In the first feature length outing of the now forty year old master thief Lupin the Third we are introduced to the protagonist straight away but there’s only one problem, he’s been executed and the coroners report confirms it. The ever diligent Inspector Zenigata, who as usual remains determined to arrest Lupin, refuses to believe that he’s actually dead and Lupin’s a little perplexed by the whole situation himself.
“You’re supposed to be dead!” “So they say. I’m a little confused myself.”
The Castle of Cagliostro saw Lupin as the noble prince who saved damsels in distress from an evil count and won her heart, a story of fairytales. Well that’s all well and good but to me that’s just not Lupin. Well who is Lupin here? He’s an outlaw, a thief, he’s greedy as they come and a shameless womaniser. Ah! Now that’s the Lupin I remember. Amazingly despite all of this he’s still an extremely likable character and that characterisation has been one of the major aspects that’s kept the franchise around for over forty years.
This movie was released at the peak of the second TV series run on Japanese television in the 70’s and this film see’s the characters enter the world of theatrical animation with full force, taking the TV series but pumping the ideas up a notch or eight. One of the main things that struck me is that the film has a huge scale, a scale which is larger than perhaps any future Lupin films have managed to achieve. All of the TV series have featured Lupin traveling around to all parts of the world, real and fictional, and it’s a real joy to see the characters in so many unique locations. From a castle on a stormy night to the heart of the Pyramids of Egypt the idea of travel and the fact that there is an entire planet for Lupin and his gang to steal from has never felt more true.
The animation is what can be seen as a mixed bag to many. It’s a little rough around the edges but to me that and the character designs only add to the incredible charm of the movie. I’d even go as to say that visually this is the closest the anime franchise has ever come to recreating the essense of Monkey Punch’s original manga, which is of course where the series all began. Visually the colours in the movie are very strong and rich. Lupin’s bright red attire is rather striking in contrast to many of the darker scenes. This all helps to create a very different atmosphere to that which Miyazaki gave us in Cagliostro which was that of a more straightforward fairytale-esque action adventure. Mamo manages to keep that sense of adventure but also manages to create almost surreal environments to immerse the characters.
In every incarnation of the anime those involved attempt to make use of the five principal members of the cast. It’s very rare when they all get a respectable amount of screen time and often individual characters are relegated to mere token or cameo appearances failing to use their strengths within the structure of the story. Mamo manages to give all the cast their piece of the action and you don’t feel cheated into any of them being there.
An interesting fact about this movie is that holds the title of being the most English dubbed anime to date with a grand total of four English dubs recorded over the course of 30 years. The dub contained on this release is the latest dub by Pioneer Entertainment recorded in 2003 and contains same English voice cast of the second Lupin television series that was partially released to DVD in the states. Still, none of these dubs manage to capture the chemistry of the original Japanese cast.
Overall The Secret of Mamo is a highly action packed globetrotting adventure with plenty of the humour, action, the jazzy retro musical score and backstabbing that is ever present throughout the Lupin franchise. Storywise it can get a tad madcap but if you overanalyze this movie then you’re simply watching it with the wrong mindset. I for one could not ask for a better feature film debut and we all know that Lupin always looks best in red.
While this movie may not be as accessible as The Castle of Cagliostro, Mamo is more true to the heart of what Lupin is about.