LUPIN III: WORLD'S MOST WANTED
On Manga Island, there exists no thief smoother, more cunning, or more of a ladies man than Monkey Punch's "Lupin III." A descendant of the French thief Arsene Lupin (and subject to various copyright battles because of this fact), Lupin III and his accomplices have been entertaining audiences for over 35 years. Whereas the various animated series and movies were touched by various directors, producers and writers, "Lupin III: World's Most Wanted" gives us a look at Lupin exclusively through Monkey Punch's eyes (and pen and paper).
"World's Most Wanted" is the second series of Lupin manga published by Tokyopop, and it takes Monkey Punch's own brand of daring, humor, and debauchery into the hands of the US fans. This isn't the Lupin seen in the movies or even the TV series. The Lupin of "World's Most Wanted" is lewd, crude, and always on the hunt for treasure, money, and women. Not that his goals are different in the movies or TV, it's just that Monkey Punch appears to have just thrown caution to the wind and decided to make Lupin the crudest and most money and girl hungry thief he possibly can, in the craziest heists and most outrageous costumes to date.
For the unfamiliar, Lupin III is a lecherous thief in a jacket (colored differently in different series and different movies, sparking numerous otaku debates over which jacket series or movie is best) skinny tie, with the coolest sideburns around. Always looking to score the biggest loot, or score with the most beautiful women; Lupin is single minded in his search for the next caper and the next girl. Along for the ride are his pals Jigen, an ace marksman who is often the voice of reason in Lupin's schemes, and Goemon a samurai (who is, himself a descendant of the famous Samurai thief) whose sword can cut through virtually anything. Rounding out the crew is Fujiko, a female thief who has learned to use her assets as well as her brain to get anything she wants. Unfortunately for the Lupin gang, it's often the same thing they want as well.
Lupin is often hounded by his nemesis and occasional unwilling partner, Inspector Zenigata. Zenigata's single purpose in life is to catch Lupin, no matter what the cost. It is his driving passion and single mindedness in this matter that makes him the Lupin's opposite number and constant shadow. Zenigata is as legendary in the ICPO as Lupin, even though he suffers from the stigma of having never caught Lupin for any length of time. Much like Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner in America, the rivalry between Zenigata is seemingly never ending. Without Lupin, Zenigata has no compass to guide his actions (as seen in the beginning of the "Plot of the Fuma Clan" anime movie, where we catch the Inspector living as a monk, devoting his life to praying for Lupin when he believed that Lupin died at the end of one of TV series) and with Zenigata, Lupin's fun and enjoyment of his capers dwindles. A true constant in the world of Lupin, their cat and mouse struggle is eternal.
"World's Most wanted" is told through a series of short stories and small, sometimes almost "Spy vs. Spy" length vignettes. Having been mostly been familiar with the anime Lupin, I had to put that aside pretty quickly. This Lupin is the loser almost as much as he is the winner in this manga series however; it is always with comedic intent. Plot twists and numerous disguises are the main staple of all of Lupin's capers in "Most Wanted," often almost dizzying they come so fast and furious. Just when you think a story is going to fall into a predictable pattern, Monkey Punch comes up with a new way to take a story where the reader doesn't expect it to go.
Monkey Punch's art style may take some getting used to for fans of newer, slicker character designs and the solid lines of most manga in stores now. Monkey Punch has a loose, sketchy style that he uses to accentuate the crazy capers and the odd malleability of Lupin and his compatriots. Monkey Punch also has no problem with drawing what he likes about the female form, as most of his women are thin waisted and on the top heavy side. I really like Lupin III, but the character design and lecherous nature of Lupin, may be one of the reasons that Lupin does not cross the gender gap that most manga need to be in order to be a major success these days. Monkey punch definitely creates guy manga for guys, and "World's Most Wanted" plays out like a more adult Mad Magazine stories, with nudity, lasciviousness, and sexual humor throughout. Often Lupin's parts are shown represented by the symbol for male, and at times the woman he is with is seen with her female symbol wrapped around his. Not for the kids! However, with all the recent manga censorship lately, it is nice to see that Tokyopop took the chance to not only publish retro manga, but also that they left it with the MA 16+ rating. Even with the ties to Cartoon network, Monkey Punch's art is left intact.
If you are already a Lupin fan from previous DVDs and manga, "World's Most Wanted" has many great capers in store for the reader. It even introduces new recurring characters such as Melon Cop, who is called in to back in the hunt for Lupin. Melon Cop wants Lupin and will do anything in his power to catch his prey. Unlike Zenigata, he is cold and ruthless, willing to resort to murder and intentional wanton destruction (as opposed to Zenigata's usual unintentional mayhem) to get his man. Another plus of the "Most Wanted series is the fact we get to see much more of Fujiko, a character that Monkey Punch appears to really love to draw, in and out of costume. As a tough girl and great foil for Lupin, she figures prominently in the stories in each book, which is always a good thing.
All said, I was surprised at how this series unfolds and what a true Monkey Punch story really involves. Left to his own devices, he has a truly wicked sense of humor and a willingness to place his characters in almost any situation to entertain his audience, but clearly he is having fun himself. While I have to admit I think I enjoy some of the later movies and the episodes handled by Miyazaki a bit more than I did the "Most Wanted" series, I still enjoyed it a lot. The quick stories make it an easy manga to pick up and put down on the go, with some great humor and cool adventure to be had, if you are mature enough to get it and have an open mind about the super stylized artwork within. I recommend it to people who love the retro style of older comics and don't mind off color humor. If you wanted to see what Mad Magazine might be like if it was sold to an adult audience, here's your chance. Spy vs. Spy never had babes or craziness like this!
Even when he is at his worst, Lupin is still a likeable guy, his "I can do anything" attitude and crazy schemes are infectious. If you are looking for something different on the manga shelf and have a thing for spies, thieves, samurai, hot chicks and crazy hi-jinks; this is the manga for you. I recommend at least giving issue 1 a spin. This isn't your Miyazaki Lupin from "Castle of Cagliostro" but it's 100% pure debauched fun. Put on some fast paced jazz, snap your fingers and tell your favorite chick you'll be by her pad later, after you are through with "Lupin III: World's Most Wanted." I know I'll be blaring the cool tunes across Monster Island, and trying to figure out whether to go with sideburns or samurai clothes, waiting for the next installment of the series! I hope you will too.
Rating: OT (Older Teen) 16+
Number of Volumes available: 1-4 (of 17)
Tony Salvaggio has been a fan of anime and manga from an early age. He has been an animator in the video games industry and is currently co-writing an original graphic novel for Tokyopop. He regularly hosts anime and Japanese related shows in Austin and his passion for all things anime and manga related is only excelled by his quest to become King of the Monsters.