Lupin III: Legend of the Gold of Babylon

There's virtually nothing comparable to the Lupin III series for me. Whenever I see Lupin, Goemon, Jigen, and Fujiko pop on screen, I immediately settle back for a good time. Although I've seen many of the master thief's adventures, I started with the Miyazaki-directed Castle Of Cagliostro, a classic movie on any level, and the episodes of the TV series that Miyazaki helmed. That's a great place to start. Unfortunately, Legend of the Gold of Babylon isn't. Many review sites have roundly trounced on this title, which isn't very fair--it's simply different in look and feel from some of the best Lupin stories. It's also got some sequences that will offend some viewers based on apparent stereotypes that may or may not be there. A viewer may have to put some of these notions aside to enjoy the rest of the film, which is still decent despite its problems.

The mysterious gold of Babylon, supposedly hoarded by the biblical figure Nebuchadnezzar during his reign, has been hidden for years--but now, various thieves, villains, and ne'er-do-wells are hot on its trail. Lupin, of course, wants a piece of the action, especially after a bizarre old woman claims to know its secrets and gets him involved. With Chief Zenigata never far behind, Lupin and his friends travel back and forth from New York City to hot spots where clues might be located. After double-crosses, train chases, and a death-defying theft right out of Raiders of the Lost Ark, it's Lupin vs. Zenigata and a bevy of beautiful policewomen from around the world vs. the hand of a mysterious otherworldly god (or so it seems).

The first immediately apparent difference with Legend of the Gold of Babylon is with the art style. In some ways, it's a return to the look of the characters from the original manga series, less cute than we've seen them in the past. Unfortunately, in comparison to the other films, they look plain ugly. Much has been said about the actual animation quality, which is very good--it's really the character designs that are off-putting, not the animation. It's fluid and often quite lively.

But more important to discuss are the secondary characters. Some of the designs appear insulting to other races, particularly those of African descent. However, it seems more likely that the animators, in attempting to create New York City where much of the action takes place, took their lead from an American animation filmmaker: Ralph Bakshi. The character designs beyond the main cast look like they stepped out of Bakshi's Hey Good Lookin' or Heavy Traffic. Bakshi's designs have often been criticized for being racist instead of satirical. Those without a background in Bakshi's work will probably be offended here too. I don't think the offense is intentional, though--I may very well be mistaken, but it looks like homage to me. If the reader has any concerns about this whole issue, just steer clear--no need to get offended unnecessarily.

But let's get back to the story: as often is the case with Lupin tales, it's bordering on the ludicrous. Up until the last ten minutes or so, we can still maintain a level of plausibility, but the last twist is so bizarre as to nearly (but not completely) wreck the show. The films have had this problem for a while: one only needs to look at Mystery of Mamo to see another Lupin movie that has a lousy climax. However, the ride is the most important part in these films. This one has some bizarre stuff--an ancient hag with a kinky streak, an overlong motorbike chase through a grotesque billboard, stereotyped superwomen who follow Zenigata--that sidelines the show too many times. However, I got through those bits with mild hesitation, and I enjoyed the rest of the film enough that I had some mercy left over. What contributes greatly to that are these characters...Monkey Punch, creator of the Lupin III manga, has fashioned some of the best, well-defined personalities to be animated. The gang carries the show when all else fails.

Lupin III: Legend of the Gold of Babylon is not a great film and not even close to the best Lupin escapades. Those like myself who can get past the problem points and enjoy it for what it is can find a good rental here...but beware: my friends at THEM Anime and the Anime Meta-Review aren't even close to being as forgiving. I've certainly wasted time on much worse anime, however.

Lupin III: Legend of the Gold of Babylon -- violence, brief nudity, sexual innuendo -- B-