Lupin III – The Alcatraz Connection

Still working my way through Lupin III specials as I get the chance. This one I’d been wanting to watch for a while as it’s another that Hiroyuki Imaishi (Gurren Lagann, Panty & Stocking) did some key animation for. While it was a little bit of a let down on that front, it’s still a solid outing and another case for the specials of the 2000s being a better crop than the 90s ones that Funimation released.

The big problem the special has is that its ambitions often outweigh its budget. A good example is a scene near the climax, where characters are running down a set of stairs. The scene starts from a POV shot, with fully animated stairs and a sense of movement, only for it to cut extremely quickly to a static long shot of the action. The special is full of thwarted ambition like this.

What it has going for it though is the script and characterisation. This is a rare special that seems to deliberately try to span various different tones the character has been presented in, and it pulls it off without seeming disconcerting. Most notably it presents a Lupin III world that is a lot more bloodthirsty than we normally see in these specials. Even Zenigata has an edge we don’t normally see. On the flip side of that we also get some of the more extreme cartoon reactions of the animated Lupin canon.

Story wise, we’re not in jet setting mode as the action is confined to San Francisco, but we are firmly in historical conspiracy mode. And the conspiracy is a doozy this time around, taking in the history of Alcatraz, various notable US criminals and politicians.

How much do the characters look like the animators might have seen a Monkey Punch drawing at some point in their lives?

Another good outing for Toshimitsu Kobayashi on character design (see Missed by a Dollar). Again the non-Fujiko female characters look a little like they are from another show, but there’s only one this time. The male characters capture the Monkey Punch look very well, with their trapezoid torsos, gangly limbs and knobbly joints. There’s a lot of variety in the Magnificent Ten-style supervillain team who show up, plus there’s some well executed nods to US pop culture with a Columbo-like shabbily dressed detective and a set of Blues Brothers-alikes.

How ludicrous are the capers?

The opening heist on a gambling ship stretches credulity nicely. The rest of the film is conventional by comparison, but the aforementioned plot supplies the ludicrosity and the location of the finale and the reason for its existence is quite audacious.

How much is Goemon involved in the story, rather than just a third act deus ex machina?

Goemon’s not at the forefront, but the story provides him with something unique that plays into his personality. It’s a more interesting use of the character than as deus ex machina and slicer open of treasure containers.