|As drawn by Monkey Punch (AKA Kazuhiko Kato)|
Discussing Lupin III is like discussing the Godzilla or James Bond franchises: everybody has their own take on which parts of the franchise are best, and those opinions are usually formed around which version or actor a person encountered first. I tend to be an outlier in these situations, favoring more recent incarnations because of their sophistication (which, admittedly, is often because they’ve synthesized the nuances of a franchise’s long history); Daniel Craig is my favorite Bond (though Casino Royale is his only really good film) and the Millennium design is my favorite look for Godzilla. I also acknowledge that taste is subjective, so I try to always couch my opinions in the term of “favorite,” not “best.”
Last night saw the first US theatrical showing of Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro, the beloved feature film debut of Hayao Miyazaki. This film was Robin’s and my introduction to the world of Lupin III, rented from the local Hastings back when we were living in San Marcos, TX in 2001-2004. Frankly, it was kind of bewildering; whatever The Castle of Cagliostro’s merits may be as a family-friendly action movie, it makes little attempt to introduce viewers to Fujiko, Goemon, or Inspector Zenigata (which, frankly, wasn’t needed in Japan since they already had the manga, the first two TV shows, and two previous theatrical films).
We skipped last night’s showing to wait and see the subtitled version on September 19th. We can only afford to see one showing and—since The Castle of Cagliostro is not one of my favorite versions of Lupin III—I’d rather see the subtitled version so I can hear Yuji Ohno’s music better.
Yes, that’s right. The Castle of Cagliostro isn’t my favorite Lupin III film—even though it was the first version of the franchise I encountered. It isn’t even in my top 5 favorite aspects of the franchise. Keeping in mind that I still haven’t made my way through all of the clunky green jacket TV series, the lengthy red jacket series, or the off-key pink jacket series*—and that several animated films, OVAs, and specials haven’t been released in the US—here’s my top 5 from what I have read or watched:
- The Mystery of Mamo (AKA The Secret of Mamo AKA Lupin vs. the Clone AKA Lupin III)The first Lupin III animated film is undoubtedly my favorite self-contained movie or TV special. I’m one of those people who enjoys Lupin at his most roguish (just as I enjoy Bond at his most bitter); the scene where Mamo examines Lupin’s mind and discovers he’s some sort of idiot savant who thinks about nothing but naked ladies epitomizes why I like this roughhewn, sprawling, psychedelic film more than Miyazaki’s introspective gentleman thief. Also, as a fan of Tony Oliver and the Phuuz Entertainment cast, it’s a joy to hear them really dig into their characters.
- The Italian Adventure (AKA Lupin the Third Part Four AKA the blue jacket series)As much as I enjoy Lupin behaving badly, I’m not immune to the charms of more genteel versions of the character. Thankfully, with The Italian Adventure, I don’t have to choose. This series from 2015 was made with the intention of synthesizing all the best of the series so far: the original Monkey Punch rambunctiousness, Miyazaki’s poignancy, the red jacket series’ humor, The Woman Called Fujiko Mine’s stylishness, and Yuji Ohno’s score. In fact, the only reason this is number two on the list is because the English dub doesn’t have Ohno’s score due to using the original Italian TV version of the show instead of the cleaned-up Japanese version, which means I’m going to have to buy two different versions of the series on home video. Argh.
- The Woman Called Fujiko MineAs ribald as anything Monkey Punch created in the manga, but bolstered by deeper, weightier characterization, this show comes so close to being my favorite TV series that I almost feel bad awarding that title to the cheerier blue jacket series. Intensely psychosexual and revolutionary in its design sense, The Woman Called Fujiko Mine was almost my least favorite TV show despite its style and heft, as the series makes a play at giving Fujiko Mine a backstory ripped from the worst excesses of Joss Whedon-style “strong female protagonists”—but then it rips away the veil and shows that’s all been a fakeout. If only it had a Yuji Ohno score…
- Lupin the Third Part II** (AKA New Lupin III AKA the red jacket series)The red jacket series, airing on Adult Swim beginning in 2003, was my proper introduction to Lupin III—just as it was the Japanese public’s proper introduction after the failure of the original green jacket TV series. Cartoony and crazy, alternating wildly between adaptations of manga stories, adult-oriented capers, maudlin kid-friendly episodes, and almost plotless, surrealistic stories that show how the grind of a Japanese anime series can break even the most creative wills, this show remains the benchmark by which all other Lupin anime is judged. It’s not always good by any means, but there are 155 episodes, so that’s to be expected; one of the two episodes I watched this morning sent Lupin to a shockingly white 1970s Harlem where he got totally obsessed over Superman (1978), got bamboozled by a blonde street kid named Chico, wound up in a scene-padding motorcycle chase with Zenigata, and finally ended up in front of a firing squad of decadent millionaires dressed like DC and Marvel superheroes. Nonetheless, the best episodes remain amazingly entertaining, and I’m so fond of Tony Oliver’s Lupin III voice that I’ve incorporated it into my repertoire of game mastering voices.
- The original mangaLike Ian Fleming’s Bond novels, Monkey Punch’s original manga series is raw and direct, the author’s id spilling all over the page. Given my own complicated relationship with my own inner life, I appreciate the darker, weirder, less likable places both book series go. It doesn’t mean I always agree with manga Lupin’s actions, but he lives in such a fourth wall-breaking, self-mocking, MAD magazine-inflected funhouse mirror of spy and heist films that it’s impossible for me to not be entertained. Maybe it’s hypocrisy or even doublethink to enjoy such unreformed adventurism, but I cannot deny how much I enjoy manga Lupin’s self-confidence and competency.
For the record, here’s a brief rundown of where everything else fits:
- Jigen’s Gravestone (I’m sure Goemon Ishikawa’s Spray of Blood will sit equal with this once I get the chance to see it.)
- The Plot of the Fuma Clan
- Episode 0: First Contact
- Green vs. Red
- The Castle of Cagliostro
- The soundtrack albums
- Almost everything else (The other two TV series are clunky but not bad. Most of the specials have their moments and the 2014 live action movie is only as bad as the average TV special. Strange Psychokinetic Energy is too weird to not at least appreciate, and I don’t hate the Detective Conan team-ups. I wish I liked Dead or Alive more and I haven’t seen the infamous Legend of the Gold of Babylon.)
- **Episodes 145 and 155 of the red jacket series (Miyazaki’s version of Fujiko is an acquired taste and 155 in particular seems like Miyazaki used it to finance proof of concept art for Nausicaa and Castle in the Sky.)
*I’m a fan, not a fanatic. For better or worse, I’ve never been motivated by any fandom to binge watch or collect everything in a franchise.