Top picks: Lupin III "Part I"
Lupin III “Part I”, also known as the Green Jacket series, first hit TV in Japan on the 24th of October, 1971.
With Kazuhiko Katō’s original comics proving a success, and after dabbling in animation with a pilot film in 1969, it was time to transform the Lupin series into a weekly television show.
A 37 year old Masaaki Ōsumi initially took the role of director. He began by creating some (slightly altered) adaptations of chapters from the original manga, along with conjuring up some new story lines to go alongside them.
The tone of the initial episodes of the Green Jacket show was comparable to that of the original manga. It was considered one of the first animated series for adults, including mature themes and darker, more twisted plot lines. Lupin and the gang were rather unsympathetic of one another - and as a result, not entirely likable. While this makes for an interesting curio to look back on, at the time, the show was simply not drawing in the viewership needed to carry it onward to the end of the season.
As a result, the show launched to little success. After only two episodes into its original run on Yomiuri Television, investors / production were adamant that change was needed to help broaden its appeal. Ōsumi refused to make said changes, insisting he stick to the source material, which ultimately led to his departure from the team (with episode 9 being his last with full creative control).
His replacements were Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata - both of whom were hand picked by Yasuo Ōtsuka, an industry veteran also working on the show. Miyazaki and Takahata were both young and had a lot to prove. They worked hard at reshaping the show and the characters, ultimately creating the same interpretation of Lupin the majority of us know and love today.
Under Miyazaki and Takahata’s control, Lupin was far more happy-go-lucky and his relationship with Inspector Zenigata became more of a Tom and Jerry style comedy chase. Fujiko became less sex appeal, and acted more like part of the gang. Jigen and Goemon’s dynamic changed in the team - and they became more like friends, rather than foes.
Unfortunately, this all came slightly too late. The viewing figures failed to impress, and the shows run was cut slightly short with 23 episodes total. It took until around 1974 - 1975 for the show to pick up some traction, mostly due to re-runs and partially thanks to the release of the live action film. This eventually led to the creation of the 1977 Red Jacket series - which had a much broader appeal and saw far greater success.
As stated in our previous Part IV feature, we are limiting the list to five picks in total. There are many amazing episodes in the first series of Lupin III, and if you enjoy any of the ones listed here - regardless of which era of the show they came from - we strongly suggest checking out more!
Episode 4: One Chance for a Prison Break
Lupin is finally under arrest, and the given sentence is death…!?
This episode is based upon an early chapter of Monkey Punch’s original manga and serves as a good example of an Ōsumi TV adaptation.
While slightly less dark than its manga counterpart, One Chance for a Prison Break still has a strange and twisted feeling about it. There is a definite sense of unease / tension as Lupin seemingly waits things out until the day he is to depart. He is oddly calm about his fate - is he confident in his ability to escape? Has he given up and is paying the price for his crimes? Even Jigen and Fujiko are not sure…
It serves as a great character piece - especially for Inspector Zenigata, who after dedicating his entire career to catching the thief, cannot come to terms with his fate - and as a result, deal with the consequence of his actions.
This episode is not too dissimilar to episode 13 of Part IV, which we recommended as part of our blue jacket top picks. We would recommend watching them in any order, but be sure to check out the original manga chapter too, if you can!
Episode 5: The Coming of Goemon the 13th
Lupin meets Ishikawa Goemon XIII for the first time - but is he friend or foe?
While it proves almost impossible to decipher Lupin canon, Part I’s first encounter between the two characters is an extremely hostile one. In Monkey Punch’s original manga, Goemon originated as a rival to Lupin. The samurai spent several volumes attempting to take Lupin’s life after learning the thief was attempting to steal his master’s alchemic formula for invincible sword blades (as ridiculous as that sounds, this was a big deal to our samurai friend)!
In the TV show, Lupin goes “undercover” to meet with Goemon, only to learn of the samurai’s intent. This Ōsumi directed episode is a great example of how the characters relationships between one another changed over the course of the show, while also possessing lots of twists and turns to remain an entertaining ride throughout. It is also one of the earliest episodes to feature Fujiko’s staple double-crossing of characters and working with others to get what she desires.
Episode 10: Target the Cash Counterfeiter!
By episode 10, Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata were both in control of the show’s direction… and you might be able to tell!
Target the Cash Counterfeiter not only serves as a great introduction in the happy go lucky, adventurous style of Lupin caper, but it also shares more than a few early ideas with Miyazaki’s 1979 feature film, The Castle of Cagliostro.
Lupin and Jigen toss down counterfeit money from a plane to the excited crowds below. There is a romp through a clock tower - an evil Baron and plenty of action. If you are a fan of Cagliostro or are simply looking at getting into the more family-friendly side of Part I, this episode is an absolute must-see. While it shares many of the same ideas as Cagliostro, it somehow still manages to feel unique as the story plays out perfectly in its own 23-minute episode.
Episode 15: Let's Catch Lupin and Go to Europe
Inspector Zenigata is invited to an ICPO convention in Europe, but there is only one small thing he needs to do before his trip… capture Lupin!
This episode is my personal favourite of Part I. It feels like a comedy, with lots of chasing and antics between both Lupin and Inspector Zenigata.
The gang struggle to execute their plan of stealing a gold bust owned by a wealthy millionaire, but they ultimately have the last laugh literally as Inspector Zenigata is airborne, on his way to Europe to celebrate his victory.
Zenigata’s frustration and humility here, despite doing a stellar job at protecting the gold bust, never gets old. This becomes a theme that is repeated throughout Part I, and to a greater extent, across the further 50 years of the franchise.
Episode 19: Which Third-Generation Will Win?!
The grandson of Lupin I’s greatest rival, Inspector Ganimard III is here to challenge Lupin! Will he capture the thief and steal the limelight from Inspector Zenigata?
Which Third-Generation Will Win?! is another comedic take on the green jacket formula and as a few episodes do, features references to Maurice LeBlanc’s original stories. These not only take the form of Inspector Ganimard himself, a direct reference to a character from the original books, but also his plan to bait Lupin out by putting on a show of prized Lupin I treasures at a local museum.
Lupin takes the bait of course - he never turns down a challenge, but it is Inspector Zenigata that gets in the way of Ganimard’s plans. To him, having someone else in charge of the Lupin case is unbearable - he knows best, after all!
Much like Let's Catch Lupin and Go to Europe, there are many great comedy moments here and this episode features reference to the original books in perhaps my personal favourite way possible - as an ingenious plot device. As always, Lupin’s solution of winning the day is very clever, and some of the later scenes really help to show the struggles Inspector Zenigata (and now Ganimard) go through in attempting at cornering the thief.
What are your favourite episodes of Part I?
Which episodes would you recommend to fans of the more recent shows - or viewers who are brand new to the series?
Be sure to let us know in the comments section below!