The Lupin Conundrum
I love Lupin the 3rd. He hits all of my fanboy buttons the same way Han Solo, Indiana Jones, and James Bond do. He’s a roguish, slightly amoral action-adventure type who’s more about fortune and glory and getting the girl than saving the day or angsting over stuff like “emotions.” He’s an old-school pulp “hero” who is both larger than life and down-to-earth. He’s capable of seemingly superhuman feats, but he’s also the sort of character you can relate with in a vicarious way. He’s the sort of “perfect” that seems almost attainable if it weren’t for all of those nagging little details that make stuff like “reality” so banal and mundane– that sort of fantasy that’s just outside your grasp.
But I have issues with Lupin. Rather, I have issues with his stories. Lupin is an iconic character, but unlike the other characters I mentioned, he doesn’t have what I would call an iconic career.
Take James Bond. He has many defining moments (a literal roll in the hay with Pussy Galore, leaping off a cliff while skiing to reveal a Union Jack parachute, “shaken not stirred,” etc), defining villains and supporting cast members (Blofeld, Jaws, Oddjob, Moneypenny, Q, etc), and an iconography that’s practically a language in and of itself (Aston Martins, tuxedos, Walther PPKs, etc).
This could reflect my own “upbringing” or whatever (The first movie I remember as a kid was For Your Eyes Only. My dad took me to see it when it first came out in 1981. I was maybe three at the time. I’ve been a Bond fan ever since.), but after all of the Lupin movies and TV series that I’ve seen, Lupin just doesn’t measure up. The problem with this is that Lupin should measure up to Bond in this regard.
This isn’t to say that Lupin has nothing in the way of defining tidbits. Lupin’s look, with his jacket that changes colors depending on when the particular series takes place, is right up there with Bond’s formal decor. Lupin’s supporting cast may be stronger than Bond’s, what with Jigen, Goemon, Fujiko, and Zenigata, but after that there’s a distinct lack of “iconic” bits to Lupin. Outside of Castle of Cagliostro, I couldn’t describe to you any scenes the way I can describe Bond being strapped to a table with a laser pointed at his crotch. Other than a movie that was directed by Miyazaki himself, Lupin doesn’t have the sort of defining moments possessed by characters of similar stature.
Like I said, this could be the result of me not being as inundated with Lupin-ness the way I’ve been drowned in Bondness since I was barely out or diapers, but I doubt it. I’ve made a definite effort to “catch up” with Lupin. I’ve seen a good chunk of his TV series and I’ve probably seen ten Lupin movies. In terms of hours watched, I’ve probably seen just as much Lupin as I’ve seen James Bond, but none of it sticks the way Bond sticks.
Essentially, Lupin may be an iconic character, but he doesn’t have the iconic story that he deserves.
What Lupin needs is a bit of a shake-up. The same voice actors have been playing the characters since monkeys rose out of the primordial ooze it seems. Start there. Let them bow out on a high note with some sort of “final” TV special (that could very well be the recent “Final Job” special, but I’m not up on what’s going on at the moment) and then start over. Get an entirely new cast to do the voices. No holdovers. No “Judi Dench still playing M despite resetting the Bondverse.”
Once you clear out the cast and get some new peeps, what Lupin needs is a genuine antagonist. No, Zenigata isn’t an antagonist. Zenigata is Lupins foil. They compete and fight and are eternally linked to one another, but they do not have an antagonistic relationship. They both respect one another (grudgingly in Zenigata’s case) and neither one of them wants to do any real harm to the other. On the occasions that one of them seems to die, the other is genuinely bummed. What Lupin needs is the SPECTRE to his Bond. It doesn’t need to be an overarching conspiracy or organization, but there needs to be a singular force that is behind most of his confrontations. Maybe it could be someone more like Moriarty– a similarly brilliant criminal mind who is willing to go that extra nefarious step that Lupin refuses to take. Lupin may be a scoundrel that breaks the law, but he isn’t a murderer or a terrorist. Lupin could benefit from a genuine nemesis that plays along those lines.
Obviously, this nemesis shouldn’t replace Zenigata, it should simply be an addition to the Lupinverse.
I’d also love to see Lupin move away from yearly specials. The recent ones have felt a bit half-assed and gimmicky. A team-up with Detective Conan? That feels more like Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein than anything, and such combinations are never as cool as they sound. Get back into the big-budget theatrical movie business. Maybe go to a bi-yearly movie schedule or something like that so there’s more time to plan movies and pump up the animation. Lupin deserves something BIG like that, but he’s been reduced to the anime equivalent of guest-starring on The Love Boat and being a celebrity partner on The $100,000 Pyramid.
Quit slumming it up, Lupin, and pull a Casino Royale on the animeverse!
Unless that slumming results in something awesome like the above. Then you and Spike can slum all you want. I’d blow up the universe twice to make something like that a reality.