Anime Classic Lupin III Turns 40 – and a new series marks the anniversary
TOKYO (majirox news) — Take a master criminal, throw in his loyal sidekicks, a love interest who continues to baffle and defeat the villain’s gang, and an Interpol detective who spends his life chasing them, and you have Lupin III. It’s a manga series which has run for 40 years now, and shows no signs of dying off. Indeed, it will air in a new TV series after 25 years’ absence.
Lupin III, written and illustrated by Kazuhiko Kato under the pen name of Monkey Punch (intended as a throwaway name, but it stuck) recently celebrated its 40th anniversary of overwhelming success.
The series follows the adventures of the most successful thief in the world, Arsène III, the grandson of the classic fictional villain Arsène Lupin, made famous by Maurice Leblanc. His gang includes Daisuke Jigen, a master of firearms techniques, and Goemon Ishikawa III, a deadly warrior. Aiding and abetting them is Fujiko Mine, the love of Lupin’s life, but not of the other two gang members, as she often double-crosses Lupin’s gang and makes off with the plunder. It doesn’t stop Lupin from being infatuated with her, even to the point where he prefers to chase her rather than the loot.
Working to thwart the charismatic Lupin’s thefts of priceless historic treasures is Interpol Inspector Koichi Zenigata. Despite Lupin’s chivalrous habit of announcing his thefts in advance through a calling card, the Inspector fails to avoid being outsmarted by Lupin. But there are compensations – he apprehends the bigger criminals who have been standing in Lupin’s way.
Lupin III’s success
The formula has made Lupin III the most profitable franchise in the anime world. The strip, which first appeared in 1967 in Weekly Manga Action, has spawned six movies, two original video animations, 13 television specials, 75 mangas, 41 soundtracks, 21 video games, a live-action movie, and the musical Of All Time – the longest-running anime. In addition, Steven Spielberg hailed the movie Castle of Cagliostro as “one of the greatest adventure movies of all time”.
Lupin’s chasing of girls before the treasures and his efforts to woo Fujiko made the manga an instant hit. Its lasting appeal, however, came from the series’ style and its lovable characters as well as the incorporation of the fashion, music, and comedy of an era. Most significantly, perhaps it is based on an original theme which does not borrow ideas from other animated movies.
After reading Maurice Leblanc’s novels about the gentleman thief Arsène Lupin, Kato decided to use a similar plot in his strip – but with a twist. The protagonist would be the grandson of Arsene Lupin, and would not act as snobbishly as his renowned grandfather, and would be more humane in his dealings.
“I think I was influenced quite a bit by Treasure Island and The Count of Monte Cristo. I even enjoyed reading about D’Artagnan in The Three Musketeers,” says Kato. “It might be my own analysis here, but I even feel that there are similarities between Lupin and d’Artagnan, and between Milady, the character in the d’Artagnan stories, and Fujiko. So I think I was influenced by those works at an early age.”
On another level, Kato has also acknowledged the influence on his work of Mad magazine, a American comic book founded in the 1950s by artists Mort Drucker and Sergio Aragones.
Monkey Punch talks about Lupin
Kazuhiko Kato (Monkey Punch), the creator of the characters, has said in an interview, “I guess you could say that part of the appeal is that my works have been directed at the youth of Japan as well as the world – the younger generation – so I wasn’t ever restricted by political barriers. It was easy for me to continue writing and drawing in that sense because it was freedom.”
Kato, who is now 74 years old, claimed that “there are no boundaries for him [Lupin] he’s a free roamer,” he said. “I draw him as a character who can go wherever and whenever he wants without any obstacles. And that’s his appeal for me.”
The creator’s desires and interests are expressed through Lupin. “He’s a thief and a criminal … but I use that more of a setting,” Kato said.. “What I really like about Lupin is his boundless freedom that stops him from ever being tied down to any one thing or anyone in particular. I think that’s what I want for myself in my own work, and so for that reason Lupin is by far the character I relate to the most.”
However, by contrast, Inspector Zenigata’s personality, with his ultra-strict, ultra-rigid, follow-every-rule personality also appeals to Kato.
“I really like the contrast between Lupin and Zenigata emerging in my work. That whole combination of things is what I strive for as a manga artist.”
New TV Series, “Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine”
TMS Entertainment is producing a new 13-episode series of stories that will focus on Fujiko Mine, to be broadcast starting on April 4 on NTV. There will be changes in the voice cast, with Sayo Yamamoto, director of the series Michiko to Hatchi, directing all episodes. Lupin III and his gang will be depicted in their younger years in brand-new adventures.
As for Kato, he has no plans to retire and says he’ll draw manga until he dies.