The Complete First TV Series
Lupin the Third is the grandson of master thief Arsene Lupin (created by French author Maurice Leblanc in 1905). Lupin has taken up the family business with equal success, but probably a lot more humor.
This, the first of three Lupin the Third TV series, premiered in 1971, and it certainly reflects the style of the time. Everything from the fashion, to the odd, folk-music soundtrack are so dated that they’re actually kind of cool again. The character designs, while recognizably anime, are not as refined as what we see to day; they’re lanky and cartoonish, as if there’s a lot more American comic influence in them.
The first seven episodes are very hit-or-miss; it’s almost as if the producers didn’t know how to handle a show where the main character was a thief, as most of the early adventures avoid the issue entirely. For instance, the first episode, in which Lupin takes part in a car race organized by people trying to kill him. Why are the trying to kill him? Why did he take part knowing it was a trap? These questions and more are not answered. Episode four, by contrast, is one of the hits. Lupin is arrested and spends a year in jail slowly orchestrating his release. The episode really defines Lupin’s character, his craftiness and courageousness, for the rest of the series.
With episode eight, the series was taken over by Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, who would later go on to found Studio Ghibli and write and direct films like Spirited Away and Graveyard of the Fireflies. Unlike the previous director, they depict Lupin as the master thief he’s supposed to be. Each episode is centered on a heist, the targets are either villains or large institutions so the audience is able root for Lupin’s gang, seeing him as more of a Robin Hood than a criminal (except for the ‘giving it away’ part).
The plotting of the thefts is creative and logical, even if it does occasionally rely on fanciful technology or questionable physics. There’s enough creativity and variations in their thefts to keep things unpredictable. Lupin and his gang don’t always win, and even when they do, Lupin’s love interest, Fujiko Mine, can always choose to double-cross him, or not.
Lupin the Third is a lot of fun. No question it’s dated, but it was a little ahead of its time anyway, so it’s not that bad. Discotek did a great job with the set. The 23 episodes are on four discs, presented with uncut video (with Japanese titles and credits) and removable subtitles). There are a few commentary tracks by an American Lupin expert, and two pilot films, which feature different character designs.