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Lupin the 3rd: Dead or Alive Anime DVD Review

8 min read
The opening sequence alone made it worth the price of admission

Dead or Alive is one of the better of the bunch with Monkey Punch heading the feature

What They Say:
Master thief Lupin the 3rd and partners in crime travel to the remote country of Zufu, hoping to unlock the secret treasure of “Drifting Island.”

But to make off with the loot, Lupin will have to get past an impenetrable (and lethal) security system, a corrupt police chief, a band of bounty hunters, and ruthless dictator General Headhunter – and all of this with Inspector Zenigata of the ICPO hot on his heels!

The audio presentation for this release bring us the original Japanese language track in stereo while the English mix gets a good 5.1 boost to it. For some reason, the Japanese track is only in a mono format even though releases in other regions (Japan, Europe) have been in stereo. The English mix is even in 5.1 for this release. The mono mix is decent enough though you can feel like you’re missing a bit of the oomph to things since it’s so center channel-based or faked if your receiver is splitting it to both stereo channels. Dialogue in the show is clean and clear throughout though and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions.

Originally released in theaters back in 1996, the transfer for this film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 but is not enhanced for anamorphic playback. The transfer here is showing its age a bit with its traditional animation style as you can see a lot of things you normally wouldn’t with a lower resolution, such as brush strokes and other related things. There’s a bit of grain that’s natural to be there for a theatrical release but a bit of dirt and dust has also made its way onto this print which only serves to age it a bit more. The transfer overall is good looking but it’s not a crisp clean print. Colors are solid without being oversaturated, cross coloration is virtually non-existent and only a bit of noticeable aliasing cropped up throughout.

With the Japanese release prior to this being done in a jewel case, what we get instead is much better as the cover art here is from the theatrical poster for the film, very slightly cropped along the bottom. It’s a good looking piece that has the larger than life characters of the main cast on top of the creative island in the film while Zenigata and the police fill out along the bottom. With a lot of blue here from the sky and sea it really draws the eye to the characters. The back cover provides a very slim summary of the show alongside a large shot of Lupin in flee mode while below is a few shots from the film. The bottom part of the cover here does a terrible job of explaining what’s on the disc. While it says dual language, you don’t know about the 5.1 or mono mixes, you don’t know it’s letterbox. It’s like they’re trying to keep information from you instead of helping you to make an informed decision and that only sets me against it.

The menu layout is fairly basic with no animation to it; using the image of the trio together on the move in the lower right corner, the rest of the screen is filled out with small and almost blurry shots from the show against an indistinct dark background, set to a brief loop of instrumental music. Selections are lined along the bottom and navigation is easy and problem-free. Access times are nice and fast and with no transitional animations, they all load quickly. Due to the awkward way FUNimation set up its languages at the time we never bother with the language presets and did it manually.

A couple of extras are included with this release; the first is the basic character profile section which is pretty standard material across their Lupin releases now. The other is a very interesting video session that was taken at a convention last year at a Monkey Punch panel where he answers a lot of questions about Lupin in general as well as this particular film. It’s a good piece that goes a long way towards explaining some of the things in the film and about his own views of what Lupin is all about and how he created them all. Definitely worth the price of admission for a Lupin fan.

Content: (possible spoilers)
Lupin movies and specials tend to be my favorite parts of the franchise, though the manga is quickly overshadowing it, and Dead or Alive is one of the few features that I had managed to see some time ago at a convention and had always wanted to revisit. Taking it in for a second time, it reminded me of why I like this property so much but it also showed me that this one was much closer to some of the spirit of the manga, which is little surprise with Monkey Punch himself working as the main director on the film, even if he does say he let his assistant director have free reign. They both knew what worked.

In the standard setup, we get a fun little action sequence right from the start that has a group of men being set free from prison but they only have five minutes to get as far as they can before the guards get their chance to take them down. It’s a high-speed chase sequence with great animation that serves to bring in one of the secondary players for the main storyline but it’s also perfect for giving the fans what they want right from the start; big chase scenes, amazing “stunts” and a little car that can do anything as long as certain people are behind the wheel.

The show then shifts to the small country of Zufu where Lupin, Jigen, and Goemon fly mini-helicopter to a strange-looking hidden island base where it looks like an aircraft carrier with a massive base on top of it was slammed into a small standalone plateau. Inside there somewhere is a massive treasure waiting to be had; it was hidden there by the previous king who was killed by his son, Pannish, who the current ruler then dispatched himself. Still keeping the title of General, General Headhunter now has control of Zufu but nobody has been able to secure the treasure from there. The only key is a young woman named Emerah who was the daughter of one of the research scientists at the facility who died a few years prior. But with Lupin in charge of the caper, they’re more likely to get the treasure.

The exploration of the base is pretty eerie as it reveals a lot of dead, both the staffers that were there and successive waves of military men who gave their lives without securing the booty. At the bottom of the base though they come across the symbol of the kingdom and get ready to go through the door, but the alarms trigger a massive amount of nanomachines come to life as the defenses which take on tentacle-like form and try to strike everyone down. It’s only barely that they all escape, sans treasure, of course, but with a newfound respect for the island defenses.

Lupin and company go into research mode from here and we start to learn more about the land of Zufu and its political make-up. The country has gone to hell since Headhunter had taken over and it’s becoming poorer by the day while those in power live lavishly. The discovery of Emerah as a potential answer for getting inside becomes the focus as well as seeing more of the plots going on with the bad guys and a resistance group that’s been forming since the death of the royal family. The two plots run pretty much side by side and cross every once in awhile until things start reaching their climax. The movie’s plot is pretty linear and easy to figure out though it does go for the unbelievable as it moves towards the end, particularly in what the treasure is but that’s almost a staple for Lupin shows.

The lead cast once again has fun with this movie and it’s good to see a red-jacketed Lupin again as well as a Goemon with more flowing hair to him that’s almost in a style. Though Jigen doesn’t get much of a role in the film, and really, neither does Goemon, both are doing their roles as they always do in support of Lupin. Fujiko’s entrance in her skintight outfit was fun to watch but she ends up falling into a similar cycle herself, such as she did in Cagliostro, where she becomes a watcher/teacher to a young woman in order to secure the secrets from her. It’s a role she ends up in more than she should and often points to people’s inability to think of what to do with her in the group dynamic.

While the transfer here is decent and does have some problems as we pointed out, when the show is actually underway the visuals are still great to watch, particularly in the opening sequence. There’s such a fluidity to the animation at times, such as when the jeep is going down the waterfalls, that it’s just very exciting to watch it play out as it seems to have a life to it that others don’t. The entire nanomachine sequence on the island itself is a real treat, particularly in the way they make it so much fun for the characters to avoid the spikes while running for safety. As many down sequences as there are in here in order to keep things affordable, they balance it out just right with some great high-quality action sequences as well.

In Summary:
Dead or Alive is one of the better of the Lupin films that I’ve seen and one that had left a mark on me a number of years ago when I first saw it. Though it has an end-plot that really doesn’t work in suspending belief, the bulk of the film is a solid action caper in the usual style of this franchise and it hits all the right notes. Lupin fans will gobble this up and ask for more but it’s also a good film for those not familiar with the franchise as it’ll get you familiar with the basics.

Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Character Profiles, Interview with Monkey Punch

Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: C
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: B

Released By: Funimation
Release Date: February 22nd, 2005
MSRP: $29.95
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic Widescreen

Review Equipment:
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.

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