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Anime Reviews: Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro

Updated on May 16, 2015

Exciting, intriguing, stylish, and deliciously 70s, Castle of Cagliostro is a masterpiece that marks the start of Hayao Miyazaki's legendary movie career.

Title: Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro a.k.a. Rupan Sansei: Kariosutoro no Shiro
Genre: Action/Comedy
Production: Tokyo Movie Shinsha
Film Length: 100 minutes
Air Dates: 12/15/1979
Age Rating: 13+ (mild language, brief mild violence)

Summary: Lupin and Jigen are up to their usual tricks, liberating a famous casino of all its money while outsmarting the guards, when they discover that the money they've made off with is entirely counterfeit--the best they've ever seen. That's when Lupin sets his sights on the famous, tiny nation of Cagliostro, its castle, and the legendary treasure rumored to lie within, but on the way there, Lupin and Jigen get themselves involved in a high-speed pursuit--a group of suited thugs racing after a lovely young woman in a wedding dress. Lupin fails to rescue the girl from her pursuers, but as luck would have it, the girl is the princess of Cagliostro, who is being forced to marry the country's regent in a bid of power. Now Lupin can hunt for the legendary treasure and the girl in one fell swoop!

The Good: Hayao Miyazaki is involved in everything and it shows; timeless characters and story
The Bad: The artwork can be a little rough; a couple breaches of suspension of disbelief
The Ugly: The 1991 English dub, while well-acted, is not the way to go

By now, I'm fairly certain that Hayao Miyazaki is a household name, and for good reason. After all, the man is directly responsible for many of the most influential and groundbreaking animated films (let alone anime films) of the past 35 years, and he's still pumping 'em out. After working on a few live-action shows and doing a few animated TV series (Lupin III and Future Boy Conan among others), Miyazaki was finally given the opportunity to work on his first film project, and that became The Castle of Cagliostro. And it was good.

Of course, as with any Miyazaki project, this movie is a treat for the eyes, even to this day. The animation is slick and smooth, with subtle gestures and twitches and tiny details given proper attention. The man has always been anal retentive about making scenes feel lifelike, and his first film was certainly no exception to that rule. And while it's beginning to show its age with a few rough spots, the artwork is also masterful. The backdrops are clean and eye-catching, the character art is simple and colorful (though at times a little too wacky), and the settings are full of lush detail--check out the many shots of the castle's basement and marvel at the degree of attention.

These same praises can also be given to the voice acting in all the many versions. The original Japanese is, of course, the way to go with some iconic performances especially by the legendary Yasuo Yamada as Lupin. The 2000 Manga Entertainment dub is also very solid, so if you want to watch the film in English, then that's your ticket. I would also give mention to the 1991 Streamline dub for many great performances as well, but the translation job is a bit iffy (Lupin is called "Wolf," some bits of exposition are entirely mistranslated, Clarisse somehow knows Lupi--er, Wolf's name without him telling her, etc.). Even so, the 1991 dub still gets the story's point across and it's not bad by any means, so don't worry too much about finding the right version.

But let's get to where The Castle of Cagliostro truly shines: its story and characters. While it's helpful to have seen the 1971 Lupin III TV series (the one with green-jacket Lupin, not the episodic 1978 series that aired on Adult Swim) in order to understand these characters' histories, it's not mandatory. You get a feel for them right away with some clever writing and funny dialogue, and there's even some great development going on with Lupin in this film. Even though some characters get precious little screentime (like Goemon), none of them feel useless or uninteresting, and that's a gift Miyazaki seems to have with his writing.

The story itself is a fairly basic rescue-the-princess affair, it has plenty of twists and exciting action sequences to make it unique, or at least groundbreaking for its time (fans of Disney's The Great Mouse Detective will be able to easily spot the inspiration for that film's climactic battle here). There's action, there's mystery, there's plotting and scheming, there's double-crosses and triple-crosses, and it's all done with a keen eye for both suspense and humor. There is just so much enjoyable material in this movie that it's one of the very few that come to mind when I think of the perfect action/adventure film.

Although this is a near-perfect picture, like I mentioned earlier, the artwork can be a bit off at times. Sometimes a facial expression looks a bit too goofy. Sometimes characters lack almost all detail in their models. Sometimes the anatomy is rubbery. And for many people, even the best moments will still look extremely dated, and while I disagree, I understand that it's not for everyone. It's a very minor issue, but so is the next (and final) issue.

There are a couple times in the film where something ridiculous beyond all ridiculousness occurs, and the absurdity of it takes you right out of the film. The most grievous example comes when Lupin must traverse the castle's rooftop to get to the Princess' isolated tower--he seems to be setting up a tightrope or wire, but the device slides down the roof, and in his attempt to grab it, he slides down as well, and left with no other options, he makes an absolutely impossible long jump to the tower's ledge. I'm not talking a couple meters here, I'm talking a horizontal jump of several hundred meters. It's a preposterous moment that does a disservice to the rest of the film, and while such incidents are very few in number, they stick out like a sore thumb.

But you know what? Whatever. I'll take a wacky moment and some goofy art any day of the week if it comes with the entire package of likable characters and timeless story and exciting chases and Miyazaki's trademark high quality. If you are an anime fan, or even if you're a fan of animation or action/adventure in general, then I give The Castle of Cagliostro only the highest recommendation. It's an artistically-inspirational film with a lot of heart and a tremendous amount of fun, and there's no reason whatsoever to skip out on it.

Final Score: 10 out of 10. Its flaws are few and minor, but otherwise, Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro is one of the best films in Miyazaki's tremendously lauded filmography with its spirited animation, timeless story, and all-star cast of characters.

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