This Year’s Lupin III Film Is Going Back to Basics

If you’re an anime fan, you’ve almost certainly heard of Lupin III. You may also know that the sport jacket-wearing, globetrotting gentleman thief is inspired by a much earlier character. If the hero’s history is still nebulous to you, expect that to clear up this year.

Lupin III has been running for more than 50 years as manga, anime, TV specials, and films. Big names like Hayao Miyazaki have had a hand in the character’s growth over the years, and nowadays Lupin and his gang are an anime mainstay. But as the years go on, the series has (by necessity) drifted away from its original briefing. 

See, the “third” in “Lupin the Third” is a reference to the anime thief’s granddad: the original Arséne Lupin, as written by French author Maurice Leblanc. The top-hatted burglar was a mainstay of early 20th century crime lit, and has ties to everyone from A.J. Raffles to Sherlock Holmes. But in 2019, it’s a bit hard to fudge a thirtysomething character being the grandson of a man whose heyday was in the early 1900s. And so, in the recent TV series Lupin III Part 5, it’s implied that the “Lupin” name is an identity that career thieves of a certain level can inherit or hand off.

Not so in the upcoming Lupin III: The First. The film, which premieres in Japan this December, is going all the way back to the anime star’s beginnings with a period piece set around the time of the character’s inception. The manga premiered in 1967, and the look of the latest trailer seems to confirm a very Sixties heist. Does this mean we’re reinstating Lupin’s origin story? For now, we are: his granddad’s top hat figures into the film, and he makes mention of the original (hence the title “The First”). But it doesn’t end there.

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Remember how I said Arséne Lupin has a connection to Sherlock Holmes? That’s coming into play, too. The trailer mentions an item known as “Bresson’s Diary.” As it happens, Bresson was a character who appeared in the single adventure shared by the master thief and the master detective.

It probably bears mentioning that, in the Arséne Lupin books, Sherlock Holmes was called either “Herlock Sholmes” or “Holmlock Shears.” Leblanc didn’t actually have permission to use the character, but felt very little point in actually hiding who it was meant to be. 

So, what does that mean for The First? Will mention of Lupin’s literary grandfather and a reference to his adventures with Sherlock Holmes mean there’s more classic shenanigans to come? Maybe. Lupin III has a habit of pulling from history and legend for its various films. Christopher Columbus, Napoleon Bonaparte, World War II spy Harimao, and Leonardo da Vinci have all figured into the Lupin Gang’s previous adventures in some way. Just how close they’ll fly to the original story is anyone’s guess. We’ll know for sure this December when Lupin III: The First hits theaters in Japan… and, if we’re lucky, elsewhere around the world.