In August 1967, Futabasha Publishing's Manga Action weekly magazine began running a new manga by Kato Kazuhiko, a.k.a. "Monkey Punch". The title enchanted many of the Japanese readers including a man named Fujioka Yutaka, an executive for Tokyo Movie Shinsha Co. (TMS). TMS decided to purchase the rights to make an animated version of the manga in the same year.
Originally, TMS planned to team up with Toho and produce a theatrical film. Some of the best talent (including Osumi Masaki, Shibayama Tsutomu, and Otsuka Yasuo) were brought together and feverishly worked on producing the "Pilot Film". Two versions were made, a Cinemascope and TV version, as it was assumed during the planning phase that the film would be released in theaters and then later on television.
While the pilot film was completed in 1969, it consumed a great deal of time and money. TMS and Toho could not come to terms about budget for the film; this and several other problems caused the pilot film to never reach theaters. TMS decided to sell "Lupin III" for TV anime even though its more adult-oriented themes would make it a difficult sell. In October 1971, TMS managed to sell the idea to Yomiuri TV (YTV); they would air the series on television.
TMS could not round up the entire staff of the pilot film as too much time had elapsed. Production of the series went on with Osumi and Otsuka as its core. On 24 October 1971, the first episode of Lupin III (commonly known as the "green jacket series") aired on YTV. It was one of the first anime series with an adult sensibility. It was also grounded in reality as evidenced by the details of the automobiles, guns, etc. depicted in the series. It had all the tools to capture an appreciative adult audience, but the show did poorly in the ratings.
By the time episode three aired, Osumi was removed from the production of the show. Miyazaki Hayao and Takahata Isao were brought in to replace Osumi. The emphasis of the show was also changed to a more humorous, cartoon-style flavor. Despite these changes, the series ended after only twenty-three episodes. While its initial broadcast run was a disaster, the series experienced an explosive surge in popularity through numerous reruns.
With this surge of popularity, the decision was made to make a second television series. Fans quickly came to call this new series Shin Lupin III (New Lupin III); it is also widely known as the "red jacket series". The first episode aired on 3 October 1977 and differed in content from the first series. The plots were more conscious of children; the settings were expanded to cover the entire globe, and the character's idiosyncrasies were simplified. While fans of the original series did not think much of the changes, the second series garnered huge ratings and aired 155 episodes over three years.
During the second series broadcast, Lupin finally made it to the big screen. While a live-action film version of Lupin was made in 1974, it was not until 16 December 1978 that an animated Lupin film was shown in theaters. Simply titled Lupin III, the film captured the adult themes and dark atmosphere of the manga and the first part of the first TV series. The film was a success both critically and commercially; naturally, another film had to be made to capitalize on this success.
On 17 December 1979, Castle of Cagliostro became the second animated Lupin film to hit theaters. Directed by Miyazaki Hayao, the film was a wonderful action & adventure film with many memorable scenes.1 It was more light-hearted than the first film as Miyazaki felt that the film should represent Lupin in the twilight of his career. Lupin is more nice and sentimental as he is looking for fulfillment that cannot be found in thievery.2 The film did not receive as much industry or critical acclaim initially. However, the film increased in popularity through TV broadcasts and magazine listings; today, it is considered to be a classic piece of animation.
A third television series began airing in 1984; Lupin III Part III, the "pink jacket series", aired fifty episodes over two years. This series focused more on slapstick humor. A third theatrical feature appeared in the middle of this broadcast run; 1985 saw the release of Legend of the Gold of Babylon; this film reflected the slapstick nature of the third series. After the third series ended, 1987 saw the release of Fuma Conspiracy direct to the home video market. It eventually made its appearance in theaters as well.1
The production company for Fuma decided to drop Yamada Yasuo as the voice of Lupin because of the budget. Monkey Punch was informed of this decision by the production company; Monkey Punch felt he had no right to enforce decisions regarding voice actors. He told the production company that he understood their choice, but that they needed to make Yamada understand this fact as well. Unfortunately, this was not made clear to Yamada, and he felt that Monkey Punch had directly dropped him from the project. Yamada took pride in being the voice of Lupin and was upset about this decision. Monkey Punch tried to clear up the misunderstanding in later conversations with Yamada, but their relationship remained strained until Yamada's death.3
A year went by before the next Lupin title came out. In 1989, an annual tradition began; each year since 1989 has seen the release of a TV special or a theatrical film. The first special was Bye Bye Liberty and featured the return of Yamada Yasuo as the voice of Lupin. Yamada would continue to voice Lupin for five more years until his tragic death in 1995.
Kurita Kanichi was picked to fill Yamada's shoes, a daunting task to be sure. Kurita has managed to capture though not completely recreate Yamada's voice for Lupin. In 1995, the fourth original theatrical film To Hell with Nostradamus! was released.
In 1996, Monkey Punch directed a portion of the fifth film Dead or Alive; this film returned Lupin to its roots, roots not seen since the first film aired back in 1978. The film was dark, violent, and relied less on humor than recent titles. Lupin fans consider it one of the best titles in the Lupin filmography. It was often rumored that Monkey Punch directed this film due to his dissatisfaction with the way Nostradamus and specials had been portraying Lupin. However, he has stated that he unwillingly accepted the director's chair after being approached for the position. He credits the voice actors and other production people for making the film what it is.4
It is now over thirty years since Lupin was first aired on television; specials continue to be produced on a yearly basis. While the history of Lupin anime is long, it is far from over.
1 House, Michael. "Meet... Lupin III ...An Japanese Superhero!", Toon Magazine 1.7 (1995): 25 - 30.
2 Ragone, August. "1981 conversation with Monkey Punch at the San Diego Comic Con", From a post to the Yahoo! LupinTheThird Group (22 Feb 2003).
3 "Interview with Monkey Punch", Hokkaido Shimbun (8 May 2001).
4 Divers, Allen. "Interview: Monkey Punch", Anime News Network (13 Nov 2003).