Once upon a time in Canada, there aired a very cute and stylish little example of French animation. Night Hood, aka Les Exploits de Arsene Lupin, introduced Nineties kids to Arsene Lupin, that most cunning Robin Hood of retired thieves and most unlikely of detectives, in an alternate version of the 1920’s. He is constantly flying back and forth from Paris to New York, developing absurdly advanced devices and vehicles, and showing up in ever more strange disguises.
The animation itself is very uneven, sometimes flowing beautifully and sometimes very static. (The first bit of the opening credit sequence is too gorgeous entirely.) The execution of character designs is uneven, too. But overall, the drawings are really beautiful; you’re ready to move in, and you definitely want to shop for clothes and cars in these cities. The music is also very winning. There’s a lot of use of silhouettes, which apparently harks back to the credits of the 1970’s live action Lupin series, also set in the 1920’s and 30’s.
Lupin’s book nemeses, the French Surete detectives Ganimard (a grizzled veteran) and Folenfant (here a babyfaced sergeant) chase Lupin as much as they can. But Lupin’s true concern is the brilliant industrialist and criminal mastermind, Howard Randolph Karst. (Who, for the benefit of the kiddies, both looks and sounds exactly like Hearst/Citizen Kane, with a helping of Howard Hughes for likeability and tech.) Karst and Lupin are fairly good matches, but Karst generally is too busy with his masterplan of world domination to step out of the office. So Lupin usually faces his underlings: his psychotic crime liaison Steel, thugs Guilla and Diesel (who’s a big Chinese guy who doesn’t wear stereotypical Eastern clothing), and Countess May Hem.
Lupin’s faithful accomplice and wheelman is Grognard, a solid and clever engineer type with a good sense of humor. He’s portrayed very sympathetically in this series and looks quite handsome, which is unusual for a sidekick. Lupin also flirts and acts as a source for transatlantic-traipsing American reporter Kelly Rose Kincaid. Her newspaper, the New York Inquirer, is actually owned by Karst, but it’s fairly obvious she feels no loyalty to him — and not much concern about aiding and abetting! (But hey, she breaks into places herself all the time in pursuit of stories, so maybe this isn’t so strange.) Kincaid has her own Jimmy Olson-type sidekick, a boy named Max Leblanc. (Named after Lupin’s chronicler, Maurice Leblanc, of course!)
What can I say? Lupin is a man of action with a scarf, a monocle, an opera cloak, and a swordstick — not to mention a habit of strewing roses about! I also particularly enjoyed (as a Wimsey fan) seeing a theft occur as a diva sang the Jewel Song from Faust! We also visit the Orient Express, an evil Doc Savage’s Empire State Building, a dirigible, and the Titanic. It is a Golden Age mystery or pulp-lover’s dream.
I’ve really enjoyed watching bits of this series, which is not on DVD, alas. Search around for it; it’s worth it.