Throughout my life, anime has been a somewhat monolithic experience. Frustratingly implacable in some cases and downright uncrackable in others.
Certain shows still captured my still-developing frontal cortex, thanks to the weaponized delivery system of Cartoon Network’s Toonami and Adult Swim. Shows like Dragon Ball Z and the varying Gundam sagas thrilled and delighted me with their sometimes languishing serialized formats. Bursting up the monotony of summers indoors thanks to piles of VHS tapes and later DVD collections. Forming a sort of pre-binge era where the arcs were allowed to play with a different, but still pleasing and effective new patter.
But my friends and sleepover mates evolved beyond serialization; into longer-form anime and manga. I found myself outside of it all suddenly. Not really knowing where to go next or what to try and devote my precious teenage time to. Sure, I still had the TOMs and whatever Cartoon Network was willing to license, but beyond Bebop (and maybe like, Big O? Or Yu-Yu?) I didn’t really have a show that stood out for me. Not one to really call my “fave” beyond seminal stuff and features.
But then I met a weirdo named Lupin The Third and his band of equally strange (but noble) cohorts in crime. And it was like I saw colors for the first time! Well, at least, the color of jackets, that is.
This leads me to my personal effort for GateCrashers Anime August! A sort of primer/celebration of Monkey Punch’s Lupin The Third! A show and series that means a great deal to me, being a sap who grew up with pulp novels, James Bond, and The Italian Job. I was a WEIRD kid, okay?
But better still Lupin The Third, as a franchise, is pretty accessible! Sectioned off into Parts or “eras”, each with their own strengths and charms! And delineated with the simple visual motif of Lupin’s jacket color changing with each new incarnation! Visual and narrative in-roads easy enough to please even the most discerning of anime neophytes!
I give you, A Jacket For Every Taste!
For Completionists – Lupin The Third Part I
(The “Green Jacket” Series)
For my money, probably the “purest” translation of Lupin from page to screen and roughshod, but a great place to start, should you want to.
Animated by the legendary Masaaki Osumi and then later the iconic Hayao Miyazaki, the “Green Jacket” series is less of a story and more of an experience. Introducing viewers to Lupin and his team (along with the doggedly determined Inspector Zenigata) for the first time, this series comes across a touch blocky if only because of its focus on its Bondian elements. Lupin and his crew are still criminals, but they are locked in a sort of ongoing battle with the nefarious SCORPION; a SPECTRE-like organization that wishes to kill Lupin and his crew in order to take the scores they would leave in wake of their deaths.
The end results and episodes can feel a little scattered. As well as needlessly cruel and antagonistic, as, like its inspiration, Lupin is not a particularly heroic or warm character here (much like the Bond of the books wasn’t the version that translated to the screen). BUT, despite the push and pull from the series’ structuring, the plots and charm of the franchise still shine through. Coupled with some truly impressive animation, even from the early era and starting talents of it’s creatives.
A rough start, maybe, but a worthy one all the same!
For Traditionalists – Lupin The Third Part II
(The “Red Jacket” Series)
The “Red Jacket” series is what most people think of when it comes to Lupin The Third. And for good reason too!
Serving as the second adaptation of Monkey Punch’s manga alongside its introduction to overseas audiences, thanks to its inclusion in the Toonami/Adult Swim rotation, the “Red Jacket” series finds the show shoring itself up both narratively and tonally. Alongside finding a whole new audience of fans.
Lupin and his gang are now fully leaning toward being “gentleman thieves”. Each episode serves as a mini heist film, complete with its own specific loot for that story. Better still, the sort of Ian Fleming-Esque globe-trotting of the first series is also improved, whisking Lupin and his team to all sorts of real-life locations and folding their visual flavor into each story in turn.
The tone of the “Red Jacket” episodes are, admittedly, pretty broad. Here a lot of the risque comedy and sexual innuendo of the manga are amplified for animation and through the voice cast (both in the subs and dubs of these episodes). It can make the stories seem cartoonish (I am so sorry) and theatrical, which can naturally be a turn-off for most viewers.
But the action plotting, score, and near-constant energy of the “Red Jacket” series cannot be denied. If you were looking for a breezy, consistently watchable way to get into this franchise the “Red Jacket” era is precisely the speed you wanna go. (Just expect a LOTTA jokes about boobs and butts).
For Decontructionalists – Lupin The Third Part V: Misadventures in France & The Woman Called Fujiko Mine
(The “Blue Jacket” & “No Jacket” Series)
Two of the most “modern” inclusions in this piece, but two of the absolute best things of Lupin The Third I have ever seen.
Framed basically as soft reboots of the franchise, both Part V and The Woman Called Fujiko Mine have very different takes on Lupin but stand wonderfully with one another as “Prestige Cable” versions of the same characters.
Part V is clearly “What if Lupin and his friends operated in the world of Mission: Impossible?”. Presented as a cocksure, but lawfully chaotic bandit, Lupin and his gang now have to deal with a world overrun by technology, sectioned off in two-to-three episode mini-arcs. A sort of Silk Road-like drug outfit has been cornering the black markets, hidden behind the work of a now-infamous, but rarely seen hacker mastermind. Lupin has a simple plan on how to disrupt that. Steal the hacker.
What follows is a sumptuous animated, shockingly heartfelt exploration of Lupin and his gang, who are pushed further and further into positions of being the moral protagonists of increasingly murky stories. Even more, interestingly, the scripts consistently fold commentary on technology, personal autonomy, and war profiteering into the stories, taking Lupin and his friends across several entertaining arcs, taking them all over the globe. Also, there is an episode about Goemon going to a comic con.
The Woman Called Fuijko Mine takes this “Prestige” approach and just runs the fuck away with it. Barely featuring Lupin AT ALL and instead focusing on breakout co-star, Fujiko Mine, this “alternate history” on Lupin just really goes for it.
Just a word of warning, however, The Woman Called Fujiko Mine is a long way away from the hijinks based action of the “Red Jacket” series or even, really, Part V. It’s scripts are filled with stark depictions of violence and sexual situations that puts it more in line with The Sopranos than it does a regular “action-movie anime”.
But using that honed edge of adult drama, The Woman Called Fujiko Mine launched a whole ass separate “universe” of Lupin stories, sustained by follow-up series and features based on the tone set by The Woman Called. A universe where the co-stars admirably stepped into the roles of stars and carried on their perfect backs tremendously entertaining stories of crime, betrayal, and blood throughout the lives of professional thieves and assassins.
The best part about all of this? This is barely even SCRATCHING THE SURFACE of the delights Lupin The Third can offer as a franchise.
There are a number of other shows, feature films, and even video games, offering up all manner of crafty and endlessly watchable crime yarns out there. Yarns like the now seminal Castle of Cagliostro (Miyazaki’s directorial debut!), the visually gorgeous CG animated Lupin III: The First (recently released in theatres overseas), and even stories in which he faces off against a legendary gumshoe (Lupin Vs. Detective Conan!) and even HIMSELF! (Green Vs. Red).
There is no wrong way to get into Lupin The Third so we here at GateCrashers wanted to give you a map to use however you wanted.
Treasures lie at the end of whatever path you take. Just make sure you hang onto them. Because once Lupin and the gang come around, they may lift them (and your heart) and you’ll never see them again.
Until Next Time,