Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Anime Archive – Lupin III

Cover art based of the colorful
opening credits to the 1971 series.
So I have a review coming up for a popular character in the world of Japanese animation, and this film comes in the middle of a huge run for the character. As I started planning the review for Castle of Cagliostro I was spending way too much time covering the history of this character. The review was spiraling out of control. I had a similar issue when I tackled Urusei Yatsura: Beautiful Dreamer and my solution then was to create a primer for the series. Made perfect sense that I do the same in this case.

So who the heck is Arsene Lupin III? Well he’s based on a fictional master thief created by Maurice Leblanc in 1905. Leblanc envisioned Lupin (the first at this point) as a gentleman rogue and master of disguise who found himself getting into and out of all kinds of adventures and scrapes.  Of course Lupin has a heart of gold, and often steals and confronts criminals much more dangerous and wicked then himself. Leblance wrote 20 novels and even more short stories in which Lupin pulled off a daring heist or two.

Lupin and detective Zenigata at it again!
While the novels and adventures of Arsene Lupin are not well known in the United States, he has inspired a number of other characters and similar story tropes – including Simon Templar aka The Saint made into a popular television series in the 1960s featuring Roger Moore. But more relevant to our discussion here is the creation of his grandson, the infamous Arsene Lupin III. This Japanese creation exploded in popularity and created an extremely long running franchise.

Created in 1967 by the uniquely named manga artist, Monkey Punch (whether this refers to a punch made from monkeys or a powerful blow from the fist of a simian is yet to be seen), Lupin the Third shares many of the same qualities of his grandfather. He’s a master thief, well versed in disguises, seems to have a knack for getting in and out of trouble and is a big hit with the ladies. Monkey Punch has admitted to being inspired by James Bond in the creation of his character, and a lot of similarities can be found. But he is also similar to the Italian comic character Diabolik, which was made into a film Danger: Diabolik in 1968 (and riffed on by MST3K in 1999, if you’re keeping score on that kind of thing).

Lupin on the run. No one can catch him, unless
he wants them to.
The primary tone for the manga (and the later anime series and movies that followed it) was comedic adventure. Plenty of capers and humor were added to the adventure and thrills and made for an entertaining mixture. Monkey Punch also added some regular characters that would help or hinder Lupin in his quest for riches and fame. The character interactions and outrageous heist schemes kept fans coming back for more.

The manga has been running off and on from 1967 up to 2010, with another series in the planning stages. The popularity of the manga lead to a television series that aired in 1971, and that spawned three follow up series with the latest one airing in 2012 (and another one in the works). Last but not least are the animated theatrical films featuring Lupin III.  The first was called The Mystery of Mamo and it hit the screens in 1978. It was followed by The Castle of Cagliostro in 1979 which was directed by animation master Hayao Miyazaki. Lupin films continued to arrive in theaters with the most recent on appearing in June of 2014.

Some advice: never trust any of these four.
So the comparisons with James Bond are apt. Lupin III has a legacy that spans decades, plenty of media (including video games, radio dramas and soundtracks) to flesh out his world and a huge marketing empire to boot. This is one popular character that never really seemed to take off in North America. An attempt was made in 2003 to release episodes from the second series of the anime (the one that was created in 1977) on Cartoon Network. It received a mixed reception from North American fans (I read a few reviews that found the old style anime disconcerting and hard to get into, crazy whipper snappers!).


So lets take a look at the main characters that populate the world of Lupin III. All these folks play a key role in the anime series and manga, but you’ll also find them in the films, like Castle of Cagliostro.

Lupin III
You want a dashing master thief with a heart of gold, then you don’t need to look any further than Lupin III. He’s sneaky, he’s daring, he’s rash, but in the end, he always seems to have enough skill and luck on his side to get out of the nastiest situation. He’s a master of disguise and managed to escape just about any kind of prison or jail you can think of. He’s an excellent shot, great behind the wheel of fast cars and has no fear. Of course he’s not without his faults. A pretty face and hot body will catch his attention and often cause Lupin to take chances he can often avoid. His love of the ladies gets him into as much trouble as his normal escapades. Funny thing is, Lupin fancies himself a ladies man, when more often than not the ladies are using him to get what they want.

Diasuke Jigen
Lupin’s parter in crime, literally. He’s the back up man, the wheelman, the guy you want in your corner when things get hot. He’s the cautious one, the man with the plan, and the one who looks out for Lupin’s back when the master thief is too busy chasing tail to notice the trouble he’s in. Jigen is a master marksman, and wicked fast with the quick draw. He is familiar with just about any kind of firearm you could wish for. We should introduce him to Rally Vincent from Gunsmith Cats. And while it isn’t specifically said, you get the feeling that Jigen is the older of the two and the more world wise. Faithful to a fault, Jigen may not be as smooth or flashy as Lupin, but he’s a vital part of the team.

Goemon Ishikawa XIII
Japan isn’t without its famous outlaws, and Goemon Ishikawa was one of them. Part legend, part actual thief, imagine a samurai version of Robin Hood back in the second half of the 1500s. Well his descendent is also a highly skilled thief, who tends to dress in traditional Japanese clothing. Goemon favors using his katana to cut down enemies. He doesn’t speak much and keeps his past to himself, but when he joins forces with Lupin and Jigen he’s a force to be reckoned with. While he doesn’t care for Lupin’s womanizing ways, he’s good friends with Jigen, who is much more serious and focused on getting the job done – something Goemon can relate to.

Fujiko Mine
If you look up Femme Fatale in the anime encyclopedia, you’ll see a picture of Fujiko Mine. She’s a professional thief (just like everyone else in this show) and often finds herself working with Lupin and his crew to obtain some kind of riches. Of course, she’ll turn right around and steal it form Lupin, but her betrayals never seem to faze him. Lupin is hopelessly in love/lust with Fujiko (and who can blame him – yowza!) But Jigen never trusts her and is always waiting for the other shoe to drop when she’s around. As far as Fujiko’s feelings for Lupin, well, she certainly loves messing with him, and she’s pretty free with her affections. Fujiko isn’t shy about using her body or her seductive skills to get what she wants. But make no mistake, this steamy gal is all about the thrill of the hunt, no matter what side she’s playing on.

Koichi Zenigata
Every famous criminal needs to have an equally relentless lawman on his trail. Zenigata is that detective. He’s always one step behind Lupin, but never lets it stop him. Time and again he gets close to catching his target, only to have it slip through his grasp. The detective is focused and knows Lupin pretty well, but that doesn’t keep Lupin from outwitting him with a clever disguise or off the wall action. Zenigata is a pretty good shot and also skilled in hand-to-hand combat. One of the few times Zenigata actually caught Lupin, he actually seemed depressed that the chase was over. These two were made for each other.


So there you have the main characters that populate this very popular franchise. If this mix of characters seems familiar, that may be because it inspired the main trio of protagonists for Cowboy Bebop. So Lupin III is far from forgotten, in both his original form, and as an inspiration to other animators.

Jet, Spike and Faye are distant relations to Jigen, Lupin and Fujiko.


  1. Whenever a fictional character or universe lasts long enough, storywriters have to absorb a vast amount of quasi-historical information to avoid contradictions with what has gone before. They rarely succeed completely. DC famously lost its grip on the Green Lantern universe by the 1980s and called in Larry Niven. Niven wrote the Green Lantern Bible to put all the characters and backstories straight. If all else fails, of course, one always can reboot.

    Your character lists and backstories are surely helpful to any newbie. I imagine they are just the start for anyone planning to write a spec script for the series.

    1. Hopefully it makes my review for "Castle of Cagliostro" easier to read and follow. Obviously all this background information needed its own post.

      As far as I know the anime series for Lupin got its first reboot in 2012, with the new series that focused on Fujiko and how she first met Lupin. Even in the first episode of the 1971 series it starts with Lupin and Fujiko already having a history that the viewer doesn't know anything about.

  2. Hi Roman
    I enjoyed your Lupin coverage here. I knew of the Miyazaki take on the character but never a lot about him in general. So that was interesting.

    Funny how many of the anime titles you have been covering seem to be ones that I have missed or never invested time into. Anyway, some nice observations I'm sure with real merit.

    1. Thanks sir!

      When I first watched "Castle of Cagliostro" back in the later 90s I had no idea who Lupin was or much of anything else. I was there because Miyazaki directed it and a couple of anime fans gave it a strong recommendation. These days Lupin is much better known, but the series really never seemed to make much headway here.

  3. Good review. I actually have The Castle of Cagliostro, but didn't know it tied into this whole mythology. It does put things into perspective. I agree it's reminiscent of Jame Bond, and also something like Doc Savage with a few tweaks, with maybe something like Ocean's Eleven thrown in the mix. Either way you dice it though it sounds interesting.

    I've been going back through some of my anime that I've taped over the years, and definitely need to revisit this one.

    1. Yeah I actually appreciated "Castle of Cagliostro" a bit more during my most recent viewing because I did some digging about this franchise. I also checked out the first few episodes of the 1971 series. Hulu has all the classic Lupin episodes as well as several of the movies and the new series that centers of Fujiko. So if someone wants to start delving into this series, Hulu has you covered.