The legend of Arsene Lupin is not one to be understated. The classic gentlemen thief has long been a public domain character, so there has been countless takes on Lupin, but perhaps none have proven to transcend the original more than Monkey Punch’s iconic Lupin III. The purported grandson of Maurice Leblanc’s Arsene Lupin, Lupin III is likewise a master of disguise and an expert thief who—along with his frequent collaborators Jigen, Goemon, and Fujiko—travels across the globe seeking his next great heist.
The fully CG animated film Lupin III: The First explores the relationship between Lupin and his grandfather in a way the Lupin the Third anime series and manga never has. The film parallels Lupin’s own journey in the footsteps of his legendary grandfather with the emotional discovery of the character of Laetitia.
The film’s title, The First, is of course in reference to the original Arsene Lupin, who our hero Lupin III has stylised his life and career as a thief around. We have never seen the impact his grandfather had had on him until now, and it’s clear that our hero views his grandfather as somewhat of his own personal hero.
Over the course of the film, we see Laetitia and Lupin’s relationship grow as both uncover the truth of their respective grandparents and the fated connection both have to one another. It all comes to a climactic conclusion when the film takes a left turn into high-fantasy territory with the introduction of what is ultimately an ancient, magical black-hole energy generator.
Unlike typical Lupin the Third stories, the heist is not the focus here. In fact, the heist and theft elements are rather quickly resolved in the first act, and the rest of the film becomes somewhat of an Indiana Jones–style adventure with Nazis and an appearance from Adolf Hitler himself to boot. This break from the usual Lupin the Third format works in some ways and in other ways it doesn’t. Some parts of the film felt as though it was spinning its wheels; this was particularly prevalent during the somewhat repetitive sequences on the Nazis’ secret plane headquarters. However, it was really refreshing to see Lupin working alongside Inspector Zenigata for the greater good. I don’t recall a time they have worked together to this extent before, but it was a nice surprise to see.
Overall, the film is a fun Lupin the Third caper that explores his connection to his grandfather in a way that has yet to be done before, exploring some new ground for a series that has been around for more than half a century at this point. I really enjoyed the emotional core of the film, with Lupin’s relationship with Laetitia, and I wouldn’t mind seeing her return in some kind of sequel in the same CG animated style as this. All in all, the film looks gorgeous and really brings the Lupin the Third characters we know and love into a new era of animation.