Lupin the IIIrd: Jigen Daisuke no Bohyou: Koike Takeshi Wins the Lupin Game

Lupin the IIIrd: Jigen Daisuke no Bohyou, is exactly the sort of thing I’ve wanted out of the Lupin franchise since I started digging into it years ago. While I really love Lupin III, in each and every Lupin work I’ve seen, there’s always been a lot of stuff I loved, but few things that could have been done better. This is not the case with Jigen Daisuke no Bohyou. It’s perfect. If it had any problems, it would be that at two episodes, it is entirely too short.

The story is exactly what you want out of a Lupin thing: It opens with a heist, expands into a bigger conspiracy, but in the end is all about two guys trying to one-up each other. This time around, the heart of it all lies with Jigen and assassin Yael Okuzaki trying to earn their place as best gunman in the world. Between the heists, conspiracies, and rivalries, every story thread comes to a neat conclusion, but Bohyou is very fast and loose with most of the details: Yes, they stole a mysterious book. Yes, it will most definitely effect these two countries at war. And yes, because of Jigen’s past jobs, he is being targeted by a big, crazy assassin, who prepares graves for his targets in advance (while making insane sex robots on the side.) Things like the original heist, its associated political intrigue, and the unique nature of Yael and his assassinations provide just the right amount of spice to season the rather simple story of a rivalry between two gunmen, resulting in a film with a variety of very strong and delicious flavors.

But rather than story, Bohyou sucks one in with atmosphere first and foremost: It’s cool and brutal; intelligent and stupid. Its approach to the material is very compelling, taking the edgy atmosphere of the original comic, streamlining it with sensibilities from the TV series, and adding its own spin. A strong odor of machismo permeates throughout the piece, and is a big part of what makes it work. Seeing as it centers around a battle of prowess between egotistical men, the work has an outdated Charles Bronson brand of rugged manliness one wants out of Lupin.

People punch each other hard, bullets rip through objects (animate and inanimate) vigorously, cars ram into each other at full speed, all with detailed shots of Fujiko’s exposed breasts dispersed between. More specific examples of brainless machismo include: Yael buying a giant steak after a job and eating half of it in one bite; a pianist from the Pervert Club freaking out and punching the shit out of Lupin for showing up uninvited; and Lupin and Jigen sharing a smoke in their car right at the end. There’s also a part where the camera hangs on a meticulously detailed shot of a gunshot wound for longer than it needs to. While this macho motif is old fashioned–and by nature stupid and sexist–it grants Bohyou with a healthy amount of compelling kitsch one looks for in old James Bond films, and what I happen to look for in Lupin III.

Among the several hats he wears throughout this production, Koike Takeshi is mainly on character design and direction, setting the tone with his sharp visual acumen. The characters look more or less the same as they did in Fujiko–a happy mix between Monkey Punch, Green Jacket, and Koike’s original style–but lack the crudely executed sketchy pencil look of Fujiko, this time rendered cleanly and clearly to bring out the full flavor the designs. Guest bad guy Yael has a design that is appropriately larger-than-life, and very cool. He’s big, imposing, and has large hands that can break people’s faces, but he just happens to prefer bullets. His biggest charm point is likely his individually drawn teeth, which make him look especially predatory and beast-like.

The film also impresses with keen color design, with Lupin donning a striking turquoise jacket, Jigen sporting a deep red shirt, and Fujiko rocking loud and orange gradient hair. This acute sense of color design also does well to establish atmosphere, from the warm colors of Lupin and Jigen’s hideout, the cool colors of the graveyard at night, to the dank gray of Yael’s dwelling.

The world the characters occupy in this outing is rich with much of the ornateness present in the Monkey Punch original, given a cleanup and streamline by way of Koike. Several objects at first glance seem like frivolous design elements, but actually actually play key parts in the story. Notable examples include the gargoyles present throughout Doroa, and the design on the one bullet in Yael’s arsenal that he saves for his final shot.

Stretching his Redline muscles, Koike’s Lupin is filled with flare, but retains a lot of the spirit of old Lupin. Early on in the film, Lupin and Jigen knock out two men in a car to assume their identities. Much like the old TV series, it cuts to a humorous shot after the fact with the two guys tied up in their boxers. However, rather than simply cut between shots like the old TV show, this film opts to show us a long shot of Lupin and Jigen getting away in the car, quickly zooming in on the two guys after the car goes off–appropriately struggling while tied up in their boxers, natch. This technique is also used effectively in serious moments: The camera immediately pulls out when Queen Malta is shot, revealing her corpse in the dead-middle of the opera house spotlight, emphasizing the shock of everyone in the vicinity; and the camera pulls in super-close on Lupin’s eyes to underscore his anger when he’s about to settle the score with Yael. Complementing Koike’s occasional camera games is a strong eye for dynamism throughout the entire work. Eyes are kept busy with energetic layouts, that work perfectly with the film’s lively animation. Character movement is top-notch throughout, with Lupin and Jigen flailing around like they always do, while Yael’s movements are efficient and speedy. As alluded to earlier, action scenes are animated to convey convincing force in the violence, and gunplay and car chases flow very well.

Shimoji James, who also penned the score to Koike’s Redline, enhances the film’s sleek visuals with a similarly sleek lineup of hot tracks. But rather than sounding like Redline, the music calls back to Red Jacket Lupin, particularly in the down-key moments. Much like in old Lupin, talking-head scenes are matched to very simple jazzy accompaniment–usually just a keyboard, and maybe some drums–adding the slick layer of cool that characterizes the franchise. Shimoji takes things in his own direction for action scenes, opting for a more blues rock flavor in the film’s intense, fast-paced action scenes that works very well. The ending theme sung by one “Gary Stockdale,” carries on in the same blues rock direction, closing out Bohyou with a bang. The lyrics and delivery call back to old James Bond, and the song’s composition is used as a leitmotif throughout the film’s soundtrack, reinforcing its already-strong musical identity.

I really want more of this. The film ups the ante at the very end with a scene featuring a glimpse of Zenigata, along with a certain villain that Lupin has not met since the 1970s. While the new Lupin series they have in the works with Miyazaki designs looks good, I would more than welcome a hard-edged series just like this film.

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The Star of Cinderella Girls

I wrote about the original iDOLM@STER anime back when it first aired, but never came back to it when it finished. For the record, I thought it was all good–good enough to convince me to partake of other parts of the franchise, like the current TV adaptation of THE iDOLM@STER CINDERELLA GIRLS.

The first one is better, no question. The cast is more interesting, and their circumstances are closer to the ground. While the original focuses around a bunch of girls struggling to get their careers underway at a small-time agency, this one is the opposite–a bunch of no-names start from scratch at a big, established company. I’m sure both situations exist in reality, but the setup this time around is taken too over-the-top. This goes for the characters as well–compared to the original lineup, the Cinderella Girls have more extreme cartoon personalities, and the weird romanticized agency they work for is a touch too fantastic. All in all, it seems the moe and fantasy knobs were turned a few notches higher in this one. I don’t hate it, but I prefer the original down-to-earth cast in their old, dingy office.

However, with the steady hand of A-1 Pictures to guide the series, each weekly installment guarantees a watchable and entertaining 25 minutes. The core of the series–the trio of Uzuki, Rin and Mio–are the best of the Cinderella Girls, probably because they’re the most realistic and relatable.  The manner in which they come to know each other at first and their regular interaction is organic and genuine. While some of the other girls’ antics can test my patience to a certain degree, the above-average scripting that underlies the main three also helps to portray the rest of the cast decently. Presentation-wise, A-1’s direction and animation are rich with character, and keep these eyeballs stuck to the screen.

But enough about all that. Mr. Producer is the real star.

The Producer left an immediate impression when he first popped up with his imposing stare and monotone voice. The thing about Mr. Producer is that his manner of speech and approach to human interaction make for the perfect picture of a salaryman who’s really bad at his job. When confronted with questions like “When’s our debut?” from the girls still unsure of their professional future, he responds with a business-like “It’s currently in planning.” His Japanese is very polite and vague–the exact manner of speech that is pivotal to the typical escape tactics salarymen must rely on daily when confronted by the work place’s constant and harsh inquisitions.

Producer’s clinical business-talk brings things to a head in episode 6, injuring Mio’s ego after the turnout at the unit’s first concert betrays her overblown expectations, with his words going on to turn away Rin as well. As he realizes his mistakes, he learns that speaking is human interaction, and not just a tool required to move on to the next task. Once back with the whole gang, the girls request that he refrains from using teineigo when talking to them to build a more friendly rapport.

It goes without saying that the default way to go in Japanese is to speak politely–especially in the work environment–but many Japanese office workers use teineigo’d apologies and excuses as a shield to excuse themselves for their mistakes or poor work ethic. So long as one can apologize nicely or have a polite excuse prepared for when a co-workers throw a fast ball, the salaryman can continue maintaining the middling status quo. This is Producer-san, along with legions of other real-life salarymen at their 9-to-11s.

Between weird developments like idol boycotts or tours about the label’s palatial offices, what Mr. Producer represents, and how he develops, stands out. Will his scary eyes become softer? Will he be able to speak in tameguchi to girls who are younger than him? Neither has really happened yet, but at the very least he seems to be getting an idea of where his girls are coming from, which is a promising start.

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Only Love Hurts – Greatest Hits!! ~updated Omokage Lucky Hole~

Only Love Hurts’ first studio album is a collection of brand-spanking-new recordings of Omokage Lucky Hole’s “greatest hits,” appropriately titled Greatest Hits!! ~updated Omokage Lucky Hole~. Basically a self-cover album, O.L.H. endeavored to create the definitive versions of their classic (?) tunes (likely to sell to people who attended Iyaounashi Ni). Being stuff fans have heard before, it’s not particularly full of surprises, but it is pretty good.

A bulk of the album’s 54 minutes are taken from the band’s pro debut album, Dairihaha, followed by selected tracks from other albums, arranged in chronological order. The songs are all very cleanly mixed, with all the instruments coming in with crisp clarity. The disc bursts into the earlobes immediately with Ore no Sei de Koushien ni Ikenakatta’s bombastic opening horns. The new recording cuts out a lot of the campy synth of the older one, opting to let the pure sounds of traditional instruments take center stage. Something one notices immediately is that the guitar is mixed to come in loud, almost stealing the show with a wild, unrestrained energy. The record’s guitarist is none other than Nishimura Tetsuya, who was with the band for Whydunit?, Typical Affair, and On the Border. He has apparently moved to Kyoto and can’t do shows often, so the band likely wanted to give him free reign to do what he wanted, and make sure everyone could hear it. It sounds good, and gives the song an edge that it lacked before. On the whole the instrumentals are more loose and funky, with aCky being very fun and creative on the vocals, resulting in a cut of music that offers up something different than the original. I won’t necessarily say better, but it sounds really good. Konya, Sugamo De is similar. Cleaner mix, bolder guitar, and a few surprises. However, between hearing this song nearly a zillion times live, along with possessing about five recordings of it (including this one), I have to say there are others I like better.

Track three sees the album begin to mix things up with a new version of Anna ni Hantai Shiteta Otousan ni Beer wo Tsugarete, which got the music video treatment late last year. This song is one of O.L.H.’s older hip-hop tracks that is driven by heavy electronic backing in its initial studio cut. For live shows, these tracks are rearranged in order to be performed by a full band, and it would seem that with this track and others, one aim of Greatest Hits!! is to get clean studio versions of these arrangements that fans could previously only hear at the group’s shows. That said, this cover of Beer strikes a nice balance between the original studio version and its live arrangement. Opening with a funky electronic beat, the track comes in with heavily guitar-driven instrumentals, climaxing with horns, then cuts back to the original beat, giving the song an extra level of variety and color over both its studio recording and live versions. Suki na Otoko no Namae Ude ni Compass no Hari de Kaita already has two studio versions, and this one just feels like another take with the band’s current lineup–which is what all of these songs are, but this one doesn’t offer up much new. It’s a nice cut, but hardly any surprises.

The album’s crowning achievement is undoubtedly the sexiest studio version of Pillow Talk, Tagalog-go the band has ever recorded. The version on their pro debut is rich with deep and sexy R&B synth and bass, while the original version on their indie debut is more akin to a ’70s love ballad. However, neither version is as drawn out as the song’s live arrangement, which is extended, and allows one’s ears to drown in its longing and sorrow. This recording is The Ultimate, delivering all the emotion of the live experience, and then some. With perfect atmospheric effecting on the backing percussion and flute, along with a luscious keyboard, the song drowns you in its deep jazzy sound, putting you right in the middle of its tragic and sordid story. The song employs inventive use of an electronic sitar, putting a twist on its traditional jazz backing. Tet-chan cuts in with a dreary and minimal guitar solo in the middle, and Kaori follows up by accentuating the song’s melancholy with a lush and longing saxophone solo. Much like Tet-chan who came from far away to play on the album, Kaori comes in just for Tagalog-go with her sax and flute. The rest of the tracks are handled by the new saxophonist, Okamura Tomoko.

Following is Kanarazu Onaji Tokoro De. While originally a hard hip-hop track (that opens with a brutal exchange between an abusive husband and his wife–a precursor to the events the song depicts), funky guitar and punchy horns are the order of the day on the Greatest Hits!! version. The song switches gears mid-way for an interlude by the chorus (“You, like a child, sleep in my embrace. You, like a child, in my embrace.”) backed by Tet-chan’s yearning guitar backing, followed by an explosive trombone solo from Sasuke. This is probably my favorite studio recording of the song.

The album then surprises with a retake of Kyuuryoubi-san, the sole track from Ongaku Girai on the record. The original cut is heavily disco, with robust and deep synth instrumentals, delivering all the sounds one wants in a disco track. This new recording drops a lot of the synth, but retains a funky rhythm track headed up by an equally funky guitar, with the breakdown making highly effective use of a sample from Santa Esmeralda’s Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood. The track on the whole has a harder edge than the original with its bold guitar and bass, giving new life to one of the band’s older and somewhat minor songs.

The three tracks that follow are the most boring, failing to offer up much over their originals. After Kyuuryoubi-san comes Pachinko Yatteru Aida ni Umarete Mamonai Musume wo Kuruma no Naka de Shinaseta… Natsu. It’s a nice retake, and samples in police sirens for a thick lacquer of added sorrow and harsh reality, but it’s more or less the Same Song. Following is Atashi Dake ni Kakete, which is at a determent lacking the original’s female backing on the pivotal “kake kake kake kaketeeee“s. Ai no Blackhole is just a studio version of Ai no Xanadu with the original “blackhole” (read: vagina) lyric in place of the more family friendly lyric, “Xanadu.” Originally a theme song for a movie, the band was asked to change the “blackhole” lyric due its vulgarity.

The final track is an unreleased recording of Dairi Haha’s Chiisana Mama Ni (as opposed to re-recorded; I assume it’s an alternate cut they had lying around.) While the original recording is carried by wistful guitars, this recording comes in strong with a hard funk guitar and commanding organ backing, bestowing the song a far more bitter and dramatic tone to its profound woe. It’s a really cool take on the song, and features a red-hot R&B guitar solo in the middle. The horns come in louder, elevating the drama at just the right moments.

The album comes with extra discs (CD-Rs, the type which one buys at the local electronics store) featuring special recordings of different songs depending on which store one purchases the CD at. As such, I bought a copy of the album at all the participating shops to get the bonuses. Was it worth it? Probably not, but I’m a completest, and I can sell my extra copies back to BookOff. The Tower Records bonus was an alternate mix of Ore no Sei de, which offers up nothing new, and is somewhat disappointing. However, it also came with a ticket to a signing in March that is to be preceded by an in-store acoustic show. The rest are live recordings–Disc Union gets you Gomumari, HMV gets you Onna no Michishirube, and Amazon gets you Kanarazu Onaji Tokoro De. If you’ve been to O.L.H.’s shows before you know what to expect, and the recordings are taken at a low volume, making them difficult to listen to if you don’t edit the files yourself. As a stupid fan, I am happy having them, though. Apparently they were taken at some “SECRET LIVE” in Yokohama in 2013, giving the tracks a bit of an air of mystery, being performed at a show normal people presumably did not know about. The recording of Kanarazu Onaji Tokoro De is notable because it features a hilarious interlude by aCky in Kansai-ben playing on this old song.

Greatest Hits!! ~updated Omokage Lucky Hole~ is a good album to get new people into the band. All of their trademarks are right there, and they’re all re-recorded and expertly mixed for a rich and clean experience. For existing fans, it’s nice hearing old favorites again, but I’m keeping my ears open for new songs.

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