The Japanese manga artist and scholar known as Monkey Punch has died at age 81, according to Japanese press reports and confirmed by stateside friends and associates within the art and academic communities. The creator of the popular manga Lupin III was born as Kazuhiko Katō in the village of Kiritappu in Hamanaka in May 1937 but it was his colorful pen name that followed him throughout the illustrious career he began in the 1960s.
Monkey Punch died on April 11 in Sakura when he succumbed to pneumonia, according to press reports. The artist spent his late career in academic pursuits. In 2005 he took a professorship at Otemae University in Manga Animation studies and in 2010 he joined the Tokyo University of Technology faculty as a visiting professor. The venerable storyteller was presented with a special Tokyo Anime Award in 2015. Two years later, he marked the 50th anniversary of his signature creation, Lupin III, which made its premiere in 1967 in the pages of Weekly Manga Action.
The title character is a master thief named Arsène Lupin III who brings a notorious heritage to his vocation — he is presented as the grandson of Arsène Lupin, the “gentleman thief” who had been introduced five decades earlier by French author Maurice Leblanc. Young Katō immersed himself in Leblanc’s vintage tales and hatched the idea of a third-generation heir to the Lupin legacy as a manga protagonist.
Wrapping his anti-hero in a flashy red jacket, the young manga illustrator incorporated elements of James Bond into his new creation and based supporting characters on actors (like James Coburn) or Western pop culture influences (among them Mad Magazine, Hitchcock films, Popeye and pin-up girl art). Lupin III (often accompanied by his small but elite crew of specialists) is pursued by Inspector Koichi Zenigata of Interpol, the dutiful detective who doggedly pursues slippery quarry.
The editors liked the premise only enough to give young Kato’s creation a three-month residency in the weekly anthology. Those plans changed when the reader reaction was overwhelmingly positive. Lupin III and its cocky central character would venture far beyond the page, yielding two live-action feature films and nine theatrically released anime films (including Lupin III: Dead or Alive in 1996, which was directed by Monkey Punch himself). There have been a long list of animated television series and specials, as well as video games and a musical. Monkey Punch was also awarded the Inkpot Award at International Comic-Con in San Diego.