When you think about the most instantly recognizable names in anime/manga that have become global pop culture icons, then a few names like Goku, Doraemon, Astro Boy, Himura Kenshin, and I guess now even Naruto, immediately come to mind. Performance criminal and thief, Lupin is right up there as one of the true Japanese pop culture icons. Even those who don’t actively watch anime today will recall Lupin the Third with the same fondness as Dragon Ball Z. This charismatic anti-hero may be a thief for the most part, but he has all the charisma and secret agent mannerisms of Agent 007 from the Bond franchise. He breaks hearts, he sneaks around, and he somehow manages to save the world, all with a ton of class and sass. Now the original source material of Lupin the Third was strikingly dark and gritty despite its sly sense of humour. It was also sexually charged and provoking, and in fact no animated adaptation of the series captured this essence quite like The Woman Called Mine Fujiko, which is perhaps among the very best anime releases in the last five years, and our glowing review will testify in favour of that statement.
Long before Hayao Miyazaki changed the anime world with Studio Ghibli and his impressive resume timeless animated films, he was involved with the Lupin the Third franchise, and one of his first gigs as a director and writer was to create a movie titled The Castle of Cagliostro. With a well established IP in his hands, Miyazaki was able to present the character and lore in a very unique light. Faithful to the original source material, The Castle of Cagliostro ends up being a refreshing departure from norm while also serving as a remarkable debut for a writer, director, and visionary who would go on to achieve greater things.
The Castle of Cagliostro has Lupin, who is consistently referred to as “The Wolf” throughout the film, ending up in the small monarch country of Cagliostro during his misadventures. While in midst of one his heists, he unexpectedly stumbles upon a woman who is passed out in her moving vehicle. Upon saving her, Lupin soon discovers that this woman is not only a runaway bride, but she is also a princess. One thing leads to another, and our normally selfish anti-hero finds himself in the middle of a royal conspiracy, and he inserts himself and uses all his cunning prowess to save Princess Clarisse from an unjust marriage, and go up against some evil and powerful royals.
For once Lupin isn’t in it for the treasures or money, but rather he is in it to selflessly save an innocent young woman. So this films portrays one of the rare instances where Lupin steps away from the greyness of being an anti-hero, and instead become a classic hero in a way that is admirable. Seeing him care so selflessly for Clarisse is a heart-warming sight for sure. In fact, his relationship with Clarisse is refreshing because it is the exact polar opposite of the sexual tension he shares with his usual love affair, Mine Fujiko. His relationship with Clarisse is sweet and sincere, and one of the driving forces of the film and its story. We also get to see him experience pain and loss, causing him to scale back on his carefree demeanour and get serious for a change. To see him use all his skills and wit to stick it to some evil monarches for something so noble, almost turns him into a modern day Robin Hood.
But this movie isn’t all about touchy feely subject matter, because while The Castle of Cagliostro may portray the Lupin the Third lore in an contrastingly uplifting, emotional, and innocent manner, yet the thrill and adventure that is a staple of the franchise still remains intact. This is a beautifully paced adventure from start to finish, filled with that trademark Lupin excitement where you see the titular hero clumsily and yet gracefully escape the hairiest of situations, maneuver around some pretty difficult areas and situations, all while exhibiting his humorous body language that will sure to make you laugh. The best moments in the film are when you see Lupin in some pretty dire situations, only to have him surprise and delight you with an ace up his sleeve. No matter what the situation may seem like, he is always five steps ahead.
The rest of the characters join the fray too, with Jigen faithfully working alongside the famous thief. Socially awkward samurai Goemon also plays a part in all the action. Last but not least, Mine Fujiko, one of the strongest women in anime, selfishly joins in for her own benefit while still playing hard to get with Lupin. Inspector Zenigata, Lupin’s ultimate rival, plays a pretty strong part in all the events, and eventually finds himself working with his nemesis for a bigger cause. It’s great to see the entire cast intact in the film, all parts that come together to make the film feel more complete.
This Blu-ray release may be lacking in interesting extras (just the usual trailers and storyboards), but the fact that you have a 1979 classic so beautifully remastered is really all you can ask of it. The Castle of Cagliostro looks brilliant in this release, as the visuals are shockingly refined and crisp, and the animation, cinematography, and set pieces will leave you in awe. The Castle of Cagliostro was clearly built to last, and is among the best looking animated works you will ever see even in this modern age. Scene for scene this film has been very thoughtfully put together, with the visuals, story, and delivery, all coming together flawlessly in what is one of the benchmarks of action adventure films. The audio shines through thanks to the breathtaking score, and an English dub that matches the quality, professionalism, and care that you can find in modern Studio Ghibli dub efforts.
The Castle of Cagliostro is a splendid piece of the rich Lupin the Third universe, one that is able to stand firmly as a standalone film. Rarely you experience a movie based on an established franchise that can be fully enjoyed without any prior knowledge thereof. Lupin the Third fan or not, The Castle of Cagliostro deserves the same acclaim and respect as any of Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli classics.
You can join Lupin and company on the world’s greatest heist over at Madman’s Online Store.