It is always a lot of fun to check out the beginning of where a long running anime franchise started. Originally created in manga form by the legendary Monkey Punch or his actual name Kazuhiko Kato, this is the first adaptation of his work. At the same time, this is the oldest anime series that I’ve ever watched in my entire life. It came out in 1971 and was originally directed by Masaki Osumi until the ratings crashed and Isahao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki came in mid production to sharpen it up to broaden audience appeal. At 23 episodes, Lupin didn’t take off until eight years later in 1977 with Part 2. Lupin could have been a one off. Isn’t that weird?.
What is very interesting to talk about or start talking about the characters or plot in this show? Seriously though. It’s full of one off episodes that don’t explain or even give an origin to any of these characters. The first episode is defined as what could be an episode of Lupin the Third. A very cool episode on Lupin and Jigen at a race track and also robbing a James Bond villain holding Fujiko Mine hostage with exact timing. I’m not lying. So what better way of starting off with this part with just talking about that. It is a really cool thing to watch with some good focus on watches and outdated animation that still carry some good grit to it. Some really nifty and crafty things there.
To me, I think that shows how archetypal these characters are. Very simple characters, but simple characters that can be thrust into any sort of situation. To me, that is the reason why Lupn the third has lasted so long. Who doesn’t know about Lupin the Third being Arsene Lupin’s grandson and the lead of this show? Or the lone gunslinger Jigen who is the best shot in the world? Or Fujiko Mine who is the very definition of Fem Fatale? Or Goemon Ishikawa the 13th who is a silent swordsman who has an invincible sword that cuts through anything and is old fashioned? Or Zenigata from the IPO who is always chasing these four.
Most of that is here. Lupin and Jigen start out as working together. Fujiko is also there. Zenigata also chases Lupin in the first episode too. Goemon is an interesting one. He starts out as a recurring villain who wants to kill Lupin. So that is a fun part of this where Goemon is very out of character for who we know him by seeking a person to be his apprentice and even possibly go out with Fujiko too. Towards the later part of Part 1, Goemon is in a much more familiar form even if he is a lot more talkative then we would expect him to be. Another more subtle difference is Jigen’s eyes appear all the time and he looks very cartoony. Other than that, Jigen is absolutely the same character.
There isn’t as much to say about the story itself because there isn’t a consistent one. No singular goal that Lupin is aiming for or main villain to face. It is different members of the cast going on a lot of different episodic adventures. Some are more serious when a character is under hostage until Lupin gets enough money. Others are just plain heists that are just a lot of fun with twists and turns that you just wait to see how Lupin pulls it off. Or you know, Fujiko takes everything after Lupin gets them. His usual sort of stuff. Then there is a literal episode about a time traveler trying to erase Lupin from history and Lupin defeats him in the end. It is an anime series that has fun and strangeness in its DNA and I love all of it too.
So all the loveable attributes of Lupin are there and it’s good. The most interesting thing about this show to me is the production behind it. From its darker and edgier beginning to its much more Miyazaki like ending, this thing is effectively a mess that I’m surprised it ended well or pulled itself together in the end. This was such a hodge podged production because it didn’t even have one singular opening theme, it had three and one of them was just an introduction the characters in frames that don’t look as the same model as what was in the show.
Now that part is just a piece of animation where characters can look different in the show all the time and it helps that this is an episodic anime where characters can just look different from episode to episode. What makes it distinctive in this show is you know when Miyazaki and Takahata took the helm of this Lupin project. Their distinctive character designs are obvious. Especially the way Takahata and Miyazaki draw women, mainly Fujiko in their works. Also same with sharpening the directing is and how much more effective the animation became too. It is so interesting to see how this show came into what we know of Lupin by the end of it.
So is this show worth it? Oh hell yeah. It’s a lot of fun. Just episodic insanity in the best sort of way. It’s also Lupin and if you know what Lupin is like, then you know it is going to be incredibly entertaining and you see some bits of anime history too. Especially Miyazaki and Takahata if you are interested in Studio Ghibli history or their work in general. I am finding myself enjoying Miyazaki’s earlier stuff a bit more than his later stuff with Studio Ghibli. I just think there is something in all of this earlier material that feels a lot more enduring and honest then some studio branding even if that studio branding is Ghibli. I don’t know what it is, but I just find it fascinating in some ways. Watch this one because it is available on a lot of streaming services.