Monkey Punch

Tagged: Comics | Art

(1937-2019) Working name of Kazuhiko Katō, a Japanese Manga artist, largely remembered for a crime caper series (see Crime and Punishment) with frequent crossovers into Equipoise and the Technothriller. His first few strips were published as by Kazuhiko Katō, a pseudonym written with different characters, but pronounced the same as his real name. He reluctantly allowed his editor to call him "Monkey Punch" on what was supposed to be a short-lived, three-month job, the crime series Lupin III (August 1967-May 1969 Manga Action). The story, however, lasted for far longer, both in its original run, and in frequent adaptations and rebrandings, coming to dominate the rest of Katō's working life. Inevitably, he was stuck with the Monkey Punch name.

Lupin III is a Sequel by Other Hands to the Arsène Lupin stories of Maurice LeBlanc that began with "L'Arrestation d'Arsène Lupin" ["The Arrest of Arsène Lupin"] (15 July 1905 Je Sais Tout). The leading man is purportedly the original Lupin's grandson, an elusive master-thief who travels the world in search of worthy targets, with his accomplices the sharp-shooter Jigen and the dour samurai Goemon Ishikawa. Ishikawa, like the hapless Detective Zenigata who pursues Lupin, is himself the descendant of a semi-legendary figure from seventeenth-century Japanese popular culture, giving the Lupin III series a sense of nested Recursive SF. Conceived in the midst of the James Bond film series, Lupin III also owes much to the filmic iterations of Ian Fleming's master-spy, often solving greater crimes and thwarting more dastardly schemes, as he pursues his relatively innocent criminal activities. His associate, occasional lover and sometime rival Fujiko Mine (a name that evokes the peaks of Mount Fuji, her most obvious assets), began as a distracting "Bond girl", but soon acquired a degree of agency and popularity beyond her narrative purpose. She would subsequently become the protagonist of several spin-offs, including the non-canon Lupin Kozō ["Son of Lupin"] (1975 Weekly Shōnen Action) and the Anime series Lupin III: Mine Fujiko to Iu Onna ["Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine"] (2012). The latter series, in particular reclaims Fujiko as a female protagonist with elan and purpose, not merely a foil to the male gaze (see Women in SF).

The heritage of the Lupin III series has been vastly extended by its success in other media, beginning with the animated TV series Lupin III (1971), several film spin-offs including Lupin tai Clone ["Lupin vs the Clone"] (1978 vt The Mystery of Mamo) and Hayao Miyazaki's Lupin III: Cagliostro no Shiro ["The Castle of Cagliostro"] (1979). Much as the original manga reflected the espionage themes prominent in the Cold War, the movies and TV specials of the 1970s and 1980s drew upon the period's vogue for sf for inspiration, including Masayuki Ozeki's Lupin III: Fuma Ichizoku no Inbō ["Lupin III: The Fuma Conspiracy"] (1987), which pitted Lupin against ninja Secret Masters and Seijun Suzuki's Lupin III: Babylon no Ōgon Densetsu ["Lupin III: The Gold of Babylon"] (1985), in which Lupin contends with an Immortal rival to locate treasure buried under New York in an Alien spaceship. Some early foreign releases of these films redacted the name of the hero, since the Leblanc estate, perhaps wounded by earlier actions against it by the estate of Arthur Conan Doyle, threatened legal action against the use of the Lupin name, considered to be still under European copyright until 2011. The name was ruled fair use within Japan by the sympathetic Japanese authorities, but sometimes changed to "Rupan" or "Wolf" in some overseas releases. An sf spin-off "Lupin VIII", to be set in the 22nd century, was mooted in 1982 but did not materialize.

The success of Lupin III has completely overshadowed Monkey Punch's career. Among many other works, any one of which could have easily won the lottery for him in a similar fashion, he briefly drew the Superhero comic Gekkō Kamen ["Moonlight Mask"] (venue unknown 1978) from a script by Kōhan Kawauchi, and an adaptation of Sakyō Komatsu's series Jikan Agent ["Time Agent"] (1977 Manga Action). He would revisit one of the lasting dramatic tensions of Lupin III in Cinderella Boy (1980 Popcorn), in which the down-at-heel gumshoe Ranma and the femme fatale Rella are accidentally fused within the same body, switching identities each night as they struggle to collaborate on solving crimes in a lawless Near Future metropolis (see Transgender SF). As an illustrator on works by others, Monkey Punch lent his sense of the irrepressibly playful and bawdy to several novels, including the Japanese edition of The Technicolor Time Machine (1967 trans Hisashi Asakura 1976) by Harry Harrison and Kōichi Tsuyama's Playboy Spy (1979). Notably, although he largely retired from manga creation in 1997, the ubiquity of his most famous creation ensured that his name was a regular appearance on the Japanese media landscape for the next twenty years, in such works as Aya Okada's Keibu Zenigata (2010-2017 Lupin III Magazine), for which he is credited with the original concept. [JonC]

Kazuhiko Katō

born Hamanaka, Hokkaidō, Japan: 26 May 1937

died Sakura, Chiba, Japan: 11 April 2019

works (selected)

  • Lupin III (Tokyo: Futabasha, 2004) [graph: in twenty volumes: pb/Monkey Punch]

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