Lupin The Third: The Playful Icon Who Stole The World

Copyright Monkey Punch/TMS Entertainment

Hello to you all! It’s been a while and I must apologise. I was stolen away by today’s subject. But let me ask my readers a question: What singular series connects a series of French novels from the very early 20th century, Sherlock Holmes, anime geniuses Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki of Studio Ghibli fame, Inspector Gadget, the entire country of Italy and Stephen Spielberg among others? The one and only Rupan Sansei or translated to English…Lupin The Third.

Lupin the Third is something of an obscure yet playful icon. The series has been running in some form pretty much non-stop since 1967. And since I recently became reacquainted with the Lupin Gang I see it as my duty to introduce more people to this bizarre world. So think of this article as similar to an in-depth discussion of the character’s history akin to my articles on Captain Marvel back in the day. But before I can discuss Lupin the Third I must introduce Lupin the First…or more accurately Maurice Leblanc’s Arsène Lupin.

Part One: Gentleman Burglars, HerlockSholmes, And Monkey Punch

In 1905 Maurice Leblanc invented the character of Arsène Lupin.Arsène is something of a gentleman burglar, operating on the wrong side of the law but for good reasons thieving from individuals considerably nastier than he himself is. This character became very popular in his native France and eventually Leblanc wrote a story in which Arsène encountered and bested Sherlock Holmes. There was just one problem. He hadn’t asked permission from the estate of Conan Doyle and as such for all future reprintings and reappearances the character was referred to as HerlockSholmes. Yes really. THIS WILL BE RELEVANT LATER.

Quite some time later a certain Kazuhiko Katō enters our story. Katō was a young and talented manga author who in 1965 was offered a chance to pitch a (supposedly three month long) manga idea to his boss under a pseudonym his boss gave him of Monkey Punch. Katō claimed later in interviews he disliked the name but agreed under the belief he could go back to his original name after the series was over.

Thinking on his feet he suggested an action comedy series based on the grandson of Arsenè Lupin (pronounced Loo-pan by the way) and his gang consisting of master sharpshooter Daisuke Jigen, famed samurai Goemon Ishikawa (the 13thgeneration descendant of the renegade samurai from Japanese history) and the stunning femme fatale and occasional love interest to Lupin, opponent and partner to the gang the very Bond Girl styled Fujiko Mine. Chasing after the group is the ever determined Inspector Koichi Zenigata of the ICPO or Interpol whose family have been chasing Lupins’ since the days of the original Lupin. This series was first published in 1967 and became very successful almost from day one.

However the estate of Maurice Leblanc were not best pleased. Monkey Punch hadn’t asked permission to use the Lupin name and family heritage…irony incarnate. Despite legal action being taken it was determined that in Japan the name of Arsenè Lupin had come into public use and so Lupin the Third continued…this time into his original anime incarnation in 1971.

Part Two: Green Jacket Lupin(1971), Inspirations And Hayao Miyazaki

Why don’t I start this section with discussing the inspirations behind Lupin The Third? As can be guessed from the name, Arsenè’s thievery and general ingenuity was a big one but so was James Bond who at this point had just begun his rise to greater popularity and notoriety thanks to the early Sean Connery films (hence Fujiko’s inclusion and her general attitude taking clear notes from Thunderball’s Fiona Volpe.)

This also led to Lupin’s early tendency to be something of a ladies man, deservedly so or not. Jigen was drawn from The Magnificent Seven (specifically James Coburn) while Goemon in turn was an attempt to include some Japanese flair into a series heavily inspired by various kinds of Western media. Lastly we have Inspector Zenigata who Monkey Punch has stated in interviews was included to give his Lupin an arch nemesis – and indirectly continuing the famous legacy of fictional Japanese police officer Heiji Zenigata– with something of a Tom and Jerry style dynamic. Even in the early days of the manga this led to a good chunk of the comedy.

The original manga was then adapted by what is now TMS Entertainment in 1971 to create the original Lupin anime series – lovingly referred to by fans as Green Jacket for reasons which I will explain later. The original anime was designed to be aimed purely at adults which was an unknown quantity at the time. As a result the first Lupin The Third anime can either lay claim depending on who you ask to being one of the first or THE first anime targeted at adults. Green Jacket Lupin in its early episodes is considered quite dark by most people (due to numerous factors including certain behaviours that are extremely frowned upon to put it the politest way possible. This incarnation of Lupin is considered by far the most murder happy as well as the least savoury out of all four main incarnations) and is most definitely not recommended for beginners.

This is where Takahata and Miyazaki come in. After a few episodes had aired and the dark tone had proved unpopular the producers asked then director Maasaki Ōsumi to tone down the violence and sexuality and make the series somewhat more friendly for general audiences. He refused and as such was replaced by Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata the future founders of Studio Ghibli. They did as the studio requested (along with making Jigen somewhat more of a gruff and grumpy but loyal partner and toning Fujiko down to a somewhat less overt Bond analogue) which did make the series more popular along with the much more comedic tone but it was still cancelled after 23 episodes.

The original cast of this series: Yasuo Yamada – known as the Japanese voices for both Kermit The Frog and Clint Eastwood…seriously – as Arsenè Lupin III, Kiyoshi Kobayashi as Daisuke Jigen, Eiko Masuyama as Fujiko Mine – who played her in both pilots and much future Lupin media but not the actual Green Jacket series) – as well as Chikao Ōtsuka as Goemon Ishikawa XIII and Gorō Naya as Inspector Zenigata all became the iconic voices for these characters(except Chikao who was replaced by Makio Inoue in time for Red Jacket) for their parts until they either retired or died due to their personal attachments to these characters with the exception of Kobayashi who still plays Jigen to this day.

Part Three: Cagliostro, Directorial Debuts, Tone Change And Fame

Ordinarily this is where I would move on to the next (and most iconic) Lupin series but I simply must talk about Miyazaki and Takahata’sLupin film The Castle of Cagliostroto some degree. For a more direct discussion of Cagliostro I also recommend reading Sgathiach’s article on the film. Skipping ahead somewhat to the late 1970s, thanks to the change in tone of the now famous 1978 Red Jacket Lupin series Lupin as a character had become much more popular and as such Miyazaki was offered a once in a lifetime chance: To direct his own anime movie. That’s right Cagliostro was Miyazaki’s debut as a director. Unlike the Lupin of the TV series however, Miyazaki put him back in the old nostalgic green jacket but for his own reasons. He has spoken previously about the Lupin of Cagliostro being an older and wiser Lupin. One who has kept his monkey like personality but mellowed out considerably becoming much more heroic and like his gentleman thief grandfather as should be expected when the film is loosely based on a Leblanc story from the 1920s The Girl With the Green Eyes.

As should be expected from the co-founders of Studio Ghibli, the film is an absolute masterwork (even disregarding my fondness for Lupin!) having been praised apocryphally by Stephen Spielberg of all people as “One of the greatest adventure movies of all time.” (This claim seemingly has SOME validity to it according to various Lupin historians) as well as having been a substantial influence on Miyazaki’s later work and on Pixar co-founder John Lasseter who once delivered a keynote speech at the Tokyo International Film Festival discussing Miyazaki’s influence on his work and how Cagliostro was a large part of that. And those are just two of the most well known examples. There’s at least one scene of classic era Simpsons directly known by DVD commentary to be inspired by Cagliostro. Look out for Bart freaking out on a roof trying to recover a certain item.

The older and wiser Lupin of Cagliostro is beloved by both fans and newcomers alike. Despite being his own thing personality wise elements of Cagliostro’s Lupin have become mainstays in the wider franchise: a larger heroic streak, a yellow Fiat 500 which was also Ōtsuka’spersonal car, a sense of humour that occasionally borders on the ridiculous, the occasional truce with Zenigata to take on worse threats as a team and various other elements.

As a result of this popularity, Cagliostro is usually one of the first things recommended to people interested in checking out Lupin as you have a great example of the core team dynamic and general appeal of the series even if it is somewhat more family friendly than the majority of Lupin. As a matter of fact it was my personal introduction to the series some 15 odd years ago now and I fell in love with the Lupin Gang at first sight. But I’m still nowhere near done. I did mention a more well known Lupin series did I not?

Part Four: Red Jacket Lupin(1978-80), Icon Status And YujiOhno

By 1978 things had changed somewhat. Monkey Punch had ended his original manga and replaced it with its successor Shin Lupin III or New Lupin III. This series was more overtly comedic albeit still with plenty of action and with plots that in general were on the wackier side of things. This tone change increased Lupin’s popularity even further in Japan, leading to a second anime series. Due to the fact that all of the main Lupin TV series share the name Lupin The Third or Lupin III it was (eventually) decided that the best way to differentiate them was by using different part numbers for the different series such as the first series being referred to as Part I, this second series as Part II and so on. The fans at this point also started referring to the different series by the colour of Lupin’s Jacket. The colour of his jacket became shorthand – usually – for the rough tone of the series you are watching. I will discuss the tone of the other series in more depth later but in short? Green Jacket (Part 1, The Woman Called Fujiko Mine spin-off series and the upcoming Part 6) tends to be darker with more serious subject matter or violence as I will discuss later while Red Jacket (Part 2, the majority of Lupin TV specials and movies) tends to be more overtly comedic and somewhat wacky albeit still capable of serious moments or episodes.

Red Jacket Lupin quite simply? Made the thief a sensation in Japan (and later a cult hit in the US and other non-Asian territories which I will get to later). The series lasted for three years and a total of 155 episodes. Having changed the series to become a kind of comedy crime caper show as opposed to the first series, many then current pop-culture references were included (a trend which continued with the early 2000s English dubwhich helped make Red Jacket a personal favourite of mine) as was the use of more exaggerated and over the top animation.

Not only did Red Jacket or Part II make Lupin a household name in Japan, it also introduced the man who would create Lupin’s iconic musical style. Yuji Ohno. Ohno was a master of the Japanese style version of Jazz Fusion music in the 1960s and 1970s who has stuck with the series through thick and thin. Joining the series with the beginnings of Red Jacket, he created many of the recurring music motives that by this point are as required as the actors. Be it the world famous Lupin III theme, the appropriately confident yet comedic at times Zenigata March, the egotistical Super Hero – a personal favourite – or the beautifully melancholic and yet hopeful Fire Treasure or Treasures Of Time from Cagliostro these themes and others run through the franchise like its very blood. Ohno often creates alternative variations of the songs across the years – sticking to his jazz routes – which leads to no two fans having the same favourite version of any song. Not only that but Ohno often creates personal albums with his performing band under various aliases (including examples such as You And The Explosion Band and Yuji Ohno and the Lupintic Six) and frequently includes covers of songs from Lupin’s history on these albums just for fun. There’s a reason I personally own at least 7 different versions of Love Squall across multiple CDs.

Not only that but the one time they attempted to not hire Ohno and the classic original voice cast before many of them retired was back in 1987’s The Fuma Conspiracy. Guess what happens? Japanese fans effectively boycott the film to the extent that to this day it still carries something of a stigma in Japan despite being a very enjoyable film in its own right. He has since not contributed the soundtrack to some projects such as the Koike movies however by choice as opposed to other reasons.

Part Five: Lupin VIII and Inspector Gadget

Strap in. It’s time for a bizarre detour story. In 1982 there was an attempt made to adapt Lupin somewhat for the American and European market. Rather than doing a straight English adaptation of the recently concluded Red Jacket, TMS worked together with DIC (the company behind the 90s English language adaptation of Sailor Moon, The Real Ghostbusters cartoon and numerous others) to try and create a version of Lupin set in the future and starring the eighth generation descendants of Lupin and the others with Lupin as some form of detective in a series with space elements. Yes this does sound bizarre.

The series was never fully produced however the entirety of a pilot with sound effects and select scenes from six planned episodes were animated albeit with no music or voice over. This pilot was eventually included in a Lupin III home media release in 2012. Unfortunately for the production (albeit fortunately for most people) there was a problem. This is where the estate of Maurice Leblanc make their first return to our story. While the Lupin name could still be used in Japan and in Italy with no issues, the Leblanc estate demanded a large amount of money for the use of the Lupin name elsewhere which TMS and DIC refused to pay. Even then there were issues releasing the series in regions that could have accepted it with both Spain and Italy which would have kept the Lupin name having to distance itself from Arsène Lupin’s history.

There are however two interesting things that come from this series. Firstly it is known that the failure of this series’s cancellation eventually led to the creation of the bizarre Lupin III Part III (or Pink Jacket) and one other series. Due to the large financial investment, TMS and DIC agreed to collaborate on a new animated series together using several of the same staff and concepts. This eventually led to the series that became Inspector Gadget. So without Lupin III master thief, there would have been no Gadget, no Penny and no Claw..let alone that unending ear worm of a theme song. Talk about a weird connection! Now…back to Lupin…and 1984.

Part Six: Pink Jacket Lupin(1984-85), A Bizarre Reputation, Aliens And The Black Sheep

Lupin The Third Part III…where do I even begin!? I suppose I should start with a clear stylistic difference. By the time of Part III’s creation, the world was slap bang in the middle of the very extravagant 1980s with the series beginning in early 1984 and ending in late 1985. As a result of this Lupin’s world had changed heavily. His jacket became a shocking pink colour to the point I was surprised it wasn’t covered in rhinestones, his haircut came the closest it ever has – not counting sight gags – to becoming either an afro or something that wouldn’t look out of place in a hair commercial and the tone became somewhat dividing. And I say all this as a fan of all this Pink Jacket craziness!

To discuss Pink Jacket more soberly it genuinely is something even Lupin superfans debate. EVEN WE THINK THIS SERIES IS THE WEIRD ONE.

This is for many reasons. Firstly, the art style and animation changed from the beloved style of Red Jacket to something which changed drastically and seemingly on a whim. As well as being unusually pastel for the franchise, Lupin either suits a hair commercial or someone who watched Grease one too many times, Jigen…is honestly quite liked in this series, earning the half joking moniker of Handsome Jigen,Zenigata actually looks great IMO, Goemon looks like he found the fountain of youth and Fujiko…I don’t even know what happened to Fujiko. I think I can hear my friend crying.

This change is because of many factors. Yūzō Aoki who had worked on Red Jacket in a senior animation position, created the Part III designs and worked on Pink Jacket in a producing position. Unfortunately as the series continued it became apparent to both the behind the scenes staff and the TV audience that there were clear differences on how characters were drawn and the colours in the series depending on which of the contracted studios were working on a particular episode or scene. This is chiefly noticed more than it was back in the 1980s because characters are usually much closer to their promotional art in modern animation or ‘on model.’

Secondly a lot of the animation of Part III is very similar in style to the exaggerated animation of Looney Tunes with more than a few comparisons to Bugs Bunny and the rest of them. To some people including myself that’s actually appreciated and part of its charm but for those who find it hard to look past Pink Jacket’s oddness it’s one of the reasons it may be disliked.

Alongside the more gag heavy animation there is also the fact that Pink Jacket was worked on in the writing department by a lot of individuals famous in the action and detective drama genres leading to the discrepancy of the exaggerated animation being contrasted against a selection of stories ranging from something closer in tone to Red Jacket, to a straight forward war story involving one of Jigen’s old buddies, to a story which starts with Lupin and Fujiko teaming up to rob a castle – which is also a rocket – full of rich female war profiteers of all their money and jewellery and gets weirdly surrealist from there.

All of the above leads to Pink Jacket being a cult favouriteof many in a cult franchise with a tarnished reputation and to others the ‘Black Sheep’ of Lupin. Part III is very rarely referenced with most references only going as far as a split second cameo of a pink jacket with the only major reference being a homage episode during Part 5. But despite this a sizeable number of fans adore this eighties as hell insanity and are more than willing to follow the gang on this ‘Sexy Adventure’ (Not a typo. The opening is literally called that.)

Although one thing everyone seems agreed on is that beginners should avoid the one movie done in the style of Part III. Lupin The Third: The Legend Of The Gold Of Babylon is a wacky and frankly deranged movie which manages to combine legends of Babylonian gold,Zenigata working with a bunch of beauty pageant winners to catch Lupin using a tank, aliens, one of the catchiest songs ever written and Madison Square Garden among other things in a plot people either love or hate. However most people say to avoid it due to reasons of extreme cultural insensitivity in crowd shots and a handful of major scenes (and that’s me putting it mildly.) If you really want to know the specifics Google it. To be honest the existence of a fan made censored cut online should tell you everything you need to know.

But my evangelical discourse of Monkey Punch’s famous thief isn’t done yet! Next time I’ll discuss the famous Lupin The Third TV Specials, the attempts to release the series outside of Japan, Lupin’s Modern Blue Jacket Era,T akeshi Koike, the upcoming Part 6, just why I love this screwball thief with a dark side, and thank the stars for a company based in Glasgow for all Lupin fans in the UK.



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4 replies »

  1. What a great and informative article! I was not aware how Fuma was boycotted for not having Ohno on the score! Very well-rounded, will definitely reference this when I’m doing some Lupin recruiting haha!

    • I am glad to hear you’ve enjoyed it! I’m glad to say there’s plenty more coming! I still haven’t mentioned the dub chaos yet! And so much more!

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