Since the new Lupin III series has been picked up by Crunchyroll, and ever since Persona 5 seems to make some obvious nods to Lupin III, many are beginning to wonder what a good starting point to watch Lupin III would be. Well, today I will answer that question.
Monkey Punch’s Lupin III centres on the eponymous thief and grandson of Maurice Leblanc’s legendary gentleman thief Arsène Lupin and his ragtag team of misfits consisting of femme fatale Fujiko Mine, stoical gunman Daisuke Jigen and dutiful samurai Goemon Ishikawa XIII as they plan and pull through cinematic heists while being pursued by Lupin’s arch-nemesis, Interpol inspector Koichi Zenigata.
You may have heard someone mention different coloured jackets when speaking of the different Lupin III anime. The coloured jackets serve to indicate a continuity and the general tone of the anime and indeed they are great reference points once you’ve gotten acquainted with the Lupin franchise. However, when it comes to the question where to start, I’d recommend not paying too much heed to the colours of the jackets. What’s important are your own preferences. Do you like dark storylines or fun capers? Do you prefer films over series or do you favour manga? The different versions of Lupin III often differ in tone, from dark and brooding to family-friendly and light-hearted, but they always have a certain ‘60s vibe to them, are delightfully anachronistic, endlessly cool and a perfect blend of action and comedy with great soundtracks. To find out which starting points suit you best, I have compiled a list of three different ones, all of which do a great job in introducing the characters and world of Lupin III.
I feel obligated to name the manga as a good starting point since it is what got the Lupin III franchise going, though I have to admit that they would be considered highly controversial if they were released today. Let me elaborate. The original manga by Monkey Punch was first released in Japan in 1967 and it’s very much a product of its time, meaning it feautres some misogynistic and racially insensitive scenes, as well as very dark and sometimes crude humour similar to the original Bond novels and early films, which actually served as an ispiration for Monkey Punch’s manga. Another Bond novels parallel is the hard-boiled violence, as the manga doesn’t shy away from explicitly showing morally questionable acts (to use family-friendly terms). On the other hand, Lupin III: World’s Most Wanted, as the second part of the manga is known in English, tones down the dark and at times even weird nature of the original manga a bit. If you want to go down the manga route, I’d recommend skipping the first part entirely due to its shocking nature.
Personally, I’d say the manga are a good place to find out about the origin of the Lupin III franchise more than about the characters itself, as their characteristics were subject to some drastic changes along the lines of the franchise. Still, if you prefer manga over anime and can accept the manga for being products of their times, then by all means go ahead and read them. They’re still worth a read and serve well as an introduction to the world of Lupin III.
Chances are, you have already heard of this 1979 film because it is Hayao Miyazaki’s feature film debut. The caper film has a fairytale-like plot, telling the story of Lupin and his friends “stealing” the beautiful princess Clarisse from the clutches of the evil Count Cagliostro. Exactly this light-heartedness is what makes The Castle of Cagliostro so accesible for new Lupin III fans. Speaking of its light-heartedness, Cagliostro was the first Lupin anime to portray the gang as good-hearted thieves rather than cold-hearted criminals. All main cast members went through a drastic re-characterisation, making the characters more likeable and relateable. While they are still thieves or hired guns, they appear as Robin Hood-like figures, helping those in need in their own eccentric way, hence Lupin “stealing” or “kidnapping”, but actually saving Clarisse from a forced and loveless marriage with the Count. Miyazaki’s film was highly influential, as after The Castle of Cagliostro Lupin was rebranded as more of a charming anti-hero. Gone are the traces of the villainous, violent and vile Lupin as Monkey Punch originally envisioned him. Lupin, as well as the others, remain loveable rogues you root for to get away with their heists even in the darker versions of Lupin III which were produced after Cagliostro.
I dislike using the terms reboot, prequel or origin story given the negative connotation they carry to describe the 2012 anime The Woman Called Fujiko Mine but that’s essentially what it is and it does a fantastic job establishing Lupin’s world and introducing the main characters.
In terms of tone, Fujiko Mine is by far the most mature of all Lupin III anime featuring scenes of violent and sexual content, as well as touching upon some heavy themes. Its violence, nudity and sexual content along with the heavy subject matter and even the drop-dead gorgeous but very unconventional animation style are sure to turn some viewers away, but those who stick around are rewarded with, not just a great introduction to Lupin III, but a great anime in general. While being very similar in tone to the original manga, Fujiko Mine doesn’t suffer from the same period-specific issues as the manga does. Made by a female director and a female writer - the promising Sayo Yamamoto and Mari Okada, respectively - the anime’s main focus is changed from Lupin to Fujiko Mine, though Lupin still gets plenty of screentime, and with Fujiko we have one of the most complex and strong female characters in recent history. Though Fujiko often appears in the nude it never feels cheap or exploitive as she is always in full control of everything around her and uses her sexuality as a means of perfoming a successful con.
On a side note, if you choose to go with Fujiko Mine, make sure to watch the follow-up film Daisuke Jigen’s Gravestone as well. Though it doesn’t centre on Fujiko, as the film once again changes the focus onto another one of Lupin’s companions - his right-hand man Jigen - it feautres many of the reasons which made The Woman Called Fujiko Mine so brilliant, like great animation and good writing.
These are my recommendations on where to start watching Lupin III.
Be it in form of the manga, the film or the series, Lupin III always offers great means of escapsim. As already mentioned, the choice depends on your own preferences, so just give one a try and see if you like it. The choice is yours to make.