Lupin The Third: Where To Start and What's Worth Watching

by Reed Nelson,

Every so often I see the question: “I want to get into Lupin the Third, where do I start?” Like other long-running anime, Lupin boasts dozens of anime installments, not to mention the original manga, video games, and live-action films, so it's easy to be intimidated.

But unlike a lot of other anime franchises, nearly all stories in Lupin are independent of the others so there is no required viewing order for understanding. All you really need to need to know is who its cast members are.

Lupin, grandson of a gentlemanly French thief, travels around the globe in pursuit of a good time, whether it involves well-guarded possessions, long-buried treasures, or a lovely lady to woo (or rescue). Although he was more heartless in the original comics, in the anime he follows a sort of code of honor: he almost never kills unless attacked, and generally only steals from people more despicable than himself. He is perpetually pursued by his number-one rival, the restless Chief Inspector Zenigata of Interpol. Lupin's long-time partners include fast-draw, misogynist gunman Daisuke Jigen, the traditional, blade-wielding Goemon Ishikawa, and his on-off girlfriend, Fujiko Mine.

Now that you know the basics, what you choose to watch first is more of a matter of suiting to your taste. Are you more of a Studio Ghibli fan than an anime fan? Check out The Castle of Cagliostro and the few other Miyazaki-directed entries. Do you really like more artsy, fanservicey shows for adults? You might take a liking to The Woman Called Fujiko Mine and The Mystery of Mamo. Just like good action-adventure stuff with solid animation? Look up Part IV, Episode 0, or The Fuma Conspiracy.  Despite often following a template, most entries have enough variance in storytelling flavor and artistic merit that there's something for everyone within the franchise. This being the case, the recommendations you see here are largely suited to my personal preferences, so your enjoyment is likely to vary.

Full disclosure: I have contributed to—or served as a producer on—several commercial releases of the Lupin series. Naturally, the opinions given here are purely my own and not those of my sometimes-employers, Discotek Media and Eastern Star.

Editor's Note: due to the sheer size of this feature, this first part will cover Lupin the Third's TV library, while Part II, publishing next week, will cover the franchise's films and TV specials.

LUPIN THE THIRD PART I (1971-1972)

As the first Lupin production to see public eyes, this first TV series is perhaps the most diverse in style. Early episodes bear the hard-boiled, seinen touch of director Masaaki Ohsumi, while later stories are upbeat and more kid-friendly thanks to the guidance of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata. The transition is not entirely smooth, but a fascinating watch for the curious, and can give new viewers a glimpse into the variety the franchise offers as a whole.

Availability: Lupin the Third Part I is available with English subtitles in two different DVD sets from Discotek Media: one with several special features and a cheaper one without them. It's also streaming on Hulu and Crunchyroll.

EPISODES WORTH WATCHING:


EPISODE 4: Inspector Zenigata helps condemn our hero to death row, and everyone finds the year-long lead-up to the execution agonizing except Lupin himself. An admittedly slow but tense episode that highlights the relationships Lupin has with the other cast members.


EPISODE 5: Goemon's debut dubs him an assassin in an unlikely relationship with Fujiko while serving as an apprentice to Old Man Momochi. His latest assignment: kill Lupin the Third.


EPISODE 9: An assassin and former partner of Fujiko holds her hostage in Lupin's hideout while Lupin and Jigen try to make their way back in to save her.


EPISODE 10: This obvious prototype of Castle of Cagliostro sends Lupin on a quest to find and hire a master counterfeiter in hiding.


EPISODE 13: A self-proclaimed time traveler named Mamoh Kyousuke threatens Lupin, whose descendant will destroy the Mamoh clan centuries into the future. What kind of trick can Lupin pull on someone who can simply reverse time to kill your ancestors?


EPISODE 17: Lupin, Jigen, and Fujiko are forcibly equipped with explosive watches by a nightclub owner named Rinko. Her life-saving demand is 3 billion yen within 24 hours. In a dither, Lupin resorts to a half-planned scheme in this fun episode of antics, twists and turnabouts.

EPISODE 19: Lupin the Third matches wits with the grandson of the original Arsène Lupin's rival, Inspector Ganimard, by targeting an item at the France Fair exhibit. Disguises and mistaken identities abound in what is probably the most entertaining episode of the series.


LUPIN THE THIRD PART II (1977-1980)

Taking cues from both the popular-in-reruns Part I and the highly successful manga, Part II was extremely popular, delivering 155 episodes in all. In it, a red-jacketed, often skirt-chasing Lupin indulged just as much in swiping precious gems and treasures as he did in adventuring.

Character designs varied greatly and changed often, as did a given episode's plausibility. Physics were often more flexible than ever, and the supernatural—intensely scrutinized in the previous series—was now embraced (a villain from Part I returns as a full-metal cyborg in the premiere episode). This list is far from comprehensive, but will highlight a few gems in this lengthy, much-beloved series. (An aside: episodes 3-26 are reordered and renumbered in all existing US releases; this list uses the original Japanese numbering.)

Availability: Episodes 1-79 are streaming on Hulu both dubbed and subtitled. Crunchyroll has these same episodes and recently added episodes 80-155 in subtitled form. The 79 dubbed episodes were released on bilingual DVDs by Pioneer/Geneon Entertainment in North America, all of which are now out of print. Episodes 145 and 155 (the Hayao Miyazaki episodes) were also dubbed by Streamline Pictures and these dubs are streaming on Hulu. Discotek Media recently announced acquisition of this series for home video, but specific release plans have not yet been detailed.

EPISODES WORTH WATCHING:


EPISODE 10: In this reprise of Part I episode 17, Lupin gets a bomb-belt strapped to him and is ordered to steal a file from inside a police headquarters. Lupin puts to use some of his favorite disguises to pull off the heist. The English dub in this one features some especially fun celebrity imitations and one-liners.


EPISODE 19: Lupin targets the clients of Marukin, designer of allegedly uncrackable safes. The thief succeeds each time (partially by cheating), and with the safe maker dishonored, his son challenges Lupin to crack a safe of his own design. This one features more great dub jokes and a cleverly simple concluding twist.


EPISODE 25: The Lupin Gang get incarcerated to break out Fujiko from a prison in the middle of nowhere. There they learn the secret behind the prison's few escapees: inmate-seeking missiles that can travel over both land and sea. The story has fleeting moments of gorgeous animation and an engaging premise that only pauses to add some drama.


EPISODE 26: After meeting a dancer, Jigen and Lupin are coerced into a shooting match in the dark. Another sad tale of romance starring Jigen, this episode is a fan-favorite among Jigen lovers.


EPISODE 32: Lupin is targeted by an assassin and cannot seem to escape his fate. Mostly enjoyable because of the reveals late in the story (admittedly stretching believability) and Jigen and Goemon's hammy mourning.


EPISODE 46: Lupin is put up for auction at Club Wanted, only to awaken on an inescapable island where he is taunted by the villain who bought him. A solid adaptation of a Monkey Punch story.


EPISODE 69: Another fan-favorite love story, this time starring Zenigata and a policewoman given an inescapable destiny.


EPISODE 99: Jigen is challenged to a duel while the rest of the gang have to skip the country before they close off the borders. Both well-animated and an edge-of-your-seat climax, this episode demonstrates Jigen pushing his gunman skills to the max.


EPISODE 145: Arguably the most fun of the lot, this Hayao Miyazaki episode pits Lupin and co. up against Dr. Robotni-- er, Professor Lonebach, his giant vintage airplane, and his plot of worldwide nuclear armament at bargain prices. Watch out for both topless and bottomless Fujikos, unusual sights for a Miyazaki work.


EPISODE 151: A clever series of twists and wits sells this classic caper story with strong animation reminiscent of Miyazaki's episodes.


EPISODE 155: The series finale (another by Miyazaki) stars Zenigata fighting against a Castle in the Sky robot piloted by an anti-war proto-Nausicaä named Maki. Further twists are in store as appearances unravel to reveal the truth.

 

LUPIN THE THIRD PART III (1984-1985)

People give this series a hard time thanks to its very 1980s pastel color scheme (Lupin wears a pink jacket here) and its wild combination of animation and character design, which at times resemble the more bizarre pages of Monkey Punch's manga in motion. However, Part III actually borrows much from Part II, albeit with a slightly lower standout-to-average quality ratio.

Sadly, the show was much less popular than its predecessor. Its airings were often pre-empted and the series eventually cancelled after 50 episodes.

Availability: The entire subtitled series is currently streaming on both Hulu and Crunchyroll in the US.

EPISODES WORTH WATCHING:


EPISODE 7: The killer Garve wants to exterminate Fujiko in exchange for betraying him on a heist years ago. But Garve seems invulnerable to both guns and Goemon's sword! A well-paced story with a couple decent gags and solid action against a rare and truly threatening villain.


EPISODE 18: A wannabe Broadway star aids Lupin in robbing a casino during the owner's birthday party. If you want to relive the mid-80's in concentrated form while also enjoying a Lupin heist story, this episode's for you.


EPISODE 27: Jigen is reunited with an old flame as the gang pursues a special wheat seed that can grow in sub-freezing temperatures. More political than most, this Cold War-heavy story recalls scenes from The Mystery of Mamo and features a villain who looks just like Kowalski from Legend of the Gold of Babylon.

 

LUPIN THE THIRD: THE WOMAN CALLED FUJIKO MINE (2012)

Fujiko takes center stage in this spinoff, which serves as a prequel to Part I. The Lupin Gang has yet to fully form, and Zenigata gains a partner, the ambiguous Oscar. Takeshi Koike (Redline) lends his character designs, while Sayo Yamamoto (Michiko & Hatchin), the first female to head a Lupin work, takes director's chair.

Let's be frank: if most of Lupin the Third is between PG and PG-13, this is definitely very R-rated territory, thanks to copious nudity, sexual situations, and the occasional graphic violence. I'll be straight with you: I'm the type of guy who keeps it PG most of the time by personal preference, so I didn't get through much of this show (I make no judgment call on it, only that it wasn't my thing). However, if you're into that sort of thing, here are a couple of episodes that seem to stand out from the rest.

Availability: This series is available on a bilingual Blu-ray Disc/DVD Combo Pack in both regular and limited-edition packaging from Funimation. It is also available to watch both dubbed and subtitled on Funimation's streaming service.

EPISODES WORTH WATCHING:


EPISODE 2: After losing a bet with a lady casino owner, Fujiko is tasked to steal Jigen's .357 Magnum. What is the history between Mr. Bodyguard and Cicciolina? A noir-ish, adult tale of melancholy.


EPISODE 5: Jigen and Lupin compete to find the “Red Peacock” in a newly-discovered underground pyramid. What is perhaps the most traditional Lupin adventure story of the series kicks off with Fujiko flaunting both her physical assets and her talent for manipulating Lupin.

 

LUPIN THE THIRD PART IV (2015)

The first “traditional” Lupin series since 1985, Part IV returns to more traditional Lupin heist adventures while also introducing new recurring characters like the mysterious agent Nyx and Lupin's thrill-seeking bride Rebecca. Recommended episodes are unfortunately limited, as the series is still airing as of this writing. Keep in mind this series does have continuing subplots and character-developing episodes also, so it's recommended that you watch it all in order as it airs.

Although older Lupin series and specials featured their fair share of blood and gun wounds, this show is less inclined to tone down moments of graphic violence, like the numerous bloody sniper headshots seen in episode 9, and there's a little fanservice here and there, so it retains a bit of the edge Fujiko Mine brought to the series. This particularly lush and beautifully animated series debuted in Italy.

Availability: Part IV recently began simulcasting on Crunchyroll in the US, Canada, UK and several other countries.

EPISODES WORTH WATCHING:


EPISODE 1: This one introduces Lupin's bride, the wealthy heiress Rebecca Rossellini, and her mischievous, carefree, nature that's more Lupin-like than even Lupin expected.


EPISODE 4: Jigen gets a toothache and his quick hospital visit culminates in Jigen surrounded by gunmen. A feel-good story with plenty of blood and a refreshingly observant Inspector Zenigata.


EPISODE 8: A haunted-house ghost story-slash-treasure hunt with some comic antics, a couple Indiana Jones moments, a one-off antagonist, and a bittersweet conclusion.


EPISODE 13: Lupin is slapped behind bars, but until Zenigata takes his imprisonment to an extreme, Lupin manages to escape each prison. A fun twist on the classic Part I jailbreak episode (#4).

How much of Lupin's TV history have you seen? Are you watching the new series? Sound off in the forums and look forward to Part II: Films and TV Specials next week!


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