The Castle of Cagliostro Review

The Film
The Castle of Cagliostro can safely be referred to as a classic in the animé genre. Originally released in 1979, it was the second film created for the Lupin III (Rupan Sansei) universe, which revolves – unsurprisingly – around the exploits of Arsène Lupin III, a master thief with a disposition towards high adventure. And if 1979 sounds like a while back, then bear in mind that the animé was based on an even-earlier 1960s manga [Japanese comics] series by Katoo Kazuhiko! However, the name more fans will recognise is that of the legendary Hayao Miyazaki (Kiki's Delivery Service, the more-recent Princess Mononoke, etc.), who directed and co-wrote the screenplay for The Castle of Cagliostro.

The film itself is a full-length (over 100 minutes long) action-packed romp in the tradition of the Indiana Jones movies... so much so that it's not entirely surprising that Steven Spielberg once called it "one of the greatest adventure movies of all time." In fact, The Castle of Cagliostro would be a remarkably easy animé to adapt into a live-action, big-budget Hollywood blockbuster. It has all of the key elements:

  • a charming, overconfident rogue (Lupin) as protagonist;
  • a wisecracking, slightly bumbling sidekick (Jigen);
  • a damsel in distress (Clarisse);
  • a perfidious villain in a seemingly-unassailable position of power (and let's not forget his apparently-inexhaustible supply of henchmen!);
  • an old flame to complicate things (or perhaps to lend assistance);
  • a series of intersecting secrets regarding a mysterious locale;
  • a legitimate authority incapable of stopping the antagonist (in this case, Interpol);
  • absolutely brilliant chase and stunt sequences, many employing interesting gadgets or props;
  • and – last but not certainly not least for this type of film – a great sense of humour and spot-on comic timing from the principals.

Not only does it nail all of the fundamentals, but the show delivers in a big way. Anyone familiar with Hayao Miyazaki's later films will spot his distinctive touches branded on almost every scene of this, his first theatrical project. His drawing style has not changed that much over the intervening decades, so don't be surprised if the characters all look a bit similiar to those you've seen in his other works.

Although the Lupin III universe has spawned three entire TV series, five OVAs, five films, and no less than thirteen TV specials, The Castle of Cagliostro is generally considered to be some of the best material of the lot. Its solid plot (Lupin and Jigen seek to rescue a noblewoman whilst foiling a centuries-old counterfeiting operation), great visuals, fun characters, and snappy dialogue make it a perfect introduction to the life of this thief extraordinaire.

Manga has made an effort to release a number of animé titles in anamorphic format, but unfortunately The Castle of Cagliostro is not one of them. Which is not to say that the video quality of this R2 disc is poor... but obviously it cannot compare with, say, the remastered Japanese R2 release. At least Manga did put it out in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, so never fear on that score.

However, a few things do stand out regarding this version. The first is that the animation does have a very soft look to it, but this may have a lot to do with how animé was drawn back in 1979 rather than any actual flaw in the transfer process. I liked the fact that many of the colours used are ones that you generally don't find in modern animé. (In contrast to the current penchant for "the more bold and vibrant, the better", Miyazaki's team seems to have restricted the palette to a more quiet range... which to me really gives a European feel to the setting.)

Regardless, the picture does look very good, particularly for a movie as old as this. The only caveat is that Manga clearly produced it from a film print – which shows up most spectacularly in the occasional presence of "cigarette burns" in the upper right corner of the screen. These ephemeral black blobs marking the reel changes aren't very distracting, though – most viewers won't notice them unless they're particularly alert. The other legacy of using the film print to make the DVD is that the video also has the rare scratch or white speck now and then. Nothing major, honestly.

In fact, if you want to get an idea of how much better this transfer looks than it could have, try playing the "original trailer" on the special features menu... although I don't recommend doing it before watching the film itself (as I did). Oh, and the English subtitles are very readable and excellent... no dubtitles here.

According to Manga, this release is supplied with both Dolby Digital 2.0 Japanese and English language tracks, although if you have a listen to the Japanese track you won't discover much evidence of stereo separation... it's pretty much a mono recording, or comes across that way, at any rate. It sounds OK, mind, just nothing spectacular. There is unquestionably a bit more ambient noise to the Japanese track than is present in the re-dubbed English one, but this is hardly surprising considering the age of the original recording.

Moving over to that English language track for a moment, I should point out that it doesn't have much stereo directionality, either. But it is quite a bit clearer than its Japanese counterpart and has a fuller sound to it, probably due to the use of a lot more bass (subwoofer) in the mix. In case you're wondering, this is a brand-new English dub that Manga undertook for this DVD, so the old English dub done by Streamline Studios doesn't appear on this disc.

Now, this is my first time seeing The Castle of Cagliostro, so I've never heard the Streamline dub... but listening to the new one, I feel the English voice actors did a pretty good job here. Some of the voices seem particularly apt, like the guy they cast for Lupin himself. I'll confess that – having just watched the entire film in Japanese – I didn't have quite the stamina to do it all again with the English on, but I did do some spot-checking to see how it came out. From what I understand, this new dub has a far better reputation than the old Macek-butchered one Streamline put out, so go have a listen and see what you think.

The menus here aren't quite up to Manga's usual quality. Although the main menu is animated, it's a very basic thing with garish titles panned across a castle background. (Compare this to the gorgeous main menu of Blood: The Last Vampire, and you'll see what I mean.) In addition, although there aren't enough menus or options to cause navigational distress, the fact that all of the titles have been aligned at angles – ostensibly to fit into the background stills – means that there is a lot of "diagonal" movement as you work your way across the menu screens.

There is even one glaring mistake that really should never have slipped unnoticed through the proofing stage: when you go to view the trailers for Manga's other releases, you'll discover that they've accidentally transposed the links for Akira and X. (So if you select Akira, you'll get the trailer for X, and vice versa. A bit sloppy, ne?)

Anyway, setting that aside for the moment, the disc extras are a bit on the slim side as well. Manga has included the "original trailer" for The Castle of Cagliostro, but the video quality is so awful that when I first watched it I was steeling my eyes against the coming film. (Fortunately, as mentioned above, the picture of the actual show is much, much better.) Not to mention that the "trailer" is essentially just a few scenes clipped directly from the movie. Ah, well. Real trailers are provided for three other Manga DVDs: Akira, Ghost in the Shell, and X.

Finally, there's an "image gallery", which sounds very promising until you realise that it only contains five quite small (they occupy less than one-quarter of the screen) pictures, and all of these seem to be press images that don't actually appear anywhere in the film itself.

Overall, the extras aren't great, but they're – as the saying goes – better than nothing.

It all boils down to this: The Castle of Cagliostro really is a great action film – and would be one even if it weren't animé – and I can't imagine you not getting a lot of enjoyment from seeing it. Manga has not let fans down with this transfer, even if it is non-anamorphic. It looks good, it sounds good, and if there's a pronounced dearth of actual extras on the disc, well, what precisely did we expect from the archives of a 1979 animation?

Region Comparison
DVD Times has also reviewed the Japanese R2 and R1 releases of this film here. From reading the reviews, it seems that the both the R1 and this R2 release (both from Manga) include all the same features.

NOTE: This Manga Entertainment release has since gone Out Of Print, and has been replaced by an Optimum Asia release which is reviewed here.

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out of 10

Last updated: 04/07/2018 17:13:47

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