Lupin the Third Part 1 Episode 1: The Legendary Thief Lupin

The 1970s was a pretty eventful decade for Japanese animation – with regards to animated features, Cleopatra (an X-rated production directed by Osamu Tezuka and Eiichi Yamamoto) debuted in 1970, and Belladonna of Sadness was released in 1973. Notable televised works from the decade include Mazinger Z (which inaugurated the Super Robot genre of mecha), Mobile Suit Gundam (the first Real Robot production), Devilman and Science Ninja Team Gatchaman; Lupin the Third, the first episode of which is the subject of this article, debuted in 1971. Based on a manga by Monkey Punch (who passed away in 2019), the series focuses on the adventures of the eponymous thief, the grandson of the French literary thief Arsène Lupin, who debuted in 1905 – this series happens to be Part 1, and six subsequent television shows in the franchise (one of which focuses on Fujiko Mine) were released over the years, with Part 6 debuting in 2021. Part 1’s first episode introduces the central character of Lupin and an associate, Jigen, as well as Fujiko Mine and Lupin’s adversary, an inspector named Koichi Zenigata; the inspector is descended from Heiji Zenigata, an Edo-era detective who first appeared on film in 1931. This episode features the villainous organization Scorpion, whose leader finances a five-billion-yen car racing track as a means of capturing and killing Lupin (which would, according to him, make all rival criminal groups crumble); this leader initially appears arrogant, assuming that his plan to kill Lupin will succeed, trusting his expensive and elaborate plan (which he explains to Fujiko Mine, whom he captured when she entered Scorpion Castle).

The man ultimately fails in his goal, with Lupin emerging victorious at episode’s end; Lupin recognized the Grand Prix as a ploy from the beginning, and devised a strategy to infiltrate Scorpion Castle and save Fujiko Mine. He and Jigen easily defeat Scorpion with their own wiles – Lupin manages to escape the race by switching with Jigen (which keeps Zenigata occupied, as he does not realize the switch occurred), and disguises himself as a plumber in order to enter the castle and rescue Mine from Scorpion’s clutches. This shows Lupin to be a rather intelligent man, capable of foiling his opponents through his wits; Scorpion’s leader underestimated Lupin’s wits, and his expensive racetrack is ultimately destroyed by the end of the episode when Lupin tosses the explosive trophy meant for him towards one of Scorpion’s henchmen. Lupin tricks Zenigata at the end, as well – when Zenigata cuffs him, Lupin manages to release himself from the handcuffs and connect the cuffs to the wreckage of a race car. This shows how Lupin can extricate himself from any situation; he is as capable of foiling an elaborate attempt on his life as he is with tricking a single detective who wants to apprehend him. Fujiko is just as capable, herself – she knocks Jigen unconscious and hands him over to Zenigata in exchange for her freedom (Zenigata agreed to hand over Fujiko’s arrest warrant if she cooperates with him).

The first episode of Lupin the Third Part 1 establishes the core characters of Lupin, Jigen, Fujiko Mine, and Zenigata; the relationship between Lupin and Zenigata is one of rivalry, and Lupin identifies Mine as his “lover” despite Mine not showing any overt romantic interest in him. The race sequence is rather exciting, and it ends with a fiery explosion that consumes the track; Scorpion’s effort to capture and kill Lupin fails miserably, with Lupin escaping completely unharmed. The arrogance of Scorpion’s leader was short-lived, as he was easily outsmarted – all that expense and planning was for naught, as Lupin remains alive and well. Zenigata was fooled by Lupin as well; he seems certain that he captured the gentleman thief, but Lupin escaped his clutches by attaching Zenigata’s handcuffs to a derelict race car. To end on a trivia note, Lupin drove a Ferrari 312B during the race – this is a real car, manufactured by Ferrari and introduced in 1970. Lupin identifies one of the other participating cars as an Surtees TS7; this vehicle debuted in 1970 at the British Grand Prix. He also notes another car, a Tyrell Ford driven by Jackie Stewart; Tyrell refers to a racing team, and Jackie Stewart may refer to a real-life Formula One driver .

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