Lupin Sansei Part 1 is an absolutely charming and educational anime that all people interested in the history of anime or one of the biggest Japanese franchises should absolutely watch. It holds up very well in certain parts, but is overall a mixed bag that depends on your personal tastes.
As many others have mentioned, this is not only the first official Lupin release, but also the least consistent. It starts out as a gritty and dark crime drama focusing on womanizer thief Lupin the Third and his sharpshooter partner Daisuke Jigen, but slowly progresses into a fun and friendly crime-based comedy that seems to work more like an animated sitcom than the thriller it, at first, set out to be. This is apparently due to network ratings, which showed the first run of Lupin on TV as unfavorable at its worst, and resulted in director Osumi Masaki being given joint directorial duties with (now, well-known names) Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata. Through the talents of Miyazaki and Takahata, Lupin found success as a family-friendly comedy focusing on the hijinks of the Lupin Gang, rather than any violent drama Masaki had in mind. (From what I understand the original manga was also quite dark. Take that as you will.)
This show, as a result, is completely subjective. Will you prefer the hard-boiled beginning, with genuine murder and chaos? Or the goofy and hectic second half, with slapstick and complete ignorance of physics? Personally, I liked aspects of both. At its best, Lupin Sansei Part 1 is enthralling and creative, putting unique spins on spy/crime thriller tropes using its animated medium and various talents. There are some absolutely epic moments from the lead, with his expert gunslinging and escape artistry hidden behind a facade of a humorous and fun-loving gentleman. The comedy hits most of the time, too! Watching Lupin mess with the codgy old Zenigata is a treat in its own right.
The age shows, though. The animation is pretty terrible by today’s standards, though holding true to its roots as an “adult-marketed” cartoon, the guns and cars look absolutely marvelous and, at their best, photo-realistic. Facial features are immediately recognizable and charming. The real drawbacks are in the backdrops and any background characters. They’re more outlines of what should be there than actual backgrounds.
The music, while repetitive, with constant chants of “Rupan the Third!” and “Walther P38,” (Lupin’s trademark gun which he doesn’t use very much) can pump you up or bring sweet closure to a comedic moment depending on the situation. I’d say it’s used very well.
I would have to argue that the staying power of the Lupin III series comes from the character designs and personalities. Over these 23 episodes, with no previous knowledge of the series, I fell in love with Lupin’s heartfelt smile and shining eyes, Jigen’s cranky, but sage advice, with a trigger finger to match, and Fujiko’s demure but malicious tendency to betray everyone. Zenigata’s hard-working demeanor and childish frustration was equally endearing. (As much as Goemon is a well-known mainstay, he isn’t in many of these episodes. Ah well.) The voice cast is phenomenal as well, and most reprised their roles for later seasons.
Is it excellent? No. Is it boring at times, and repetitive? Yeah, sure. Is it a good time for casual viewing? Absolutely. Lots of corny, physics-defying moments, obvious reveals, cheesy one-liners, and great characters adds up to a lovely time machine from 1971 Japan, and I absolutely adored every minute of it! 7.5/10.