3 out of 5
Directed by: Kazuhide Tomonaga
Lupin’s fourth outing, under the auspice of director Kazuhide Tomonaga, had a solid opportunity lain before it: enough time had passed since the somewhat divisive Fujiko Mine-focused series to go back to the well of classic, Part I – III influences without getting the scrutiny such a move might’ve upon the series’ first return; in other words, ‘The Woman Called Fuijko Mine’ had to take up that task, and director Sayo Yamamoto went the brave route of trying to both modernize and shake the formula up at the same time. To Tomonaga’s credit with Part IV, he didn’t just fall back on heist hijinks, but rather decided to take some notes from all of the animated iterations: from Yamamoto’s sleeker character models and some of its surrealist elements; to the fantasy based (and notably Hirazaki-helmed) parts of the franchise, such as The Castle of Cagliostro, on which Tomonaga worked; to the original’s goofy, stretch and squish nonsense. ‘The Italian Adventure’ brings in some great new characters, settles on some very satisfying personalities for all of our key players – Lupin, of course, but also Zenigata, Fujiko, Goemon, and Jigen – and executues some absolutely charming and incredibly entertaining adventures across its 24 (or 26…) episodes. It is the best looking Lupin outing to date. It reeks of fun.
…Even when it’s struggling to maintain the spinning of all of these stylistic plates. ‘The Italian Adventure’ also picks up on ‘The Woman Called…’s season-long plotting format, without, ultimately, smoothing out the way that series herky-jerked between standalone episodes and its framing story. The bits and pieces that spin out of that frame and appear in the majority of eps in some capacity – Lupin’s wife (!), and fellow thief, Rebecca, who forms a playful cat-and-mouse relationship with her contentiously-bound husband; super-secret agent Nyx, whose agenda seems to bounce back and forth between the legitimate and something more nefarious – are great inclusions, and fit fully into the high-impact Lupin style; but the frame itself, which tries to thread the reason for Lupin’s marriage to a storyline that almost kinda-sort-kinda feels inspired by ‘The Woman Called…’s mind control plot, shares its possible inspiration’s lack of clear stakes and momentum. When each cour ends with two-parters that delve into this nonsense, the show drives to a sharp halt.
Prior to that, thanks to Rebecca and Nyx (and another character which I won’t name, as it’s sort of a spoiler) appearing as foils to heists throughout the other episodes, Part IV does succeed in feeling like it expands on the Lupin format, and Zenigata has his best outing here, coming across as a competent cop while maintaining his goofy charm. (I’m also a sucker for when he teams up with Lupin, which he’s “forced” to do several times here.)
Ultimately, though, the season long structure is what ends up preventing the show – on the whole – from achieving the perfect zaniness which it does exemplify in select episodes. I do think an overarching plot can be done in Lupin, but the attempt to balance the various styles makes it hard for the show to hit a solid stride for any given stretch; it’s only past the midway point, when Rebecca and Nyx have been more established and we’ve done away with the majority of the somewhat forced ongoing mysteries that ‘The Italian Adventure’ can settle into a badass groove.
Nonetheless, it’s a great return for the show. I think the previous “return” was a worthwhile experiment, but wasn’t necessarily the way to bring in new fans. Lupin Part IV may not wholly balance the “old” and the “new,” but it’s enthusiasm for both sides of that equation is infectious, and is generally an engaging viewing throughout as a result.