Called simply Lupin III, it began airing October 24, 1971 on Nippon Television note . The series was produced by TMS Entertainment, with several of the episodes (8-onwards) directed by future Studio Ghibli co-founders Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki.
This series is infamous among fans for its Troubled Production. Premiering to low ratings – and a fair bit of backlash from Moral Guardians due to its adult content – the original director (Masaaki Ohsumi) was fired after the second episode aired (though is credited up until the seventh, production-wise), replaced by Takahata and Miyazaki (working under the label "A-Production"), which caused a rather massive shift in tone halfway through the series. The retool wasn't enough, and the series was cancelled after a single season of just 23 episodes. However, it gained popularity upon re-airing throughout the mid-1970's, enough so that a second series was commissioned in 1977. You can read about that one here.
After decades of being officially available only in Japan and Italy, Discotek Media released the series on DVD in North America in June 2012, and will be reissuing the show for another DVD release (though this second release will not contain the special features the previous one had). It is also available for through Funimation (if you're in the United States).
In 2021, to celebrate the anime's 50th anniversary, TMS released a new English-dubbed version of the first episode of Part 1 featuring the modern cast, first alongside theatrical screenings of the first two episodes of Part 6 in October, and then as a livestream on YouTube in November. Later in December, Discotek revealed that this was only the beginning, as they'd be releasing a remastered Blu-Ray set for Part 1 featuring all the episodes newly-dubbed into English alongside an extensive production art gallery and a lengthy set of liner notes. It was released on May 31st, 2022. During the wait for the Blu-Ray, Sentai Filmworks' HIDIVE streaming service acquired the exclusive streaming rights, and began airing the series on December 23, 2021, releasing 4 episodes each Thursday in both Japanese and with the new English dub.
The recap page for this series can be found here.
This TV series features examples of:
- Absurdly Sharp Blade:
- Goemon wields a katana called the Zantetsuken ("Iron-Cutting Sword"), which was forged from the three famous swords of ancient Japan (Kotetsu, Yoshikane, and Masamune), and it is their spirit that makes it so powerful. From the translations, it's unclear if the swords themselves were used, or three techniques (to make the respective swords) were used to forge Zantetsuken. With the Broad Strokes continuity this franchise – and Monkey Punch himself – is known for, it's unlikely the writers cared.
- Goemon's second appearance introduces some history between his family and Lupin's, because Lupin the Second had a dagger that was made the same way as Zantetsuken. Lupin considers it a point of family pride to retrieve the dagger and scrolls.
- Adaptational Heroism: Likely because of broadcast standards, Lupin doesn't engage in Rape as Comedy like he does in the manga, becoming more of a Handsome Lech. Obviously, this was generally considered a good change.
- Car Skiing: In the second episode with Goemon, Lupin proceeds to car ski on a single log bridge to run over the samurai. Goemon naturally avoids it, and slices the car in half. At which point, Lupin continues to car ski with half a car still trying to run Goemon over.
- Crying Wolf: Exploited by Lupin in 'One Chance To Breakout', where Lupin intentionally causes this effect. While he's in prison, he keeps claiming that he isn't really Lupin, until everyone gets sick of it and stops listening. On the day of his execution, he switches places with a guard, who gets dragged off protesting that he isn't Lupin – and, of course, no one believes him.
- Darker and Edgier: This series has a lot of Tone Shift, due mostly to the director change partway through. Compared to the manga, this series had cut out most of the sex and violence, but it remains on the darker end of the scale, until the Retool, when "A-Productions" took over. One of Miyazaki's primary influences was to give Lupin secondary heroic goals, to balance out his selfish goals.
- Depending on the Director: The franchise in general is known for this, but the look of this series – especially Fujiko – changed drastically once Miyazaki became animation director.
- Early-Installment Weirdness: So much.
- Mainly due to the fact that this series hews much closer to the original manga than later series. One notable artistic oddity is that Lupin's famous Fiat 500 rarely appears.
- The music in this series is noticeably different, with Yuji Ohno's trademark funk nowhere to be found. Instead, the BGM has a slower jazzy feel reminiscent of the 60's, with occasional breaks into psychedelic-rock or Hispanic music.
- The Lighter and Softer tone of the Miyazaki episodes doesn’t show up anywhere else in the franchise, except for Miyazaki’s own Castle of Cagliostro. The only reason it happened at all was because audiences weren’t used to the violence and sex of the manga.
- Gas Chamber: 'One Chance to Breakout' has Lupin in jail, awaiting his execution. A guard said Lupin would be heading to the Gas Chamber. Inspector Zenigata knows that the method of execution at this particular joint is the electric chair and any guard would've known that. He has just enough time to figure out the guard is actually Lupin in disguise before Lupin uses this knowledge against him and he sets off to rescue the guard Lupin sent to be electrocuted in his place.
- Groin Attack: In episode 10, when Flinch aims a second kick at Lupin, he catches it and kicks Flinch in the crotch.
- Heel–Face Turn: Goemon, who provides one of the most downright efficient and drama-free turns ever. When first introduced, Goemon is an all-business samurai who has declared that he alone is worthy of killing Lupin. They duel a couple of times, each time ending in a stalemate. Their final confrontation ends with Lupin chasing Goemon in half a car. Realizing the absurdity of the entire situation, the two of them begin laughing and hugging like a couple of old drinking buddies. The episode ends there, and from the next episode on, Goemon is a dedicated member of Lupin's gang.
- Immune to Bullets: Pycal the Magician, from "The Man They Called A Magician", is completely immune to any kind of projectile fired at him. Lupin, Jigen, and Fujiko try pistols, machine guns, and even a bazooka on him, but it has no effect on his body. Turns out it was because he had a formula for a spray-on chemical that acted as an invisible shield.
- Improvised Sail: After stealing a dozen classic paintings, Lupin and his gang sail away on a boat whose sail is made out of the sewn-up paintings themselves.
- Indy Ploy: In 'The First Move Wins Computer Operation!', the Tokyo police department gets a supercomputer that is programmed to predict Lupin's every move. It does so extremely successfully, until Lupin realizes the way to beat it, is to throw out all his plans and act completely on whim.
- Infernal Retaliation: One of the story elements consistent across the franchise is Lupin's encounter with Goemon. The Green Jacket series plays out almost identically to the manga, using "special rocket fuel" to trick Goemon into lighting himself on fire. Lupin figures the XIII'th son of Goemon will be vulnerable to fire. Then Goemon uses the rope to burn Lupin in return. As it's Lupin, they recover.
- Lighter and Softer: The first few episodes got in trouble for being too adult for audiences, so Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata were brought in to change that. These fixes include:
- Lupin and his gang don’t kill people anymore, and there’s a lot less violence in general. Lupin mainly gets what he wants through trickery instead.
- Lupin and Fujiko’s relationship is toned down to flirting instead of sex.
- Fujiko herself becomes more of a main character, hanging out in Lupin’s gang a lot more instead of showing up randomly and betraying him in the end. Her design is also redone to make her less sexual (notably, her breasts are made smaller and she gets to wear more than minidresses).
- Zenigata starts appearing in every episode, lampshaded when he yells “I’ll get you next week!” to Lupin. He also becomes somewhat more comical.
- Little Brother Is Watching: In 'Rescue the Tomboy', the story is about Lupin kidnapping a young woman from her uncle! Her father was in Lupin the Second's gang, and asked Lupin the Third to bring her back because her "uncle", the third man of their gang, is trying to blackmail him by threatening her life. Lupin is much better behaved in this story, with almost no trace of his Handsome Lech or other Jerkass behaviors.
- Not So Stoic: Goemon usually tries to maintain a cool, calm demeanor, but he is sometimes shown to crack up laughing when the situation gets ridiculous. That’s how Lupin and he became friends in the first place!
- Once per Episode: Someone is set on fire. Seriously, it isn't always Lupin setting the blaze, but someone usually gets their clothes too close to a match or caught in an explosion, and they start burning up.
- Origins Episode: This series gives us the origins of Goemon. The other four are considered well-established at the start of the first episode. Although Zenigata does give a monologue about the "eternal rivalry" between the criminal and cop in the race car.
- Out-Gambitted: Some episodes end with whoever thought one more move ahead than everyone else winning. It might be Lupin and Jigen, or Fujiko during a(nother) betrayal, or a third party walking away with the loot.
- Episode 12 - "Who Had The Last Laugh" - is titled for this. Lupin and Jigen, Fujiko, and a criminal organization are fighting over a village's pair of gold statues, with the village's Elder wanting to sell them. Fujiko's after the treasure maps hidden in the statues, but when the dust clears and the statues get destroyed in the inevitable firefight... the Village Elder is the one with the last laugh; he had already swapped the maps out with fakes, and rode away with both the money that Lupin brought and the real maps scot-free.
- Episode 17 - "Lupin Caught In A Trap" - ends on this. Lupin, Jigen, and Fujiko get caught off guard by a criminal group and get explosive watches with a timer attached to them. The price to get them off is 3 billion yen for all three of them. After an impromptu heist of a government money-printing facility, Lupin and Jigen hide the freshly minted money in an abandoned warehouse. Once the watches are removed, Fujiko reveals (surprise) that she was in cahoots with the criminal group to get her own cut of the take and they drive off... but Lupin had already planted a bomb on the group's car, and had gone the extra mile and "made a few adjustments" to the money, making it completely worthless.
- Play-Along Prisoner: Lupin's method of playing along is to insist that other people are actually Lupin, and he's really a guard that's been disguised as Lupin by Lupin, while Lupin escaped. If you thought that was confusing, imagine how they felt after a year of it going on!
- The episode this comes from is an adaptation of the second chapter of the first volume of the original manga.
- Reverse Cerebus Syndrome: "A-Production" (A.K.A. Takahata/Miyazaki) took over after original director Masaaki Ohsumi was fired. They were tasked with making Lupin Lighter and Softer than the raunchier, more manic version depicted in the manga. Though the tone of the series became noticeably less dark, it still couldn't save the flailing series, and it was cancelled after one season. Hayao Miyazaki continued the lighter tone when he made The Castle of Cagliostro.
- Runaway Groom: In "Beware The Time Machine", Lupin convinces Fujiko to marry him in order to continue the Lupin line in anticipation of his coming demise. Then, after the Villain of the Week is thwarted and Lupin is no longer under threat of impending death, Fujiko tries to make Lupin honor the proposal while he gets cold feet and flees the church.
- Spoiler Opening: The second Title Sequence – begun with Episode 4 – introduces Goemon as a member of Lupin's gang before he even appears, spoiling his Heel–Face Turn.
- Stock Footage: The first two openings reuses footage from Lupin III <Pilot Film>, including the part where Lupin leaps off the car careening off a cliff.