Lupin III, or Lupin the Third as it sometimes written, one of anime’s most enduring creations. First beginning as a manga in 1967 by an artist working under the pseudonym “Monkey Punch”. The character was first adapted for television as an anime in 1971, and various sequels and spin-offs have been released since. To be exact the series has had four anime TV series (with a fifth in production); five anime films, two live-action films and numerous specials and straight-to-video episodes. The series is best described as a crime-caper, but the plots vary so wildly that the title character has had just about every kind of adventure you can imagine.
The lead character, Arsene Lupin III, is a gentleman thief, the grandson of the fictional Arsene Lupin created by French novelist Maurice Leblanc. Lupin III is seemingly capable of stealing just about anything. He tends to give people warning about his crimes in advance, and then manages to get away with his schemes. Lupin is always assisted by his cohort Daisuke Jigen, a man with excellent marksmanship. The duo are also often helped by the stoic and rather old-fashioned master swordsman Geomon Ishikawa XIII, and Lupin’s love interest Fujiko Mine, a femme fatale who is quite happy to betray Lupin and the others if it means she ends with Lupin’s treasures instead.
Most of the stories are stand-alone plots, but Lupin does have one constantly recurring adversary; Inspector Koichi Zenigata of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police and Interpol, who is reportedly a descendant of the fictional Japanese detective Zenigata Heiji. The Inspector has made it his mission in life to arrest Lupin and bring him to justice. Most of the time his attempts to arrest Lupin end up in total failure, but he has managed to arrest Lupin on the odd occasion – only for Lupin to somehow find his way to freedom again. Despite their rivalry the two appear to have a slight respect for each other.
The main quality of Lupin III is its longevity. Including the manga Lupin has been around for nearly half a century. Clearly the formula is one that works. All of the characters work together well. Lupin himself has developed over time. As well as Leblanc’s Arsene Lupin the creator also mixed a bit of James Bond into the character. But all the characters appear to be popular. One of the most recent spin-offs was The Woman Called Fujiko Mine for example.
One problem Lupin III has had however is the issue of copyright. Monkey Punch never got permission to associate his character with Leblanc’s original. By the time Leblanc’s estate launched legal action Lupin III had become an established in Japan. As a result, when the series was first show in Europe and North American Lupin’s name had to be changed. He began “Rupan” or “Wolf”, and in France itself he was named Edgar de la Cambriole, with the series renamed Edgar, Detective Cambrioleur (Edgar, Detective Burglar). Leblanc’s character is now out of copyright so now this legal issue is less of a matter. Monkey Punch has defended himself saying that using a name is not legal, compared to using the entire character design.
Lupin III has had impact on other anime as well, due to the people who in the past have worked on the anime adaptations of this series going on to even bigger and more internationally known projects. Probably the most famous Lupin III story is the movie The Castle of Cagliostro, in which Lupin travels to a small European kingdom which is heading a gigantic counterfeiting operation. The significant thing about this movie in particular was that it was the directorial debut for future Oscar winner Hayao Miyazaki. So arguably, without Lupin III we might not have had Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (No. 38), My Neighbour Totoro (No. 39), Spirited Away (No. 42), Princess Mononoke (No. 58) and The Wind Rises (No. 73).
Lupin III therefore is much like the crime-wave caused by its title character: unstoppable.
The original TV series are currently being released on Region 1 DVD by Eastern Star. Spin-off series The Woman Called Fujiko Mine and the first Lupin film The Mystery of Mamo are released on Region 2 DVD by Manga Entertainment. The Castle of Cagliostro is released on Region 2 DVD and Region B Blu-Ray by Studio Canal.