What They Say
Lupin is after mafia boss Galvez’s single most precious treasure: a treasure within a treasure! Jigen is Galvez’s hired gun who fails to kill cat-burglar Lupin in his first attempt on the treasure and seeks revenge. Fujiko is the girlfriend of Lupin’s rival, Brad. Zenigata travels from Japan to America to find and arrest Fujiko. Goemon seeks the almighty sword that cuts steel, Zantetsuken. This sword is mysteriously connected to the treasure in Galvez’s vault… After a series of twists and turns, these complete strangers become acquainted in their “First Contact,” an epic adventure!
This release is one that reminds me that some companies can get a stereo presentation right. The show is done in Japanese only as there’s no dub available for it, and gives us the stereo mix encoded at 448kbps. That makes a significant difference in comparison to a lot of shows done at 192kbps as it feels much richer and covers the space better overall. There’s a fair bit of placement throughout it as the action plays out and multiple characters interact on screen. It’s not a 5.1 mix to be sure, but the stereo mix is pretty strong here and it makes the action work better and the music score sound very full. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2002, the transfer for this TV special is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. This special has a good look to it, though one that feels a bit soft throughout a lot of it, but it works with the particular style used and because a lot of it is essentially a flashback story. There’s plenty of visible detail and the encoding keeps things looking solid throughout so there’s very little in the way of noise and no cross coloration. The line noise during panning sequences is very minimal as well which gives it a good clean look as the action happens. The Lupin franchise, in general, has rarely had really strong stand out visual pieces but this one has a good look overall and the transfer looks pretty solid.
The First Contact has a really good cover even though it is fairly standard in design and unlike a lot of the more action oriented ones of features and specials past. The core cast is all here with a very clean and vibrant look that has a definite modern feel to it outside of the classic character designs themselves. The background of the city alight at night provides some great contrast to it as it lets the character artwork stand out even more. The only real downside here is that the logo has three pieces to it as well as the strip along the bottom denoting that it’s the 30th-anniversary special. The logo itself feels like too much text in general but also because of it being done in three different fonts which makes it feel even more ill-defined. The back cover runs with that slightly angled design and gives us two strips of character artwork, one along the top and one near the bottom, with Lupin over part of it. The character artwork is pretty nice as it shows off everyone involved. The summary is a big chunk of text in the middle but it reads well and has a good flow to it. The bottom is where all the technical and production data is and it’s solid and without error. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu is unsurprising as it essentially splits it in half with the artwork on one side and the navigation on the other. The left artwork side is pretty nice since it’s the front cover but with a bit more to it as we see the street itself and more of Lupin’s body, but not at the expense of anything else. It’s certainly a bit more vibrant and alive here. The right side takes the three font logo for the top and then offers up the basic navigation selections, including top level subtitle controls which is nice though it’s easy to avoid offering it altogether and instead just defaulting them to on and figuring that anyone who wants to turn them off can do it on the fly. The layout is decent overall and it avoids looking too cluttered by placing the navigation over the artwork itself and thereby removing a lot of the appeal.
Outside of trailers for other shows, the only extra here is a commentary track by Reed Nelson of the LupinThe3rd.com site in which he covers a load o Lupin trivia and details across the board.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
While Lupin hasn’t had an ongoing TV series in quite some time, he is one of the rare characters and franchises who has managed to pull off having a yearly TV special. Starting in 1989 and going up through today, each year has him appearing in a new TV special which continues to draw good numbers and keeps the venerable cast of characters in the public eye. Lupin and the gang is an odd set of characters to gain such fame but it’s one that simply speaks of fun which is what a lot of it is all about. This special, coming in during 2002, marks the 30th anniversary which gives them the perfect opportunity to tell the tale of the characters first meeting.
The setup is fun enough as Jigen is approached by a reporter in New York City who wants the scoop on how this disparate group of thieves came together. Jigen’s not all that interested in telling it at first, but eventually, he starts to regal her with it. The time past when Jigen was working for organized crime and was doing a guard job that he was brought in to deal with, one where Lupin had targeted it in order to get a valuable treasure that has another mystery inside of it. Not unexpectedly, Lupin manages to snag it and Jigen fails to kill him but Jigen ends up hot on his trail as he takes his job very seriously and won’t leave a job undone. Unfortunately for him, his lack of doing it quickly and cleanly has him being watched for his loyalty to the job since this is his first known real failure. And in this kind of world, if you fail you’re going to get killed for your incompetence.
In an interesting angle, Jigen and Fujiko aren’t exactly friends but they know each other which makes her introduction to Lupin all the easier. Fujiko is Fujiko though and it doesn’t take much for her to try and play both sides of the field in order to get what she wants. And once Lupin starts things going and Fujiko starts making her plays, it doesn’t take long for Zenigata to make an appearance in his pre-ICPO days where he’s hot on Lupin’s heels already. Add in Goemon coming into the picture and added to the mix. Part of the fun of all of this is watching how the connections are made and how it sets the foundation for the future, such as the suggestion that Zenigata gets urged to go to the ICPO in order to continue pursuing Lupin.
Of course, with any story about a group of thieves, there’s some uncertainty about the origin and whether it’s true or not. And with a show like Lupin who has had multiple incarnations now that don’t always connect well with each other. And there aren’t exactly a whole lot of connections with the original manga either, which likely told very different meeting stories. The fun here is simply seeing these characters when they didn’t know each other in some form and how they found out about each other. The story itself about the treasure, the bad guys out to get it and even Lupin’s big overall plan is largely irrelevant here. That’s all just trappings and fluff to the core of it. And while it may not be a canon meeting story (I don’t really think there is anything canon about Lupin, it all exists at the same time yet it doesn’t as well) it is one that is fun to see with more modern animation. Especially since it keeps to a more classic storytelling style that you don’t see in other shows.
I’ve long loved the Lupin franchise, though I’ll admit that as much as I enjoy the numerous anime releases in TV, movie, and special form, the manga holds a far more special place in my heart. This TV special is a great little piece that takes us back to the start of it all even though the characters don’t look any different in terms of age. The visuals are good, the action is fun and it has a good pace overall even if the story about the treasure that Lupin is after feels pretty inconsequential. After a very dark period in anime history with no new Lupin releases, I’m extremely happy to have a new special and hope that we’ll see more of them come out. Definitely recommended, both for old fans and people who want to get a look at what Lupin is all about.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Commentary Track
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Discotek Media
Release Date: March 30th, 2010
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 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.