a smile. Finally seeing these early episodes is just a ton of fun and I’m glad to see such a well done set for it across the board, from production to extras. Lupin fans would do very well to add this set to their collection.
Japanese 2.0 Language, Japanese 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Commentaries, Liner Notes, Pilot Films
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: A+
Released By: Discotek Media
Release Date: June 26th, 2012
Running Time: 575 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.