|Lupin III: The Last Job|
It's always difficult to say goodbye to beloved characters and the people who play them. While the resurrection of the Muppets has gone amazingly well, there are still naysayers who will never accept anybody but the late Jim Henson as Kermit the Frog. People still argue about "the best Bond." (For the record, it's a tie between Dalton, Connery, and Craig.) And with a long-running series like Lupin III, it's no surprise that some voice actors eventually have to retire.
While Lupin himself has been voiced by a couple of different gentlemen -- Yasuo Yamada played the role for twenty years before his death in 1995 and was replaced by the fine Kanichi Kurita -- several of the leads have been played by their VAs for over four decades. The voices behind Inspector Zenigata, Fujiko Mine, and Goemon (Goro Naya, Eiko Masuyama, and Makio Inoue) have been in virtually every Lupin III incarnation since the very beginning! Now in their late 70s and early 80s, retirement loomed. Lupin III: The Last Job became the swan song for those actors, and while a new Lupin film premiered in December 2011, The Last Job marks the end of an era.
In fine Lupin style, the film begins with a bridge chase as the thief steals a priceless Buddha statue from right under the nose of Zenigata. While such a robbery is old hat for Lupin, he is shocked to watch his friendly nemesis killed by Morgana, who is interested in the treasure inside the Buddha. Lupin is a bit lost without the inspector on his tail, but he has little time to mourn. Morgana is on the trail of a long-lost device built centuries ago by the Fuma clan that could lead to destruction on a massive scale. Between ninjas trying to protect the Fuma's secrets, Morgana's henchmen, and the betrayal of the ever-wily Fujiko, Lupin's only hope may be that the old man isn't as dead as he appears to be...
As with many of the TV specials in the Lupin series, the animation is good though not outstanding. Some sequences are beautifully done, while others have just enough detail to be acceptable. But realistically, Lupin specials aren't meant to wow the audience; they simply keep the flames of the franchise burning. And while the ratings for these yearly adventures continue to slip, they still pull in audiences far bigger than your average anime series.
Lupin adventures have become predictable along certain lines, and The Last Job is no exception. With a strong major villain and bizarre henchmen -- including one that uses a gigantic yo-yo reminscent of the yo-yo buzzsaw assassin in Octopussy -- this one falls into the "Bond wannabe" category. (Boy, 007 is coming up a lot in this review, isn't he?) The stakes are artificially raised, particularly with Zenigata's fate in the first reel, but it's not a particularly violent or serious picture. In comparison to a lot of the telefilms, this one has a good blend of action and downtime, a decent female foil for Lupin, and a few extra touches overall, including a couple of very nice set pieces. I think the formula's getting old, but there are enough tricks to keep it interesting, and quite frankly, I had a lot of fun watching it. Truth is, I'm no longer expecting Lupin to surprise me. Any franchise that's been going forty years and over 150 hours is going to have problems being creative, especially since Lupin is within a semi-realistic setting. The Last Job is not great or groundbreaking, but it does send off the original cast on a solid if not exceptional note.
With a new cast, will Lupin reinvent itself as the Bond series did or fade off into the sunset? It's hard to say. Lupin III: Blood Seal - Eternal Mermaid just aired on Japanese TV less than two weeks ago with a new crew of actors, so we'll see very soon whether or not they can sustain the longevity of the world's greatest gentleman thief. In the meantime, I'd say Lupin III: The Last Job is not the perfect finale (or even a real finale at all) but an enjoyable sendoff to the cast that helped make the show endearing for so long.