OP-ED – Lupin III Part 4

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OP-ED is a column in which we dissect and discuss anime OPs or EDs, from any period in anime history, that we feel deserve a mention.  One writer will examine the visual component, and another will tackle the aural aspects.

by TheSubtleDoctor

Jazz musician and longtime musical scorer of the Lupin III franchise, Yuji Ohno, is once again called on to compose and arrange the opening theme for its fourth mainline TV series. Ohno has mostly stuck to making music for Lupin throughout his career, but he’s done a handful of other projects, most notably the soundtrack to Space Adventure Cobra, the Osamu Tezuka character allstars film Undersea Supertrain: Marine Express, and the cult favorite U.S./Japanese co-pro Might Orbots.

Lupin fans will be aware that the opening song never changes; it’s just rearranged for the franchise’s new iterations. In a move that can most charitably be described as practical, Ohno has chosen to call his 2015 arrangement of this classic theme, “Theme From Lupin III 2015.” He is in complete command of of the tone he wants his composition to convey because he intimately understands what Lupin is on a fundamental level as well as the particular flavor of this fourth series.

The Lupin theme is an unquestionably iconic piece of music. Almost synonymous with its lead character, the song connotes the carefree, breezily playful attitude of Arsene Lupin. There’s also a prominent sense of effortless cool all throughout; a show starting off with this music is promising a sense of style. No Lupin OP would be complete without a chase scene or two, and the final ones here are underscored very effectively. Ohno places this kind of layer of underlying instrumentation beneath the main melody to emphasize the building action and tension of the chase.

Ohno’s 2015 arrangement brings some aurally pleasing idiosyncrasies to the OP. In order to complement Part IV’s Italian setting, he introduces a mandolin into the mix. This seemingly small change goes a long way in making Ohno’s point of intentional differentiation. And, it’s placement in the OP seems quite intentional as well. The romantic melody, the, exotic instrumentation, both mesh quite well with Fujiko’s alluring, seductive movements. The 2015 composition also features xylophone notes in that pitch, the one that calls to mind the films of a certain MI6 agent. Ohno’s  stylistic choices really do the OP credit and make the music continue to feel fresh all these years later.

I think the thing that stands out most about the OP’s music, though, is the degree to which it integrates itself with the visuals to create a unified experience. You & The Explosion Band (the performing band, in which Ohno is on keys) adds flourishes of strings and splashes of horns that punctuate actions on screen. This holds true for tempo changes as well. From quick movements like Lupin jerking the stick shift or Goemon unsheathing his sword, to scene transitions such as Fujiko suddenly leaning deep into a turn on her bike, these synchronous musical bursts help congeal the aural and the visual into a single, harmonious piece of media. Neither audio nor video play second fiddle. Rather, the creatives understood that a melding of the two would birth something superior to either one.

by Josh Dunham

The newest incarnation of a long running series has a lot to live up to. It has to prove itself as something that still belongs to the same general property, but, at the same time, stand out with it’s own unique identity. This especially is true for a series like Lupin III which has actively been in the conscience of mainstream Japanese media for 50 years now. What’s more is that an opening must succinctly characterize the the series it is representing, and in the case of Lupin III (2015) that means encapsulating the purest essence of what makes Lupin III, Lupin  III. And to such a colossal task this opening answers, “è facile“.

A shoe being tied. The second arm being pulled through the sleeve of a blazer. Two gaunt hands align blue lapels and straighten a solid red tie. The camera lingers on these individual aspect shots, teasing us with the identity of a character so iconic that he is recognizable just by his ankle. Yet this is a character so celebrated that we still want the visual confirmation that this in fact the Lupin III, and he greets us with a wry smile that sends excited shivers down your spine.

This opening is a practice in layering. Anime, by tradition, is a multiplanar image. Layers of drawings separate items on different levels of depth of field. The entire opening features three solid black vertical bars indicative of the shape of the Italian flag. Normally, this stylistic choice would be considered the top layer on the animation stack, and it appears that way at first. As soon as the title screen falls, our dear thief bursts from the front door, behind one of these oppressive black bars. However, as he leaps from the background into the foreground he passes in front of the divider, betraying previous expectations. At that moment we then have to decide: do the dividers belong to the continuity of the world or no? But before we can decide, Lupin and Jigen slide into a 1970 Plymouth Road Runner, which jumps past the dividers right on cue with the brass section of Yuji Ohno’s latest ‘Theme of Lupin III’ arrangement.

This interaction between layers is what Thomas LaMarre refers to in his book as Animetism; in short, the use of multiplanar images to convey depth and motion. In this case, it’s motion into and out of depth. Jigen is well behind the barring trifecta, but his hand in not, shattering imagined proportions of space in a way that can only be done by animation. Silhouettes of the main cast interact with these stripes, leaning on them or weaving in and out of them, while character depictions behind these layers seem completely oblivious to them (save Goemon who cuts them down as he is want to do). It challenges the viewer’s concept of reality and continuity between the layers in an elusively playful manner.

But the most important aspect in building an emotional connection is timing. I think The Subtle Doctor put it best in stating that it is a harmonious piece of media. Colors melt and camera angles change on the back beats of the classic 80’s Lupin theme, careful not to rob the eloquence of the tradition it must live up to. And Fuji As the Plymouth Road Runner is cut away (in a scene where the CG resembles cardboard cutouts), the iconic Fiat 500 emerges, but this is the 2017 model, a brand new version of a classic, much like ‘Blue Jacket’ itself.

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