It is shockingly hard to find a new movie that’s interested in an old-fashioned adventure. You know what I mean: the globe-trotting Indiana Jones kind, with riddles to solve and death traps to avoid, featuring a hint of romance and a strange treasure at stake. Thankfully, Lupin III: The First is exactly that. Written and directed by Takashi Yamazaki and streaming on-demand, the film is a gorgeously animated romp around the world starring an iconic manga character. Also, some Nazis get their asses handed to them.
Depending on how familiar you are with the manga, The First is either a triumphant return or modern introduction to Arsène Lupin III, one of manga and anime’s most storied characters. Created by artist and writer Monkey Punch in 1967, Lupin is a “gentleman thief” and a descendant of French novelist Maurice Leblanc’s famous Arsène Lupin character. The character has starred in many shows, movies, and manga since his debut; he’s James Bond with a wacky sense of humor and a looser moral code. (The older stories haven’t aged well.) Most people, however, will be familiar with Lupin as he appears in 1979’s The Castle of Cagliostro, the first film directed by the legendary Hayao Miyazaki. Miyazaki’s film portrays Lupin in a more slapstick and ultimately gallant light than in some of the source material, and this is the version of Lupin that we meet in The First.
The First begins in 1960s France as the celebrated thief announces his intent to steal a newly unearthed treasure: the Bresson Diary, a World War II-era journal with a terrible secret locked away in a puzzle box. This initial heist goes awry when Lupin learns there is someone else after the diary: Laetitia, a reluctant thief who, unbeknownst to her, is a descendant of the diary’s author. Together, the two embark on an adventure to solve the mystery hidden within the diary and stay one step ahead of a third interested party, the aforementioned Nazis.
Lupin III: The First puts its foot on the gas at minute one and never lets up. It’s like Looney Tunes by way of Ocean’s Eleven. And unlike many recent attempts to update classic anime to CGI — like the strange and unpleasant Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045 — Lupin III: The First makes the leap to computer animation with its sense of style and dynamism intact.
While computer animation can’t impress the same way an intricate hand-drawn sequence can (like The Castle of Cagliostro’s signature clocktower fight), The First lovingly recreates the cartoon physical comedy and stylish pulp thrills of previous iterations. There are multiple scenes — like one where Lupin must navigate an elaborate death trap after only seeing it go off once — that will leave you grinning as Yuji Ohno’s score kicks into high gear and the balletic buffoonery begins. (At times, it recalls 2011’s dynamic The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, a movie that, tragically, has not produced a sequel.)
The film is so top-to-bottom cool that it’s hard to fault it much, even when it takes some truly outrageous turns in its final act that may give you pause before you remember how much of a good time you’re having. Movies like Lupin III: The First don’t come along very often. And when they do, it makes you wonder why it’s been so long since you’ve seen one. After all, who doesn’t like getting swept up in a grand adventure?