Thursday, April 18, 2019

The Late Great Monkey Punch

Monkey Punch, the creator of the manga series Lupin III, died on April 11 2019 at the age of 81. The cause was pneumonia.

Monkey Punch was born Katō Kazuhiko on May 26 1937 in Hamanaka, Hokkaido, Japan. He began drawing at a very young age. He began drawing manga when he was in junior high school, with his comic strips being published in the school newspaper. After graduating from high school he moved to Tokyo where he enrolled in a technical school for electronics. He continued to draw as a hobby and dōjinshi group with other artists (dōjinshi being a Japanese term for self-published works outside the mainstream publishing industry). It was while he was this dōjinshi group that he was recruited by Futabasha Publishers Ltd. to draw yonkoma (gag comic strips, usually consisting of four panels).

It was in 1965 that Katō Kazuhiko made his professional debut with the manga Playboy School, using the pen name Gamuta Eiji. He followed Playboy School with Needless Axle of Wilderness, Pink Guard Man, and The Ginza Whirlwind Child. It was an editor who suggested to Katō Kazuhiko that he use the pen name Monkey Punch. Mr. Katō did not particularly care for the name, but agreed to use it as his next work was only supposed to last for three months. As it turned out, that next project was Lupin III. Lupin III proved to be an enormous success and Katō Kazuhiko was stuck with the pen name Monkey Punch.

Lupin III centred on master thief Arsène Lupin III, the grandson of Arsène Lupin (the master thief of Maurice Leblanc's series of novels). Lupin was assisted in his various capers by expert gunman Daisuke Jigen. The two of them were often joined by Goemon Ishikawa XIII, a master swordsman whose sword could cut through any substance. Lupin was sometimes also assisted by thief and femme fatale Fujiko Mine, who was often at odds with him as well. Lupin and his compatriots were hunted by Inspector Koichi Zenigata of Interpol, who chased the group across the globe.

Lupin III was written for adults as a hard-boiled, crime spoof with explicit portrayals of both sex and violence, as well as a very dark sense of humour. The manga often broke the fourth wall. This combination fuelled the manga's success, so that it would soon be adapted to other media. The first anime series aired for 23 episodes in 1971. It would be followed by anime series in 1977 and several more (the most recent having aired in 2018). Lupin III has also been adapted to animated feature films, the most famous in the West being The Castle of Cagliostro (1979), directed by Hayao Miyazaki. A live action feature film was released in 1974, followed by a more recent feature film in 2014. There has also been a live-action Filipino TV drama that aired in 2007, animated television specials, animated OVA series, and games. Unlike the manga, the various anime series have been family friendly.

At the time Lupin III was created, Japan did not enforce trade copyrights. For this reason Monkey Punch did not ask to use the name "Arsène Lupin". As a result the various releases in the West bore the name Rupan  or Wolf.  It was in 2012 that Arsène Lupin entered into public domain in France, 70 years having passed since the death of Maurice Leblanc. Since then all releases have borne the name Lupin.

Over the years Monkey Punch has worked on several other manga beyond Lupin III, including Western Samurai and Pandora in the Sixties, The Siamese Cat and Little Dracula in the Seventies, Space Adventure Team Mechabunger and Roller Boy in the Eighties, and many, many others. Monkey Punch was very prolific.

In addition to his work as a manga artist, Monkey Punch was also aprofessor of Manga Animation at Otemae University, in their Faculty of Media and Arts, and a visiting professor at Tokyo University of Technology.

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