In Shahalta, a tiny European city-state floating in the sky has had no contact with the outside world for a number of years. The government has went from a monarchy to a republic, and to celebrate the occasion, a national treasure exhibition is being held. Lupin decides to infiltrate the exhibition to steal the secret royal treasures, only to find out that a gang of air pirates snatch the treasure first.
"Lupin III" is a franchise that has had its ups and downs, but for the most part, the master thief and his crew manage to pull off entertaining heists year after year, most of which are at least somewhat memory. However, one of the most indisputably excellent outings of the franchise was the theatrical feature, "The Castle of Cagliostro," which is without a doubt one of my favorite films, let alone Lupin films. So it only makes since that a TV special would try to curtail the greatness of that film, in hopes of achieving at least half of what Miyazaki managed to. However, referencing another work, and in this case, sometimes ripping it off wholesale, does not make a new work automatically good. So, it is with a heavy heart that I say the much-anticipated new special, "Princess of the Breeze," is one of the weaker entries. We follow Lupin as he attempts to make a national celebrity out of himself in Rome, winning over the favor of the public as he travels around a baby he found in his latest heist. However, he's searching for a massive payload, one that he thinks the baby may lead him to. That doesn't work, however, and the baby instead gets him embroiled with a gang of sky pirates, who have been living like vagrants for years, hunted by a royal family. Lupin teams up with a peppy young lass who looks like a "Fullmetal Alchemist" characters as drawn in a "Dance in the Vampire Bund" style, and together, they embark on a quest to find the treasure, stop the villain, and discover the shadowy origins of her life. This all sounds well and good, but "Princess of the Breeze" is all dressed up and has nowhere to go. That is to say, there are plenty of elements here that could make for a good movie, yet none of them get fully developed, and instead are half-heartedly thrown into a giant narrative pot, turning into a somewhat bitter brew of convoluted plot threads, terrible pacing and some genuinely terrible "twists." The second complaint is perhaps the most offensive, considering that Lupin is cheering a baby to defecate a jewel one second, then fighting off a mind-controlled Fujiko the next. Nothing about this movie has any consistency, and it makes for a confusing, muddle and all-around disjointed experience. Not only that, but the main girl in this film is an insufferable blend of everything that's wrong with anime today. She's ditzy, has a round face, yet somehow manages to be strong-willed at convienient times. Every KyoAni cliche is thrown into this character, and to top it off, her VA (the voice behind Mikasa in that show all the kids are crazy about, "Attack on Titan") is absolutely awful, giving a performance that's as generic and transparent as the movie itself. This is all coupled with a ton of half-hearted nods to "Castle of Cagliostro." Music is lifted, plot threads are transposed, certain enemies are very similar to those in that film, and even some key action moments are eerily similar. Whether or not this was supposed to be a clever homage to that classic, I don't know. What I do know, however, is that it doesn't work, and comes across as a cheap, cynical attempt at evoking nostalgia, something better done in other "Lupin III" specials. It's sad that the plot and the character within are so unenjoyable, because a lot of this special is pretty solid. The animation is pretty for the most part, except for when it decides to overuse CG graphics to an absurd degree. Also, the soundtrack is pretty freaking stellar, especially when music from "Cagliostro" isn't being transposed over the experience. Also, the main cast is reliably great, and the recast characters are definitely getting more comfortable in their roles since "Blood Seal, Eternal Mermaid." So, from a technical standpoint, this is definitely a solid movie. Still, though, you can't just something just based on how good it looks or sounds, which is unfortunate, because otherwise, this is a pretty bland special. It has some entertaining moments, and if you're looking for something mindless to watch while doing something else, you could do a lot worse, especially if you're a "Lupin III" diehard like myself. Still, some of the sins of this movie are simply unforgivable. This is not one of the worst "Lupin III" movies, not plumbing the depths mined by horrible trash like "Legend of the Gold of Babylon" or the 70's live-action flick. However, it is not one of the best by a long shot, even worse than middling efforts like "Secret of the Twilight Gemini." It is a thoroughly mediocre film, and unless you're looking to laugh at how absurdly stupid it all becomes, or a completionist of the franchise, it's kind of a waste of time. Oh well. There's always next year... not to mention the new "Lupin III vs Detective Conan" flick.
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