Lupin III: 2nd TV Series Anime Review
ルパン三世 - 新シリーズ
Rupan San-sei - Shin Shiriizu
Lupin III - New Series
US Release By
155 25-minute episodes
1977-10-03 - 1980-10-06
Lupin the 3rd is the grandson of the greatest thief of all time, and with his partners, Jigen, the sharpshooter, Goemon, the swordsman who can cut through almost anything, and Fujiko, his "love," (they seem to have a very confused relationship) he travels around the globe to lots of exotic locales and attempts huge heists, all the while being chased by Inspector Zenigata of INTERPOL.
The synopsis is not too detailed because this series is almost entirely episodic. Very little is carried over from one episode to the next, much like a series which it greatly influenced (Cowboy Bebop, which I'll get into later). Lupin the 3rd is considered a hardcore classic of anime, and it has an almost ungodly amount of movies and TV specials to back up this title. For some reason, the main TV series (which is actually the second one) has just begun release in the US this very year. It's based off a French book written somewhere around the end of the nineteenth and beginning of twentieth centuries, which I've heard is about Lupin the 1st, our Lupin's grandfather. Perhaps it's for this reason that most of the episodes take place in Europe, with two or three in American locales (not just the US).
But what about the anime? Is it any good? Well, yes, in short. One thing to keep in mind is that this anime is from the seventies, when many of the stereotypes of modern anime hadn't even been invented yet. The art style was also a bit different back then (if you're familiar with the original Gundam, it's almost exactly like that). It's possible that to many people familiar with more recent anime, Lupin the 3rd won't even seem like an anime. The story isn't incredibly intricate, but the individual episodes are well-written, especially the dialogue. It's very much the characters that keep this series afloat, and its hard to choose a favorite from this bunch.
Lupin the 3rd himself is an amiable, gentlemanly thief in action, but in words he's basically a greedy, perverted ruffian. Jigen, his partner, is extra-sardonic and would seem to work in a lot of different roles, such as a cop or a treasure hunter, and seemed to come out the other end of the writing process with the most one-liners. Goemon practically seems plucked out of a different anime, and with his noble samurai attitude, it's a bit of a puzzle how he even ended up working with Lupin and co. Fujiko, lastly, is not your typical anime female lead, at least personality-wise. Whereas Jigen and Goemon basically remain loyal to Lupin all the time, Fujiko often takes advantage of the trio when it will mean more money for her. She also takes advantage of a cavalcade of rich old men, swiping their jewelry and knickknacks right from under their noses and making insincere marriage proposals just to get her hands on their money. Of course, Lupin's unquenchable desire for her makes him always take her back, even against his more loyal partner's advice (Jigen, especially, seems to dislike her). But apparently I spoke wrongly. There's one more character to be discussed here, one who is rather pointless and doesn't really do a whole hell of a lot. That, of course, is Inspector Zenigata, the rough, obsessed INTERPOL officer whose life is made hell by Lupin and company's repeated evasions of his capture. His main role is to be unceasingly thwarted by a combination of Lupin's smarts and his own stupidity, and he is also shown suffering in other ways from his obsession, such as eating a loaf of bread which he accidentally knocks out a window and which breaks the windshield of a car below (he gets paid crap for all his strife). Yep, obsessed comic relief is the name of the game here, but despite his rather typical archetype he does manage to be entertaining from time to time.
Technically, this show is pretty average seventies fare. The animation, as I mentioned, bears a strong resemblance to the original Gundam, but as this is not a serious show, the character designs are different. For example, the male characters all seem to have very spindly limbs and (by comparison) cylindrical bodies. The one female character who shows up with any frequency is, despite huge (even by anime standards) breasts, actually pretty realistic-looking; not super-cute or sporting a head of four-foot long green locks or red eyes.
The music is mostly BGM and sounds jazzy; not the kind of thing I'd want to throw in the CD player, but it fits the show perfectly. In fact, going back to that thing with the original Gundam, the music in this, a comedy show, is a lot less comedic than that of the serious original Gundam. There may have been a bit more vocalization that was edited out, but I don't think it would have made that big of a difference; the music fits the show like a tight leather suit either way. The dub voices are also good; Lupin's voice is high-pitched and sounds almost nerdy, but everything he says comes out sounding exactly how you'd expect it to. Jigen sounds exactly how you'd expect as well; somewhat deep, and varying between grave and sarcastic. Goemon's voice is the voice of a calm, unruffled warrior, which works great most of the time, but he sounds a little odd whenever a scene calls for him not to be unruffled. Fujiko, accompanying her comparatively normal appearance, has a comparatively normal-sounding voice, which sounds like a real woman (a real American woman, I should say). Inspector Zenigata is very gruff and sounds a little cartoonish, so although I'd prefer a voice that was a little less cartoonish, I can't think of any other voice that would fit, and this is probably close to how it sounded in the original Japanese version. The minor characters also have good voices; many of them have something close to an actual accent from the country they're supposed to be from (Italian for Italy, Spanish for Rio de Janeiro, etc.) Another plus is that the actors can all actually act; this dub was done, unlike most Cartoon Network dubs, by Pioneer, not the Ocean Group, and Pioneer usually does very good dubs, in my opinion.
As I mentioned earlier, I'd like to make note of the similarities between this show and another great anime which I'm sure is destined to become a classic, Cowboy Bebop. I believe these were all intentional on Cowboy Bebop's part, and were not meant as shameless ripping off but rather as an homage. Though there is no super technology in Lupin the 3rd and it takes place in either modern times or close-to-modern times, (about the seventies, when it was made) both are almost completely devoid of clues other than the art style that are from Japan. Unlike most animes, which take place in Japan and feature characters with Japanese names and an almost complete absence of any sort of black or hispanic people, both Lupin the 3rd and Cowboy Bebop (Goemon notwithstanding) have characters with bizarre nicknames that are most definitely not Japanese (okay, Fujiko doesn't. Work with me, here!). The individual characters are also rather similar; Spike and Lupin are both slick, sleight-of-hand, and have similar clothes and weird hair. Jigen and Jet, though rather different personality-wise, both have odd pale-grey skin that makes it nearly impossible to figure out just what race they're supposed to be. Fujiko and Faye Valentine are also similar in personality, being somewhat conniving and greedy. Lastly, Goemon and Ed are both highly-trained experts whose skills are invaluable to their respective teams. The two shows also have a similar jazzy feel, although Lupin the 3rd puts much less emphasis on it than Bebop. Digging even deeper, (if anyone cares) in the first episode of Lupin the 3rd there is a band leader who appears for about a second, with a huge afro and an odd goatee. So? Well, in the second episode of Cowboy Bebop, Stray Dog Strut, there is a bountyhead with a huge afro and an odd goatee who carries around a suitcase containing the "data dog," Ein. There's also the similarity that the Bebop crew, despite seemingly perfect planning, only successfully capture about two bounties in the entire series. Lupin and co., despite seemingly perfect planning, have thus far only pulled off about two successful heists in the series.
Overall, if you liked Cowboy Bebop, you'll like this. If you didn't like Cowboy Bebop (which I can't imagine) you might still like this. And if you want to get someone you know into anime, you should first have them watch Cowboy Bebop (because of the better animation) and then have them watch this. It's a very fun series with excellent writing, and the lack of evident signs of being Japanese does absolutely nothing to hurt it.
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Notes and Trivia
The original TV series only ran for two seasons in 1971-1972; it was followed a few years later by this series, then a third in the early '80s, in addition to a large number of TV specials, OAVs, and theatrical movies.
For those unfamiliar with Lupin's backstory, the character is based loosely on Arsène Lupin, the gentleman thief who appears in a series of French novels by Maurice Leblanc. Published between 1907 and 1939, these novels were tremendously popular (and remain so), producing many spin-offs, film adaptations, and parodies. Among these is Lupin III, ostensibly "the third" because he is the grandson of the original. Copyright issues over the name with the Leblanc estate are among the reasons Lupin III was slow to make it to the US, and (apparently) why in the original Streamline release of Castle of Cagliostro he was renamed "Wolf," and was referred to as "Rupan" in the two films translated by AnimEigo.
The other characters are also based on (or parodies of) various famous Japanese characters; Inspector Zenigata, for example, is based on the fictional detective Zenigata Heiji, created in a series of early 20th century novels by Kodou Nomura and later popularized in a long-running TV series.
The character of Lupin III was originated in a serialized comic series in 1967 by Kazuhiko Katou (better known by his pen name "Monkey Punch"). It was wildly popular and quickly spiraled into a massive franchise that continues today.
US DVD Review
The Pioneer/Geneon DVDs are decent, if not impressive. Japanese and English audio (mono in Japanese--it's an old series) and accurate English subtitles. The only major bonuses are line art, but the video looks pretty good for a series this old, and you get a fair number of episodes per disc, important given the length of the series and Geneon's generally pricey box sets.
Rated 13-up by Pioneer.
Violence: 2 - Not frequent, but some fairly intense gunfighting.
Nudity: 1 - Fujiko wears some outfits....
Sex/Mature Themes: 3 - Plenty of innuendo, and a couple nasty jokes. Plus, Lupin is a thief...
Language: 1 - Infrequent "damn" and "hell".