Seinfeld With Guns
VAP will be releasing the Blu-Ray box for the original Lupin III tv series (1971-71), next month in time for Christmas. This is the landmark series Yasuo Otsuka was responsible for, and it remains a landmark in anime. This Lupin is still gritter and more violent than later incarnations, especially in the early episodes. It was the first "adult" anime show in Japan, aimed squarely at college students instead of children. Here in America, it seems every animation show is aimed at college kids, but even this trend is very recent; a decade ago, only The Simpsons held that honor.
As every Ghibli Freak knows by heart, Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata made the jump from Toei Doga to A Production and joined Otsuka and the others, where they worked as a two-man directing team. Looking at their output, spanning episodes 7-23, I think there may have been more of a tag-team approach. Some episodes clearly have a Takahata vibe; others are clearly the work of Miyazaki. No doubt there was a lot of give and take between the two, but their famous rivalry is already set in stone. In the future lay Panda Kopanda, a few scuttled projects (including the infamous Peppi Longstockings), and then the holy trinity - Heidi, Marco, Anne.
Lupin III was later revisited by Miyazaki, Otsuka, and the young Yoshifumi Kondo (the 22-year-old was discovered on Lupin Series 1) with Castle of Cagliostro in 1979; Future Boy Conan and Sherlock Hound continued this action-adventure period. It's a side to the artist that Miyazaki has all but retired since the earliest days of Ghibli, a hallmark of his youth.
For Isao Takahata, Lupin III was his first directoral project since Horus, Prince of the Sun. He was still likely seen as the Crazy Kid who made that Dark and Strange Movie about a boy and some wolves and a violently moody girl. Something to do with Vietnam, or the labor movement, or the riots and revolutions around the globe. The myth of Horus was building, slowly, steadily in the underground, passed along almost person to person, like a wise and subversive secret. It's impact would be felt, later, upon this younger generation.
So Takahata worked steadily with Lupin, practicing, perfecting his style, pushing the boundaries of these animated characters. Every episode, every scene, was another lesson learned, another step closer to the revolution. This time, the revolution would succeed; not silently among the underground, but in the daylight, visable to all. Heidi, Girl of the Alps would become a smash sensation, in Japan and throughout the globe, and Japan's Anime Boom would be ushered in. Takahata and Miyazaki would cement their reputations as the greatest storytellers of their generation.
So, in a sense, Lupin III was part of that longer narrative. It was a crucial battle in the revolution, the next important step after Horus. And it also happens to be a wickedly fun and thrilling television series. It's almost criminal that it only lasted 23 episodes, before falling to low ratings. Ahead of Their Time. Again.
Enough with my lectures. VAP's box set will be outrageously expensive (14, 364 Yen - around $150), as all Japanese box sets are. The series comes on four discs, and will include the famous 1969 Lupin pilot film, which was shot in standard and widescreen. A number of commericals are included, as is an interview with Monkey Punch, the creator of the Lupin III comic.
The Amazon.jp page doesn't mention subtitles. Again, it's a damned shame. This series is only known on our shores thanks to the fansub, and that was only completed a few years ago. Most Ghibli Freaks have probably never even seen this show. Neither have most Lupin fans, I'll wager. It's a shame, because in a real sense this was the very best of Lupin. There was a certain chemistry between the characters, a certain comic vibe that always reminds me of Seinfeld. Senfeld with guns and jailbreaks.