Original blog post here.
1979’s The Castle of Cagliostro is probably one of the most influential and acclaimed anime movies of all time. To the point of allegedly making an impression on North American animators and filmmakers, up to an including Steven Spielberg. However, the truth of the matter seems a little less impressive: that Castle of Cagliostro influenced or impressed Spielberg is, as far as I can tell, entirely apocryphal and TvTropes notes that he never even watched it — whether that has changed in the intervening decades since the original release is not something I’m qualified to comment on…
However, it is clear that Castle of Cagliostro and particularly its famous clocktower scene did influence certain North American animators, even if that influence is overblown.
Despite its quality and influence, I’m actually a little reluctant to recommend Castle of Cagliostro, at least in my capacity as the author of a Fantasy series.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s great.
It’s just that, so far, I’ve tried to keep all my recommendations Realmgard-esque, or at least Realmgard-adjacent. Castle of Cagliostro, being more or less what would happen if you crossed a heist movie with a 70s-era Bond movie (incidentally, Castle of Cagilostro came out the same year as Moonraker), kinda stretches that premise.
But, hey, Castle of Cagliostro is about a gentleman thief hunting down a legendary treasure; I write about a little girl pirate hunting down legendary treasure.
Six of one, really.
Featuring the eponymous grandson of pulp literary master thief Arsène Lupin (the First) getting into all kinds of wacky shenanigans, Lupin III has been going strong since 1967. I mentioned this in passing in discussing 47 Ronin.
Since debuting with the original manga by artist Monkey Punch (that’s a pen name, in case you couldn’t tell), there’s been several anime series between the 70s and now, there have been 10 theatrical animated movies (including Castle of Cagliostro), a handful of live action productions, there’s a new TV movie ever year since 1989.
There’s even a board game, apparently.
Lupin III is a big deal in Japanese Pop Culture.
Like I said back in the lede, Castle of Cagliostro is clearly an influential movie for North American animators and filmmakers and has been acclaimed by critics and audiences, particularly anime fans. But I don’t think it’s really penetrated into North American Pop Culture beyond the niche of anime fans.
I’m not sure how many people in my social circles I could go “Hey: Lupin III!” to and not be met with blank stares. But then, I’m not exactly a social butterfly, so maybe my assessment is a little skewed.
So, working under the assumption that this is all new to you (feel free to prove me wrong), let me get to the main characters.
Depending on the work, Lupin is anywhere between an outright antihero and a modern day Robin Hood. In Castle of Cagliostro he’s a sort of Han Solo-esque scoundrel with a heart of gold. He’s still in it for himself, but he’s fundamentally decent enough to do the right thing in a crisis.
A descendant of the legendary Japanese folk hero, Goemon is a straight-up, completely unironically-presented samurai whose primary function is to be stoic and unfunny in ridiculous situations. Also, being improbably good at slicing through every substance known to man. But mostly being funny by being so unfunny.
Inspector Zenigata is Lupin’s rival from Interpol, explicitly described by Monkey Punch himself as the Tom to Lupin’s Jerry. Zenigata’s main role is to try (and fail) to catch Lupin. Notably, this isn’t because Zenigata is a bumbling moron. He’s good. Lupin is just better.
Also, Lupin is the main character…
Occasionally they will team up — as is the case in Castle of Cagliostro — against bad guys with actual bad intent. Lupin may be a thief, but he isn’t a villain, or even particularly unpleasant on a personal level…
And then there’s Fujiko.
The longer version: Fujiko Mino is probably one of the most popular female characters in anime.
And, uh, a large contributor the fact that a lot of the Lupin III franchise outside of Castle of Cagliostro can’t be considered family-friendly.
Despite being fictional and animated, she’s probably one of the biggest sex symbols in Japanese pop culture and most of the entries in the franchise aren’t shy about running with that fact.
Fujiko actually got her own anime series (it’s not exactly hard to find, but I’m not going to link to it) that is likely the most adult-oriented entry in the franchise — by several metrics, not just the, shall we shall, “mature themes.” But, seriously, if you’re the easily-scandalised type, it’s 12000% not the kind of thing you’d want to watch.
Anyway, back to Castle of Cagliostro itself.
Castle of Cagliostro really isn’t any more objectionable in terms of violence or content than any of the darker animated Disney movies and probably never reaches the same level in that regard than any given MCU movie.
This is perhaps somewhat complicated by the fact that there are no less than three English dubs of the movie.
There’s the original 1992 dub (the dub available on Netflix — at least in Canada), which, as I understand it, plays fairly fast and loose with the original script (a fairly common criticism against the studio responsible), there are also two version of the later 2000 dub, one of which is identified as “family friendly” and slightly edits the dub to contain less swearing.
As a funny aside: when Castle of Cagliostro was initially dubbed into English, the original Arsène Lupin books were still under copyright in America, so they couldn’t actually call him “Lupin”. They got around it by having “Wolf” be his master thief alias, ‘Lupin’ being derived from the French word for ‘wolf.’
All in all, it’s pretty distracting that a Lupin III movie never actually utters the word “Lupin”…
The 2000 dub is probably the better version — both in terms of acting and translation — though it features none of the English actors who currently voice the characters. I’ve only watched the family friendly version, so I can’t speak to how much more profanity is in the unedited version of that dub.
Look, it’s a Miyazaki movie — though not a Ghibli movie (Ghibli wasn’t founded until 1985) — of course the animation is good. The movie’s more than forty years old, and I’m impressed by how well the art has held up. I’ve seen more recent cartoons that have aged worse than this.
As it happens, Castle of Cagliostro failed at the box office initially and only came to be regarded as a classic with the benefit of hindsight. I anticipate a lot of that is related to the fact that the first English dub didn’t come out until 1991.
Remember, Lupin III‘s been around since 1967 and Castle of Cagliostro came out in 1979, meaning there was plenty of time for Japanese audiences to have a sense of what Lupin was supposed to be like.
Basically, Miyazaki toned down the more selfish and ruthless parts of his personality to make him more Han Solo or Robin Hood-esque. Audiences weren’t initially into such a character change.
Though, again, with the benefit of hindsight, Castle of Cagliostro Lupin has pretty much become the recogniseable version of the character.
And, again, I’m sure the English release helped with the positive reception. International audiences didn’t necessarily have the context of what Lupin was supposed to be and so didn’t have concept that Castle of Cagliostro Lupin was acting out-of-character. This was their first impression and Castle of Cagliostro is a strong first impression to make.
In terms of the plot, it all starts with Lupin and Jigen having just pulled off a heist at a casino only to discover all the money is counterfeit. This leads them to the source of the counterfeits, the Grand Duchy of Cagliostro — a fictional microstate not entirely unlike real-world San Marino (which, incidentally, plays a sizeable role in one of the recent Lupin animes).
Things go a little sideways when they rescue Clarisse, the princess of Cagliostro, who is running away from Count Cagliostro who is trying to force her to marry him in order to reunite the two branches of the family in order to attain the two Cagliostro signet rings necessary to unlock the family’s ancient treasure.
From there, it’s basically a heist movie. Except instead of trying to break into the castle, Lupin is essentially trying to break Clarisse out.
Things are complicated by the fact that the Count is running the counterfeiting operation, while Fujiko is trying to run her own heist, while Zenigata is concurrently trying to pursue Lupin, stop the counterfeiting, and, at least initially, provide protection for the Count’s wedding ceremony which at first appears entirely above board and legitimate. Though, what with the counterfeiting and the Count generally kinda being a jerk, that doesn’t last very long…
Things climax with a fight between Lupin and the Count up through the castle’s clock tower, culminating with a showdown on the clock’s face and moving hands. That scene in particular has been very influential, and it’s not hard to see why.
So, yeah, while a lot (maybe even most) of the Lupin III franchise clearly isn’t intended for the same audience as Realmgard, The Castle of Cagliostro has enough in common that I only have to make a slightly tenuous connection to justify it.
Copyright 2022 J.B. Norman.
Adapted from a post originally written 2021.
You can check out my other recommendations here.
And my social media links and email list are here: