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The Castle Of Cagliostro

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Streamline Pictures' mid-'90s disappearance from the Japanese animation distribution market was a relief to many hardcore anime fans. For starters, it opened the possibility that the release rights to such cult hits as Vampire Hunter D and Nadia: The Secret Of Blue Water might eventually fall into the hands of companies that wouldn't maul the translations, botch the dubbing, and refuse to release unedited, subtitled editions. It's taken half a decade, but this has already been a banner year for classic ex-Streamline anime titles: Vampire Hunter D is newly available from Urban Vision Entertainment, 3x3 Eyes is on its way from Pioneer, and Manga Video has just released the wonderful 1979 film The Castle Of Cagliostro on VHS and bilingual DVD. Castle, the first feature film written and directed by Princess Mononoke creator Hayao Miyazaki, is one of a few films "the Walt Disney of Japan" based on another creator's work. The characters come directly from the popular Lupin III manga and anime series conceived by pseudonymous artist Monkey Punch. By the time Miyazaki was offered a crack at the franchise, super-thief Lupin, his laconic partner Jigen, their competitor/collaborator Fujiko, and their obsessive pursuer Detective Zenigata were already icons in Japan, with a popular comic-book series, two TV series, and two theatrical films—one of them live-action—already in release. Miyazaki, who had written and directed a couple of the TV episodes, stayed true to Lupin's history and frenetic modus operandi, but he made him a young romantic who doesn't hesitate to drop everything to help a pretty girl in trouble. The girl in question is Clarisse, princess of the tiny duchy of Cagliostro, the U.N.'s smallest member state. Count Cagliostro, a scheming distant relative acting on a hoary old prophecy about "uniting the dark and light," has imprisoned her and plans to marry her in an attempt to find secret treasure. Zenigata, the Count, and Lupin do battle in a series of slapdash, high-energy comic chases and face-offs that showcase Miyazaki's obsessively detailed, gloriously colorful animation style. This caper film possesses Miyazaki's usual good-hearted charm, but he injects a manically energetic humor that his more sedate children's films never quite achieve. Manga's new translation gives fans the choice of an all-new dub or the first official U.S. subtitled edition. Which certainly beats the previous choice: Tolerate Streamline's edition, or go without.