Lupin III: Angel Tactics

How long can an anime series run before the "low fuel light" comes on? It's relatively easy to redo a series and change the characters or plot around -- see FMA: Brotherhood or the Rebuild of Evangelion movies as examples. Restarts like Bubblegum Crisis 2040 or Area 88 are also common. But what do you do with a show that has its origins in a 1960s manga whose characters are unchanging icons who've always been involved in episodic capers?

In the case of Lupin III, you try to change the rules. Lupin III: First Contact was a fantastic movie that surprised us with an origin story. That origin story may be as real as Keyser Soze, but does it matter? Sometimes it doesn't work but all can be forgiven for the effort, as what happened with the brilliantly conceived but seriously flawed Lupin III: Green vs. Red. In the case of Lupin III: Angel Tactics, they didn't reinvent quite enough. It's great for its first half hour, and it's enjoyable beyond that, but like many other Lupin adventures, it gets a little creaky before the credits roll.

Angel Tactics begins with the death of the Lupin gang...or so it appears. In reality, an all-female terrorist group called the Bloody Angels are planning to use Lupin's crew to pull off an incredible heist. Out in the desert, Lupin and company steal a priceless artifact from Area 51...supposedly the only remaining part of an alien spaceship. But which of Lupin's friends has it? As the four lead assassins of the Bloody Angels find out, it's not all that easy to steal anything from the most acclaimed thieves in the world. Meanwhile, Inspector Zenigata takes new recruit Emily O'Brien on the field with him to capture his arch nemesis. But against an entire terrorist organization, do they and Lupin's ne'er-do-wells stand a chance?

Lupin still enjoys quite a bit of popularity to still warrant a yearly TV special looking as good as this. I'm glad that they haven't futzed around with the character designs; they still look as recognizable as ever. The score this time around is primarily jazz, which is true to the show's roots (though over the course of the years, different musical styles have been used with limited success). I admit that some of the older Lupins look cruddy in comparison to the look of these new films.

Storywise, though, this Lupin is a mixed bag. The heart of Lupin is the caper, and that's over quickly in Angel Tactics. There aren't additional heists, and while each of our leads has an assassin to overcome, the film ironically gets staler the longer and more adventurous it gets. I wished I couldn't predict where the show was going, but I was able to keep a couple steps ahead throughout. I'm starting to realize as I get older that the half-hour format was perfect for Lupin, which explains why the TV show ran for so many episodes.

Still, the opening half was great, and the second half, while labored at times, does find its own rhythm. If you haven't seen much Lupin, the softer side that emerges from both he and Zenigata is nice to see. I also enjoyed Goemon's storyline; as the most neglected sidekick, it was nice for him to get some extra focus...perhaps the most he's had since Plot of the Fuma Clan. I was also glad that the alien artifact remained a Macguffin, which added a little mystery.

I will mention something I found a little disturbing, and that was the violence factor. Now First Contact, perhaps my favorite Lupin film, was grittier than some of its predecessors, but the violence there seemed warranted, and that's true of a couple of other Lupin outings. This film is not gritty at all; in fact, it tries to keep a light tone, and maybe that's why the deaths bothered me. Lupin III has never been about killing off the "bad guys" -- or, when compared to Lupin, the "worse guys." Though it occasionally happens, it's rare. Here, anybody outside our regulars is fair game. Now it's not like I eschew violent media; as a big fan of 24, I can take a bit of brutality in my entertainment. But in the Lupin universe, it always seems excessive, and it did here. It's very difficult to do comedy and actual violence in the same film, and Angel Tactics tries it with middling results.

I haven't felt this middle-of-the-road on a Lupin movie in some time. It's odd, because I could really point out what I disliked in films like Legend of the Gold of Babylon or The Return of Pycal. Here I can't. In fact, unlike those, I'd watch this movie again, though it wouldn't be the first (or even second or third or fourth) Lupin adventure in the queue. I don't think I'm tired of Lupin. I think I'm just tired of repetitive Lupin...and it's going to take something a little more different than Angel Tactics to satisfy me.

Lupin III: Angel Tactics -- violence, mild profanity -- B-