Lupin the Third versus Detective Conan... Again...

May 6, 2013

Prior to the official release of the April 21st issue of Shonen Sunday, the Lupin forums were buzzing with a leaked announcement of a new Lupin/Detective Conan cross-over that would hit theaters December 2013. The leak eventually was confirmed as accurate marking the first time in seventeen years that the Lupin gang would grace the big screen. My initial reaction was less than enthusiastic.

Lupin vs Detective ConanThe first attempt at a cross-over between these two franchises was a TV special in 2009. Here was an opportunity to have a master thief pits his skills against the superior intellect of a master detective. What the special delivered was a variation of The Prince and the Pauper that showcased the Conan characters, had some brief moments with the Lupin gang, but failed to deliver on the "versus" portion of the title. It was nearly an hour before Lupin and Conan even cross paths, and their overall involvement with each other is confined to the end game where they manage to help solve the mystery together. It was a solid and entertaining story, but it just did not come close to satisfying what the title "versus" conjures in the mind.

So, round two of this crossover will be upon us at the end of the year. Will we see more of the same just on a larger screen? Or will they actually pit the two iconic characters against each other? Information is sparse currently, but hopefully details will be revealed over the next few months.

Review: The Woman Called Mine Fujiko

August 8, 2012

While I have reviewed the individual episodes for (find them here), I wanted to sit back and reflect on the series as a whole. Lupin fans have for years clamored for the franchise to change, shake up the formula and present something fresh. The Woman Called Mine Fujiko certainly did that, but for many this will be an example of "Be careful what you wish for".

It has style

While there was not much press prior to its release, fans were buzzing when a teaser image was released that resembled the artwork of the manga. This image did indeed signify a shift from the art and character style established over the past decades. What the series provides is a gorgeous array of visuals from start to finish. From the sunny coast of an island nation to an eerie ghost town, the colors and backgrounds provide the perfect compliment to the content. And much like the story, you will be revisiting the visuals and finding subtleties, typically the owl motif used throughout.

But does it have substance?

Prior to its broadcast, the most we knew about the content of the series was a vague statement that "capture the sensuality present in Monkey Punch's original Lupin III manga in its daring interpretation of the franchise." Just how daring would they be? Quite daring, as it turned out. Initially, the series is episodic, introducing the cast and how they first encounter Fujiko. However, a small undercurrent is introduced to the plot; vague memories haunt Fujiko, memories of her childhood and a man in an owl mask. This would soon become a flood that engulfed all the characters and rushed us head long into one of the most formidable foes in the franchise's history.

There is some uncomfortable material along the way; the manga had its share of awkward material. However, it was usually played down with a liberal dose of humor. This series eschews this and remains firmly planted in a world that is dark, gritty, and at times horrific. Still, there is plenty of comedy to be found throughout, and the darker elements are not overblown.

What impressed the most was the uncertainty and doubt the story was able to conjure in the mind's of the viewer. How much of Fujiko's memories can we trust? How much can any of our characters trust what they see or hear? While most of the final twists are somewhat predictable, the seeds of doubt planted early help the ending retain a few "of course, why didn't I think of that" moments.

Our cast (somewhat) reborn

The visuals were not the only elements that returned to their manga roots. With one exception, our gang returns to the balance of ruthless comedy seen in the manga. Fujiko is not just a pretty, manipulative face that loves sparkling treasure. She still loves treasure, is still manipulative, but she is also more than willing and capable of getting her hands, and body if necessary, soiled to get what she wants.

In this series, Lupin is bored and looking for a challenge. Being a master thief has left him with pretty much anything within his reach. Fujiko provides his life with just the spark he was hoping for, and he sets out to steal her away. He's much more cocky but still gadget savvy. Not quite as lustful as the manga but still working towards unlocking Fujiko's intimate locks. He holds his information close to the vest and at times rivals Fujiko in his ability to manipulate others to do what he wants.

Of all the cast, Jigen's back story was my favorite; his soul is weary from being the hired gun to the underworld. Getting involved with Fujiko, Lupin, and thieving provide a new direction for his life. What impressed me the most was the backstory they gave his gun. There is a reason he carries it, a reason that makes his burden heavy. Of all the "origin" stories in this series, this one was by far my favorite.

Goemon receives a more balanced treatment; he is looking to make a name for himself in the underworld but still retains a sense of honor that at times runs contrary to this goal. He is also naive and falls into a major crush on Fujiko. Of all the major cast, he receives the least screen time, but his time is used to build a very lovable character.

And we last land on Zenigata, who definitely swings back from bumbling comedy relief to his more hard-boiled detective persona of the manga. However, there is one twist to his character some fans will find unpalatable. While he was willing to kill Lupin in the manga, there was still a moral compass in him that pointed fairly close to true north. In this incarnation, he is as lecherous, if not more in ways, as Lupin could be. He exchanges Fujiko's freedom for her cooperation in capturing Lupin along with her providing him with sexual favors. And he makes it clear this isn't the first time he's cut such a deal with a criminal. It is not the most endearing portrayal of the character, but it suits the world the series builds. No one's hands are pure white, including our tireless inspector.

And introducing... Oscar

Zenigata had a few partners in the manga, and he receives one in this series. Oscar is his young subordinate, eager to please the Inspector. He places Zenigata on a pedastal and aspires to win his love, even if the ends to that goal means betraying the ideals he prizes in his mentor. His arc is a fascinating one but ends on an abrupt and sour note. It feels like they reached the end game of the series and did not have an solid concept of how to resolve Oscar's thread cleanly.

The series I hoped for?

This series was more than I had hoped it would be, more than just a casual shake-up of the franchise. I fell in love with the cast again; they were not quite their manga incarnations, not quite the anime incarnations of the past few decades. A balance was found between the two and resulted in an even stronger cast. Some of my favorite series in recent memory have managed to balance being episodic but with a overarching plot also playing out. Fujiko manages to do so, though not nearly as well at times. There were spots where the episodes seemed out of rhythm with the rest, but these were few leaving the bulk of the series to weave an intricate story.

And the villain... spectacular; the gang has faced some formidable foes, but this one felt like it held actual danger for them. One wrong move, and they might not survive despite their clever gadgets, marksmanship, or swordsmanship. The villain weaved as an elaborate a plot to achieve his ends, as Lupin would to steal away a world renowned treasure in a spectacular manner.

Everything about Fujiko felt like the right steps to shake the franchise out of its malaise and break away from the formula it has followed for decades. Much like Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns returned the franchise to its noir-ish roots but with a modern twist, Fujiko finds a good balance between rediscovering its manga roots while keeping some of the fun of its animated past. While not a perfect series, it far exceeded my expectations and revitalized my love for the franchise. Here's to hoping they make more like this.

Review: Macross 7 Dynamite

May 6, 2012

When Macross 7 tries to give Moby Dick a happy ending, the result is the exact opposite of dynamite. This four part OVA is a thin two hour tale revolving around Basara singing to space whales and poachers. Inexplicably, they also throw in a brief lesbian date rape attempt for Mylene. Why? I have no clue; it comes out of left field and does nothing to advance the plot of the story or build out her character. At one point, Ray pulls out cardboard cutouts of Basara and Mylene on stage; those cutouts had more depth to them than their flesh and blood counterparts. I think that sums up my opinion quite nicely.

Review: Macross 7

April 19, 2012

You can probably glean my overall opinion of Macross 7 by two facts. First, it has been eight months since I reviewed the first twelve episodes Second, you will find not one screen shot in this entire review. Rather than whip up a review of episode thirteen and on, I will instead review the series as a whole and outline why this entry in the Macross universe fell flat with me.

As a sequel of sorts, the series is naturally going to be compared to its predecessor. The original Macross series still holds up as one of my all time favorite shows. Sure, it featured cool, transforming mechas and giant space battles, but at its core, the series was focused on the characters. These were people forced into a situation and trying to make the best of it. Along the way, we learn the most important lesson; all sentient life, even those specifically bred for battle, have deep emotions that can be triggered, the most important one being love.

For Max and Miria, it was the passion of competition that kindled their love; for most others, it was the songs of Lynn Minmei. Where Macross 7 goes off the rails is focusing solely on music. Music will change the universe! Yeah, that was the message of the original right? Let's turn it into a mystical energy!

Yes, we are introduced to "Song Energy", a measurable thing that can be boosted, enhanced, and used as a defense against the Protodevlin. The sole focus of the series is having Basara's song energy save everyone. Beams of song shooting everywhere between endless stock footage. The message of the original series was that music was just one key that could unlock someone's emotions. This series just took it to ludicrous extremes.

With the series off the rails, it plunges off the cliff by not providing decent characters either. Minmei, Hikaru, Fokker, Misa, etc. – you genuinely cared about or detested these characters and enjoyed seeing their relationships play out. Other than the strained marriage of Max and Miria, the series did little to develop the characters and their relationships. Basara and Mylene bickered like little children almost to the last minute; it was tiring to see the same conversations and actions repeated in each episode.

Bland story, flat characters, and an ending that felt rushed... The only reason I can think of to sit through Macross 7 are the Max and Miria scenes. We never learn what went wrong with their relationship, but watching it slowly come back around was the only fun I had. I'll likely watch the OVAs and film, but I doubt I'll find anything new to comment on. My recommendation... Skip this series and go straight to Macross Frontier.

Review: Lupin the Third: Blood Seal ~Eternal Mermaid~

April 7, 2012

Not sure how I missed posting this back in December when I posted it to the main Encyclopedia page, but here we are... My review of last year's TV special; click through for the image gallery.

A pair of jewels hold the secret to an even greater treasure, but there are so many obstacles in Lupin's way. The smallest one is Maki, a precocious fourteen year old girl who wants Lupin to teach her to be a thief. But what is her tie to the treasure and the mysterious girl Misa, a girl who cannot die? The secrets behind the treasure reach back even into Lupin's past; will the Blood Seal be opened?!

Despite much fanfare about a new TV series this year, we instead receive the annual TV special; however, this one truly is special, as it features the first cast change since Yamada Yasuo was taken from us far too soon. Really, this is the only talking point of the special, so let's just dive into the subject. First, I had no qualms about shaking up the cast; it never bothered me that Fuma Clan featured an entirely different cast. If the actors can capture the spirit, the essence of the characters, that is sufficient to immerse me in the story.

When the new cast was announced, I had hoped they would be given some leeway to find their own take on the characters. Let them create their own interpretation of the character and breathe new life into them. Unfortunately, it feels like the mandate was the opposite. When Fujiko first spoke, she sounded younger but still sounded like the same voice actress from years past. If I had not known it was a new actress, I doubt I would have realized it from the performance alone.

Zenigata and Goemon fare a bit better but still sound too close to the previous actors. Zenigata is still his gruff and grumpy self, but he now sounds more like a slightly older contemporary of Lupin rather than someone ready for the gold watch of retirement. There are flashes of young steel in Goemon's voice, a tone and manner that works well for the character. Pity he was not allowed to explore that more.

But what about the plot, Hemingway? Well, it is another bog standard special that suffers from just a touch too much exposition. Once again, the original thefts are simply MacGuffins that point to a larger treasure that no one can truly obtain. There is nothing remotely new or fresh outside of the voices in this special, and that angle was hobbled by trying too hard to recreate the past. If the TV series does come to fruition, let's hope they finally decide to reinvent the franchise rather than endlessly recycling the past.

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