Lupin III: Dark Order of Assassination

The exploits of Lupin III are now becoming a regular part of anime viewing in North America, thanks to releases from no less than four different U.S. distributors of the gentleman thief's adventures. One of the most popular and long-running programs in Japan, the feats of the goofy bandit, his sexy rival Fujiko, his chain-smoking gunman Jigen, and his swordmaster friend Goemon have been broadcast for over 30 years. There are still plenty of tales that haven't been officially released yet stateside, such as Lupin III: Dark Order of Assassination. This 1993 telefilm is a surprising entry in the Lupin canon; rather than sticking to the comedic formulas present in so many Lupin stories, this one plays a more serious hand. Though there are plenty of light moments, this film resembles a Bond picture more than a typical Lupin escapade. Although I loved the difference in tone and spotlighting of the underused Jigen, some major logic holes diminish its standing.

As Dark Order of Assassination begins, the ICPO takes Inspector Zenigata, the man who's tried to capture Lupin for over ten years, off the case. They've instead set up a mercenary named Kiss to stop the Lupin gang by any means necessary. Zenigata gets himself into a drunken stupor after his reassignment, seeing that his life's work has all but disappeared. However, Lupin enjoys the thrill of the chase just as much as Zenigata, and he figures that the sooner Zenigata's new project is done, the sooner Zenigata will be back after him. Thus, Lupin works with a stupefied Zenigata to find out more about the mysterious organization Shot Shell, which has started quietly buying up military gear.

To get in with Shot Shell, Lupin and company orchestrate the abduction of Karen Koroski, a nuclear physicist, and with her help they steal the atomic submarine Ivanoff. Soon afterwards, the head of Shot Shell known as Jean Claude makes an offer to buy the sub from them. They head off to a secret island base where Jean Claude is stockpiling an impressive collection of weaponry to start his own war. As things go sour, Lupin not only has to deal with the machinations of Jean Claude and the gunfire of the maniacal Kiss, but also with Karen Koroski, who is determined to kill Jigen after realizing that he was responsible for the death of her father years ago.

Most of Dark Order of Assassination works wonderfully. The animation is far better than any normal television film, rivaling the best OVAs and even some feature films. As typical, the Lupin gang entertains us thoroughly. Dark Order never slows down, and though it has expository passages, it's a quick movie. Because the film doesn't concentrate so much on the humor as many outings, it's easier to get involved in the plot and care a little bit more about the characters. The storyline involving Karen and Jigen is a very nice touch. Though the whole "you killed my father, prepare to die" thing is cliché, Karen's struggle with her own emotions and vulnerability is unique. And Jigen's handling of the whole thing adds a new dimension to his character that I didn't know existed. That said, it's still a humorous movie with a lot of great, funny lines.

The road through Dark Order of Assassination needed to be repaved, however. I had a hard time fully engaging with the film because there are simply too many loopholes in the script. For one, it makes no sense that ICPO would take away Zenigata's ability to arrest Lupin. Although the Zenigata/Lupin pact is a great story idea, there is no good explanation given why Zenigata can't prove his loyalty by finally capturing Lupin when he has the chance. And though they didn't cast Denise Richards as a nuclear physicist (something the Bond films will never get over), it's impossible to believe that a single person who knows about radioactive isotopes would be able to teach a crew how to use an atomic submarine. These are only two examples of huge logic jumps that mar the first half of the story. Though Lupin stories have never been known for excessive believability, this one stretches the audience too far. It's especially true considering that, overall, this film strives for a more serious attitude.

Although it isn't at the top of my list of Lupin shows, Dark Order of Assassination will be a nice refreshing change for the Lupin fan and a reasonable, if not superb, place for a newcomer to start. Be willing to overlook the flaws in plausibility, and you'll be set for a good time.

Lupin III: Dark Order of Assassination -- violence, mild language, mild fan service -- B+