Lupin III is one of the longest running anime franchises in Japan. Spanning over forty years with three TV series, yearly television specials and a series of feature films with Studio Ghibli’s Hayao Miyazaki heading the highly regarded The Castle of Cagliostro. It revolves around Arsene Lupin III and his gang of thieves as they are pursued by the resourceful Inspector Zenigata who’s goal in life if to throw Lupin behind bars. This is where it all began.
For me as a fan of the Lupin III anime franchise I was interested in reading the manga to find out how the character started out and how he was presented all the way back in the sixties. I was surprised to see how drastically different Lupin was to the greedy yet likable thief I’m used to watching. Make no mistake about it, here Lupin is an outright criminal and there’s little holding back.. He’s a murderer that will kill for money or his own amusement with no remorse as well as being the master thief we know. Zenigata has good reason for wanting to put this guy behind bars. We have here the absolute anti Castle of Cagliostro.
However, despite the initial concerns that I had about Lupin’s manga counterpart being a completely dislikeable thug, as the book progressed there were moments where he resembled what he would develop into. Series regulars Fujiko Mine and Daisuke Jigen, who oddly enough looks like a hairy banana wearing a hat, begin to crop up later in the book, as well as the appearance of Lupin’s trademark jacket and tie and flair for disguise. It made me feel more at home, like it was slowly but surely evolving into the Lupin I’ve come to know. The mix of action and the humour is ever present albeit much more sexually charged, coarse and every now and then breaking the fourth wall.
At times I do feel that it can get a little too extreme for my liking. For example It seems like almost every male character in the entire book is a wannabe rapist and what’s more is that these sections are largely just treated as throwaway comedy. A lot of situations tend to lead to a bedroom where some female character gets her clothes ripped off. These scenes aren’t ever explicit but become tiresome and usually feel unnecessary. Unlike the anime franchise Lupin seems to have a great deal of success in seducing the opposite sex. It won’t win any awards for being politically correct.
Probably the most striking aspect of the manga is the art style. It doesn’t look anything like what people today consider to be manga and looks towards more western comics for it’s visuals than you’d perhaps expect it to. The drawings are very loose and slightly messy but at the same time have great care put into detail. Expressions and actions of the characters are exaggerated which gives everything a semi abstract and disproportionate feel but without becoming confusing to read. It’s almost like flicking through someones skecthbook rather than reading through a comic. Take that how you will but there’s certainly one thing no one can deny is that it stands out and looks unique.
Overall it was an uneven opening volume and I’m not entirely sure how I felt about it. In many respects I was let down but I remind myself that these were the first steps for the character so maybe in future volumes it’ll develop into what has made the series stick around for as long as it has. Even though I’ve probably made you want to completely avoid this now there is actually something here to make me want to recommend it in at least some way. With several chapters which I consider to be absolute classic Lupin stories despite the flaws mentioned above, genuine laugh out loud moments and a distinctive art style it makes it easier to tell you to give it a look, if not to just see history in the making.