Thirty-five years after its debut in Japanese theaters, the first animated movie featuring master thief Lupin The 3rd has been released again on R1 DVD but this time with every conceivable extra feature one could want for this movie. How does this version fare against previous American releases though and is it worth purchasing if one has one of the aforementioned releases?
What They Say:
The world’s most wanted master thief, Lupin the Third is dead! Despite a coroner’s report, Interpol Inspector Zenigata is skeptical and discovers that Lupin is actually alive and well and stealing! But who had set up Lupin’s death and why? For now, questions are set aside, as Lupin, Jigen and Goemon immediately embark to Egypt to pilfer a stone artifact from a pyramid, with Zenigata in hot pursuit. Fujiko, lured by the promise of eternal youth and beauty by the sinister and enigmatic scientist known as Mamo, doublecrosses Lupin and steals the stone. Her betrayal causes a rift between Lupin and his cohorts, causing the trio to split up, but eventually leads Lupin to Mamo’s hideaway, where he discovers the madman’s dark secret and a fiendish scheme that threatens the entire planet! Now, it’s up to Lupin to stop the insane Mamo-before he can complete his 10,000 year-old plans of world domination.
One of the main selling points for this release is the presence of a long-sought English dub of mysterious origin from the late 70s. Although this version of the movie was played at science fiction conventions and anime clubs in the 80s, no one was really certain who actually produced it, as it was often transferred on the underground scene in the VHS tape trading era. There was no listed credit for any of the actors or voice directors or anything though, and so this dub could only be seen at conventions, club meetings (on degrading generations of copied tapes), or as footage that was combined with clips from the Hayao Miyazaki movie Castle of Cogliostro for the laserdisc arcade game Cliff Hanger during the 80s. (More on this in the ‘Extras’ section.)
In any case, that particular dub is present intact on this disc along with the ’95 performance by Streamline Pictures, the one created for Manga Video UK in 1996, as well as the most recent one released by Geneon in the 2000s, along with the original Japanese language track. All of these came out fine in Dolby Digital 2.0 and I had no issues listening to any of them. It’s rather interesting though the Japanese audio is distinctively louder than any of the English tracks.
The movie was originally released theatrically in 1978, and looks good here. The cel animation holds up fine and colors are vibrant and steady. The nuances of old-school sketch-line animation are still fun to watch. The subtitles are colored and detailed appropriately, which makes them easy to read as needed.
The front contains the Lupin Gang doing various actions in the middle of a circle with a yellow backdrop behind it, with the title text in bright red. The rear text is lengthy but easy to read, promising a good deal of entertainment and information on the disc.
The menu has the contents of the front cover with various options listed vertically on the lower left side. It’s nice to hear the Lupin theme in the background. However, the font of the text is a little difficult to read from a distance, even on a 50” HDTV. The outlines of the words are a little difficult to make out unless you’re about within 10-12 ft. It’s my one criticism of the menu though as otherwise it’s easy to navigate.
This section is the true gem of Discotek’s release as opposed to previous versions of this movie. There is so much information in each section of this DVD it took me a few days to read it all. The first link was truly educational as I first got to see this movie in ’87 at Archon with an English dub. It was my first exposure to Lupin overall, but there were no credits on the tape and thus no real indication where this movie came from. So in reading the first link “A History of Mamo In English,” it was fascinating to learn that seemingly no one knows where exactly this dub came from, though there was an archival office in L.A. which was apparently a primary source for people to acquire the movie. Also, apparently, the movie was originally entitled just Lupin The 3rd, with subsequent titles “Lupin III vs The Clones” and “Lupin III: The Mystery of Mamo” being placed as the movie had its interesting run through the underground scene and later was acquired by different anime importers. Thanks to the staff at Lupinthe3rd.com, there are a lot of information and interviews in this link to learn about.
The next link “A Filmography of Lupin The Third” was useful in figuring out how many movies, TV Specials and OAVs have been produced until the end of December 2012. Sadly, the number that has been released officially in the U.S. would constitute about 1/3 or ½ at this point and it made me seriously anxious to want more of them brought here someday. Again, this was a very educational link.
Then I got to the interview with Bill Dufris, which was very cool in learning what it’s like firsthand to play a character as animated as Lupin and the methods he enacted to do so for the Manga UK dub. The liner / production notes and the translated text of the film program were pretty handy about the creation of the movie itself, but I would’ve preferred to also see the physical program if possible scanned onto this DVD instead of just read to me on screen. The experience isn’t entirely the same.
Last but not least of the text –oriented extras was “Why Mamo Matters by Mike Toole,” accomplished anime reviewer of Anime News Network and Anime Jump fame. Toole writes a good deal on the history of the Lupin character as well as why he and his team have retained their popularity in Japanese and American anime fandom. It’s rather extensive, about as much as the English dub link, and honestly makes for good reflecting.
As to video extras, there’s the original Japanese trailer for the movie, and then there’s the international trailer, which is basically for the ’78 English dub with text of the changed character names displayed prominently. Until now, I’d honestly no idea this trailer existed so it’s a wonderful find.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The movie starts off in an interesting fashion, as a man fitting the description of master thief Lupin The Third is apparently executed via hanging in Transylvania. Inspector Zeningata reads the coroner’s report but refuses to believe Lupin is dead and goes to see his body. Since it’s Transylvania, Zeningata brings a stake to stab Lupin’s dead body with… which promptly explodes when he does this, as the real Lupin appears just afterward. Strangely, Lupin is wondering how this whole incident came to be himself and flies off on a rocket to investigate.
After an intriguing opening sequence focusing on genetic manipulation, the scene switches to Egypt, where Zeningata has chosen to pursue Lupin. He notes that a rare medicine was stolen in China, and then a rare herb was taken from the castle of Count Dracula. Zeningata decides from his sixth sense that Lupin may be heading for the pyramids of Egypt since it contains rare elements too, and calls in much of their police force to assist. Meanwhile, Lupin and his gun-toting best friend Jigen are indeed inside one of the pyramids making their way through a series of traps to the Pharaoh’s tomb. Once there, Lupin reaches under a wall and finds a mineral he was looking for. The duo has no time to speculate about it however as the police forces break in trying to kill Lupin. However, with the assistance of a motorcycle, a handy escape route and an appearance by Goemon the Samurai, the team is able to make a successful escape.
Elsewhere, Lupin’s rival (and sometimes companion) Fujiko is apparently having a good time modeling at a palace for a mysterious benefactor who is working to ensure Fujiko never grows old. When she tries to find out who is actually watching her however, the search is fruitless and she heads off to Paris instead to meet the Lupin gang. When she gets there, she finds a tuxedo clad Lupin professing his love for her. Fujiko is a little cold to these advances, but becomes much more interested when Lupin pulls out the mineral from Egypt. Lupin comes to wonder if Fujiko has another deal on the side for it, but simply insists she keep her side of the bargain and go on a date with him. Fujiko says she needs a moment to get ready and… sprays him with a paralyzing agent and rides off with the mineral.
Fujiko arrives at a graveyard hoping to meet hey mystery client, but a disembodied voice insists the stone must be examined first, and she gives it to a large henchman named Mr. Flinch. It’s apparently looked over by someone, because the voice says the stone is real and is the source of all life. A small figure appears in the sky to introduce himself, but destroys the stone to open it and find a transmitter that has been broadcasting to the listening Lupin gang. The being introduces himself as Mamo.
The next day, Lupin and company discuss a legend concerning the key to immortality, which corresponds to the Philosopher’s Stone they found in Egypt. The group argues about the veracity of this legend but this is interrupted by a helicopter which shoots up the area and begins a crazy two-part chase involving a trip through the sewers (during which we hear Goemon’s best line ever), a car switch, a bunch of police led by Inspector Zeningata, a truck you just have to see to believe, and the fracturing of a physics law or two. (If your only experience with Lupin movies is the Castle of Cogliostro, this scene is every bit as enjoyable as the opening chase sequences from that movie.) Eventually, the adventures some dramatic turns as Lupin pursues the stone (and Fujiko) to an island where he meets familiar figures such as Napoleon and Adolf Hitler, before coming face to face with the diminutive Mamo himself.
The story and direction are a bit haphazard, as the focus keeps shifting from Lupin’s relationship with Fujiko to this crazy, long-developed scheme that Mamo (or ‘Mameaux’ as it’s been Romanized in a couple places) is enacting while he tries to get with Fujiko too. A lot of players get involved including the U.S. government. The exaggerated cartoony style of the animation directed by Soji Yoshikawa (Panzer World Galient) and Yasuo Otsuka (Little Norse Prince) is more effective than the screenplay which only begins to make sense in the later scenes. There are some interesting touches though, such as when we see into Lupin’s mind at one point and a psychedelic mix of live and animated sequences are displayed. Also, the movie has a pretty nutty ending, and it’s somewhat interesting to see how western culture is viewed by the Japanese in a few spots here. But overall though, the film is a bit hard to get into given the story’s imbalance.
It is still entertaining for long-time Lupin fans but more for nostalgia value than actual movie strength. Some of this comes from the 70s visual style, but it is also good for watching an interesting experience play out as four completely different studios have taken these characters and their story and created their own interpretations for English speaking audiences. Naturally, circumstances dictated that names and dialog would be changed between these versions. Sometimes he’s Lupin, other times he’s The Wolf. Fujiko became Margo at one point, and Jigen became Dan Dunn.
Which English dub is the best? That is hard to say. I’m personally partial to the ’78 dub but this is more because its nuances help me recall my childhood watching Speed Racer and Battle of the Planets more than anything. Some people who first experienced Lupin III from this movie during the 80s convention scene might say the same thing. Others may have picked up the Streamline Pictures dub at Blockbuster Video or someplace similar and gotten to like Lupin that way. The Geneon dub has really good subtleties in the actors’ performances but some of the minute dialog changes don’t completely jibe well with the movie. The Manga UK dub is about as decent as the Streamline Pictures one. In any case though, your mileage may vary here.
The film itself is decent. It’s more important for learning about anime history than total entertainment as it’s still rather weird, even by Lupin standards. The sheer amount of information and effort placed into it though is what makes this DVD an early contender for best release of classic material in early 2013. Unless a blu-ray is released at some point, I’d have to consider this the definitive version of Mystery of Mamo to own. Animation historians like Jerry Beck would probably love to have this. If this release is an omen of things to come during the year, old school anime fans should take it as a good one for certain.
Japanese Language, English Language (Includes all four English dubs: the 1978 version for Japan Airlines, the 1995 Streamline dub, the 1996 Manga Video dub, and the 2003 Pioneer/Geneon dub), English Subtitles, “Why Mamo Matters,” An Essay by Mike Toole, Liner notes written and compiled by Lupinthe3rd.com Staff, Written interview with voice actor Bill Dufris, Translation of the original movie program
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: A+
Video Grade: A+
Packaging Grade: A
Menu Grade: A-
Extras Grade: A+
Released By: Discotek Media / Eastern Star Inc.
Release Date: February 26, 2013
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1, 16:9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Panasonic 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Marantz stereo receiver