Lupin III vs. Cat’s Eye ONA – Review

While Lupin III vs. Cat’s Eye is a competent enough work in most respects, it is also ultimately far less than the sum of its parts.

As a crossover film between two established properties, your familiarity with the component franchises (or lack thereof) will significantly influence your enjoyment of Lupin III vs. Cat’s Eye. As for myself, I’m relatively familiar with Lupin III. My Lupin diet consists of a few of the older seasons, a couple of films, and the odd manga chapter here and there; I am by no means a Lupin novice, but I’m far from an expert and don’t consider myself particularly well-versed in his exploits. Cat’s Eye I have zero prior experience with, other than listening to the theme song by Anri roughly one million times (give or take a few hundred thousand listens) and knowing that it was the theme to an anime tangentially related to City Hunter. I’d hazard a guess that my experience here is within the expected norms for this movie’s target audience.

This is by no means the first Lupin crossover movie, nor is it the first CG-animated Lupin excursion. Everyone involved in its production has a laundry list of credits, including numerous anime films across various platforms. I figured I was in for a fun romp, if nothing else.

Well… there was some romping, I suppose.

Lupin III vs. Cat’s Eye just feels like a paint-by-numbers heist movie. Both crews have their sights set on some fabulously expensive artwork, and when they get their hands on their targets, nothing is entirely what it appears. There are double-crosses, gunfights, car chases, and running along the roof of a moving train. A bit of globetrotting, some questioning of allegiances, and we roll credits at the 90-ish minute mark with all the boxes of a standard heist movie checked.

The execution is competent enough. All the voice actors give great performances (both the Japanese and English casts). The music is fitting without being too obvious, and I particularly enjoyed hearing remixes of the Cat’s Eye theme worked into the background as a leitmotif. The visuals are serviceable enough, but they are the usual fare we have grown accustomed to (and nowhere near the bombast of the Lupin III THE FIRST). The plotting and pacing are light enough to keep the story moving, and there’s a nice little emotional tie-in that puts a neat bow on everything by the end.

The problem with all this is that the final product is mediocrity personified. The elements are all there, but there’s simply no life to any of them. It is a watchable film for sure, yet it does nothing with the opportunities it is given in either the Lupin half or the Cat’s Eye half. The entire exercise lands with a resounding shrug that is quickly forgotten.

It’s ridiculous even to have to say this, but when you have a cast consisting of characters from iconic properties like Lupin III and Cat’s Eye, you should use them. Shocking, I know. Sure, an hour and a half isn’t a lot of time to explore the nine or so primary named characters that the film is juggling, and it’s reasonable to expect most of the audience to have some background knowledge of at least a few of these characters going in. But those precise constraints should encourage one of two things: a) novel developments or interpretations of the characters, or b) heightened presentations of the characters, so they stand out in the brief time they are on screen. Ideally, we would get both.

Sadly, Lupin III vs. Cat’s Eye has neither, and thus feels like a film between two generic teams of scoundrels and cat burglars. You could just as easily replace Lupin, Fujiko, and Hitomi with a bunch of Hollywood C-listers and redo this as a straight-to-streaming heist movie that would fall off the trending charts before the weekend. Nothing about this ONA feels specifically crafted to impress fans of either franchise. For example, Jigen is there, and he’s got his iconic hat/look and shoots some guys with a pistol, but… there’s no flash to it. There’s nothing uniquely Jigen about any of it. There’s nothing of Jigen’s trademark character here to latch on to.

This criticism applies to the entire cast. If you were to watch this without knowing anything about the characters involved, you would likely walk away thinking these were generic crooks with all the depth of a rain puddle. There’s nothing in this that shows Lupin’s mischievous side or the sheer absurdity of Goemon’s swordplay. Fujiko Mine is one of the greatest femme fatales in fiction, and here she is… a lady, I guess. The characters are all present for the roll call but in name only, serving as hollow stand-ins where a fully realized persona should be.

A lot of this comes down to the animation style. Barely moving character models that scarcely emote, whose cel-shading gives your brain the briefest glimmer of hope that some vivid animation might be in store – hope that is immediately dashed upon the rocks of pitiful framerate. Outside of dialogue scenes with static characters, the whole thing looks like rough stop motion with weightless, budget-priced action figures.

It’s particularly egregious in Lupin’s case. Lupin, Goemon, Jigen, Fujiko, and Zenigata are iconic characters in pulp literature, where consistent characterization and strict continuity take a back seat to expressiveness and vibes. Lupin himself is basically a Cold War-era trickster gremlin pinballing between classic cars and gorgeous women. Sure, he can be the serious scoundrel with a heart of gold, but just as often, he’s Daffy Duck with a Walther P38, and the animation should reflect that. Sadly, none of this joy is present in Lupin III vs. Cat’s Eye – it’s all on-model, by-the-books CG assets.

I can’t speak for the Cat’s Eye cast in this regard because I’m unfamiliar with the source material, but I couldn’t tell you more about them after watching this. All I know is that the film’s visuals make them look like they are wearing knockoff Totally Spies Halloween costumes, and they come across as extremely naive cat burglars here. This characterization probably does Hitomi, Rui, and Ai a great disservice.

Overall, Lupin III vs. Cat’s Eye is not a bad film per se, but it is painfully average and easily skippable for all but the most ardent of completionists.

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