Lupin the 3rd is perhaps one of the most well known characters in his native Japan as since his adventures first were created by Monkey Punch (Kazuhiko Kato) as a short series it exceeded any predictions and found an enormous reception among the Japanese target audience. Then as today, some people began looking at turning the popular manga into an anime series yet despite a pilot film made to try to entice interested backers to fund such a series in 1969, it wasn’t until 1971 that the thief finally stole his way onto TV…and the ride wasn’t any smoother once if had a timeslot. The biggest challenge in creating the animated series once the initial production hurdles were cleared was found in the question of what to do with its main character as the version seen in the manga was popular but his antics might not capture a larger audience- to say nothing of the boundaries that would be pushed by putting a completely faithful representation of his behaviors out for broadcast.
Monkey Punch’s original character had parts of his personality based off of James Bond as well as Arsene Lupin , a famous character in a French series that Munkey Punch also based his character’s lineage off (and Monkey Punches doing so without getting permission from the French author lead to some copyright issues in getting Lupin out to some other countries for many years). In addition to that Monkey Punch’s art style and in comic designs were inspired more than a little by some of Mad Magazine’s work- particularly that of Mort Drucker and Sergio Aragones (as the notes with DiscoTek’s release point out) and his character displayed both some traits of their drawing as well as some of the humor as he was often very sexual (almost predatory at times) in pursuit of women and he would also often set traps –and fall for as well- that would be familiar to readers of Mad Magazine- like the infamous boxing glove on a spring. In addition to this though Lupin was a brilliant thief that was often pretty close to completely amoral, stealing what he wanted when he wanted and not afraid to use violence against anyone that crossed his path- which makes for some interesting tales in one format but may not play as well for a larger audiences who aren’t looking to follow the criminal exploits of, frankly, one of the most successful and ruthless criminals around.
To try to deal with this, changes were made to Lupin to get him on TV but watching through the first season it is clear that the entire project was a giant work in progress as various writers and directors tried to find the best formula for telling stories that would help gain viewers and also keep themselves employed. In some ways watching the first series for Lupin the 3rd one gets the feeling of peeking behind the curtain of a studio as many of these kinds of issues on how to portray events and haracters likely come up at the start of a series but largely get sorted out before filming starts (though not always as watching any number of long running US TV series and comparing the initial season will often show) and which leads to the idea that in many respects this series can be seen just as much as a tale of the origin of the animated Lupin as it is a show chronicling his exploits. As fans of the various sequel series, films, specials and OVAs have come to be familiar with, each episode of Lupin is almost always a standalone work where the only thing that is consistent across the years and tales is who the principle cast are and how they are going to be portrayed. The formula of Lupin and his partner Daisuke Jigen plotting some crime -almost always against a worse criminal than Lupin to make him seem somewhat just or at least worth rooting foe- often with the aid of Goemon Ishikawa and the sometimes ally/sometimes opponent at any given moment Fujiko Mine while being chased by Inspector Zenigata isn’t one that appears in the early Lupin manga and is one that only came about through trial and error on this first season as they creative crew behind the show tried to figure out what formula would work for the series and characters. And is there ever a lot of trial and error. Throughout the series there are numerous changes made both to Lupin’s personality as he becomes progressively more comical in both dialogue and action as well as having adjustments to just what he is as he goes from head of an organization to being more of a character who just operates with his close group of three accomplices.
One of the biggest draws for a number of people is the fact that now legendary anime filmmakers Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata of studio Ghibli worked on the series as some of their earliest work (including Miyazaki’s first work as a director) as well as the not as famous in America yet still accomplished Masaaki Osumi ,which leads to the series also being a look at their history as well. As a result of the various complications that come with anime (as well as trying to pin down Lupin and keep the series afloat during bad ratings) the swing between episodes and their themes is a bit greater than in most Lupin series not just from the standpoint of what Lupin will be tasked with but also the style of the series. By the Lupin III 2nd series in 1977 (or Red Jacket series) Lupin’s look and basic character designs had been largely nailed down but this first series starts off with some designs and animation that standout even among many series today for their spectacular and detailed designs and high quality animation before finally settling down in a less detailed and theatrically produced look that came to become the series hallmark in later years. But there is bad along with the good in that is found in many of these same episode while they are stylishly stunning they often lack a flow to them which can make the episodes feel like they are somehow moving at half speed which is something that improves as the series moves on but which makes it a bit obvious why Geneon licensed the second TV series rather than the first when they decided to try to make a push to get the Lupin TV series into the US market.
There is a good deal to enjoy here but given some of the negatives that come with it the series may be more valuable for its history when looking both at the Lupin character as well as the early efforts of the legends that worked on this series as some of the episodes may be difficult for even the devoted Lupin fan to really enjoy. Helping out this look at the history, Discotek has brought in long time fan and Lupin enthusiast Reed Nelson to provide commentaries to a number of the episodes as well as assemble a copious amount of notes to help give more depth to some of the effort and behind the scenes stuff that went into many of the episodes. One final note on the release is that while music and effects often match up to on screen events, the dialogue and lip flap for the characters can often be off by varying degrees (which looks to be a source issue) and which can be a bit annoying if one becomes aware of it and starts to look for it. Overall the release is a fantastic presentation of an important part of the history of both Lupin and some of anime’s biggest names but it has a fair number of flaws to go along with its highlights and as such the more casual Lupin fan- or those anime fans who prefer the series they consume to be polished- may find this release less of a treasure than others who are more able to accept the good with the bad.