The rampant success of Lupin III Part IV (or “Blue Jacket,” colloquially) seems to have stirred new interest in the franchise. Which means a fair number of poor souls who try to take things chronologically – an admirable feat up until one inevitably runs up against Red Jacket, the character’s most famous outing. I’ve seen a lot of earnest souls crash and burn trying to binge those 155 episodes, unaware that three years of content that premiered weekly come hell or high water means a veritable rollercoaster of quality. When Red is good, it’s some of the best stuff the franchise has to offer. And when it is bad, it makes you regret setting out in the first place.
The nice part is that the series’ total lack of continuity makes it easy to cherry pick sample episodes, a flavor for people who want to get a sense of anime history and a solid foundation for anyone who wants to eventually make the deep dive. So let me give you my top ten – not anything like an objective list, because that is a fool’s errand with that kind of backlog, but a way to share the love and decrease the daunting factor at least a little bit (don’t worry, I’m here to help you out with Green Jacket too).
And for those who’re curious, yes you should absolutely try the dub when it’s available. The translation’s loose as can be, particularly in the early going, but often in a wonderfully self-deprecating way and backed up by a truly wonderful cast. Nothing’s going to replace the original (and you’ll end up watching both, since only half the show was dubbed), but it’s a treat.
Note: For ease of search, these are listed in airing order rather than ranked. I’ve also tried to include as many of the relevant eight million title translations as possible.
Or: Probably the Only Time You’ll See Hayao Miyazaki Compared to Frank Miller
Spring season is finally bringing us a new installment of Lupin III, dear readers. As much as I adore The Woman Called Fujiko Mine (and I do, emphatically), it was quite the departure for the series’ established MO – a contained, stylish thought experiment and deliberate period piece rather than a fast-and-loose adventure story with a consistent core cast. Meanwhile, the new “Blue Jacket” (premiere date undetermined at time of writing outside of the general spring 2015 timeline) seems set not only on returning to the adventure of the week formula but in finally updating the thief to the modern day – and I’ll be particularly interested in seeing how deep that goes. Annual Lupin specials might have had modern tech interludes (who can forget the oddity of Goemon using an iPhone), but the character writing has never really felt like it left the 70s.
In fact, while I’ll fight for the highest caliber entries of the franchise’s status as timeless classics, it can be really tough to sell a modern anime fan on getting into Lupin. Part of that’s the age (particularly in the art style), but beyond that I hear over and over again that the amount of content is just overwhelming. We’re talking over 40 years of animation, after all. And it’s not always evident from the outside how loose the continuity between series is – not to mention the many, many different tones and takes over the years, meaning there can be different “best starting places” for everyone. But I think I’ve finally got a way to explain it to people: Lupin III is like Batman.
Not the go-to comparison (that’s usually, off the cuff, “James Bond meets Bugs Bunny”), but it works. Trust me, I can prove it.
In the halls of anime history, there’s a duo well and truly ingrained as legendary partners: the Kirk and Spock of con artists, the Holmes and Watson of hallowed heist planners, two men so inextricably associated with one another that to mention one without the other is all but unthinkable. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Arsené Lupin III and Daisuke Jigen. No fan would question the unbreakable bond between the two. Any argument after that is only a matter of degree, time and place.
Now, when a series has been running as long as Lupin III, passing through the hands of so many formats and directorial visions, you can pretty much find fodder to feed whatever ship you like. Pick through long enough, and there’s a clip to suit your needs. This isn’t a matter of 26 episodes, or a few movies, or even a collection of manga volumes. No, we’re talking hundreds of hours of content perpetuating from the late 60s right on into the present day. And in light of that fact, we need to do a bit of structural housekeeping. Rather than attempting to analyze every piece of Lupin media, this essay will go more broad strokes with specific titles mentioned where applicable. It’s divided, for simplicity, into the following sections:
I. Three Jackets, One Gun: The Characters II. A Wink and an Offer – Episode 0: First Contact III. The Woman Called Fujiko Mine and Parallel Narrative IV. Flirtation, Fidelity, and Fujiko
I don’t know the manga thoroughly enough to feel comfortable analyzing it in depth here…but I do love when it suits my purposes