Do you want your Noir Samurai flick with a heaping helping of limbs, heads and blood being hacked and lobbed in the air like a bloody tossed salad?
Do you want the cool aesthetic of finely hand drawn vibrant animation that practically locks your eyes to the screen enjoying every movement?
Queue this up immediately, and pop a bottle of 10 dollar Malbec for a fun filled evening of old-school anime violence.
First off, this is NOT like the Lupin in Castle of Cagliostro, the 2nd-4th TV series, or the one in the Lupin vs Detective Conan movies. This one is bloody, very bloody.
This is following in the 2 camps of Lupin. In one, Lupin is more PG-13 and he is formulaic and somewhat of a "good guy". The Miyazaki Lupin that has been around since he worked on the show in the late 70s. Then there is the grittier Lupin, where he and his entourage are seedier and the rating moves more into the R, or 17+ areas. This title falls directly in that line.
Do you need to see another Lupin first? No. BUT this makes a good companion piece to A Woman Called Fujiko Mine and LupinIII, Jigen's Gravestone. I would almost say they seem to be in the same timeline. This in-particular Lupin is actually a lot less about Lupin, which of the three titles listed, all share a similar thread. Each title seems to be focusing on one of Lupin's gang and giving them a worthy standalone story, where Lupin acts merely as the glue that holds the story together. He is still intrigal, but it show in the title alone that the focus might move from him. Just note, Lupin is a world renoud thief, Jigen is a right hand man who used to be a sharp shooter for the Mob, Goemon is a swordsman for hire who works with Lupin on a lot of his capers, Fujiko is a thief in her own right and can be capable of robbing Lupin right after he robs someone else, and Zendigatta, is the poor Javier styled cop who has made it his mission in life to apprehend Lupin.
So, this is Goemon's turn. I will say I had a great bit of anticipation for this one. Not since Plot of the Fuma Clan, have I seen such a Goemon centric episode.
Background, Goemon is a Samurai who has become a bit of a hired sword in the modern day. In the Lupin shows of past, he longed for traditional Japanese ways and traditions. He himself would lament cutting things that seemed beneath his sword. So, the intelligent thing to do here would be to pay homage and bring to the fore light Samurai styled stories. And I feel this show did so better than just about any anime outside of Shiriguri or Sword of the Stranger.
In fact If anyone was a mild fan of great Samurai tales such as Yojimbo, Twilight Samurai, Lone Wolf and Cub, or Zatochi, you would immediately see the relevance of Lupin III: Chikemuri no Ishikawa Goemon. As a Samurai epic goes, you never truly know what the protagonist is thinking. In this title Goemon does many things that are not fully reveled to the end. The code of a samurai, is often more complex, and the movie explores a small element of that.
There are other hidden gems playing to those great sword titles of yore. A good example is in Lone Wolf and Cub. There is a moment of clairvoyance where one is "seeing" a fight before it starts. Supposedly, a finely trained Samurai, going against another finely trained samurai, could see what could happen next in a fight 5 moves ahead. It is like playing a preview scenario, seeing the outcome, and acting on that from what you "saw".
In the story, a giant of a man in a lumberjack outfit named Hawk heads off on what might or might not be a forced assignment. His target puts him on a cross path with Goemon, who is guarding a mafia styled boss on a cruise ship. Lupin, Jigen and Fujiko all happen to be on this vessel and are there for a heist. In the melee Goemon has a run in with the massively proportioned Hawk the Ghost of Bermuda. Lupin and crew escapes but Hawk seems to have a motivation that is not entirely Goemon's employer. Zendigatta enters the scene on assignment that puts him between the crosshairs of Hawk.
Goemon is thrown into a bit of an uncharacteristic funk for a while as he comes to terms with Hawk and his newly shattered ego. The title delves into violent, unsettling, training as Goemon seemingly is listless and self-destructive. This is the first time since A Woman Called Fujiko Mine, where I have seen actual depth on a character past the 1 dimensional motivation.
Speaking of characters, Lupin understands the stakes, and although he is not the catalyst of change in this title, he becomes your narrator into what Goemon is thinking. Jigen and Fujiko add less to the overall title, but it might be a positive. Sometimes when emphasizing one character, you need to divert from others. I will say though, this is the second title in which Fujiko does not seem to have a lot she contributes. I did like the increased screen time for Zendigatta, however. For many a moon, you never know his true capabilities. In this title, he is able to drive a crappy cop car like a pro, and can fire out of a speeding car with a Colt 45 with dizzying success. I feel they actually gave him a bit more beef to his physical presence.
And now to Hawk. It is hard to come up with truly worrisome antagonists in the Lupin world. Most of the time, I laugh any of them off as Lupin beats them with some half ass trickery. But here Hawk shines as an unstoppable force. His Terminator style brought a good deal of dread. I only wish they had fleshed out his backstory a tad more. I mean we know there is a kid, we know somehow he was augmented, and we know he is the best axe man ever. I do believe Hawk could put the lumber industry in jeopardy as he lopped trees down riding a bike. I mean, if they had expanded him a bit more, we would understand why he seems frustrated that he cannot sleep.
There is some of the eye-blastingest (it's a word now Mother fucker) visuals I have ever seen. Lupin on the boat alone as he looks at the camera, glossy light twinkling in an array of shiny madness, Hawk blasting through a window, the part where Goemon looks like a blender ripping through people. I passed so many shots on this title to capture the glory.
Each of the characters brought a wealth of history with them. They have all been voicing the characters for a bit (Jigen for decades) and gave weight to every line. The swords clinging and the axe pounding are enough to make you hunker down in your seat so as not to be it, and the gunshots and explosions were amazing. This is not our mamas Toho stock sound effects.
This is short, maybe even too short. I am always a believer that shorter is better. If you don't have more to offer, don't add filler, but in this one it could have used a little more on who Hawk was. Also and introduction of the Mafia’s Son would have been nice. Some of the characters are not fully formed (Hawk or Zendigatta), but what it did get right, it did so in spades.
So, finally, one of the major reasons I got into anime was... Animation! If I JUST wanted story I would have watched plenty of other mediums. I enjoy the look and feel of animation, and adding violence like the ones I first watched that wowed me, you better believe I am going to sing some praises to it. If you want some fun title of reckoning, check this out.
What I Liked: Stylishly animated – gore is rendered in shocking detail and fight scenes are fluid. Hawk. Plot is appropriately pulpy, with lots of opportunities for swordfighting. The Ending theme, which sounds like a moody but bombastic Bond theme. Sound design is more than serviceable, especially when it comes to the clang of cleaver-on-sword or the roar of a motorcycle engine.
What I Didn't: It feels odd having Lupin and Jigen basically playing second-fiddle (and blantant exposition dumpers) to Goemon’s story. While the ending resolves Goemon’s personal conflict, the overarching plot threads (such as who hired Hawk and why Zenigata keeps getting stonewalled) aren’t addressed in the end. Fujiko’s dialed-in walk-on role.
Final Verdict: Despite it being so lovingly (and violently) animated and well designed in terms of sound and motion, The Blood Spray of Ishikawa Goemon feels so average in comparison to previous modern Lupin outings. It’s a good action duology, sure, but it’s unfortunately marred by the flat characterisation of Goemon’s friends and lack of true closure.
Wow. Just wow. IMO this is what anime should be.
Great animation, wonderful stylish character designs with a pulp story to tie it all together.
A great entry into the Lupin saga for old fans and new watchers alike.