Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Best Red Jacket Lupin Episodes (Series II)



155 episodes of varying quality are hard to watch all at once. So here are the 10 greatest.

After reviewing the first (Green Jacket) Lupin the Third series, I figured that I should post about the second (Red Jacket) series sometime. Lupin III: Part II (or Shin Lupin as it is known in Japan), is the best known version of Lupin abroad, being successful enough to run for three years and is still fairly popular today. Its opening theme and score by Yuji Ohno have practically slipped into the public subconsciousness. In fact, Lupin Part II holds a couple of unique distinctions: It was the third anime ever made to run over 150 episodes (only after Astro Boy (1963-1966) and Dokaben (1976-1979). Most animes at the time ran for about 30-60 episodes on average.), and its 99th episode was the first anime to ever be broadcasted in stereo.

Of course, churning out a new episode weekly for several years means that not every episode is a winner. The overall quality of the show itself is decent, but the quality of the animation and storylines can be highly variable and some of the episodes are so out there or sloppily put together that they are best avoided all together. (The worst offenders being perhaps "Lupin's Grommet Heaven" and "Frankenstein Attacks Lupin".) However, Lupin Part II does tend to improve in quality over time and is best described as more lighthearted and carefree take on the franchise than the original Green Jacket series. This second series isn't really worth watching all the way through unless you happen to be a die hard fan. Really, Lupin Part II is perhaps best described as a causal anime, as the episodes can be literally watched in any order as the show has little to not interrelated plots (except for a few special two part episodes). But the thing is, the great episodes of this classic anime are absolute must sees for not just Lupin III fans, but any anime fan period.

Below, I have put together a list of the ten best Lupin III: Part II episodes based upon popular (and my own) opinion. You can watch each episode listed by clicking on the their titles highlighted green. (To watch the dubbed version instead, click on the name of the dub listed in the entry). Enjoy!*



Lupin may be a great thief, but he's a terrible babysitter.

Director: Kyosuke Mikuriya
Season & Episode #: 2 - 27
Studio: TMS
Dub Name / Dubber: "The Little Princess of Darkness", Geneon

What It's About:

In a museum, the famous Cinderella Stamp is on display. The stamp is one of the only 12 ever made and all of its former owners have either been a princess or gone on to become one. However, when Lupin and his gang try to steal the rare stamp, they find themselves stuck with a little girl named Alice. Alice also wants the stamp, in hopes of becoming a princess herself. She proves to be nuisance, as she refuses to leave Lupin until he gives it to her. Alice is determined and Lupin is charged with kidnapping! This leads up to a climatic chase at a theme park with Inspector Zenigata hot on Lupin's tail. What will Lupin do?

Why It's Great:

This episode is rather unconventional compared to most Lupin III fare. Kysouke Mikuriya directed the most Lupin Part II episodes (83 in total), and while not all of them were great, he loved to throw off the audience's expectations once in a while. Having Lupin's rival be a non-threating but smart little girl, instead of a large cooperate boss or gang member, is pretty funny. It puts the thief in an awkward position, as he does certainly not want to harm a kid or upset one. Lupin's lack of experience with children is very apparent when he is easily tricked by Alice and reluctantly obliges to let her tag along. The last part of the episode is also memorable, as it is a very strange but entertaining tribute to many classic Disney films (keeping with the princess theme of course).


Lupin tries to get some Christmas 'spirit' by stealing wine.

Directors: Kyosuke Mikuriya & Kazunori Tanabashi
Season & Episode #: 1 - 12
Studio: TMS
Dub Name / Dubber: "The Sleight Before Christmas", Geneon

What It's About:

A bottle of wine that Napoleon made for Josephine is going to be given as a Christmas gift from the French government to the U.S. president. Lupin and co. head off to Bordeaux. They manage to enter the winery by hiding in some barrels, but are confronted by Zenigata. Later, they attempt to steal the bottle by sneaking on Zenigata's plane and switching it out with cheap wine. At the end of the showdown, who will get the present and the last laugh?

Why It's Great:

"A Present for the President" is very entertaining, as it manages to be a holiday episode that doesn't explicitly play out like most other Christmas themed titles. Having Lupin play the part of the 'Grinch' when he steals the wine (and later 'Santa' when he accidentally realizes that he stole dolls that were supposed to be donated to underprivileged children), is an entertaining way at poking fun at popular tropes. Even though this an early episode, the backgrounds and exaggerated character animation are well drawn. The characters themselves have a lot great interactions with one another, such as when Zenigata argues with a carefree French policeman who can never get his name right, and when Lupin's gang floods the wine cellar. But the best part of this outing is its surprise ending.



One of the funnest things about this show is seeing how all of the crazy heists get pulled off. 

Director:  Kyosuke Mikuriya
Season & Episode #: 2 - 48
Studio: TMS
Dub Name / Dubber: "Vault Assault", Geneon

What It's About:

Lupin plans to take the till from the Kentucky Derby, but the truck he stole actually contains Zenigata. Lupin, Jigen, and Goemon jump into the river, only to be apparently shot by a policeman. However, it turns out this is all just a ploy to throw off Zenigata. Lupin's next target is the Metropolitan Bank's vault. Lupin and Jigen manage to sneak in when Fujiko delivers them in a safe-box. Then the real challenge begins. How can they possibly steal the money without setting off an alarm system that activates at the weight of a handkerchief?

Why It's Great:

Seeing Zenigata trick Lupin once in a while is really important, otherwise the show gets too predictable or Zenigata ends up looking too stupid. Likewise, showing Zenigata getting really upset when Lupin supposedly dies gives a nice insight on the friendly rivalry the two share. It's also pretty amusing to watch Lupin, Jigen, and Goemon fight over which genre of music is best while they are listening to the radio, which is probably something every family or spouse can relate with. This is one of the episodes that best demonstrates how Lupin and his friends can organize elaborately complicated schemes, while running circles around the security and the police. In fact, Lupin makes theft look a lot funner than it should!

7. Will it Be the Computer or Lupin?


Zenigata and Lupin, sworn enemies and occasional allies.

Director: Kyosuke Mikuriya
Season & Episode #: 3 - 57
Studio: TMS (with Yuzo Aoki)
Dub Name / Dubber: "Alter-Ego Maniac", Geneon

What It's About:

Located in a VTOL aircraft in Hawaii, there is a highly sophisticated safe that can be programmed to outsmart any of its potential opponents. Professor Hunt declares it to be his masterpiece and scoffs at the idea that Lupin could rob it. But when Zenigata notices that Hunt's collection contains a throwing coin owned by his Edo-period ancestor, he steals it on a sudden impulse. Overcome with guilt, Zenigata goes over to Lupin and begs for his assistance. Now the unlikely duo must team up to return the coin (and Lupin plans to also take the loot).

Why It's Great:

Yuzo Aoki's somewhat demented art style and free form character animation is in stark contrast to that of Telecom's polished style. This is not a bad thing, however, but actually a compliment. Aoki had long been involved with the Lupin franchise and went on to be the character designer for the (love it or hate it) third Lupin series. He was heavily involved with bringing his own unique brand of visual humor to some of the more bizarre or wacky episodes. This episode is a great showcase of his work. Not only that, but having Lupin and Zenigata work together for differing motives is a nice change of pace. Having Lupin outfox an over pompous criminal expert or a high ranking official is always guaranteed a laugh. And how surprising it was to have a very determined Zenigata take down all of Lupin's gang before convincing the thief to help him!



It's the best ill-fated romance episode starring Jigen.

Directors: Yasumi Mikamoto & Yagi Ishikura
Season & Episode #: 3 - 58
Studio: TMS
Dub Name / Dubber: "Gettin' Jigen With It", Geneon

What It's About:

Lupin and Jigen are in the Soviet Union where they plan to steal the Aurora Drop, a valuable diamond. The diamond is adorned on a ballerina's forehead. Both Lupin and Jigen manage to successfully snatch it with a remote controlled net, but Jigen is wounded, the diamond turns out be a fake, and Lupin is forced to move ahead. In an unexpected twist, the ballerina, Monkia Ivanov, rescues Jigen and he ends up helping her cross the border so she can defect and escape to America. Can Jigen and Monkia get past the Communist Block? Will Jigen's heart be broken when he discovers Monkia was using him?  

Why It's Great:

Breaking up the cops vs robbers pattern, there have been a couple of side character centered episodes, usually about a rivalry of Goemon's or some tragic love story with Jigen. (The later which may explain why Jigen is untrusting of most women). "The Border is the Face of Farewell" is perhaps the best of these episodes due to its focused plot and intense emotions. The fact the it starts off like a regular Lupin episode also throws off the audience a bit. Despite that Monika leaves Jigen, she does seem to respect him and has valid ambitions of her own. "The Border is the Face of Farewell" is also notable for starring Ikeda Masako (best known for playing Maetel in Galaxy Express 999 as well as being the Japanese dub voice for Audrey Hepburn) and for including a homage to the British film noir The Third Man.



How do they escape this time? It's ridiculous. Watch it.

Director: Shigetsugu Yoshida
Season & Episode #: 3 - 85
Studio: TMS (with Yuzo Aoki)
Dub Name / Dubber: none

What It's About:

 Two troubled lovers, the blind Maureen and the hooligan Stefan, come over to Lupin's gang for assistance after stealing a diamond from them. They want to use the diamond for their honeymoon before Maureen passes away from illness. Fujiko is so moved by their plight, that Lupin, Jigen, and Goemon all agree to assist the couple. But Lupin and his friends have all fallen into trap set by the ICPO! It turns out that Maureen and Stefan, are actually the bureau chief Jasmine and Inspector Zenigata. Ecstatic with their success, Maureen proposes to a bashful Zenigata, while Lupin and co. are placed in a sinister cel with spiked mobile grating. Can our anti-heros escape without becoming impaled? Will Lupin ruin Zenigata's marriage plans?

Why It's Great:

Shigetsugu Yoshida may have directed the most awful Lupin III film in existence, The Gold of Babylon (1985), and produced a few dud episodes (such as one involving Lupin moving penguins from the South to North Pole. Yes, you heard that right, penguins). But he also directed his fair share of funny, well written episodes and acted as the assistant director of the most famous Lupin film, The Castle of Cagliostro (1979). "ICPO Secret Directive" is one of his best ones. It is a riot from start to finish with all of its dramatic irony. There are just so many great sight gags in this episode. Jasmine is an interesting side character. She's less of blunderer than Zenigata, but somehow seems to be rather charmed by him never the less. It's always nice to see a competent female character, considering that Fujiko's personality and set of skills seem to vary widely depending on the writer. Speaking of Fujiko, her interactions with Lupin are particularly memorable in this episode, and somehow she holds the 'key' to escaping the cell.



Lupin and Zenegata are captured and must flee, while tied together!

Director: Kyosuke Mikuriya
Season & Episode #: 2 - 30
Studio: TMS (with Yuzo Aoki)
Dub Name / Dubber: "Morocco Horror Picture Show", Geneon

What It's About:

Lupin is separated from his friends while he is in Morocco, after being lured away by an attractive girl. Suddenly, he is stuffed away into a bag and brought to a desert encampment. Zenigata is also captured. Both are being forced into the Foreign Legion, an armed antiestablishment sect. Neither of them want to join the involuntary army, and things only get worse when Lupin causes trouble. Both Lupin and Zenigata are shackled together by the neck, but manage to escape into the desert. Now, they must run for their lives, with the legion in pursuit.

Why It's Great:

"The Wind is Hot in Morocco" is where Aoki's style perhaps shines the most. The situations which Zenigata and Lupin get into are very outrageous, like when they disguise themselves as an Arabic couple to avoid detection (only to have Zenigata get hit on by the legion's commander!) or when both hide in large vats of colorful paint. The pure lunacy of this episode shows off the Lupin franchise's goofy side, but still has enough of a plot to hold itself together. The beginning of the episode is a great bait and switch, because its narrative flow and animation looks fairly average at first, but then steadily become more loose and wacky. Lupin and Zenigata pretty much define the term 'friendly rivalry,' constantly fighting but willing to risk each other's safety to help one another. Both certainly are rash in their own ways and are very determined to achieve their own goals.



This is about as good as TV animation gets.

Director: Shigetsugu Yoshida
Season & Episode #: 4 - 151
Studio: Telecom
Dub Name / Dubber: none

What It's About:

Lupin and Fujiko are carrying out a plan to steal an entire shipment of South African diamonds. Unfortunately, they bump into Zenigata (who else?) and Fujiko is taken hostage. Zenigata is unusually calm about failing to catch Lupin. He has set up an elaborate trap utilizing a collapsing mechanism set to go off at a certain point on the highway. Fujiko tries to warn Lupin, and both Jigen and Goemon are leery. Zenigata has never been so sure of himself or so smug, but Lupin never backs down to a challenge. As they say, pride comes before the fall...

Why It's Great:

Telecom is a very talented animation studio. The quality of the work produced by Telecom is practically theatrical. Its staff gained much experience from working on the production of the first two Lupin III films (The Mystery of Mamo and The Castle of Cagliostro). Really, I could have just as easily listed all of the other episodes produced by this company in place several other entries, but that wouldn't represent this show very accurately. "The Arrest Lupin Highway Operation" is expertly paced and leaves its viewers on their toes. Much more emphasis is put on the drama and action than most Lupin episodes, but this one is consistently funny as well. (Otherwise it wouldn't really be Lupin III, would it?) Another interesting thing about these Telecom episodes is that Fujiko is frequently shown to be less of sex symbol and more as 'one of the gang.' Sure, Fujiko, being a femme fatale archetype, is supposed to be sexy, but a woman who can fight for herself and stand her own ground, is more appealing than one that shouts, "Save me!" all the time and only exists to provide fan service.



The final Lupin episode went out with a dramatic bang.  

Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Season & Episode #: 4 - 155
Studio: Telecom
Dub Name / Dubber: "Aloha Lupin", Streamline

What's It's About:

A jewelry store in Tokyo is raided by an armored robot. Maki Oyamada, daughter of the robot's inventor, is piloting the machine, believing that she is working for Lupin III. Maki wants to show the world how dangerous the robot can be, so her father's inventions do not end up being used for military purposes and people will remain unharmed. Little does Maki know that she is actually being used by the enemy herself. Zenigata arrives to examine the robbery, but where is Lupin and his gang? Will Lupin's name be tarnished by the impersonating crooks and what will happen to Maki once she learns the truth?

Why It's Great:

This episode practically plays out like a feature film. Hayao Miyazaki directed "Farewell My Beloved Lupin" (along with "Albatross: Wings of Death") under the pseudonym Teruki Tsutomu. Both episodes marked his final involvement with the Lupin franchise, before he moved on to directing his own feature films and establishing Studio Ghibli. "Farewell" is somewhat like Cagliostro, but is perhaps a bit more serious in mood. Many of Miyazaki's trademark elements can be seen on display here: the strong anti-war and pacifist themes, the 'Superman' robot that would later reappear in Castle in the Sky (1986), and, of course, the iconic red headed heroine wearing blue (voiced by the great Sumi Shimamoto). The sense of tension and unease (balanced out by bits of humor) thrown in the earlier half of this episode, attention to detail, and bittersweet ending make "Farewell" an appropriate finale to the Red Jacket series. It also marks the beginning of a new chapter for many of the animators' careers.



How is it humanly possible to pack so much action and fun within 25 minutes?

Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Season & Episode #: 4 - 145
Studio: Telecom
Dub Name / Dubber: same as Japanese title, Streamline

What It's About:

Lupin, Jigen, and Goemon are preparing dinner in a trailer while waiting for Fujiko to arrive. Fujiko bursts through the door, gunning at her pursuers, and completely ruins Lupin's sukiyaki (and his car). Fujiko is captured but manages to leave Lupin something, a small detonator to an atomic bomb. Lupin goes off to inspect a suspicious looking aircraft museum. He discovers that it is housing a newly restored Albatross, a gigantic flying machine housing many bombs. The plane's pilot, Lonebach, is also trying to seduce Fujiko in hopes of making her his wife. Neither Fujiko or Lupin will let him get away with that!

Why It's Great:

Lupin fans, you probably saw this one coming. Everything about "Albatross" is perfect. The comedic timing, interpretation of the characters, the climatic airship battle, just everything. Anybody can go in watching this episode and not know a thing about Lupin (or Miyazaki) and enjoy it. Although, if you plan on watching Lupin III Part II, I recommend that you save this one for last, so you are not disappointed by the rest of the series. A great part of this outing's success owes to animator Yasuo Otsuka, who was a mentor to Miyazaki and later went on to establish his own animation school. If Otsuka hadn't retired in the late 1980s, who knows what the man would have gone on to create. Fujiko is very assertive in this episode. She manages to break out of confinement and bring down most of Lonebach's crew, wearing little more than the top half a dress and a tablecloth tied around her waist. The witty banter between her and Lupin is also entertaining. Fujiko and Lupin certainly share a strange, inconsistent, but somehow enduring relationship. The original manga's author, Monkey Punch, apparently based this on his own relationship with his wife, which is interesting to say the least.


Miyazaki's Fujiko kicks the most ass. Just saying.

* For those who got a kick out of this article and would like to know more about this series, I highly suggest that you check out Anipage's post on Lupin III Part II. It's very in depth and describes the different companies behind each episode.