Lupin III: A Dream of His Life

It’s unfairly hard to dislike Lupin III. He’s one of the most appealing staples of the anime industry, and perhaps that’s due to his inspirations. Manga author Monkey Punch stole the whole idea from Maurice LeBlanc’s Arsene Lupin novels, but the comic-book Lupin III is as much the creation of ‘60s spy noir and MAD Magazine doodles as he is the grandson of the original Lupin. And this gives him an undeniable edge throughout many movies and TV series. Even in the midst of a mediocre Lupin outing (and there are a lot of those), it’s fun just to watch the heroic thief slink around, grin like a moron, help some plucky heroine who he'll never meet again, and perhaps end up saving the world.

Tokyo Movie Shinsha realized Lupin III’s wide promise as he slipped out into North America’s anime market in the 1990s. Even though American anime releases were haphazard back then, many English-speaking fans were introduced to Lupin through his best films: Soji Yoshikawa's cynical, chaotic Mystery of Mamo and Hayao Miyazaki’s endearing Castle of Cagliostro. But there’s much more to the Lupin III franchise than two films, and TMS wanted everyone to know that.

The following is a pamphlet that TMS presumably put together for the Tokyo International Anime Fair and other such gatherings. I can’t be sure when it was printed, but I suspect it was drawn up before FUNimation and Geneon licensed large pieces of the Lupin III pie. It shills the first three Lupin III TV series, providing a good look at the character’s evolution. The text…well, it could’ve used some editing. Yet it captures the charm of a Lupin III caper in an odd little way.

The pitch begins with a nice collage that shows Jigen, Goemon, and Fujiko clustered under Lupin III, the “Greatest Thief of Century.” Of note is the comparatively reserved Fujiko. Most Lupin promos put her front and center in some revealing attire, but perhaps TMS didn’t want to scare off skittish foreign investors.

Inside, we find a splash introduction to the first Lupin III TV series, plus profiles of “Master of Thief” Lupin and “Master of Gun” Daisuke Jigen. While it accurately sums up Lupin’s habit of pursuing heroism as much as “a mint of money or a superlative treasure,” it doesn’t discuss one of the show’s more notable points: future Studio Ghibli founders Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki directed a number of episodes. Sadly, no North American buyers paid much mind to Lupin’s original series during the height of anime licensing, but Discotek just released the whole thing on DVD. Have fun with it.

We move on to the second Lupin III TV series and introductions to Goemon Ishikawa, Fujiko Mine, and Inspector Koichi Zenigata. Fujiko’s writeup mentions her tendency to shift from accomplished professional to conniving vixen, while the Zenigata section has my favorite line of the whole promotion: “A dream of his life is to put his handcaffs on Lupin.” Meanwhile, part of Jigen’s hand is crushed by the ICPO acronym.

At 155 episodes, the second TV series is the real meat of the package, and Geneon went straight for it when licensing Lupin back in 2002. Roughly half of this series was dubbed and released, but only 26 episodes were aired on Adult Swim, stranding anyone who liked what they saw of Lupin. No mention is made here of the last two episodes of this second series, which were directed by Hayao Miyazaki and feature prototypes for Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind's main character and Castle in the Sky's robot. But that's a little obscure.

The pamphlet concludes with the third Lupin III TV series, bordered by assurances that Lupin is “one of the most remembering animation of all times” in Japan. Among the three series, it’s the odd one out in terms of design; the sketchier ‘80s stylings didn’t really take, and neither did Lupin’s new pink jacket. While the first season’s green jacket and the second’s red one proved iconic enough to inspire the recent Lupin III: Green vs Red TV special, the pink attire stuck around only in Seijun Suzuki’s bizarre 1985 Lupin film Legend of the Gold of Babylon.

In the flyer’s awkward summary of Lupin III, it’s not hard to pick out the things that made him an enduring hit in Japan—and may have made him just as big in North America. Perhaps his American debut came just a little too late. Perhaps he would’ve been bigger had his shows been dubbed and served up on late-night American TV during the 1980s, a cartoon chaser to Hunter and Miami Vice. But no matter. International hit or not, Lupin’s still "the Most Recognized and Popular Hero of Japanese TV animated series."


  1. Is that Jigen rolling Village People-style at the bottom of the third season flyer? I like that even more than Lupin's pink jacket.

  2. ArnoldRimmer837:04 PM

    Wasn't Maurice LeBlanc’s family estate a major hurdle in getting Lupin distributed internationally?

    I also remember the other attempt at bringing Lupin to the West: