This June, Lupin the Third returns to American television with its fifth official series. Not only is this the second series produced and dubbed by TMS Entertainment, it will also be the second to air on Adult Swim’s Toonami block.
Labeled as Part V, this season will once again feature the show’s iconic characters. Following their Italian Adventure, carefree master thief, Arséne Lupin III, will lead his motley crew into France. Returning are: Daisuke Jigen, our laid-back, sharpshooter; Goeman Ishikawa, the empathetic samurai; Fujiko Mine, hard-nosed burglar, and Lupin’s Achilles’ heel; and Koichi “Pops” Zenigata, the eccentric Interpol Inspector obsessed with bringing the gang to justice. Not returning for this leg of the journey is Lupin’s estranged wife, Rebecca, a polarizing character amongst the fan base.
Another, more prominent, presence will also be missing. Monkey Punch, the man who wrote and drew the original manga, died of pneumonia back in April 2019 at the age of eighty-one. After initially developing the series, this mangaka remained involved with his most popular creation, in one way or another, for over fifty years.
Monkey Punch spent the early days of his career as a Japanese dojinshi, or a freelancer who focused primarily on self-published works. Back then, he worked under his given name Kazuhiko Kato, while occasionally adopting a pen name when writing multiple series at once. In 1967, he got his big break, months after his thirtieth birthday.
The project was Lupin the Third, a comic manga based on a descendant of the fictional French thief, Arséne Lupin. It was predicted to have limited appeal and last only three months. However, since Kato’s options were limited, even a short gig for a professional manga magazine was enticing. He made several concessions and even agreed to write under the name of Monkey Punch, as requested by his then editor. Kato did not care for the name and he yet wound up keeping it because Lupin became a massive hit.
The first manga series ran from 1967 to 1969 and consisted of ninety-four magazine chapters and fourteen collectible volumes. Today, a series with fewer than one hundred chapters would be considered an average or even short manga. But in 1960s Japan, the initial twenty-one-month run was viewed as an impressive feat. It far exceeded the three-month projection and became a popular title destined to span a variety of different mediums over the next many decades.
Lupin opened up a lot of opportunities for Kato. He wrote, drew, and created dozens of mangas throughout his career and excelled in his natural element. He even got to work on various follow-ups and side stories to the original Lupin mythos. And just a few years after the first Lupin ended, he ventured into the world of anime.
Lupin the Third: Part I premiered in 1971 and the production hired Kato as a creative consultant and staff writer. Even though he found himself impressed and delighted by the animation process and the hardworking crew, the endeavor proved too much for him and he graciously bowed out. Lucky for the brand, the television show—as well as the 1979 film, The Castle of Cagliostro—was left in the capable hands of a pre-Studio Gibli Hayao Miyazaki.
Kato didn’t return to anime until the late 1990s after three Lupin series and a handful of films had already been released. But when he did come back, he came back ready to work. In over a decade, he provided numerous screenplays for Lupin-based TV movies and video games. In 1996 he directed the theatrical film Lupin the Third: Dead or Alive. While he admitted he never wanted to direct the movie alone, the final product was well received. He attributed the success to the excellent voice actors and stalwart crew.
In that instance, Kato didn’t allow discomfort to keep him away from the anime world and he continued to produce screenplays into the mid-2000s. He even did a few script tune-ups for the 2014 Lupin live-action adaptation and made a brief cameo. Until his death, he embraced the Lupin legacy as a writer, consultant, and occasional guest/panelist at conventions all over the world.
Lupin the Third: Part V premieres June 15, 2019 @ 1 am ET/PT on Toonami.