Arsène Lupin III is the grandson of world-famous thief Arsène Lupin, and he's living up to his grandfather's memory as a high-profile thief himself. Due to his infamy, Lupin III attracts the attention of the persistent Inspector Zenigata of the ICPO, as well as rival criminals. Lupin III's criminal lifestyle even seeps into his love life. The main woman in Lupin III's world is femme fatale Fujiko Mine, who Lupin III can never tell is working with or against him. Follow Lupin and his gunman partner Daisuke Jigen on their quest to own the world－or at least the valuable bits!
Like most fans of Lupin III, my first experience with the titular thief was with Hayao Miyazaki’s debut film “The Castle of Cagliostro.” It was simply a masterpiece with great action scenes, likeable characters, a heartwarming story, and excellent pacing. I consider Cagliostro to be one of the finest adventure films (animated or live-action) ever created and stands on my personal list of top movies. Anxious for more, I looked into the series and was amazed at how deep and spreading the franchise’s roots were. Lupin III is perhaps the most well-known and popular anime character of all time in Japan. There have been various
manga series, three television shows, one live-action movie, five animated films, various other animations, and yearly television specials that remain popular with the Japanese masses. Unfortunately, Lupin never really got firm foothold of international markets. While the likes of Goku and Pikachu are known worldwide, our green (or red or pink) jacketed thief still struggles to gain popularity outside of Japan to this very day. Despite this, Lupin III still manages to have a small, but loyal cult following. For those of you that don’t about Lupin, here’s a little backstory.
The origins of Lupin III can be traced back to the early 20th century works of French writer, Maurice Leblanc. Essentially opposite of detective Sherlock Holmes, Leblanc created a gentlemen thief named Arsène Lupin. Like his title suggests, Lupin was thief, but a gentlemen in nature. He would always “politely” leave notes to the police indicating where and when he would steal something, but would always escape their grasp. His goal was really not to steal, but to live life on a dangerous edge and to savor every moment of the chase. Old Arsène enjoyed considerable popularity in his days and has a long-running franchise to him as well. Fast forward all the way to 1967. Professional manga artist Kazuhiko Katō was “discovered” buy a magazine company who was interested in his work. He was hired, and his boss at the time suggested the pen name “Monkey Punch.” The origins of that name aren’t exactly clear, but some speculate that it came from the ape-like look of some of Katō’s characters. Nevertheless, he wasn’t too fond of the name but chose it anyways since he was only attached to a three month project. The project? A comedic manga series that parodied Arsène Lupin’s many exploits. It starred the grandson of the thief with him and his gang going on many adventures throughout the series. The art was rugged and abstract, the humor was vulgar, and it was a huge hit.
Following the success of the manga, Lupin III was soon picked up for anime form in 1969 by TMS Entertainment and Toho. Virtually unknown director Masaaki Ōsumi was hired to craft a short pilot film that introduced Lupin and his gang. The pilot was highly controversial at the time to say the least. The realistic violence and adult themes simply didn’t fly well with the companies, so the project never saw distribution. Two versions were produced: a 16:9 CinemaScope version intended for theatrical release and a 4:3 version meant for television. Despite the failure of the pilot, Lupin III was still picked up for a 26 episode television series. On October 24, 1971, anime history was made.
For the first time ever, here was an anime series intended for adults and not just kids. Some episodes were loose adaptions of certain manga chapters, but most were original stories. Like the pilot film before it, the show had realistic looking guns and vehicles, violence, and darker plotlines. It seemed, though, that the Japanese animation industry wasn’t ready for such material. Initially, Masaaki Ōsumi directed the first few episodes. They were dark and gritty, with mature themes and sensibilities. Because of this, the show failed to gather the ratings it needed and Ōsumi was fired because he refused to change the tone. This is when Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata joined the show. You heard right, THAT Miyazaki and Takahata. Two of the most revered Japanese anime directors who brought us masterworks like Spirited Away and Grave of the Fireflies got their start on this show. When they did, everything changed. Now Lupin III was given more humor and the episodes noticeably became more family friendly. The show can be divided into three parts. The first eight or so episodes by Ōsumi are serious in tone. Sure there’s the occasional dry humor, but there’s gun fights and fan service shots aplenty here (though it could probably be considered as quite tame by today’s standards). The next section is the transition period. Here we see Lupin III slowly change from the dark nature and into more lightheartedness. By the time we reach the final portion, the show is now comedic and full of laughs, almost the polar opposite of how the show started out. The episodes directed by Miyazaki and Takahata are what the set the standard for the franchise to this very day, with the exception of the adult-themed Mystery of Mamo movie and recent Fujiko Mine series. This show as a whole never really had a set path or direction. Since this is the first ever show for the franchise, it feels very experimental at times and has many changes in tone and quality. Despite these changes, the ratings remained poor and the show was cancelled after only 23 episodes.
The basic premise is that master thief Lupin III (now sporting a green jacket unlike the red of his manga counterpart) is always trying to steal; whether its money, jewels, or treasure. I think that his character would best be described if you took the coolness of James Bond, the adventurous nature of Indiana Jones, and the niceness of Tintin; and put it all together. Lupin will always try to steal things, but he’s never without honor. Along the way, he’ll help anyone in need, won’t kill without reason, and he’s fiercely loyal to his friends. Speaking of which, Lupin is joined by a colorful cast of characters that represent his gang. There’s Daisuke Jigen, Lupin’s most trusted ally who’s a quick split-second gunman and Fujiko Mine, a seductive women whom Lupin is infatuated with. Because of this, he’s easily tricked or swindled by her. Early on in the series, he’s joined by Goemon Ishikawa XIII, descendant of the legendary Japanese samurai who actually existed in real history. Goemon has a blade that can cut just about anything, and seems to want to help Lupin just as much as he wants to kill him. The gang is constantly chased by Tokyo Metropolitan Police Inspector Koichi Zenigata, supposedly the descendant of fictional detective Zenigata Heiji. His only goal in life is to capture Lupin. He always fails, but that’s perhaps for the best. Throughout the series, Zenigata has actually captured Lupin on occasion; but quickly realizes that he has no other purpose in life. Later on in the franchise, it’s clear that Lupin and Zenigata both respect each other even if they’re constantly at odds. The ideas are always fresh and exciting, with little repetition between episodes. It really amazes that, even after 45 years, this series is still going with new ideas.
I haven’t even talked about the excellent voice actors yet. Lupin is played by Yasuo Yamada, a veteran seiyuu who voiced him for the rest of his life before his unfortunate death in 1995. Yamada brings out the perfect traits in Lupin. He’s cocky, suave, hard-boiled, classy, and even emotional all at the same time. Make no mistake, Yamada is the definitive voice of the character and no one else could have brought Lupin to life besides him. Yes, there have been other actors in the role of Lupin and they all do a fine job, but Yamada will be the one who’ll always be the most famous and well known. The tough and gruff Jigen is portrayed by Kiyoshi Kobayashi, historically known for playing the character in every single Lupin related animation with the exception of the 1987 OVA, “The Fuma Conspiracy,” where the entire cast was briefly replaced. It’s really impressive that this guy still voices him after all these years and he shows no signs of slowing down. Death Note fans might recognize Kobayashi as the voice of Watari. Fujiko’s seiyuu is Yukiko Nikaido, a talented actress who plays the femme fatale as a crafty and cunning woman who knows how to get what she wants. She would later be replaced by the more well-known Eiko Masuyama who has an equally impressive track record like Kobayashi. Masuyama, however, retired from the role in 2010. The no-nonsense samurai of few words, Goemon is voiced by Chikao Ōtsuka who some may know from One Piece and Dragon Ball. He is the father of Akio Ōtsuka of Metal Gear fame. Last but not least, we have Gorō Naya who plays Zenigata. Honestly, Zenigata’s over-the-top and hilarious performances are a joy to watch. He gives off all the right emotions and feelings that this character evokes. Unfortunately, Naya died only very recently (as of this writing), at the age of 83. Both Yamada and Naya will be sorely missed, but their legacy left behind will never be forgotten.
I’ve talked about the characters, but what of the animation? At first glance, Lupin III seems primitive in its art style. But you know what? I like this kind of look. For the time, this was the highest quality animation available for television. Although it certainly shows its age, colors are still vibrant and sharp with the simplistic backgrounds nice as well. Characters move fluidly enough and action scenes play out nicely, but it’s obvious that some cheap tricks are used here and there. It doesn’t have the same thin cartoonish look as the second series, nor the gorgeous animation of Cagliostro, but I’m sure that most people will be satisfied with what they see. The audio side of things is more of a mixed bag. The main theme is a simplistic repetition of “Lupin the Third” sung in various tones. It may be basic, but just like the Batman theme, it’s pretty damn catchy. The ending theme is a more melancholic and bittersweet Japanese vocal song. These were all sung by Charlie Kosei, who does a pretty good job singing in both Japanese and English with excellent pronunciation. Although Kosei hasn’t been doing much recently, he contributed a song to the popular PlayStation 2 game Katamari Damacy. Within the series, there’s also background music by Takeo Yamashita. The themes are pretty basic to say the least, and there’s really not anything special, but it does the job when it needs too. For an amazing Lupin III soundtrack, check out the work of Yuji Ohno. He composed excellent jazz themes from the second series onward, and his addictive Lupin III main theme is still playing in my head even now.
Exactly where can you get this series? If you live in Japan, it’s readily available on DVD and Blu-ray. Recently, though, North American anime distribution company Discotek Media released the entire series on Region 1 DVD for the very first time ever. This set boasts a brand new high quality video transfer, extensive liner notes on each episode, essays, song lyrics, a complete vehicle list, a complete weapons list, commentary on key episodes by Lupin fans, and even both versions of the original pilot film. It’s the ultimate release for any Lupin fan and I highly recommend you purchase this amazing set. Overall though, is Lupin III worth your time? I’d say without a doubt, yes. Not only is this an important and historical anime, it’s simply a fun show to watch. I’d even go as far to call this the “Cowboy Bebop” of the 1970s generation. The influence that this show had on the exploits of our Bebop crew is immediately noticeable. In fact, Cowboy Bebop director Shinichiro Watanabe has even gone on record to say that he was heavily inspired by this series, particularly with Ōsumi’s work. So there, you have it. An essential anime series that’s action-packed, entertaining, and full of great characters. It may be rough around the edges, as well as uneven in quality; but I guarantee you that you’ll have damn good time watching this series the whole way through. Check it out.
Its the one that started it all. Sure, the manga is where Lupin was truly born, but in terms of beginning a legacy, the first television series can take a good chunk of the glory. While its impossible to review this without comparisons and/or contrasts to the second and third series, Lupin III has done enough to give itself its own limelight.
On its own, Lupin III lays down a solid effort. There is action, intrigue, and betrayal...all of which would become staples of the Lupin franchise. The characters that will go on to become some of the most famous in anime history are established here.
And while the animation is undoubtedly telling of its' age, the standard for long, lanky legs and hairy hands is set. With all the good foundation that Lupin III sets for the franchise, there is, thankfully, one aspect that did not carry over...the music. The combination of hippy j-rock and the repetition of Lupins' name does not make for a good soundtrack.
Another trait that fails to carry over is the dark and dirty side of Lupin. Fans of the second series and later specials are familiar with family-friendly Lupin, but Lupin III allows for a much more serious, James Bond-type espionage story. During the course of the series, Lupin and the gang commit and encounter murder, violence against women, and even rape.
As a stand alone series, I'd give this a 7 out of 10. But Lupin III isn't a stand alone series. It, while having its own identity and place within the Lupin Franchise, does so much to establish Lupin and the gang as a powerhouse in the anime world. For any Lupin fan that wants too see how it all got started, I highly recommend this. For any old school anime fan, this is straight up your alley, so what have you been waiting for?
And for everyone else, if you can find it, watch it. Bear with the hippy j-rock and enjoy a fun, exciting series that'll introduce you to the fun world of Lupin the Third.
This is a legendary anime series about some instant classic characters, the Lupin gang. This is amazingly ahead of it's time, being the first anime starring criminals, the first gritty comparatively more realistic anime with guns and such. Not just for anime, it's ahead of it's time in general.
Most importantly, it's still a joy to watch nearly 40 years later. Lupin is the cool, laid back antihero. This laid back style, helped by the very cool soundtrack, is still influential today in titles like Cowboy Bebop. Lupin has other sides to him too of course, he has an ego, and
he'll laugh like a maniac and take on any challenge. And of course, he gets pretty excited when there are ladies around, especially Fujiko.
The supporting characters are great here. You have Jigen, Lupin's partner and best friend. He's very cool himself, a smooth criminal, but he's also the voice of reason, a more mature criminal. Then you have Fujiko, the classic femme fatale cat burglar, she is Lupin's love interest, and often his rival. Then there's Goemon, the renegade samurai with a strong moral code, who can cut anything. And of course, Inspector Zenigata, who tirelessly dedicates his life to capturing Lupin.
Lupin is episodic, featuring 23 self contained stories. Although there is one plot that takes two episodes early on, with Goemon out to defeat Lupin. One episode Lupin is in prison, another time him and the gang have explosive watches put on that they can't take off. These are all great stories.
An interesting thing about this series is that it has two different feels to it, depending on who is directing. Masaaki Osumi directs episodes 1-7, 9, and 12. These are the more dark and gritty episodes, and sometimes have a melancholy feel. These episodes are amazing, giving us the depth that the Lupin characters are built on.
The founders of Studio Ghibli, Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, direct episodes 8, 10-11, and 13-23. These episodes are also superb, with a more fun and upbeat feel, closer to what Lupin is known for today. You can tell Miyazaki is involved when Lupin starts saving cute damsels in a gentlemanly heroic way.
All in all, Lupin III is a classic series, which is still going strong today with movie specials. I recommend checking this out, it's must see anime.
Red jacket? Green jacket? Who gives a shit?! Ok, now that I am done quoting Happy Gilmore, I will review what is without a doubt one of the most famous and beloved anime of all time...in Japan... and pretty much nowhere else.
Lupin the 3rd started way back in the early 1970s and was created by the legendary mangaka known only as "monkey punch". Yep, that's really what he calls himself. Lupin was created as a spoof/ homage of the character Arsene Lupin, who was a gentlemen spy in a series of French novels that were popular in the late 1800s and ran alongside the
Sherlock Holmes stories. Along with spoofing low brow adventure novels from 1800s France, Lupin also takes a lot of inspiration from James Bond and the spy movies and novels that were extremely popular during the 1960s and 1970s. In his adventures, Lupin is joined by the femme fatale Fujiko, badass samurai Goemon, and awesome sharp shooter Jigen. Lupin has crazy adventures that mix slapstick comedy with awesome action and some of the first "fanservice" in anime history.
Lupin in Japan vs. outside Japan:
Lupin was a HUGE hit in Japan, and to this day recieves reboot after reboot. A new live action movie was created just this year and will be followed by sequels. However, for some reason Lupin has never been a very big deal overseas. Perhaps this is because the West was already saturated with slapstick comedy and James Bond parodies like "Get Smart", which would have aired around the same time that Lupin first came out.
Story and characters: 8/10
The story and characters are so well known and beloved in Japan that even if you have never seen Lupin, you have probably seen it parodied or homaged dozens of times in other anime. For example, the red coat worn by the character Nabeshin in Excel Saga is an homage to Lupin, as are the character designs from Cowboy Bebop. Spike is based on Lupin, Jet = Jigen, Faye =Fujiko and Vicious = Goemon. The plot works because it is simple and usually doesn't take itself too seriously. The characters have great chemistry and each brings something to the mix.
Lupin was probably the first anime ever to have a truly KICKASS opening theme song. This was back in 1971 and no other animated show had an opening that mixed jazz, a smooth singer, and an awesome melody and beat like this one. The entire soundtrack is very jazz oriented, which started a huge trend in anime that continues to this day 40 years later!
The art really scares away some viewers because it has a very unique style. I would compare it to One Piece, but I actually think even the original Lupin from 1971 has better character art than One Piece. An interesting fact is that one of the key animators for the original Lupin was Hayao Miyazaki, who later became the main animator for one of the early Lupin movies.
If you want to watch an anime that has stood the test of time and been HUGELY influential on the genre as a whole, then Lupin is an absolute must! It currently has a low rating on MAL of around 7, but don't let that dissuade you. Some people simply don't appreciate anything that is older than they are and don't care about influence, history, or enduring quality. I feel sorry for those people, because they miss out on a LOT of great stuff. If you don't want to watch the original series, at LEAST watch the 1979 movie Castle of Cagliostro. It is generally considered the the high water point of all things Lupin.
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