Lupin the 3rd: Castle of Cagliostro {ルパン三世 カリオストロの城) (1979) (mini-review++)

(If you’re curious, my review process is at the end of this post.)

(***all-purpose SPOILER ALERT*** there may be some in this review)

acting 7

directing 9

effects 9

editing 8

writing 8


4.1 out of 5 🐙


Listen. I’m relatively new to anime. I was (and am) a total geek in high school in high school and college (and obviously elementary school). I loved the traditional western geek universes: Marvel, Lord of the Rings, Nintendo, Star Wars, G.I. Joe, Transformers, and many more. But other than Transformers, which was of eastern origin but sufficiently westernized for the American audience, I never gravitated towards the anime, arguably the most predominant geek universe in the world if you’re looking at it from a numbers perspective. Of course, this is not a value judgment and you can always skew numbers to prop up your hypothesis. But I guess I just never enjoyed the stereotypical aesthetic aspects of anime: the exaggerated large eyes, the oft terrible dubbing, the manic and unfamiliar editing style, strange characters, and more.

But I started this personal quest to watch every single comic book movie adaptation, including those from all countries. As I was putting together my watch list, I was shocked by the country with the most comic book adaptations: Japan. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been. But I was just raised in my comfortable American pop culture bubble. But I’m glad I was forced out of it. While I still don’t really love the aesthetic core styles of anime, my eyes have been opened and I could now see the brilliant and diverse visual tapestry that is anime.

That long, unrequested preamble aside, I should probably get to this mini-review. No one clicked on this to get that personal history.

Lupin the 3rd: Castle of Cagliostro is a seminal work in anime. It is the debut of one of the style great masters, Hayao Miyazaki. Countless superior analyses have already been devoted to this man’s career and to this initial masterpiece. So I can only tell you what struck me. First, it was so witty and funny. I only knew about Akira and while it does have its moments of levity, the setting of a post-apocalyptic wasteland is not fertile grand for laughs. But Lupin had so many funny moments. First, where Akira was mostly set in a dark aesthetic, a nuclear winter’s long night, Lupin covered every slice of day and night. This lent a vibrant color palette was complimented by mirthful character, building, and thing designs. Beyond the creative and playful colors, Miyazaki blended 20s gangster couture, costumes and pageantry that would be comfortable in the European 19th century, a mix of modern and medieval technology, and bizarre and wonderful novel creations of the anime master’s own making.

One of the best things about movies is encountering something visually new. I love reading just as much but you have to create the cinematography in your mind. That’s not better or worse. It’s just very different. With movies, you let other people imagine for you. And that’s just as beautiful because no two set of neurons paint the same pictures. This is especially true when you start crossing cultural boundaries. This movie was just such a novel moving painting for me, even though it contained clear influences from Western sources. It also incorporated the lion’s share to eastern influence.

The plot, and there really are only 7 basic plots so this isn’t a criticism, wasn’t remarkably novel. There’s a damsel. There’s distress. There’s a dude who needs to save her. But to the movie’s credit, there are strong female characters and I didn’t do a thorough check, but I think it would have passed the Bechdel Test. And it’s not like the damsels didn’t have a significant role in their saving, too. The characters, remarkable for comic book movies, especially in that era, were not two-dimensional archetypes.

I really couldn’t ask for a better or more interesting introduction to anime. Sure, there were moments that were too silly for my taste. And certainly, some of the visual choices could have been described as derivative if you really wanted to drill down and be myopic. But when you look at the painting as a whole, it’s a unique, wonderful effort.







(1) Shark Wrighter (SW) Score: Based on a sum of 5 sub-scores (acting, directing, writing/story, effects: cinematography &/or animation &/or effects, editing) with 1 being terrible and 10 being terrific.

(2) Octopuses (0-5 🐙, with 5 being fantastic and 0 being feces)

(3) Octopuses are my unquantifiable feeling…not that SW score is scientific…but this one is even less so

(4) ++ This optional section includes any incredibly *brilliant observations that don’t fit into simple quantitative slices like the scores and octopuses *(they are likely NOT brilliant)

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