Lupin the Third: The Complete Guide to Films, TV Specials and OVAs

by Reed Nelson,

Welcome to the second and final installment of our guide to Lupin the Third! In this segment, I'll cover all of the franchise's feature films, animated TV specials (an enormous chunk of Lupin's animated legacy) and OVAs. Lupin's episodic TV adventures are covered here in Part I, which you can read by clicking here. Without further ado, let's run down the films!

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.

FEATURE FILMS

These animated movies, scattered between 1978 and 2014, tend to be bigger-budget affairs that vary the most in presentation and quality between installments.

THE MYSTERY OF MAMO

What it is: The first anime Lupin film from 1978, it tells of a mysterious man named Mamo who has somehow lived for thousands of years.

Worth Watching? Maybe.

Why: Mamo is often held up as the example of how to write a Lupin story. It has unfolding drama within the core cast, a truly threatening villain, and an unusual dedication to mature storytelling. Note that its gangly character designs and false endings may be kind of a turn-off for modern audiences.

Availability: Mamo is available in a fancy DVD edition from Discotek Media (notable for including all 4 English dubs), and on two preceding out-of-print DVD releases. The most recent dubbed version is currently streaming on Hulu as The Secret of Mamo.

THE CASTLE OF CAGLIOSTRO

What it is: The only Lupin feature to be written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki. An older, wiser Lupin comes to the aid of Clarisse, a 17-year-old princess forced to marry a sinister count who prints international counterfeit bills as a primary income source.

Worth Watching? Yes.

Why: The Castle of Cagliostro is whimsical, pure-hearted, an absolute joy to watch, and (to the chagrin of many hardcore fans) feels nothing like Mystery of Mamo from the year prior. Cagliostro features Lupin the Third as seen through Miyazaki's lens: less lecherous and far more chivalrous.

Availability: You can find Cagliostro dubbed on Hulu using the older DVD transfer, and the recent DVD/Blu-ray releases from Discotek Media use a higher quality video source along with both 1992 and 2000 dubs and English subtitles. There are also two out-of-print bilingual DVDs of the film from Manga Entertainment using their dub from 2000.

LEGEND OF THE GOLD OF BABYLON

What it is: The 1985 feature counterpart to Part III, Legend has Lupin going after the long-sought  Gold of Babylon, and has the usual stiff competition racing him to the finish line.

Worth Watching? No.

Why: Babylon is probably the closest Lupin has come to Looney Tunes in both art style and comedic execution thanks to animation director Yuuzoh Aoki's crazy designs and animation. Viewers might raise an eyebrow at the dated stereotypes behind the Miss ICPO Beauty Pageant contestants. And to steal a line from Carl Horn, it feels “more like a dragged-out Third Series episode than a movie.”

Availability: AnimEigo had previously licensed and subtitled the film for both VHS and LaserDisc, both of which can be occasionally found in the used market. Babylon was initially announced as licensed by Discotek Media several years ago, but market realities of the time kept the film from being re-released.

THE FUMA CONSPIRACY

What it is: Goemon is getting married, but the bride is stolen by Fuuma ninjas! Their ransom is the Shuujoh Vase, which contains the secret to finding a long-buried treasure.

Worth Watching? Yes.

Why: An absolute gem in the animation department, the only real downsides to this film are different voice actors and musicians from the Lupin norm. Simple fun abounds with jetpack ninjas, hairpin curves, plot turns, and an Indiana Jones-style underground artifact race.

Availability: Discotek Media released a “20th Anniversary” DVD for the film which has recently gone out-of-print and resale prices for that version are currently unusually high. The AnimEigo DVD which predates it is also available and is usually much less expensive when found.

FAREWELL TO NOSTRADAMUS

What it is: Lupin's Brazilian diamond heist is spoiled by politics and intrigue as Julia, daughter of an ultra-wealthy Donald-Trump-alike, is kidnapped to prevent her father from running for president.

Worth Watching? No.

Why: Telecom's animators exhibit their grasp on highly competent (but never extraordinary) animation easily here. Sadly, the story twists are either well foreshadowed or simply expected. The violence is muted to nearly a “kids’ cartoon” level, but there's a scene where Lupin comically drags around a corpse, and Fujiko gets to show off a lot of skin, making one wonder what audience the film was made for.

Availability: Funimation released a DVD in the mid-2000s and this version is currently out-of-print. Used copies are selling for around $20-30.

DEAD OR ALIVE

What it is: This 1996 Monkey Punch-directed feature pits the Lupin Gang against an island made out of nanomachines which impale any intruders. Getting the island's treasure will require bringing back its rightful heir, the long-missing prince of Zufu.

Worth Watching? Yes.

Why: Though Monkey Punch's role is overstated here, it bears his distinct art style, and unlike most Lupin anime, has a darker, “mature” color scheme. The ending's confusing, and the romance subplot is a bit bland, but some fun and smart “Lupin” hijinks ensue along the way, and Zenigata is a competent rival here.

Availability: Funimation released a DVD in the mid-2000s and this version is currently out-of-print. Sealed copies can still be found online for MSRP ($20) or used even more cheaply.

LUPIN THE THIRD VS. DETECTIVE CONAN: THE MOVIE

What it is: In this direct sequel to the first “Lupi-Cona” adventure (a TV Special), Lupin swipes the Cherry Sapphire in disguise as Kaito Kid, and the life of a visiting pop singer is threatened by an unknown enemy.

Worth Watching? No.

Why: Subject to a downfall of many of Lupin's worst features, the runtime is far too long for the story, which naturally leads to too much talking and not much doing. However, Case Closed fans may indulge themselves in the abundant franchise in-jokes.

Availability: Discotek Media released a DVD of this movie in North America earlier this year.

JIGEN'S GRAVESTONE

What it is: In Takeshi Koike's (Redline) two-part finale to The Woman Called Fujiko Mine, Jigen is targeted by a masterful sniper while Fujiko is held captive.

Worth Watching? Yes, if you're a fan of The Woman Called Fujiko Mine, which is not my personal cup of Lupin tea.

Why: The art's meticulous, the animation's fantastic, action scenes are intense, and the film is fast-paced, all the way up to the ending that reveals all.

Availability: Discotek Media is planning to release a DVD and Blu-ray of this film, both tentatively scheduled for release in February 2016.

TV SPECIALS

The TV specials are feature-length TV movies released almost annually since 1989 that have pulled in great ratings each year despite being often average in quality. Because of their lengthy prevalence and some select standout titles, they are beloved by many Lupin fans.

BYE BYE, LADY LIBERTY

What it is: Interpol's supercomputers can now predict Lupin's every action, putting his life of crime on indefinite hold. Liberty sends the gang on the trail of the “Super Egg”, which contains a super computer virus that Lupin hopes can delete his records from ICPO HQ. However, a villainous cult has other plans for the virus.

Worth Watching? Maybe.

Why: Although better than some other early TV Specials that follow and one of the few to be dubbed into English, Liberty has some pacing problems and wraps with a weird, Mamo-esque climax that definitely isn't for younger viewers.

Availability: Discotek Media released a bilingual DVD of this TV special in 2014 in the US.

THE HEMINGWAY PAPERS

What it is: Ernest Hemingway allegedly found a hidden treasure and wrote about it in an unpublished manuscript. Lupin battles an island's warring factions to retrieve the hoarded Hemingway papers and recover the valuables.

Worth Watching? No.

Why: It's slow, completely undermines Zenigata's role, and has a cop-out conclusion where nobody really wins in the end (a staple in many TV specials to come). The humor and limited action that is there doesn't serve to balance out the faults.

Availability: Discotek Media released a subtitled DVD of this TV special in 2014 in the US.

NAPOLEON'S DICTIONARY

What it is: Lupin wants to steal Napoleon Bonaparte's old dictionary to see if “impossible” was really in there or not (and also to find the location of Arsène Lupin's secret family inheritance).

Worth Watching: No.

Why: It's got a good joke or two mixed in, but the animation is horrible and you can drive a semi through the plot holes. Not even the ending plot twist makes sense if you pay attention to the backstory.

Availability: Discotek Media released a subtitled DVD of this TV special in 2015 in the US.

FROM SIBERIA WITH LOVE

What it is: Another Osamu Dezaki-directed special, this one featuring Lupin robbing an underground bank hiding the lost Romanov Dynasty's gold bullion. Said bars are, however, owned by the New York Mafia, and pursued by the descendant of Rasputin.

Worth Watching: No.

Why: Some entertaining moments such as Rasputon's [sic] ridiculous manipulation methods aren't enough to redeem this special from being more than “okay”.

Availability: Discotek Media released a subtitled DVD of this TV special in 2015 in the US.

VOYAGE TO DANGER

What it is: In this one-off return of the original Part I series director, Lupin is pursued by an Interpol-hired assassin while targeting international weapons dealer Shot Shell. Lupin is helped along by the unlikely partner Inspector Zenigata.

Worth Watching: Yes.

Why: Taking a Hollywood approach and with a different art style from its predecessors, Voyage features more entertaining Lupin-Zenigata exchanges and even a potential romance for Jigen.

Availability: Discotek Media has announced a remastered bilingual DVD of this TV special for release sometime in 2016 in the US. Funimation has previously released the film on bilingual DVD and this version is available at an inflated price in the used market ($30 and up).

DRAGON OF DOOM

What it is: The secret to forge metal like Goemon's sword Zantetsuken (or “Steel-cleaver”) is hidden on a statue buried inside the Titanic. Meanwhile, a woman from Goemon's past returns.

Worth Watching: No.

Why: Despite some okay slapstick during the Titanic heist and frequent action sequences, the story is predictable. Convert to a “maybe” if you're a huge Goemon fan, since he rarely gets the spotlight.

Availability: Funimation has previously released the film on bilingual DVD and this version is easy to find second-hand for around $10-15.

THE PURSUIT OF HARIMAO'S TREASURE

What it is: An older, silver-haired James Bond-alike Sir Archer and his daughter Diane compete with Lupin against a Nazi-like faction to find the missing treasure of a World War II thief.

Worth Watching: No.

Why: The English dub gives it a few extra laughs, but Osamu Dezaki's final Lupin special is otherwise kind of a letdown, topped with the unfortunate decision to make the primary villain a stereotype named “Herr Maphrodite.” Lupin isn't known for cultural sensitivity, but that's hacky and lame. Sorry, Dezaki.

Availability: Funimation dubbed this TV special and released it on DVD in the mid-2000s. It is floating around $20-30 in the used market as of this writing.

THE SECRET OF TWILIGHT GEMINI

What it is: In Morocco, Lupin chases the two halves of the Twilight Diamond which will lead to the secret treasure of his old mafia friend Don Dolune. There he finds both political conflict and romance.

Worth Watching: No.

Why: The animation is dull, characterization feels off, the music sounds like an imitation of the norm, and the story spends a lot of time addressing a conflict that's more of a distraction than it is compelling. The way they characterized the whip-wielding villain was also in poor taste.

Availability: Funimation released two versions of this special on DVD in 2003: edited for content and uncut, both out-of-print. Edited copies are available for around $10 used and uncut bilingual versions are between $15-20.

ISLAND OF ASSASSINS

What it is: In an effort to capture the gold stockpile of the Tarantula assassin group, Lupin, Jigen, and company infiltrate their island. Once there, they are branded with a poisonous tattoo that will kill them in moments if they ever stop breathing the island's natural gases.

Worth Watching: Yes.

Why: Although much more bloody and violent than most other Lupin stories, the character designs are fresh, action scenes are engaging, the storytelling takes its twists seriously, and Lupin is just a cool character here. This radical special, which clearly took inspiration from the preceding year's Dead or Alive, was divisive among Japanese fans, resulting in conservative future entries.

Availability: Funimation released a bilingual DVD that is now out of print, but can be had used at auction for around $15-20.

CRISIS IN TOKYO

What it is: Lupin tries to steal two glass photographs that, when combined, reveal the secret to a treasure. However, the information they contain doesn't get Lupin a treasure he can just walk away with. And what's with Zenigata's new tagalong reporter Maria?

Worth watching?: Yes.

Why: The physical gags are great, the action--while not intense--is satisfying and frequent, Jigen and Goemon are funnier than ever, Zenigata gets a potential romance, and the pacing respects the audience's patience.

Availability: Funimation dubbed this movie and released a now-discontinued DVD of it. Used copies are running about $10-15 online.

THE COLUMBUS FILES

What it is: Documents that lead to a treasure called the Columbus Egg land in Lupin's sights. But Fujiko suddenly acquires amnesia, leaving the gang to fend off the nasally Nazaroff and his boss on their own. And Lupin has to start from square one in his courtship with the woman he desires.

Worth watching? No.

Why: Fujiko's amnesia “hook” remains enjoyable throughout, but the film gets a bit mired in its own mythos, grows over-the-top by the climax, and ultimately offers a peek into the TV specials’ descent into mediocrity.

Availability: Funimation dubbed and released The Columbus Files on DVD but isn't as readily available as some other titles, with resale prices ranging from $20 to $40.

MISSED BY A DOLLAR

What it is: Targeting a precious artifact kept in the Bank of the World vault, Lupin pits himself against its chief executive, Cynthia. The kicker? Lupin seems to have been fatally wounded in his getaway…

Worth Watching? No.

Why: The jokes are few, there is too much talking, the one-off characters Cynthia and Sandy aren't particularly intriguing, and the “Lupin is dead” twist is resolved too quickly to get worked up over.

Availability: This was the last TV special Funimation dubbed and released in the mid-2000s. Like all their TV specials, it is now out of print. Used and new copies are fetching as little as $12 in the open market.

ALCATRAZ CONNECTION

What it is: The Lupin Gang heads after a sunken ship near Alcatraz prison filled with gold, and must compete with a crime syndicate for the treasure.

Worth watching? Yes.

Why: A solid, action-packed opening combined with a rare serious-mode Zenigata make for a fun adventure romp.

Availability: This title remains unlicensed in the US.

EPISODE 0: THE FIRST CONTACT

What it is: Jigen recalls the tale of how the Lupin Gang met to an investigative reporter.

Worth Watching? Yes.

Why: This engaging, so-called origin story for the Lupin cast makes nods to the classics but succinctly ties everything together around one great caper. Supporting cast actually drives the story forward instead of serving as a distraction.

Availability: This special was released on subtitled DVD in the US by Discotek Media and is still in print. It is not currently available for streaming.

OPERATION: RETURN THE TREASURES!!

What it is: In order to secure the Trick Diamond, Lupin is sent on a journey to return all sorts of stolen national treasures to their rightful places in the world.

Worth Watching? Maybe.

Why: The animation's uneven (weak at the beginning and strong at the climax), and the pacing needs some work, but there's a certain joy in seeing a master thief like Lupin restore these treasures in broad daylight.

Availability: This title remains unlicensed in the US.

STOLEN LUPIN

What it is: Lupin is kidnapped by crime lord Malkovich and coerced into stealing a jewel or else Fujiko will be blown to bits. And this tattooed girl Becky claims to be the daughter of one of Lupin's past partners...could he be her father?

Worth Watching? Maybe.

Why: You get some interesting humor surrounding the idea that Lupin is a daddy, and a less obnoxious guest female in Becky, but the gimmick of this special falls flat soon enough, without much to bring back the audience for more.

Availability: This title remains unlicensed in the US.

ANGELS’ TACTICS

What it is: A female assassin team named Bloody Angels chases the Lupin Gang in order to acquire the “original metal” Lupin stole from Area 51. But when the Angels and the Lupins seem evenly matched, how can one side come out ahead?

Worth Watching? No.

Why: If you like watching anti-climatic, dialogue-filled showdowns this one's a winner. Keep an eye out for another Dr. Robotnik lookalike in the opening heist.

Availability: This title remains unlicensed in the US.

SEVEN DAYS RHAPSODY

What it is: Lupin makes a killing at a massive horse race and we learn how he set up the score by recapping the seven DAYS leading up to the scheme.

Worth Watching? No.

Why: Its animation is bland and lifeless, the pacing is more sluggish than ever, and the guest characters couldn't be any less interesting.

Availability: This title remains unlicensed in the US.

ELUSIVENESS OF THE FOG

What it is: A new twist on the Mamoh Kyousuke time-travel story from Part I. This time, the Lupin Gang are sent back 500 years and encounter an ancestor of Fujiko whom Mamoh threatens to erase from existence!

Worth Watching? No.

Why: This special is a prime example of missed opportunity: Telecom Animation Film, TMS’ most prestigious animation team, pumped out this actionless dialogue-fest about a 500-year-old land war. It's nice to see a classic character and clean animation but with nothing happening, it can't help but disappoint.

Availability: This title remains unlicensed in the US.

SWEET LOST NIGHT

What it is: A magic lamp causes Lupin to periodically lose his memory.

Worth Watching? No.

Why: Outside of a stellar game of one-upmanship between Zenigata and Lupin that kicks it off, the rest of the tale takes forever to get going and never recovers from the loss of momentum.

Availability: This title remains unlicensed in the US.

LUPIN THE THIRD VS. DETECTIVE CONAN

What it is: Lupin and Jigen try to steal the crown of the Queen of Vespania, which leads to their interaction with the Detective Conan cast. Boy genius Conan seeks to identify the murderer of the nation's queen and prince.

Worth Watching? No.

Why: More parts Case Closed than Lupin the Third, there's a lot of dialogue and not much action. And forget about the “versus”...it doesn't happen here.

Availability: A subtitled DVD from Discotek Media was released in the US earlier this year.

THE LAST JOB

What it is: A Fuuma ninja steals a statue that Lupin had targeted and kills Zenigata in the process. But there's a secret to opening the statue, and a battle ensues between multiple parties for all the pieces to the puzzle.

Worth watching? No.

Why: Don't be misled by the title: the only “last job” here is for three of the main voice cast, who would retire the following year. Outside of a solid car chase, everything about this story is quite humdrum.

Availability: This title remains unlicensed in the US.

BLOOD SEAL - ETERNAL MERMAID

What it is: A young girl asks Lupin to teach her of his thieving ways, meanwhile a wealthy man schemes to acquire two jewels that will lead him to the mermaid's secret to immortality.

Worth watching? No.

Why: Despite the smooth and simple animation on show by Telecom Animation Film, the special  features little action to truly maximize it, and its extremely bloody moments (while properly shocking) are at odds with the visuals.

THE TRAVELS OF MARCO POLO ~ANOTHER PAGE~

What it is: Lupin is framed as the murderer of an elderly archaeologist who discovers a tablet that functions as a missing page to The Travels of Marco Polo. Lupin and Jigen, under pseudonyms, travel across the globe with the researcher's granddaughter to find the treasure and reveal the killer.

Worth watching? Yes.

Why: One of the better-paced TV Specials in a long time, this special features great comedic timing and a decent pace that keep the plot moving forward even during exposition.

Availability: This title remains unlicensed in the US.

PRINCESS OF THE BREEZE

What it is: Lupin is after the contents of the hidden treasury of Shahalta. When he arrives, he encounters a team of ninja assassins, a beautiful young blonde, a misplaced infant, and corrupt officials.

Worth watching? No.

Why: Try to picture a re-imagination of Castle of Cagliostro with leering body shots, pointless extra characters, bad pacing, and a detailed depiction of an ugly baby's filled diaper. Sure, some of the designs are great, and the art is pretty decent (some of the backgrounds are gorgeous), but it's a wasted effort on the whole.

Availability: This title remains unlicensed in the US.

THE ITALIAN GAME

What it is: Bringing back the TV special format after a 3-year break, this installment (animated in the style of Part IV) pits the Lupin Gang against the mysterious Masked Count and sends him after the hidden legacy of the real-world “Count Cagliostro,” Giuseppe Balsamo.

Worth watching? Partially.

Why: While the special opens with an enjoyable train-boarding scenario starring Lupin and Zenigata that serves as a prequel to Part IV, and continues with the interesting (if a bit slow) Count Cagliostro subplot not seen in the series proper, nearly half of this special is a skippable regurgitation of Part IV episodes 1 and 3 with an extended scene or two.

OVAs

RETURN OF PYCAL

What it is: The titular Pycal, a fan-favorite character who debuted in episode 2 of Part I, returns to terrorize Lupin, collect special crystals, and perform a lot of supernatural magic tricks.

Worth Watching? No.

Why: Whereas the original episode took what appeared to be magic and cleverly broke it down with a rational eye, Return of Pycal dismisses it and makes Pycal a supernatural wizard. Combined with a recycled soundtrack, uninspired animation, and a barely comprehensible story, one Lupin fan put it best: “[while] Mamo was a ‘good weird’, Pycal was a ‘bad weird.’”

Availability: This title remains unlicensed in the US.

GREEN VS. RED

What it is: This 40th anniversary Lupin shows a world full of Lupin imitators competing to be considered the real one. One, Yasuo, emerges from the pack and competes head-on with the real Lupin the Third to take his crown.

Worth Watching? Yes.

Why: The strength of this OVA is in its earnest effort to both be different and gleefully acknowledge what has come before. The out-of-sequence presentation and vague storytelling may annoy many, but it brought a certain freshness the franchise hadn't seen for years.

Availability: This title was released in the US on a subtitled DVD from Discotek Media a few years ago, and is still in print. It is also available to stream on Hulu.

Of course, this is all just what I think. What are your favorite Lupin TV specials and films? Which ones do you think most deserve an official release in the US?


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