Lupin The Third Part 1 is the first television anime series for the Lupin III franchise. Masaaki Osumi started out as the sole director for the series for the first six episodes. However, when ratings were poor and Osumi refused to make changes that the studio requested, Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki were brought in to help with direction. Osumi was no longer regularly directing by Episode 14, although he is an uncredited director for Episode 17. TMS Entertainment produced all 23 episodes of the series, which aired on Japanese television between October 24, 1971 and March 26, 1972. As of this writing, Discotek Media holds the North American license for Lupin The Third Part 1.

For readers who aren’t familiar with Lupin III, it’s based on a manga by Monkey Punch. Lupin III, the title character, is the grandson of the gentleman thief, Arsene Lupin, and is himself an internationally wanted thief. His right-hand man is Daisuke Jigen, who is an expert marksman. Fujiko Mine is Lupin’s primary love interest, but she herself is also a criminal who has no qualms backstabbing Lupin if it suits her needs. Goemon Ishikawa XIII is a samurai and expert swordsman that becomes part of Lupin’s group. They are pursued by Inspector Heiji Zenigata VII from the Tokyo MPD, who is considered an expert on Lupin III and has made capturing Lupin his life goal. But Lupin always manages to outsmart Zenigata.

Prior to watching Lupin III Part 1, my only exposure to the franchise was through the The Castle of Cagliostro anime film, and the crossover anime special and film with Detective Conan. With such a limited exposure, it’s not surprising that the first episode of this series caught me off-guard. It should be noted that this series was the first anime created in Japan to target an adult audience, so the tone of the early episodes that were directed solely by Masaaki Osumi have a much different tone than The Castle of Cagliostro. From what I’ve read, these early episodes are closest in tone to Monkey Punch’s original manga. As someone who is more familiar with Takahata and Miyazaki’s take on the Lupin III franchise, it was a bit startling to see how nihilistic Lupin was in these early episodes compared to the goofier version of Lupin that was seen in The Castle of Cagliostro.

In these early episodes, the viewer gets the backstory for how Goemon becomes part of Lupin’s gang. Since I was only familiar with material from the franchise after this point, I wasn’t aware that Goemon had started out as an antagonist for Lupin and his gang before joining them. It was nice to finally know a little more about Goemon and how he joined up with Lupin, since I was missing this context when watching what I have seen of the franchise before now.

With the changes in directors, the viewer can definitely see a change in the series over the course of it. In some ways, it kind of feels like you’re watching three different series over the course of the 23 episodes. The first would be the more adult-oriented version, the second would be the transition period when Osumi was directing with Takahata and Miyazaki, and the third would be the episodes directed by just Takahata and Miyazaki.

By the time Takahata and Miyazaki were solely in charge of directing, there were noticeable redesigns for the characters. The most drastic of these was the redesign of Fujiko. Her face was changed to look more like the heroines that viewers have come to recognize in many of Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli films, and she went from having long hair to short hair. Personally, I didn’t care as much for the short-haired Fujiko.

In some respects, it can be hard to truly judge Lupin The Third Part 1 as an entire unit, due to the drastic changes that happened during its run due to the director changes. I really can’t say that character depictions are consistent throughout the 23 episodes because of this fact. In addition to Lupin III becoming less nihilistic and more light-hearted as a character, it should also be noted that Jigen’s attitude toward Fujiko changes as the series progresses. Right at first, it’s obvious that he doesn’t like or trust Fujiko, because he’s constantly saying so to Lupin himself. However, by the time Takahata and Miyazaki take complete control of direction, this aspect to Jigen’s character disappears. He’s not openly antagonistic toward her as he was early on in the series.

I can’t forget to comment on the music, especially the theme songs and the insert song, “Nice Guy Lupin.” Admittedly, the first theme song has very repetitive lyrics, but it’s still an earworm. Most of the songs were sung by Charlie Kosei, and he has a very distinctive voice that works well for the tone the series was going for. I don’t know why, but whenever the “Nice Guy Lupin” insert song appeared, and I would hear, “Lupin, he’s a nice man,” I would grin and giggle. I don’t know if it’s the lyrics themselves, or a combination of the lyrics and the delivery, but I was always amused by this particular song.

Even though the 23 episodes of Lupin The Third Part 1 may not be a smooth viewing experience due to the circumstances that took place during its production, it’s still an important part of anime history. If you’ve ever watched any of the later series or films in the Lupin III franchise and have never watched the first series, I would recommend watching it at least once in order to have a better idea of Lupin III‘s early origins and to expose yourself to this piece of anime history.

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