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Monkey Punch's Lupin III franchise follows the exploits of master thief, Lupin III, and his fellow partners-in-crime, Jigen, Goemon, and Fujiko. Over the 35 years since the first installment of Lupin's exploits appeared in print in Japan, the franchise has spun off a total of 3 separate manga series (comprising dozens of volumes) and hundreds of animated TV episodes, theatrical features, and original video productions. Take a healthy dose of James Bond, add a splash of The Thomas Crown Affair, filter through the warped prism of Mad magazine... stir throughly... and multiply by about 12... the resulting cocktail might just begin to capture the irrepressible lunacy of Lupin III.
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Lupin III is an "intrepid thief and master of disguise" and a Japanese pop culture icon since his first appearance in 1967. This action/adventure series is loosely based on a series of novels by Maurice LeBlanc, though it has incorporated plenty of other spy and adventure standbys. The first volume offers nine short stories, rooted firmly in the 1960s, complete with multiple references to hippies and "swinging." Each story is a model of concise comic book entertainment with nonstop action and humor. Like so many other master thieves and spies, Lupin combines the low life with the highest pleasures. He's also ruthless and unstoppable, always outwitting his targets. Lupin isn't for kids, though: his enigmatic creator laces these stories with over-the-top sexual exploits, deceptions, gags and even the occasional formalist joke. At one point, Lupin says schematics are as "simple as a comic book," which brings a grimace from "the author," who peers out from beneath the panel. Monkey Punch's humor has more than a bit of the madcap spirit of The Pink Panther; one incident effortlessly spins into another. The stories are extremely well told and the action crisply paced. The b&w drawing is an idiosyncratic blend of kids' cartooning and rough line work situated somewhere between Sergio Aragones and Don Martin, two Mad magazine iconoclasts, with a good dose of traditional manga spirit thrown in. An unlikely classic, Lupin III is engaging, witty and irresistible.
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