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This Week in Anime
School Jacket Lupin Makes a Daring Escape!

by Monique Thomas & Christopher Farris,

One of the newest Lupin iterations goes back in time to when our gentleman criminal was nothing more than a young lad. Don't let his look fool you; young Lupin is just as wily as his older iconic persona.

These series is streaming on HIDIVE.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

@Lossthief @BeeDubsProwl @NickyEnchilada @vestenet

Chris, I'm going to be honest here. All these young anime fans don't know how good they've got it. Back in my day, we had to watch episodes on YouTube split into three parts! With so many new titles available each season, current anime fans are spoiled for choice. Too many, if you ask me! So much that it's getting hard to keep up. Maybe it's my age, but sometimes I really wish I could turn the clock back and be a kid again. Relive the old days! When anime could still consist of only one name, the third in his name, even.

Or, y'know, maybe we could live that same wish-fulfillment in 2023 with these young versions of some classic characters!
Hey, why not try reimagining characters from a beloved '70s cartoon in a school-age origin story? It's gotta turn out better for Lupin than it did for Velma.
Well, the thing about my guy, Lupin, is that he's always around. He's a skilled serial stealer of the audience's hearts, very proud of his fingerprints. Many movies, specials, and episodes are accredited to his name. Part VI wasn't too long ago, and TMS even uploaded Mystery of Mamo publicly to YouTube for a limited time. Just when you might think you're safe, Lupin III's just around the corner, ready to make another opportunity.
Yes, this week we're looking at Lupin Zero, TMS's special new entry in the Lupin III canon, which features our favorite rapscallion Lupin and his pal Daisuke Jigen in their younger years, promising family-friendly fun for kids of all ages!

…okay, it turns out de-aging Lupin does nothing to dull his craven criminal sensibilities. Everything he gets into is just double-illegal now.
Oh yeah, they may be baby-faced, but these fresh iterations of Lupin and Jigen are such scamps that they could easily explore every vice on Pleasure Island and get bored before you could even say "hee-haw."
Seeing these junior-high-age kids get up to all this can make an odd first impression. But it makes sense. Lupin Zero feels like it's meant to be a hypothetical look at Lupin's regularly multiple-choice past, so more interior explorations of how he got set on the pilfering path can be handled by the mainline canon grown-up entries. This one's more about speculating how he and Jigen's famous partnership might have worked had they established it as kids and how that would affect other decisions in that turbulent tween time of their lives.
I agree that it's a more interesting take than I was expecting than just making a "babies" version of an existing property. One of the reasons Lupin III as a franchise has remained relatively timeless is the extremely simple-yet-defined static nature of its core characters. It's easy to become a new Lupin fan because every iteration is just the characters doing their thing without deep motives. Lupin steals, Jigen shoots, Goemon cuts, and Fujiko lies. It's those solid truths that make every one of them a staple.

It's a great formula, but that's also why I enjoy how Lupin Zero bucks that convention by trying to give a possible answer to "Why"? What makes someone want to become the infamous Lupin III we all know and love?

Lupin Zero also makes the wise decision to refrain from trying to prequelize every single one of the franchise's elements and characters. Given the nature of the property, I kept expecting this six-episode mini-series to drop in other references, like a young Fujiko showing up, Zenigata as a hall monitor, that sort of thing. But thankfully, the team restrains themselves, and we instead get that tighter focus on our two central boys and the jobs they get into that codify their free-wheeling independent streaks.

Really, really focused on the Lupin/Jigen partnership.
If Greek Mythology has taught me anything, great bromances are a quintessential and eternally relevant part of our storytelling history. There's nothing like the sense of closeness when you have people who are equal and loyal to each other. The first two episodes do a lot of work to sell you how these two would become lifelong criminal partners.
Even as it includes bits like that shot of Lupin and Jigen together on a literal ship, it's not like Lupin Zero forgets that Lupin has a weakness for the ladies. Heck, it's his impulsively getting mixed up with a singer named Yoko that kicks off that first episode and the broader plot of the overall series.

Again, the face is fresh, but this Lupin still keeps the old sense of style and formula that makes it feel familiar and appealing. While each iteration of Lupin balances differently, Lupin has always tight-roped being a renowned criminal of moral scruples and a hero with a heart of gold. Which is the nicest way I can warn you all that he's both a gentleman and a womanizer.
He hasn't fully graduated to jumping out of his clothes at any lady that catches his eye, which is probably for the best. Yoko gets up to enough trouble in this show. She doesn't need extra reasons to go to jail.
It's expected that a new girl gets introduced with a unique story. Still, the best series entries make the damsels somewhat interesting as our primary means of emotional investment in its conflicts. Yoko follows similar trends, but I like how mature she feels. Having got herself on a mob's bad side, she's no stranger to the seedy underbelly but still comes off as warm and playful like an older sister (and, obviously, out of Lupin's league).
Some of the later revelations about Yoko, who she works with, and what she's ultimately trying to do, muddle things a bit for me regarding her. But as a recurring presence in the parts of Lupin Zero that tie into the overarching plot instead of the more episodic outings, she makes a solid emotional anchor for Lupin.

And it's not like her competition is especially stiff, given that any other lady appearing in this show has a 50/50 shot of being Lupin's dad in disguise.
Especially when Lupin's dad has a really screwed-up sense of humor about what constitutes funny pranks to play on your son.
We spent decades wondering how Lupin III turned into the sicko we know him as, and the answer turned out to be something as simple as poor parenting.
That's not even accounting for the poor GRANDparenting he got, but that's what you get when you're the grandson of an important literary figure.
I bet Hercule Poirot's kids never had to put up with this.

I appreciate Lupin Zero giving us some of the most fully-featured looks at Lupin the First and Second we've ever gotten out of this franchise. Ol' Arsène here is an especially entertaining scoundrel. And it amusingly turns out he's equal opportunity in some of his more hedonistic indulgences.

By the way, if you're wondering why this series was web-exclusive, the scene of Lupin I in bed with all the ladies is one we can only post very strategic screenshots of while keeping ANN an all-ages website.
Lupin has a broad range of being a family-friendly adventure (like the recent CG movie) and a cartoon you put on when the kids are asleep, but I didn't expect this one to be closer on the scale to Goemon's Blood Spray than some of the more tame series. However, I wouldn't call it moody or ultraviolent like some of the OVAs. It leans toward adult and is more likely to be appreciated by old fans than newcomers.

Besides, there are a ton of callbacks, and the story, especially Lupin's grandfather, depends on familiarity to pick up on the family resemblance.

Lupin Zero shares a lot of staff with Lupin the Third: Part 5, which is one of my favorite Lupin anime ever. It also played a lot with cuts and callbacks to previous bits of Lupin canon.

Regarding that, Arsène Lupin's appearance does bring in one more appearance by a younger version of a previous cast member, with a kid version of Albert, who was originally introduced in Part 5.

I will not complain because Albert rules and should be in every Lupin project moving forward.
Oh, I watched part of Lupin the Third: Part 5, but it didn't occur to me that this smug little guy who looks like he walked out of an antique dollhouse was Lupin's future disgruntled ex-boyfriend.

This makes so much sense.
The kid was raised by Arsène Lupin and would go on to have a bad break-up with his grandson. No wonder he grew up to be a politician and made it all of France's problem.

We can joke about it with Albert's upbringing, but that tangent about Lupin's dad and granddad are at the heart of our main character's journey here in Lupin Zero. Baby Lupin has two absolute legends of career criminals trying to dictate his life's direction. But all the kid wants to do at this point is be free to enjoy his extremely illegal hijinks with his new gun-toting best bro.
And even Jigen isn't alien to bad parenting since his dad supposedly took him all over on various war fields in this version. He and Lupin have a hard contrast because he thinks Lupin's rich life has made him too pampered compared to what he's gone through, but they bond over their problems and find enjoyment from the adrenaline-inducing stunts they pull together.
It's an exciting take for a prequel project like this that neither of the parental figures serving as his namesake were what drove our boy to become the third Lupin. Rather, the postulation is that finding the Jigen to his Lupin III ultimately made him...Lupin III.

It's fun to use such established archetypical classic characters, whose framing of their partnership would inform so many later anime. It also results in more than a few adorably sweet scenes between the duo.

As an aside, I would like to give a shout-out to Lupin's housemaid pseudo-mom, who is probably the most normal adult in his life. Even if she's so relentlessly strict, she's not afraid to point a gun at the young master's BFF.
Oh, Shinobu's great. I would watch a spin-off of this spin-off about this ninja maid and Lupin II pulling off their historical heists.
Lupin Zero has quite a bit of action to live up to its thrilling nature. Though I wouldn't say it's the best compared to other Lupins, it lives up to its name serviceably enough with an occasional great moment. Overall, the animation is watchable, and the cartoony style allows for more dynamic movement for both action and comedy.
That is funny that we highlighted some of those earlier, more adult, old-fan leanings when Zero is happy to be an absolute cartoon most of the time otherwise.

It's appropriate, given the style of the franchise's genesis, and I love the way Lupin Zero looks overall. It does a great job putting polished-out new takes on classic Lupin-styled designs, while effects with tone and grain sell some more of the old-school atmosphere.

Backgrounds can be swell, too.
Well, one of the joys of being an adult is that nobody gets to tell you what to do. Laugh at cartoons and eat as much candy as you want! What's the point if you can't enjoy what's good in life just because you're too embarrassed something is goofy? That's a thing I like about Lupin; many of the episodes feature wild or out-there plots as part of its overall pastiche, but it's usually heartfelt about inviting the viewers to have a good time.
The larger-than-life elements of Lupin are just as baked into the entertainment value of Zero. Possibly more so since you need to accept that a couple of twelve-year-olds are getting professionally mixed up in high-intensity train heists or military bootlegging operations.

Aspects like that and the references mentioned above mean this prequel isn't the best entry point for Lupin newcomers despite its name and placement. But as a seasoned fan, I was surprised by how much more it had going on despite the "Lupin Babies" concept of it all.
Part of that initial apprehension comes from our experiences to try and do away with what works about an existing property in favor of what is believed to be appealing to a new audience. With Lupin Zero, a lot of what works best is what stays the same. They're still the characters we know and love, and what Zero adds doesn't feel out of place—often going out of its way to reinforce those known characteristics.

This is saying a lot because there have been many different Lupins throughout the years. Many can be very different in tone, sometimes even conflicting with each other! Not every version of Lupin is good. There's been a lot of disposable specials, for example. Recent stuff has tried much harder to make the heroic thief feel more consistent without feeling contradictory to himself or some of his most notable iterations.
Lupin Zero juggles those tones more successfully, on par with Part 5, if less dense. It being episode-based, as opposed to something like a movie, helps the switch-ups between cartoony criminal action and heavier backstory deployment come off as less dissonant. And it's still weaving an overall arc through all that, thanks to building on the Lupin/Jigen relationship and the ultimate culmination of Yoko's plot.
Most people who love the characters might enjoy seeing what they do in this, and others might enjoy some of the episodic plots or the overall story. We only discuss them a little, but the general episodic nature of Lupin keeps it casual and easy to watch. The compact nature of Zero also means there's enough thread to hold all six episodes together. It leaves things off with a real sense of growth for something already pretty vintage.
There are some more distinctive stand-outs (I loved the third episode with Grandpa Lupin I and the contest for his inheritance). Still, the overall quality was consistent enough that I had no problem bingeing all six episodes in one go. I don't know that it's on the level of The Woman Called Fujiko Mine in terms of using its hypothetical prequel status to dig into the denser ideas of what a backstory even means for iconic characters like this. But barring that, it feels like a solid Lupin entry and offers a few fresh perspectives on the legendary thief's motivations.
Like I said before, I wouldn't call it the best of what the series has to offer, nor the best starter. There's plenty of Lupin out there. I recommend Part IV to get a vibe if you're looking for a more modern yet classic take on the series. However, Lupin doesn't have to be amazing to be entertaining. This fresh blood has enough confidence to feel at home.
A good job by our adorable criminal sons! I couldn't be more proud of them!

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