Lupin III (pronounced Lupahn the Third in English or Rupahn Sansei in Japanese) is one of the (if not the) most famous Japanese manga and anime series of all times and remains immensely popular even today, more than 35 years after the first publication. It details the exploits of Arsene Lupin III), a master-thief with long sideburns and a slender figure, who is always on the run from the police and full of surprises, sporting an enviable, carefree outlook on life. He is a direct descendant of the legendary Arsene Lupin (originally conceived by Maurice Leblanc), but unlike his ancestor, he is less gentleman thief and more interested in treasure and women.
In 1967, Monkey Punch(Katou Kazuhiko) published the first story of his new series in the Manga Action Weekly magazine. The manga was intricately plotted with twists and turns all the way, and extremely detailed plots as well as a fresh and sprited art style, totally unlike any other manga, lacking the usual big eyes, amongst other details, and being more heavily oriented along western lines, most notably Mad Magazine. The reader is always kept on his toes, watching for details and clues as for the goings-on, and to continue how a given plot will continue and mystery will be resolved, for the Lupin III is everything but one thing: predicatable.
This mix is spiced up with sexy and well-built female characters that Lupin can (mostly without success) lust for, and which must have been pushing the limits for the time. The books are somewhat mature and sometimes sexually oriented, so they are not recommended for smaller children, I suppose.
There are 14 volumes in the first series with about 190 fun-filled pages in each. The series ran until the end of 1972, but in 1977 the story of Lupin III was continued in the follow-up manga Shin Rupan Sansei which ran for about the same duration. Finally, a third series, Lupin III Y was launched in 1997, but it is not drawn by Monkey Punch anymore, resembling the television anime more than the previous manga. The American version of the first series is currently being published by Tokyopop.
With the successful premiere of the manga, the series looked like prime material to be turned into an animated series, and so production began on an animated feature in 1968, which however fell through due to financing disputes. But the manga being as popular as it was, a second attempt was launched in 1971, this time in the form of a twenty-three episode anime series. Due to a lot of reruns, the series became very popular (on this phenomenon see also: Star Trek: TOS). This series remains unlicensed in the english speaking world, but was released in Italy.
The launch of the second manga series also helped propel a second season of the anime into existance, which ran a whopping 155 episodes (licensed in the US by Pioneer). A number of episodes were directed by none other than Hayao Miyazaki in his pre-Studio Ghibli period.
The Mystery of Mamo, was released into the theatres in 1978, and was followed a year later by the second film, The Castle of Cagliostro, which was also directed by Hayao Miyazaki, the latter of which is considered an all-time anime classic.
The immense popularity caused the production of yet another TV series in 1984, and in 1989, a TV tradition began with a new TV special (of varying quality but feature film length) being released every summer, the latest of which details the first meeting of Lupin and his friends. There are also countless OVA's. Attempting to own all Lupin anime is a costly proposition indeed, as the series popularity prevents the falling of the DVD prices even on the used market.
In the US, the movies, TV series and TV specials are all in different companies' hands, causing different voice casts to appear on the dubs, but as the Japanese voices are so perfectly cast anyway, this should be of no concern.
Publication of the series in the west has been hindered for a long time by the fact that Monkey Punch took his inspiration for the character from the stories of Maurice Leblanc about the Gentleman Thief Arsene Lupin without licensing the use of the name (due to the Japanese legal system of the time this was legally possible within Japan). The Leblanc-estate objected to the use of the name anywhere outside Japan and threatened to bring suit, so in some releases, Lupin is instead known as Rupan III (the Japanese pronunciation), or The Wolf (the direct translation of the name), or Hardyman (in Germany).
Arsene Lupin III:
The main character of the show, and the grandson of the original Arsène Lupin, always daring, courageous, sneaky, and adventurous, is the world's greatest master-thief, always looking for the next big job and to score with the other sex. He is constantly on the run from Inspector Zenigata
(and his more resistant victims), keeping his cool at all times and devising one daring scheme after the other. Helped by his friends and countless gadgets, he is always one step ahead of the oppsition, even if it may appear differently at first.
The main love "interest" of Lupin, Fujiko is a beautiful thief of skill comparable to Lupins', who tends to use her voluptious forms to get to her goals, which sometimes happen to conflict with Lupin. She and Lupin work together as well as against each other from time to time, but never end up together, even though they like each other a lot.
Nekojin adds that the word "Mine" means "mountain peaks" in Japanese, making her name a pun for "mountain peaks of Fuji," a blatant reference to the fact that she's hugely stacked.
Lupins's closest ally has a mysterious past. He fled from the US to Japan to escape some form of persecution from criminals, perhaps the Mafia, changing his name in the process. He usually acts as bodyguard or hitman, is addicted to his cigarettes, always wears a black suit, black hat, and black beard and distrusts Fujiko, usually rightly so.
Decended from a long line of samurai ancestors (based on a historical Ishikawa Goemon who lived around 1650 AD), Goemon wields a Zantetsu sword forged from the metal of a meteor that can cut through anything. Trained by Momochi no Jijii, to be an assassin and ordered to kill Lupin. He switched sides when he learned his master planned to betray him and is now hired by Lupin from time to time (ok, all the time).
Based on the famous Japanese cime fighting literary character Heiji Zenigata
Zenigata works for Interpol
on the neverending mission to capture Lupin. He is extremely dedicated to his job, but also very gullible constantly fooled or tricked by Lupin. He lives of his main food, instant ramen for days at a time.