REVIEW: Lupin the 3rd vs Cat’s Eye (2023)

Japan’s TMS Entertainment celebrates the 40th anniversary of its anime series Cat’s Eye with, somewhat surprisingly, a direct-to-streaming crossover with hit franchise Lupin III. It is a way to get anime enthusiasts watching Cat’s Eye I suppose, but at the same time it does seem to diffuse the birthday celebration somewhat. This 91-minute feature is a brisk and entertaining caper, disposable but undeniably fun to watch. It is available on Amazon Prime, for fans of either franchise or of breezy adventure.

Cat’s Eye was originally a Shonen Jump manga serial created by Tsukasa Hojo, and followed three sisters – Hitomi, Rui, and Ai – who use their skills as international art thieves to recover all of the works by their artist father. The manga launched in 1981 and a television anime two years later. The anime wrapped up in 1985 after two seasons, and has not been seen since. I assume this is why their return is accompanied with a Lupin III crossover. That manga and anime franchise, launched in 1967 by writer/artist Monkey Punch (Kazuhiko Kato), has extended to incorporate numerous television series and films over more than 50 years. It is very much the goliath to Cat’s Eye‘s David.

Lupin the 3rd vs Cat’s Eye sees the protagonists of both series crossing paths, crossing swords, and then teaming up in the best tradition of these crossover events. It is like when two superheroes meet: they fight one another, and then manage to take a break from hostilities to recognise the real enemy. As a stereotype it is pretty tiresome, since it tends to waste its first act on fights that the second act reveals were entirely unnecessary. Things are alleviated a little here – the casts of both franchises are pretty charismatic – but it is still something of a niggling frustration. The characters interact very smoothly, and fit one another nicely. That is not always the case with crossovers.

The film employs some new design work, shifting both series’ aesthetic closer together. It affects Lupin the most, slimming its exaggerated character art down to something much more subtle and realistic. Unfortunately the CGI that underpins the animation gives everything a very stiff and sterile sense of movement. When depicting the various cars, boats, and helicopters that feature, it presents a strong sense of depth and dimensionality. When depicting human movement, it struggles terribly. It makes the whole enterprise feel a little cheap, albeit a cheapness that is doubed in glossy bright paint. Directors Kobun Shizuno and Hiroyuki Seshita previously made a trilogy of animated Godzilla films for Netflix: it’s a very similar visual style here as they used there. The script helps to lift it: not such in terms of plot, which is by-the-numbers, but in its funny dialogue.

All in all, it’s pretty much fit for purpose. This is not intended to stand up as a feature film, or even a broadcast episode. It has been specifically produced for a streaming audience, one that is keen to see as much Lupin III as it can, and is not as fussy about looks or production values. For fans this review is likely irrelevant. For a broader market, it is breezy and disposable fun: Lupin the 3rd vs Cat’s Eye is accessible to new viewers and represent a good time, but one is not likely to watch it twice.

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