Thoughts on Lupin III #1, Series One

Welcome back, folks! Hopefully on Sunday I'll have a new computer. One that works, even. For tonight, I'm borrowing again, but I've found something extra grand from the vaults at YouTube. I'm sure you will enjoy this...the original Lupin III TV series!

This is episode 1, "Lupin is Burning." This was the pilot episode for the fledgling series, which began as a movie project as early as 1969. Yasuo Otsuka, your favorite and mine, left the Toei Animation studio to work on Lupin, which was produced over at A Productions. Over time, more and more of the old Toei crew would make the jump, including, most notably, Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki.

Takahata and Miyazaki would be brought on as directors, but that didn't happen until sometime around episode 7 or 8. Low ratings brought about the changes, as the studio was unnerved by the unusual (for its time) level of sex and violence on the show. So the new directors were hired to tone that down, and play up comedy. You can see the change in the show's style, as the episodes progress. It's an interesting trade-off between the hard-boiled, but directorally scattershot, episodes, and the later episodes, which were lighter and goofier, but far more assured and solid. And, it should be said, Takahata and Miyazaki still kept things pretty real.

If you're a fan of Miyazaki's 2979 picture Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro, then the 1971-72 tv show, aka the "Green Jacket" Lupin, is absolutely required viewing. I daresay that you won't even notice the subtler themes in that movie without it. There's a whole layer of meaning, a sense of weariness, that's present in Cagliostro; but it really requires those original 23 episodes to flesh that out. Miyazaki and Otsuka really worked their magic, since, to a great extent, Lupin is their child. The animated one, anyway.

Anyways, these first Green Jacket episodes are pretty faithful to the original Monkey Punch comic, and it's surprising how much of the sex and violence got on the air at all. Remember, folks, it's 1971, and Japanese animation was still very firmly in the realm of children's and family entertainment. There was only one notable exception, a certain infamous movie by an equally infamous director and his group of young punks. And the Horus Rebellion was still making its presence felt, on the ground level, person to person, fan to fan. Lupin III would follow a similar fate, as the tv show failed to gain an audience, only to grow in popularity over time.

Yasuo Otsuka firmly believed that his Lupin was the only one that mattered. I agree with him. His skill in realism, his love of machines, and the gritty adult tone make this a landmark in anime. It's sad, really, that nobody else could really make Lupin work...which, of course, brings us back to Miyazaki and his quietly troubled Lupin, growing too old to keep up the schtick.

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