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The Lupin Revival

Lupin III -- just the name alone stirs images of a suave, lanky man with a mean set of sideburns and a bit of a 'fro going on. Then the trademark music begins to play and the crowds go crazy. It's no wonder that Dance Dance Revolution 4th Mix Plus included a remix of the theme song performed by Ventura. The series is nothing short of a Japanese cultural phenomenon with a legacy that lives on to this very day with yearly television specials.

The Manga

Everything began back in 1967 with Manga Action Weekly's debut of Monkey Punch's first installment of a unique knew manga series called Lupin III. In the very first story readers are introduced to Inspector Zenigata who's on the trail of a renowned thief named, you guessed it, Lupin III. His investigation has led him to the mansion of one Dr. Ouki where the good doctor's private secretary has been hung to death. That very night, one of Dr. Ouki's daughters is attacked and cut up badly by a man trying to locate a much-coveted secret. The blame instantly is pinned on Lupin, but there is more to this case than is obviously apparent.

Lupin's next caper lands him right in police custody and jail. Lupin may be a master escape artist, but can even he escape for a locked prison cell? What's to say he hasn't already?

Monkey Punch's famous manga is nothing short of a sophisticated series of twists and turns that'll either leave the reader satisfied or rushing to reread the chapter to see what they missed. Many of Lupin's escapades are so intricately plotted that they read like a classic two-minute mystery where the reader has to keep an eye on every detail in order to guess how the story will resolve itself.

The only thing that Monkey Punch (real name Katou Kazuhiko) does better than crafting an interesting mystery is finding a way to fit voluptuous women into his stories. By today's standards, these nippled beauties may seem tame, but take into account the time period and they must of really given more than a few guys a little rise -- especially since there's a little free lovin' going on.

The art style utilized by Monkey Punch is sure to turn a few heads as it is the farthest thing from the "traditional manga style" that manga readers have been privy to thus far. The manga is rendered without any big eyes and, to quote from introduction of the first volume of TOKYOPOP's manga adaptation, has "the art style of Mad Magazine's Sergio Aragones." The art style also helps to retain an air of the foreign films that the manga borrows from.

The first manga series of Lupin III spans 14 irresistible volumes and contain an average of 190 pages with nine chapters each. The books are a tad mature, though, and are recommended for readers sixteen and up due to the violence and sexual content. Don't let that sway any fans of the series, though, since this is clearly where everything began. In fact, the first volume alone has the first appearances of so many familiar faces that reading the manga actually helps understand the anime more.

The Anime

Shortly after the manga premiered, it caught the interest of filmmakers who wanted to adapt the manga into a live action feature film. Sadly, that plan fell through and was effectively shelved. Still, a good idea never stays dead for long, and the concept was resurrected as a twenty-three episode anime series in 1971. The first episode alone should make fans of Speed Racer happy, as things all begin at the racetracks with a unique villain who resurfaces a few years later in the first episode of the second TV series. As of yet, the first TV series hasn't been licensed, but time will only tell (desperate fans can import the Italian DVD Box Set of this season, but don't expect English subtitles).

By the end of 1972, the first manga series came to an end and it wasn't until 1977 when Monkey Punch's follow-up manga Shin Rupan Sansei stirred up the waters and helped to usher in the second Lupin The 3rd TV series. Lasting 155 episodes, it fully cemented Lupin's popularity. This is the series that Pioneer Entertainment has licensed and is the one playing during Cartoon Network's Adult Swim; it's also the one where the world famous theme song first appeared.

The series begins with Lupin, Fujiko, Jigen, and Goemon being invited aboard a Titanic-sized luxury cruiser by an unknown party. Each of them haven't been in contact in over five years, so it's a real, for lack of a better analogy, Scooby-Doo movie type of reunion. As the mystery unravels, attempts are made on each of their lives until the big bad guy behind the attacks is revealed to be none other than Mr. X, the villain Lupin faced on the racetracks long, long ago.

Pioneer's first DVD, Lupin The 3rd: The World's Most Wanted, is 150 minutes of Lupin goodness featuring 6 complete episodes that take our heroes on a road trip from country to country in search of the next big heist. From Rio de Janeiro to Scotland and even Egypt, these episodes are a special taste of the 70s that, while being rough around the edges by today's computer generated standards, still hold up remarkably well as stand-alone stories. The new contemporary dub also doesn't hurt things at all, as many of the in-jokes or cultural asides have been brought up-to-snuff with today's pop-culture references. Hardcore otaku can keep things real with their accurate subtitle track if nothing else, since all of the weird seventies lingo and plot points have been retained.

By the end of the second TV series run, Lupin had already had two theatrical motion pictures, The Mystery of Mamo (1978) and The Castle of Cagliostro (1979), considered for a years to be "the best anime in history," and it wasn't long before the series would be resurrected again. And so it was for about 21 months, when the third TV series aired in March of 1984.

In 1989 a TV tradition was started, and every summer, a new Lupin III TV special is shown. A total of fourteen have been created and shown on television so far, and that's not even counting the OVAs and movies that were made in conjunction with those. Each of these TV specials is a movie made for the small screen; they are epic in nature and almost always around an hour and a half in length.

So far, FUNimation has released two of these specials, Legend of Twilight Gemini (Special 8) and Pursuit of Harimao's Treasure (Special 7) and has a third one, Dragon of Doom (Special 6), set for release in February. While, some are better than others, the specials are generally more action packed and some of the middle ones offers more James Bond style gadgets in conjunction with the wacky capers.

The Rest

Since Monkey Punch's inspiration for his character was from a series of stories from the French author Maurice Leblanc entitled Arsène Lupin: Gentleman Thief, this did cause some major problems for companies such as Streamline Pictures and AnimEigo when they brought over films and episodes from the TV series back in the eights and early nineties. Streamline was forced to refer to Lupin as "The Wolf," a rough French translation of the word 'Lupin.' At the same time AnimEigo romanized "Lupin III" as "Rupan III" for their releases of the movies The Fuma Conspiracy and The Legend of the Gold of Babylon (a fairly common romanization, considering Gunsmith Cat's Rally Vincent could also be called Larry Vincent).

For a real collectors item, try tracking down the out of print DVD of The Mystery of Mamo, or even any of the older titles. They're sure to become highly sought after in the coming months as new Lupin fans join the fold.

With all the revealing going on, Manga Video's release of The Castle of Cagliostro is going to get an influx of fans clamoring for this grade A motion picture. Directed and co-written by Hayao Miyazaki (Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, etc.), the film follows Lupin as he and his cohorts must infiltrate a corrupt count's fortress in order to rescue a kidnapped girl, but end up in over their heads in the middle of a counterfeiting operation. It's Miyazaki as his finest and offers one fresh look at everyone's favorite master thief.

The only downside that can be seen from all these releases is for dub watchers. Since so many companies have their hands on different Lupin licenses, the dub tracks really don't have any semblance of continuity between them. Some dubs are exceptional while others are so so. Keep an open mind and these differences won't matter, since even the Japanese versions have different voice actors depending on when the anime was made.

As Lupin continues to grow and evolve in Japan, so does fandom in general. Everything comes around in cycles with specific fads coming and going. With a resurgence of seventies and eighties animated series going on, it's a great time for fans to check out a series that stems from that time period. Only this time, fans can all start on the ground floor and gradually work their way up by tasting the best that all the various decades of Lupin have to offer.

Arsène Lupin III
Suave, daring, courageous, sneaky, and adventurous, these are just a few of the words that describe the personality of the world's greatest master thief. With the help of his colleagues, he's always out to find the next perfect heist. Always being tracked by Inspector Zenigata, Lupin constantly has to keep his cool when under fire and avoid capture at the same time.
A notorious master thief with a penchant for using her feminine wiles to drive men to do anything she desires. She often accompanies Lupin and Jigen on various jobs or acts as an inside agent, but her motives are mostly self-serving as she prefers to escape with the loot solely for herself. Fujiko has an on again, off again type of relationship when it comes to Lupin.
Lupin's chain-smoking right-hand main. Wherever Lupin goes, Jigen is sure to follow or at least offer some kind of snazzy back up. Though a crack-shot with a gun, Jigen often lets Lupin steal the stage where women are concerned. It is said that Jigen defected from the American mafia and now prefers to keep a low profile.
A martial arts expert for hire. Goemon has his own agenda and likes getting paid for any of the time he spends on a job with Lupin. He's calm and highly skilled with a katana. In fact, he can do some amazing things with a well-honed sword, such as slice through an entire airplane with one single swipe.
Inspector Zenigata
Interpol's eccentric and over-zealous detective who's always chasing after Lupin. Sometimes he catches him and sometimes he doesn't, but regardless Lupin always seems to slip through his fingers at the last moment. Zenigata is on the road so much that he has grown accustomed to living off of instant cup-of-noodles for days at a time.