Lupin III: Plot of the Fuma Clan

Amongst anime fans in the know, The Castle Of Cagliostro is considered to be the one must-see Lupin III film. Although there are tons of other movies and OVAs in the canon, Miyazaki's take on the gentleman thief and his friends is a perennial favorite. However, if I were to take on the argument that there is a better Lupin film out there than Cagliostro, it would be in favor of Plot of the Fuma Clan. At 75 minutes (and in actuality an OVA release), it's one of the shorter entries, and it is not the most action-packed, funniest, or cunningly plotted film. It is, however, the only one in my mind that combines those three elements in equal combination, giving the audience the "perfect" Lupin experience.

Goemon, Lupin's legendary swordsman friend, is about to get married. Murasaki, his bride, is a sweet girl far removed from the stoic seriousness of her husband-to-be. But as their wedding commences, a clan of ninjas breaks in and plays keep-away with a priceless ancient pot that's been in Murasaki's family for generations. Unable to wrest the jar away, the ninjas instead steal Murasaki, demanding the container as ransom. But the vessel is more than an heirloom; it contains the key to a vast treasure. As Lupin and company find out, there's plenty of danger on the road to a hidden fortune, especially when Inspector Zenigata comes out of retirement as a Buddhist monk to pursue the nemesis he thought was dead!

Although Fuma is not quite as skillfully animated as Cagliostro, having neither its budget nor its adroit director, it still looks wonderfully sharp, and the character designs are great. They still fall under the category of the more cartoonish look for Lupin adventures, rather than the angular hard lines some of the programs use for a more manga-esque look. Frankly, it's this style of Lupin I love looking at.

But so many more elements shine in Fuma. Many Lupin III features suffer from bloat, even (in my opinion) Cagliostro. Often, they wind up about 20 minutes longer than they need to be. Fuma cuts out all the fat, making for the trimmest, leanest Lupin I've seen. And though others have more outright humor or action, they tend to overdo it. Fuma is perfectly paced and told.

It's nice, for once, to see another character really take the spotlight, as Goemon does here. Although the other friends are around for the whole tale, Goemon takes center stage, a brilliant change from his woeful underutilization in other entries. The relationship he has with Murasaki is light and innocent, a far cry from the ribald exchanges between Lupin and Fujiko in the other movies. It's not quite romance, but it has more of that element than virtually any of the other Lupin material I've seen. It's also wonderful to see Zenigata having a reason to act like a madman in pursuit of his prey; after believing his life had lost its meaning in Lupin's apparent demise, Zenigata is re-energized and thankfully so.

And the car chases! Did I mention those? In this entry, there are several, all of them fun and all of them important, yet not overly long. Those brisk pursuits give the film plenty of energy. And yet, unlike most Lupin adventures, this feels less like a James Bond flick and more like Indiana Jones. The excitement and change of style is palpable and welcome. Although some might pick on the silliness of the police, here shown as nothing more than a gigantic herd of Keystone Cops, they are incredibly funny. And that's about the hardest criticism I can find against this one.

Lupin III: Plot of the Fuma Clan is great. Any Lupin fan should pick it up, and those curious to get in on the action of the mischievous scoundrel and his pals must see it.

Lupin III: Plot of the Fuma Clan -- mild violence, very brief comic nudity -- A+