The unexpected flop of 1987's Fuma Conspiracy was a blow to TMS's efforts to revive the Lupin III franchise after the poor receptions of the Pink Jacket series and its related movie Legend of the Gold of Babylon. Yet the strong passions Fuma aroused proved that Japan had not yet given up on Lupin; TMS just needed to take a new (or old) tack...
On April 1st 1989, twenty years after the Lupin III <Pilot Film> was released and four years after Babylon hit cinemas, NTV aired Bye Bye Liberty Crisis, a 97-minute Made-for-TV Movie. Featuring the return of the original music composer and voice cast, it was a big hit. Since then, TMS has made an effort to have a new Lupin III special produced every year, typically airing either in April or (more recently) in late Fall. Things slowed down in the mid-2010's with 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2018 having no specials and the 2016 one re-using footage from Lupin III: The Italian Adventure, but this was likely due to the focus on The Italian Adventure and Lupin III: Part 5 in the main series, as well as the spin-off Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine and its own three tie-in specials. Since then, 2019 saw two yearly specials (one at the beginning and one at the end of the year) and with interest in Lupin rising again, there are probably more on the way. note
Watching these specials is something of a trip through Japan's recent animation history. Unlike the old TV series, TMS does not make these specials in-housenote . Animation is typically handled by other studios (including sister company Telecom Animation Film) or freelanced animation teams, who often adapt the Lupin house style to whatever artistic trend that studio or team is currently using, with TMS supplying their usual support studios to help with minor tasks like inbetweening and photography most of the time. Depending on the Artist is the rule rather than the exception here. As a result, many of these specials look wildly different from each other. This trend has affected Fujiko the most, of course, but none of the cast is immune to its effects. The animation quality, while far higher than any of the TV series, also varies from special to special.
In terms of content, these specials largely tread a middle ground – although they are certainly more kid-friendly than Monkey Punch's extremely violent and raunchy manga, they are nonetheless a fair bit darker than Red Jacket, or especially Pink Jacket. Still, because Lupin remains a beloved franchise in Japan, and these specials air in Japanese prime time, they usually stay at least nominally Shōnen for families rather than going for a more true-to-source Seinen.
Many of these specials have found their way into the American and British market. Funimation licensed and dubbed eight of them – from 1993's Voyage To Danger to 2000's Missed By A Dollar – which they released in the early/mid 2000's, though they are now out-of-print. Manga UK dubbed and released the first special, Bye-Bye Liberty Crisis, in PAL-VHS markets in the mid-90's. Discotek has picked up several specials from both before and after Funimation's block, and as of 2016, even the ones in Funimation's block have been re-entering print thanks to Discotek. Italy has released a large number of them as well, but even they do not have all of them.
Below is the list of each special to air since 1989. They are listed by their official English release name, if they had one, or the main title translated from Japanese, with the full title listed in parentheses for those with subtitles.note
- 1989: Lupin III: Bye-Bye Liberty Crisis!
- 1990: Lupin III: Mystery of the Hemingway Papers
- 1991: Lupin III: Steal Napoleon's Dictionary
- 1992: Lupin III: From Siberia With Love (From Russia With Love)
- 1993: Lupin III: Voyage to Danger (Orders to Assassinate Lupin)
- 1994: Lupin III: Dragon of Doom (Burn, Zantetsuken!)
- 1995: Lupin III: The Pursuit of Harimao's Treasure
- 1996: Lupin III: The Secret of Twilight Gemini
- 1997: Lupin III: Island of Assassins (In Memory of the Walther-P38)
- 1998: Lupin III: Crisis in Tokyo (Memories of the Flame ~Tokyo Crisis~)
- 1999: Lupin III: The Columbus Files (Da Capo of Love ~Fujiko's Unlucky Days~)
- 2000: Lupin III: Missed by a Dollar ($1 Money Wars)
- 2001: Lupin III: Alcatraz Connection
- 2002: Lupin III: Episode 0: First Contact
- 2003: Lupin III: Operation: Return the Treasure
- 2004: Lupin III: Stolen Lupin (Stolen Lupin ~The Copy Cat is a Midsummer's Butterfly~; with A-Line)
- 2005: Lupin III: Angel Tactics (An Angel's Tactics ~Fragments of a Dream Are the Scent of Murder~)
- 2006: Lupin III: Seven Days Rhapsody
- 2007: Lupin III Elusiveness Of The Fog
- 2008: Lupin III Sweet Lost Night (Sweet Lost Night ~Magic Lamp's Nightmare Premonition~)
- 2009: Lupin III vs. Detective Conan (with APPP, Dogakobo and Xebec) note
- 2010: Lupin III: The Last Job (with The Answer Studio)
- 2011: Lupin III: Blood Seal ~Eternal Mermaid~ (with Nippon Animation)
- 2012: Lupin III: Travels of Marco Polo – Another Page (Record of Observations of the East ~Another Page~)
- 2013: Lupin III: Princess of the Breeze (Princess of the Breeze ~Hidden City in the Sky~)
- 2016: Lupin III Italian Game
- 2023: Lupin III Vs Cat's Eye note
Tropes Common in Each Special
- 2D Visuals, 3D Effects: In the 2001 specials onward, CGI has been used in various ways. In some of those earlier specials, it stands out hard against Lupin III's retro style. Later specials have blended it in with the more traditional Lupin look to varying degrees of success. On a couple of occasions, it's used on purpose to make something, usually the MacGuffin, stand out.
- Cerebus Rollercoaster: As detailed below, the specials can shift greatly from light to dark across year to year, especially since most of them have had different directors who each placed their own quirks and tones on the stories and characters.
- Darker and Edgier: A handful of specials have pushed Lupin to a darker tone than the TV series with more violence and bloodshed than seen in a standard episode. Island of Assassins is the front-runner for darkest of all of them. None of them, however, are as dark in tone as A Woman Named Fujiko Mine or its tie-in specials.
- Depending on the Artist: As mentioned above, this is the rule rather than the exception since TMS uses different directors for each special, and will farm out them out to different studios to animate on occasion. Some designs are reused from special to special, however, or are actually modeled on earlier versions of Lupin.
- Depending on the Writer: Characterization tends to vary the most here in the Lupin canon, more so than any of the TV series.
- Minor character traits, details of their past, or other features tend to be created, ignored, or exaggerated for the sake of the plot, and then forgotten or altered in the next go around. Most fans consider each Lupin special to be something of its own canon and to not sweat the small changes in-between.
- One place it tends to be constantly changed is in how it affects Jigen's Improbable Aiming Skills and Goemon's Implausible Fencing Powers, with them more limited in their skills in one special and then having near superhuman abilities in the next.
- Zenigata tends to get the most actual character change from special to special. In some, he's a competent ICPO officer just a step behind Lupin, sometimes he's near-inept and just there for comic relief, and sometimes he's a badass in his own right that can hold his own with the gang.
- Fanservice: Of course; usually provided by Fujiko and/or the Girl of the Week, but later specials have put less emphasis on female-only fan service and begun focusing on the male characters as well.
- Girl of the Week: They come in all forms: old flames or friends, rival thieves, reluctant allies, turned enemies, having a past with the MacGuffin or villain, etc. Whoever they are, don't count on any of them to appear in anything past their one special.note The really unfortunate ones end up Killed Off for Real.
- Latex Perfection: Rare is the special where Lupin and/or his gang do not make use of disguises. Rarer is the special where are least one of those disguises is not Inspector Zenigata.
- Lighter and Softer: They're still not as dark as the original manga or the Woman Named Fujiko Mine continuity, and often have a healthy dose of humor and gags.
- Long-Runners: This series alone is one of the longest-lasting parts of the Lupin III franchise, with twenty-seven specials released across thirty years and counting.
- MacGuffin: The most common way to get the plot going in these; Lupin either steals or wants to steal a great treasure that is not what it appears to be or leads to a bigger treasure and/or a huge threat that he and the gang have to find and solve before the end of the film.
- Monumental Theft: On occasion; Bye Bye Liberty Crisis is the most famous example, but heists involving other landmarks around the world have happened.
- Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist: If there's any place in the franchise that consistently shows Zenigata's willingness to work with Lupin to stop a bigger problem, it's in the specials. As the stakes are usually bigger than they are in the TV series and often entire countries or even the world will be at stake, Zenigata will throw in with Lupin just long enough to stop the bigger threat. At the end of the special, it's back to business as usual and Zenigata will either be found chasing Lupin and company into the sunset, or working to get a recently arrested Villain of the Week to the nearest police station for processing so he can get back to the chase.