I had a lot of fun rummaging around in Lupin III’s treasure chest of ill-gotten gains in the Lupin III, Part 2 television series available to stream on Amazon Prime – so much so that I decided it was worth investing a little into exploring what other Lupin III content Amazon had to offer in case it provided similar enjoyment. Lupin III, Part 2 is currently the only element of the series that’s free and can be watched on a basic Prime subscription and all others involve extra charges, so I felt it would be a service to UK Anime Network readers to make sure they’re worth your while.
Of course, like everywhere else Amazon Prime has the most famous Lupin III movie, Hayao Miyazaki’s The Castle of Cagliostro, but as that’s already available for free with a Netflix subscription there’s absolutely no reason at all to pay extra to watch it on Amazon Prime. Also available are three specials – Jigen’s Gravestone, Goemon’s Blood Spray, and Fujiko’s Lie: while billed as standalone adventures they all form an interconnected trilogy and need wider context to be properly understood as they form sequels to the Lupin III spin-off series The Woman Called Fujiko Mine (which is also on Prime but currently region-locked and unavailable to watch in the UK), so bundled together they’re perhaps an expensive investment to buy into sight-unseen. The most recent television series, 2018’s Lupin III, Part 5 is also available to buy – it’s received good reviews elsewhere but as a relative newbie you might want a cheaper option to dip your toes in before paying for a full series, which leaves one choice left – the feature-length television special Lupin III: Goodbye Partner. Although the new (if clumsily-titled) 3D CGI theatrical movie Lupin III The First is coming soon and the television special Prison of the Past came out late last year, for the moment Goodbye Partner remains the most fresh-from-the-oven Lupin III content to have an English translation; it was released in January 2019 and so it is perhaps the clearest indication yet of the current state of the franchise. While you do have to pay extra for Goodbye Partner it is not part of the Funimation Now service so it is at least easier to budget for as a one-off payment rather than something that ropes you into the mounting costs of an indefinite subscription. Frustratingly though you do get charged separately for the dubbed and subbed versions of Goodbye Partner, which is incredibly miserly of Amazon! Then again, maybe Amazon is just showing a dedication to proper theming by making you go into a movie about a thief with the feeling that you’re being robbed. Can the rest of Lupin III: Goodbye Partner make up for that?
In Lupin III: Goodbye Partner, Lupin’s pleasure from his latest score has been soured – Inspector Zenigata has been arrested, accused of secretly being Lupin’s collaborator! That Zenigata – a man who has devoted his entire life to chucking Lupin in the slammer – could possibly be Lupin’s ally is of course completely ridiculous, but Lupin isn’t enjoying Interpol’s stupidity because the rumour is being put around that the only reason Lupin has been such a successful criminal is because Zenigata was passing police intelligence to him all this time. Outraged that his professionalism is besmirched, Lupin seeks to prove his natural thieving skills by accepting a bet from the media to steal a giant black diamond known as the “Time Crystal”. However, the Time Crystal is more than just your usual sparkly bauble – while it doesn’t really time travel, its actual power is just as dangerous. The Time Crystal is the key component of a quantum computer, and whoever can complete a fully-functional quantum computer will have control over effectively infinite computing power, enough to override the entire internet – and thereby, rule the world! Lupin is conscious of the fact that he’s playing bagman for the evil business magnate Roy Forest and his plans of global domination, but he’s confident that he has the skill to steal the gem and evade Forest’s clutches too… if not for the fact that Forest is a careful planner and has one more trick up his sleeve. Even if Lupin has never relied on Zenigata he has still always had his partners Goemon and Jigen to watch his back… but will they always be there to catch Lupin when he falls?
I mentioned in my previous Lupin III, Part 2 review that Lupin as a long-running franchise tends to divide its content into eras, commonly defined by the colour of the jacket that Lupin wears in the accompanying television series of the decade – the “Green Jacket” of the Sixties and early Seventies; the “Red Jacket” of the late Seventies; the “Pink Jacket” of the Eighties; and the “Blue Jacket” of the new Tens. Goodbye Partner then can be seen as turning the page on a new epoch of Lupin as we re-enter another round of roaring Twenties – while Lupin starts off with his classic, Monkey Punch-favoured red jacket, partway through this movie he gets fresh duds and thus begins the “Black Jacket” generation of Lupin III.
The colours of the jackets are not just signifiers of time but also of character: they are widely considered to be visual shorthand informing viewers about the specific style of Lupin that they’re about to watch. If you prefer a particular sort of Lupin story, you can seek out the specific shows and specials where he wears your favourite colour. The green jacket is used for more gentle, whimsical adventures; the red jacket extravagance and surrealism; the pink tomfoolery and goofy slapstick; while the blue stands for more grounded authentic dramas. If the new “Black Jacket” Lupin is going to come to represent anything, it’s likely to be spy-fi… all the way through Goodbye Partner it comes across as an off-brand Bond movie.
It’s not just the globetrotting escapades of Goodbye Partner, (although Lupin really racks up the air miles on this adventure with the action covering multiple continents), or the fact that there are casinos aplenty. Lupin breaches underwater sea-bed colonies, like in The Spy Who Loved Me, and mountain fortresses like in You Only Live Twice. An evil megalomaniac businessman with his plot of global peril is par for the course, but specifically references the media control of Tomorrow Never Dies and the data manipulation of Skyfall, and he holds the world to ransom with a superweapon unlocked by a MacGuffin like the Solex in The Man With The Golden Gun. The villain’s lair even has a self-destruct sequence. The only thing Goodbye Partner is missing is a space laser. More to the point, in the world of Goodbye Partner Lupin III is not only a master thief but apparently a famous global celebrity who can call in to a national news network bulletin while no one bats an eyelid. One might think that covertness is key to criminality and that being instantly recognisable to the public might put a crimp in a crook’s coolness, but then everyone knowing his real name doesn’t seem to inhibit the espionage of James Bond!
Goodbye Partner also makes some rather awkward and ham-fisted swipes at real-world political topicality. The villain’s plot is revealed by defector Edward “Znowden”, the villain’s lair is in “Area 61” (so everyone’s dying of cancer after setting up shop in the middle of the nuclear proving grounds...?) while the villain rants at one point that his doctrine is “America First!”. The U.S. President is also an undisguised stand-in for Hilary Clinton… and look, whatever you think of President Trump, having this stuff come so late after the 2016 election really feels a lot like embarrassingly desperate wishful thinking on the anime studio’s part! Leave the riffing on current affairs to Golgo 13, fellas.
So Goodbye Partner feels very derivative, but even if they are predictable Bond movies can still be good fun. Even if this latest Lupin III has stolen its plot, is it still enjoyable?
The artwork of Goodbye Partner is very clearly “made-for-TV”. It 's accessible - while there are some deaths, violence is almost totally bloodless and there's no nudity - and it feels a bit unfair to criticise it as it’s all bright and clean enough, reasonably detailed and everything looks as it should... but unlike other Lupin III offerings there’s absolutely no stylistic flair to it at all, whether it be the kitsch of the older series or the moodiness of the newer ones. It all feels a bit chintzy, and really could be the background to an episode of Asterisk War.
There are a few small call-backs to other Lupin III movies – when rescuing a girl Jigen tries to calm her with the same magic trick of creating a flower in his hand that Lupin used to enchant Princess Clarisse in The Castle of Cagliostro, but entertainingly flubs it – but Goodbye Partner overeggs it with a totally ludicrous climax. The villain’s fortress is completely impregnable and its countermeasures defeat all the firepower that the entire US military can throw against it, so Lupin takes a jaunt to an aeroplane boneyard that’s just around the corner and wouldn’t you know it, finds the Schwerer Gustav. Yes, the giant Second World War-era German railway cannon, heaviest artillery piece in history, just sitting there in the middle of the Nevada desert, intact, mounted, stocked with ammunition, pointing the right way and ready to shoot. Jigen even mentions that the firing mechanism is “simplified” so that Lupin doesn’t even need a crew to operate it. What a stroke of luck, how’s that for convenience? Nazi relics are a recurrent theme in Lupin III stories but this just completely takes the mickey!
It’s not the only plot hole – once Lupin and the gang break into the control room in the villain’s lair the entire base staff just vanish into thin air, which is a handy way to remove a complication. There are even two dead bodies in the control room itself that literally just disappear in the same scene when they’re killed, like they’re videogame mobs flickering out. One guard is clearly shown falling through a doorway. The camera cuts away, and when it cuts back less than ten seconds later he’s evaporated into thin air. While Lupin wears a black jacket, this Lupin is also uncharacteristically white-hat: even the gallant Lupin of Castle of Cagliostro still had an eye on his own margin and pinched the princess’s crown at the end of the movie; but in Goodbye Partner not only does Lupin leave with nothing, he shows not the slightest interest at even quickly swiping one of the easily-portable antiques that surround him. All it would have taken would have been one short shot of Lupin quietly rolling up some of the masters' sheet music on the walls and slipping it into a jacket pocket while others were distracted with dialogue, but the director forgot to make even that token gesture. Lupin is also not even stirred by the remotest hint of jealousy that his idol Fujiko seems to be hanging off the arm of Roy Forest as the CEO’s bit of totty; he greets Fujiko’s coming and going with barely a nod. Has Lupin really become that cynical about the great chase? It’s almost as if he’s a completely different character.
There’s also a somewhat laborious subplot where the AI that controls the quantum computer responds to music from Chopin. While piano etudes do make for an engaging and offbeat accompaniment to all the explosions to the big climactic battle, it exists almost completely aside from the actual resolution to the crisis and when it’s joined by a quick primer on flower language and a hasty dashed-off appeal to economic redistribution and world peace that’s shoved in the script in less than thirty seconds in a pure tick-box exercise it really feels as though the producers are embarrassed about their own lightweight show and are trying to bolt-on a few bits of culture to make it seem more important than it is.
Lupin III: Goodbye Partner is not terrible – the heists and breakouts launched in the first two-thirds of the movie before the gang reach the quantum computer are decent capers, particularly the deft prestidigitation and turnabout where his gang brazenly marches in to an Interpol headquarters – but it really does feel a lot like an elongated television episode, even to the extent that despite a title suggesting that the band is finally breaking up, everything is neatly wrapped-up and back to normal and the gang are all smiles by the end credits. If this had just been an ordinary episode during a television series then it would have been fine, reasonably enjoyable mid-season filler to occupy an evening, but having to pay extra for it as a standalone movie I do feel rather short-changed. Normally I'd never pay just to rent something - I prefer the permanence of a proper purchase - but really unless you're a dedicated Lupin III completionist you're unlikely to go back to this for multiple watches, so having it hanging around your hard drive is really redundant and thus taking the cheaper rental option is better value for money.