Lupin the Third Part IV walks the thinnest of lines, managing to make a show both welcoming to newcomers and pleasing to long-time fans.
At this point, anybody who knows Lupin the Third recognizes that it is one of those shows that is, in the absence of a grand narrative, a sandbox for creators to play around with the various elements within. In forty-odd years, we have had the full spectrum: some series and movies in the franchise are funny, some are serious, some more action-oriented. Where would a newcomer start from? The staff behind the latest series has come up with the solution: to combine all thematic elements of Lupin into one super-charged TV series that runs the full gamut and can serve as a great introduction to the characters and their adventures. At the same time, it needed to be something new. In my opinion, it succeeded in all of these challenges.
Lupin the Third Part IV is the first full Lupin III series (where Lupin himself is the star) in three decades. It was announced towards the end of 2014, and had its premiere broadcast in Italy in 2015, where the character is very popular. It began its run in Japan in October 2015 and ended in March of this year. Let us take a look back at what made it so special.
The series is the latest entry in the long-spanning adventures of Lupin, the gentleman thief, and his ragtag band of globe-trotting hoodlums: sharpshooting gangster Jigen, samurai sword master Goemon, and seductive charmer Fujiko–not to mention their constant pursuer, gung-ho Interpol cop Zenigata.
Lupin has been a mainstay on television for many, many years, rarely skipping its schedule of one ninety-minute television special a year during the Friday Roadshow movie timeslot on NTV–a slot often reserved for Hollywood blockbusters and Ghibli works. And while this year has certainly been significant for Lupin with this new series and a special aired, recent years have in no way been a dry spell for new content, by any means.
2012 saw a full TV series about Fujiko, the femme fatale of the gang that the other members have a love-hate relationship with, entitled Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine. It was directed by Sayo Yamamoto, currently helming the phenomenal Yuri!!! On ICE—who brought with her a new sense of mystery and avant-garde undertones to the franchise.
So this new series would also need to differentiate itself in some other ways.
For starters, the story takes place mostly in Italy and San Marino–though sometimes the setting is other parts of the world, such as Japan. However, the big twist this time around is the introduction of a new character. The series actually begins with the wedding of Lupin to Rebecca Rossellini, a rich and famous celebrity who has it all–yet, she wants more. Rebecca is tired of being able to get anything and everything done at the snap of her fingers and so is now living for the thrill of the chase, and the hunt of a coveted treasure, whatever it may be. The addition of this new cast member throws a bit of a spanner in the works as far as the character relationships are concerned. Jigen and Goemon are suspicious of Lupin seemingly departing from a life of crime in favor of settling down, and Fujiko shows a slight air of jealousy. But slowly, the focus begins to settle on Lupin and Rebecca themselves: Is this a true romance, or is one using the other for some ulterior motive, or are they both planning some secret moves of their own?
Rebecca is also a key element in another sense. While, like its predecessors, Lupin the Third Part IV is a smartly-paced series with an episodic narrative made up of self-contained stories, it breaks with Lupin III tradition in that each episode helps to plot out a greater tale. It all culminates in a major climax at the end of the series, in which Rebecca plays a major role.
Director Kazuhide Tomonaga, a veteran animator of Lupin works both old and new, explained that the show would bring back the taste of the original first series, often seen as a more “hard-boiled” version of Lupin (when he was depicted with a green jacket), rather than the comical buffoonery that appeared to be the prevalent image of the second and perhaps most famous incarnation of Lupin (the red jacket version). He thus aimed to bring about a new Lupin that would encompass both of these elements and keep a steady balance of both comedy and action–and in some cases, even some seriousness and tragedy. The insertion of yet another new character, the no-nonsense Agent Nyx of MI6 (hunting Lupin down in a way diametrically opposed to Zenigata’s wacky antics), is a great example of some of the edgier elements of the series.
In fact, Tomonaga has already shown us some examples of his delicate balance between comedy and hard action in Lupin. After all, he is known as the genius animator who drew the famous car action scene of Lupin’s Fiat driving up the side of the cliff while chased by gangsters in Hayao Miyazaki’s The Castle of Cagliostro. It’s a scene that influenced many creators both in Japan and overseas. In fact, it is said to have been a major inspiration for the Citroen chase scene in the 007 movie, For Your Eyes Only. Seriously, take a look at the opening car chase scene in Cagliostro and then watch the James Bond version, one after the other. You may be surprised at just how similar those sequences are in the way that the bad guys try to catch a small yellow car across a rural landscape, zig-zagging through a multi-leveled maze of narrow country roads and often rolling around and crashing through forestland in seemingly-indestructible vehicles.
Tomonaga also directed the 1988 feature-length OVA The Plot of the Fuma Clan, which did an interesting job of putting realistic action choreography front-and-center, while in previous years Lupin’s action scenes (be it in the 1985 Legend of the Gold of Babylon movie, or the 1984-85 pink-jacket TV series) had been so infused with comedy that they bordered on the fantastical.
In Part IV, the themes range from comedy such as the episode where Lupin returns to Japan to rescue Fujiko but through clever plot twists ends up being arrested by Detective Akechi Holmes Kousuke, to the more mature topic of doping in sports, to the downright creepy such as the entire “Italian Dream” arc, of which I will refrain from even giving out any details as it is crucial to the overarching plot.
So without giving too much away, if you missed this series for any reason, do yourself a favor and check it out. If you are a fan of Lupin already, you will not be disappointed, as this has all of the requisite elements that make the characters and stories great, plus more, as Tomonaga tries to incorporate new ingredients into the formula to keep it fresh. It therefore also works as a great introduction from which to branch off from for any newcomer who may be overwhelmed by the sheer number of titles in the forty-year-old franchise.
Lupin the Third Part IV is streaming on Crunchyroll.
Lastly, a reminder: Miyazaki’s Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro will be back in theaters in Japan in January in a very, very special state-of-the-art MX4D edition: shaking seats, strobe-lights, smoke effects and such to give you a sense of immersion into the movie like no other. So if you are in town, be sure to catch it! Don’t miss your chance to experience it, as it is sure to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!