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Anime Lupin III.6

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By Andrew Osmond.

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Early in Lupin the Third Part 6, there’s an appearance of a bridge which Londoners will find familiar. Hungerford Bridge is one of the capital’s less showy landmarks, crossing the Thames between the South Bank and Charing Cross Station. There’s a central railway bridge and two wide footbridges either side – the footbridges are technically the “Golden Jubilee Bridges,” but most people forget that. And if you walk over the bridge with a view of Big Ben and Parliament, then keep an eye out for Japanese people with cameras. They might be Lupin fans.


In one set piece, the World’s Greatest Criminal rides a motorbike onto the same footbridge, from the end near Charing Cross. That’s routine stuff for Lupin, but the really impressive bit is when a police car races after him. The stairs up to the real bridge have a metal divider rail in the centre. It would have been as easy as pie for the anime to leave that out, but instead the stairs are represented accurately, so the police car has to go up on two wheels as it charges upwards. Of course, the scene’s still a cheerful whopper, a stunt that’s physically impossible – well, we think it is. As for trying to do it in CG, that would be as embarrassing as 007 surfing a glacier in Die Another Day. In the effortlessly elastic cartoon world of Lupin, of course, it’s a throwaway.

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Yes, this new Lupin series, celebrating fifty years of crime since the first Lupin TV series, brings the scoundrel to London. Well, it does for some of the time. Like other TV Lupins of recent years, this series uses the Cowboy Bebop model. There are lots of one-off capers surrounding a core of episodes that are tied to slow-building arc plots. The one-off stories saunter round the world, while the first arc serial is tied to London, and it brings Lupin up against Sherlock Holmes.

This Holmes is a twenty-first century sleuth, but he’s a long way removed from the chilly sociopath played by Benedict Cumberbatch in the BBC Sherlock. One of my acquaintances was shocked that the Lupin Sherlock has a beard, but honestly, you get over it. Kind and warm, this sleuth’s characterisation recalls an even hairier Holmes, the dog detective in the 1980s anime Sherlock Hound. That show involved Hayao Miyazaki, a Lupin franchise alumnus.

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And that might not be coincidence. In the first London episode, there’s a deliciously outrageous bit when a massive tank crashes onto our capital’s streets in pursuit of our despicable hero, and it feels very like a moment in Sherlock Hound… except that in Lupin, the thief’s samurai buddy Goemon is on hand, making metal mincemeat of said tank.

Lupin and Holmes have a long history together. As many of the thief’s fans know, the “Lupin the Third” character was inspired by a fictional French thief called Arsène Lupin, created by Maurice Leblanc. Leblanc wrote a 1906 story in which “his” Lupin investigates the same mystery as Sherlock Holmes, and beats the sleuth to the punch. When that drew a complaint from Sherlock’s creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, Leblanc spoonerised the detective as “Herlock Sholmes” from then on.

For the record, Holmes (or Sholmes) was portrayed respectfully by Leblanc, as he is in the new anime. Toei actually made a TV anime special called Lupin Vs Holmes back in 1981, which again pitted Leblanc’s Lupin against Holmes. However, Lupin the Third Part 6 appears to be the first time Holmes has matched wits with Monkey Punch’s Lupin.

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Punch’s Lupin is supposedly the grandson of Leblanc’s thief, which is why he’s called “the Third.” Early in Part 6, Lupin suggests the modern-day Sherlock has similarly inherited his name from the original Sherlock Holmes, though he says he doesn’t know how the succession works. (Some fans rationalise the James Bond films on similar lines; you may remember Lupin battling a Bond-like character in Lupin the 3rd: Part IV). However, that doesn’t explain why the “new” Sherlock has a friend called Watson, a police ally called Lestrade, and enemies called Colonel Moran and “the Professor”… all like the original Sherlock!

Following Lupin tradition, there’s also an innocent young girl. This time she’s called Lily, and Holmes is raising her, but she’s not his daughter. Holmes fans may be able to work out who she is before it’s revealed; enough that violent criminals are watching Lily, and Holmes fears that Lupin is as well. Some of these criminals are secret “masters of the world” conspiracy types. Well, that’s another Lupin tradition, going back to yarns like Castle of Cagliostro. But there’s a queasy moment in one episode where these shadow-criminals, it’s suggested, are behind a British tragedy which inspired a library of conspiracies. There’s also the weirdness of glimpsing Maggie Thatcher and Nigel Lawson in a Lupin series.

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So far I’ve focused on the “arc” storyline with Sherlock. This runs through the first half of the series, with a different arc taking over for the rest. As for the one-off episodes, they feel haphazard even by Lupin standards. One of the first, involving a millionaire’s miniature railway, feels determined to drown you in wilful daftness. A two-part story shoots Lupin into 1930s Japan for a more old-school caper. In both that story and the Sherlock arc, the writers are out to celebrate not just Lupin but the crime-mystery genre of which he’s a part. As such, the stories are comparable to Kyoto Animation’s wonderful series Hyouka!, as I discuss here.

Lupin’s meta-celebration is made overt in a bizarre episode (part 4) in which the characters act out a 1927 Ernest Hemingway story called “The Killers,” then make up their own conspiracy about it. That tale is written by the feted Mamoru Oshii, director of Ghost in the Shell, Patlabor 2 and much else.

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It appears to be Oshii’s first entry into the Lupin franchise, though his pitch for a Lupin film in the 1980s has mythic status among fans. By all accounts, Oshii envisaged it as a kind of extension of his Urusei Yatsura: Beautiful Dreamer, a film unravelling its own franchise. Reportedly, it would have had Lupin realising he doesn’t exist, while Tokyo is obliterated by an “angel’s fossil” that turns out to be an atom bomb.

In Lupin the Third Part 6, an angel’s fossil turns up in Oshii’s story episode for the series (part 10), so that pays off a wait of about forty years. However, Part 6’s main writers have other pedigrees. The lead writer for the first half, handling the Sherlock arc episodes, is Takahiro Okura; he’s famed as a mystery novelist and for scripting three films with another Sherlock variant, Detective Conan. The second half of the series is overseen by Shigeru Murakoshi, lead writer of Zombie Land Saga.

Writers and directors come and go on Lupin. The Part 6 director is Eiji Suganuma, who’s a veteran key animator on everything from Gunbuster to Riding Bean. But Part 6 marks two hugely significant changes of the guard. It was the first Lupin series to be broadcast following the death of the character’s creator, Monkey Punch, in 2019 (see this blog’s obituary here). Moreover, it also includes the last Lupin story to have the gunslinger character, Jigen, voiced in Japanese by Kiyoshi Kobayashi.

Kobayashi was the last of the original Lupin voice-actors to remain in the franchise. He’d played the gunslinger since the first TV Lupin in 1971 – indeed, he was Jigen even before that, in an unscreened Lupin pilot film in 1969. In Lupin the Third Part 6, Kobayashi is in the first episode only. Called “Episode 0: The Times”, it focuses on Jigen, how he doesn’t change with the times, and why he’s stayed with Lupin so long. For the rest of the series, Jigen is voiced by another anime stalwart, Akio Ohtsuka, who’s Batou in Ghost in the Shell and Captain Nemo in Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water. Kobayashi died in July 2022, aged 89, less than a year after hanging up Jigen’s gun.

Andrew Osmond is the author of 100 Animated Feature Films. Lupin III Part 6 is released in the UK by Anime Limited.

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