Anime Thieves article published in Animerica Extra Vol. 2, No. 12, November 1999
This article was written by and is copyrighted to Patricia Duffield and may not be reproduced in part or whole without permission.

What is it about thieves that so steals the attention of audiences? Just this year, there have been two films released with thieves in the central roles: Entrapment and The Thomas Crown Affair. There are plenty of Westerns about outlaws instead of lawmen. And of course there's Robin Hood, who's had six TV series and over forty films related to his legend, the first dating back to 1913! Eight different countries have made films about "the hooded man," making Robin Hood one of the most internationally famous legends on the globe. Japan has not been immune to the appeal of the legends of Sherwood Forest, but the inspiration for anime's contemporary culprits comes from a more modern, less famous burglar, Maurice LeBlanc's Arsene Lupin: Gentleman Thief.

From cynical, apathetic Woodchuck (Record of Lodoss War), to cute and charming Akira-kun (CLAMP School Detectives), and amusing but determined Yamucha (Dragon Ball), anime has a long list of thieves in its ranks of characters. Easily, the most famous thief from Japan is Arsene Lupin III, title character of Lupin III and all its variations. Created by comic artist Monkey Punch, Lupin III has had three comic series*, three TV series (totaling 228 episodes), and 16 movies and specials. A perennial favorite across the globe, it's hard to be an anime fan and not have heard of Lupin III. Lupin made his first appearance in Manga Action Weekly on August 10th, 1967, and in no time the tale of Lupin's daring, lascivious exploits became a pop hit. By October 1971, he had his first TV series. So began the slow but steady stream of thieves in anime.

Lupin III was inspired by Maurice LeBlanc's tales of Arsene Lupin, also known as the Gentleman Thief. The original Lupin called turn of the century Europe his home and stole for greed and glory. He was, however, gentlemanly in his behavior, for he avoided violence and always announced his intentions in order to give the future victim and authorities a fair chance. This M.O. is similar to that of most leading anime thieves. LeBlanc's Lupin used wit, ingenuity, careful planning and clever tricks to claim his booty and slip through the fingers of the police. He even outwitted Herlock Shlomes, a teasing imitation Sherlock Holmes who could only deduce how the crime was committed after the fact. Lupin's victims-to-be had two choices: leave the object of his interest out for the taking or risk losing all of their valuables. Although a gentleman, he was a thief, after all.

Monkey Punch's jet-setting, lecherous Lupin III (also known as "Rupan" and "The Wolf" in the U.S.) is supposed to be the grandchild of LeBlanc's Lupin. Like his predecessor, Lupin III uses wit, ingenuity, planning and tricks to accomplish his goals. He also often announces his intentions and prefers to avoid violence. Of course, he seldom needs to focus his attention on beating up his adversaries, thanks to the help of his two companions, Jigen and Goemon. Daisuke Jigen is a scruffy, sharpshooting mobster who is Lupin III's regular companion. Goemon Ishigawa is a quiet, katana-wielding assassin. Thirteenth in a long line of assassins; Goemon wanders in and out of Lupin III's stories. Another regular character is the buxom, opportunistic Fujiko Mine, a sexy lady master thief who is Lupin III's usual adversary and occasional ally. The last character to round out this well seasoned crew is another character inspired from the past, Koichi Zenigata, descendant of the famous Edo Era lawman Heiji Zenigata. Inspector Zenigata is a Tokyo Police Force detective who becomes an Interpol agent in order to chase Lupin III around the world. As can only be expected with a series as lengthy as this, the characters' personalities and voices vary from story to story, but Lupin III is consistently sexy, sophisticated and action packed.

It took over a decade, but another thief series finally made its appearance in 1981 with the premiere of Tsukasa Hojo's hit series Cat's Eye in Shonen Jump. The lovely Kisugi sisters entertained readers for eighteen volumes. They made it to the small screen in November of 1983, with the first of two series, totaling 73 episodes. The story revolves around the three sisters, Rui, Hitomi and Ai, who own a Tokyo cafe called Cat's Eye, right across the street from a police station. The sisters become thieves in order to reclaim the art collection of their father, Michael Heinz. Their father is a famous painter and art collector from Germany who mysteriously disappeared. Around that same time, pieces of his art started showing up in the galleries of suspicious collectors. His daughters hope to find clues to his disappearance by reclaiming his collection. Donning sexy outfits and using information gleaned from their police customers, the sisters steal back their father's art, always leaving a calling card behind.

Like in Lupin III, there is a police inspector who is determined to catch Cat's Eye; but unlike Zenigata, Toshio Utsumi is involved with one of the culprits! Hitomi, Toshio's love interest, and her sisters must hide their secret from him. This is particularly amusing in the beginning when Toshio believes Cat's Eye is a single, male master thief! With three sexy ladies to choose from --one sophisticated, one charming, one cute-- exciting stories and a difficult romance, Cat's Eye promises to please viewers of both sexes.

The next master thief to make his way to print is Kaito Kuroba, title character of Magic Kaito. Kaito, whose name is similar to ‘kaito' (long o) (meaning "mysterious thief"), is a young man whose father was a world famous magician. His father died during a show when Kaito was a kid. At the time, no one thought the death was suspicious, but on his sixteenth birthday, Kaito makes a surprising discovery. While looking at an old picture of his father, the image flips in it's frame to reveal a picture of his father dressed as the famous thief, Kaito (long o) Kid! Immediately thereafter, he gets dumped into his father's hidden lair and realizes there was perhaps more to his father's death than everyone thought. Determined to learn the truth, he dresses as Kaito (long o) Kid and starts using magic tricks to steal stuff in hopes of stirring up whomever is responsible for his father's death.

Following the tradition of Lupin III and Cat's Eye, Kaito prefers to avoid physical conflicts and occasionally announces his intentions, but uniquely, he returns all the things he steals. Of course, there is a detective, Inspector Nakamori, who has been trying to catch Kaito (long o) Kid for twenty years. It just so happens the inspector's daughter, Aoko, is Kaito's antagonistic sort-of girlfriend. To add a new twist, there is also a witch in the story who knows Kaito's secret identity and looks down on him because she has real magic while Kaito only uses illusion. Full of mystery, magic tricks and just enough romance, this story has plenty of plot twists to keep it's audience guessing. Though Kaito (long o) Kid has never had his own show, he has made numerous appearances in the series and one of the movies for Mei Tantei Conan (Detective Conan), another Gosho (both o's long) Aoyama title which is a long-running favorite in Japan.

Over the years, Magic Kaito has been sporadically published in Shonen Sunday. There currently are three collected volumes which were released between April 1988 and September 1994. Perhaps there will be more volumes of this entertaining story in the future.

In 1995, Nakayoshi introduced a kinder, cuter variety of thief. Megumi Tachikawa's Kaito (long o) Saint Tail (Mysterious Thief Saint Tail) is a charming, seven-volume story about Meimi Haneoka, a fourteen year old girl attending Saint Paulia Academy. Her father's a magician and her mother was a "mysterious thief" in her youth. Meimi's best friend, Seira Mimori, is a nun-in-training at the school's chapel. When people feel helpless, they turn to God, and Seira listens to their troubles. Gathering the details of each injustice or misunderstanding, Seira shares the people's problems with Meimi. With the help of God, the two girls magically transform Meimi into Saint Tail, who sets out to right the wrongs in the world by using magic tricks to steal back unjustly acquired items. Saint Tail has stolen a remarkable variety of things, from necklaces and jewels to a dolphin and a chef!

Like the great anime thieves who came before her, Saint Tail avoids violence and announces her intentions. She has not one, but two detectives after her, Police Detective Asuka Sr. and his son, Asuka Jr., who is determined to unmask the "mysterious thief." Naturally, Asuka Jr. doesn't suspect Saint Tail is his classmate; neither is he too quick on picking up that Meimi likes him. To make matters worse for our heroine, when Asuka Jr. does begin to appreciate her, his attention is always divided by his obsession with and budding affection for Saint Tail. Like Clark Kent, Meimi becomes her own rival. The stories are charming and the romantic tension is delightfully frustrating. If you're in the mood for something sweet, Kaito (long o) Saint Tail is sure to please.

On the surface, Kamikaze Kaito (long o) Jeanne (Divine Wind Mysterious Thief Jeanne) seems like a grown up version of St. Tail: the high school heroine, Maron Kusakabe, divinely transforms into Jeanne and steals stuff. But that's about where the comparison ends. Arina Tanemura's heroine, it turns out, is a reincarnation of Joan of Arc (pronounced Jeanne D'Arc in French and Jannu Da-ku in Japanese). Instead of stealing things to return them to their original owner or otherwise make things right, Jeanne is working under the clock to save the world from the Devil! Maron Kusakabe is a charming girl with rich, separated parents and a terrible responsibility. The Devil has learned that with the approach of the new millennium God's power over the Earth will weaken, and the Devil has plans to take over. Demons have been placed into pieces of art in order to possess the hearts of humans. It is up to Maron to neutralize the demons. She does this by using a special cross to transform into Kaito Jeanne. As Jeanne, she uses her rhythmic gymnastics skills to trap possessed people in her gymnastics ribbon, then she skewers the demon in the tainted piece of art. The result is the demon's release of the possessed person, and the art transforms into the image of an angel.

Maron is working under a lot of pressure. Not only does she have to neutralize all of the demons by the turn of the century, she has to compete with another kaito (long o), too. Chiaki Nagoya is Maron's love interest. Unfortunately he is also the interest of her best friend, Miyako Todaiji, and he's Kaito (long o) Sinbad, the Devil's advocate. To further complicate life, Miyako is the daughter of two cops and is set on catching Kaito (long o) Jeanne. Not surprisingly, the three main characters go to the same school, they even live in the same apartment building. Secret identities, a major love triangle, magical transformations and defeating the Devil, what's not to like? The most recent thief series, Kamikaze Kaito (long o) Jeanne has been running in Ribon since last year and has been airing on Asahi TV since February 13th, 1999.

So what is it about thieves that steals the attention of audiences? There's no trick to it, really. Any story involving burglary promises suspense and excitement. Besides that, these five series each offer many different reasons to watch and read their stories. Try one out, surely one of these clever culprits will capture your imagination.

CHARACTER DESCRIPTIONS (to go with pictures)
Arsene Lupin III
Alias: none
Series: Lupin III
Motivations: greed, the challenge of it, and occasionally justice

The Kisugi Sisters, from right to left: (Rui, Hitomi, Ai are their names in order of age, I don't know which picture you'll use, so I can't exactly write this part.)
Alias: Cat's Eye
Series: Cat's Eye
Motivation: to steal back their father's collection in hopes of finding clues about his disappearance

Kaito Kuroba
Alias: Kaito (long o) Kid
Series: Magic Kaito
Motivations: the challenge of it, drawing out his father's killers and ruining their evil plots

Meimi Haneoka
Alias: Saint Tail
Series: Kaito (long o) Saint Tail (Mysterious Thief Saint Tail)
Motivation: righting wrongs

Maron Kusakabe
Alias: Kaito (long o) Jeanne

Series: Kamikaze Kaito (long o) Jeanne (Divine Wind Mysterious Thief Jeanne)
Motivation: saving the world from the Devil

 

NOTESI don't know if you would want more detail for the series names, especially since the Kaito Kid only has a comic series and Lupin has a long list of series names, but I thought short and simple was best for this part. Besides, even after careful trimming, these descriptions put me over 2000. I expect these to go along side pictures of the characters in their thief outfits, OK?

I found a reference to a 4th manga series: "1/97 a new series by Takaguchi & Shusei" No publisher was listed, and I was able to find no other evidence. You work at a publishing house, though, so I thought you might have more luck confirming or exposing this rumor.

In my opinion, if you want to use English for it throughout the article, I think this is too long a title. Maybe "Divine Thief Jeanne"? I've minimized the use of the title so it shouldn't matter too much. If the full title sounds a bit stilted, maybe "Jeanne, Mysterious Thief of the Divine Wind"? Fans might find that annoying, though.

I don't know which you's prefer: Joan or Jeanne. Fans favor Jeanne, and I think ‘Joan' sounds odd, especially since the setting is European. As always, your call. Also, please be aware that different people spell Maron's name differently: Maron and Marron. Since I could never find a reference with her name written in Japanese, I couldn't decide for myself.

Please, be careful of the Kaito (short o) of Magic Kaito, and kaito (long o) of Kaito Kid, Kaito St. Tail and Kaito Jeanne. I'm sure you can figure out the difference, but I thought it prudent to mention them. Thanks.


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