Movie: Fans of Lupin the 3rd have long accepted the twists and turns the character has gone through to make it to an appreciative American audience. From mispronunciations of the character names to the editing some releases have been given (I hate to freely use the term "hack job" butů), the comedic thief has certainly gotten about as much respect as Rodney Dangerfield considering his worldwide popularity for decades. Regardless of this treatment though, there are plenty of us who anxiously await anything we can get with Lupin in it, and we're more often than not finding ways to laugh at the antics he's put through in each release (be it a movie, a TV special, or one of the episodes of the long lasting series). Today's review of Lupin the 3rd: The Columbus Files continues the traditions of the character and his crew of misfits with some minor annoyances but a lot of laughs that had this reviewer wondering about future titles coming out.
The Columbus Files came out in the late 1990's and centered on Lupin's quest for a legendary treasure that was said to be not only tremendously valuable but also a source of great power; enough to cause peace in fact. After Lupin and Fujiko pause to celebrate a series of bank heists that net them a whole lot of cash, it looked like they'd finally be consummating their on again, off again romance. As luck would have it, the intrigue surrounding the so-called Columbus Egg gets in the way and before long, Fujiko is struck by a memory loss. Seeing the Egg fall into the hands of a ruthless thief (similar to Lupin but with amazingly fewer scruples), she took steps to protect the treasure by erasing her memory from the man (Nazalloff). This causes Lupin, Jigen, and Goemon a lot of trouble as they must somehow rescue her from the enemy, his accomplices, the fates leading to the recovery of the Egg and even herself as she struggles to remember who's her friend and who's her enemy in this complex caper. Here's what the back cover said about the title:
"The Columbus Egg. It's a treasure that not only holds innumerable wealth, but also has an unimaginably deadly power.... control over the weather. Legend says that Columbus found it on his first voyage. But legends are just legends, right?!
Wrong. Fujiko gets her hands on the file that names the location of the coveted Columbus Egg. Data in hand, Lupin and crew spring into action. But when Fujiko destroys the file to stop the vicious Nazalloff from finding the egg and using it for evil, she destroys her memory as well. Now, all that's left of Fukiko are flashes of memory... and no recollection of Lupin, Jigen, or Goemon!
Follow Lupin, Jigen, and Goemon as they hunt down the egg, rescue Fujiko and attempt to restore the mind of their partner in crime."
As most of you expect, there were no real surprises with regard to the characters or how the adventure unfolded; to go too far off the beaten track would cause long time advocates of the master thief to have fits (read some of the internet message boards about Lupin to see what I mean). Instead, the minor nuances of how they all interact made the difference here. The English language dub seemed to have a few new voices (that really didn't work for me very much) and the main humor seemed to come from Fujiko being put in situations where she was placed in the hands of fate since she didn't remember her own thievery skills which would've come in handy to save her time and again. My secondary gripe was that in some ways, the movie seemed to be like a few older episodes of the television series but fleshed out to the point where the filler material dominated the better aspects of the show. Lupin succeeds best when he's placed in quickly rectified perils that he can conquer and not the convoluted dramas that some of the movies get into. In general, his character isn't about evolving past what took place before so much as doing similar things that audiences will find comfort in. In that sense, The Columbus Files was an okay adventure but it still lacked much substance and this limited replay value for me. I'm going to rate it as a Rent It for Lupin fans but there was precious little new ground covered that hasn't been routinely tread on many times in the past so don't expect much with this outing.
Picture: Lupin the 3rd: The Columbus Files was presented in the same 1.33:1 ratio full frame color as originally shot in Japan. Upon researching the original material (I wish I spoke enough Japanese to decipher some websites overseas), I found that the show came from the late 1990's but it looked almost as old as any other Lupin show I've seen to date. I would've bet it came from the early 1980's given the animation style it had and while it wasn't transferred from a dirty print, it wasn't the cleanest release of a Lupin movie seen in recent years. There was some minor pattern noise and grain to be found with a bit of compression artifacts on display at infrequent intervals for the movie.
Sound: The audio was presented with several choices this time; the original 2.0 Dolby Digital Japanese track, a similar English language dub, and a 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround English dub. The music and sound effects were easily best in the 5.1 track although the amount of separation was limited and no one will realistically think it was recorded that way (you'll spot the effects as they seemed clearly added in at the last minute). In terms of vocal acting, the original track was favored this time for the way it flowed and how appropriate it sounded although my biggest issue here was that the main characters seemed to be dubbed be a new cast (that didn't do the characters justice). Take a listen and you'll see what I mean.
Extras: Most Lupin releases are light on extras (which is part of the reason why the television releases typically have a lot of episodes included). This one had the usual character profiles, some trailers, a photo album, and a little biographical information about the famous explorer, Christopher Columbus. That someone went to great lengths to present him as the "bad guy" for his leading expeditions into the new world (including going into accusations of genocide) and acting as governor struck me as odd but in this day and age of tree hugging political correctness; I suppose such pot shots are inevitable.
Final Thoughts: Lupin the 3rd: The Columbus Files was far from my favorite Lupin release. In many ways, the Funimation television releases are the best since they have so much more bang for the buck but in the eyes of some fans, every new Lupin release on DVD is something to celebrate; regardless of the relative quality of the project. The technical values are okay and the characters went through the motions well enough so as long as you're not new to the series, you'll probably know exactly what to expect of everyone (and tend to smile more often than not at the insider jokes). Give it a look before buying it but give it a look nonetheless.
If you enjoy anime, take a look at some of the recommendations by DVDTalk's twisted cast of reviewers in their Best Of Anime 2003, Best Of Anime 2004, and Best of Anime 2005 articles or their regular column Anime Talk.