It is with a heavy heart that we report the passing of mangaka and artist Kazuhiko Kato, better known as Monkey Punch, on April 11 at the age of 81 to pneumonia. Kato was best known for being the creator of the worldwide smash hit series Lupin III.
Kato was born in Hokkaido in 1937 and originally got into drawing manga through producing short comic strips for his school newspaper. Once he moved to Tokyo in search of work, he got into the doujinshi scene before making his debut proper in 1965 with Playboy School. At this time, he had not settled on his now legendary pseudonym Monkey Punch and instead operated under two other pseudonyms: Kazuhiko Kato (his real name but written with different kanji) and Eiji Gamuta.
In 1967, Kato was invited to draw a new series for the magazine Weekly Manga Action. At the time, Kato didn’t think much of the new series other than as a bit of stop-gap contract work while he worked on other projects. But that series would end up becoming his life’s work and his greatest success, Lupin III.
It was also during this time that Kato would begin to operate under the pseudonym of Monkey Punch, at the behest of his editor at the time. Like his attitude towards Lupin, Kato didn’t think much of the pseudonym and decided to roll with it for the time being before he came up with a better one. But much like the Lupin series itself, the Monkey Punch moniker would stick with him for the rest of his life.
Monkey Punch’s new serialization of Lupin III would prove to be very popular, and quickly became one of the hottest new series around. It was only four years later that an anime adaptation based (loosely) on the manga was greenlit, headed up by Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki – who would later go on to become legends in their own right.
This anime adaptation would prove to be even more popular than the manga and gave birth to an almost constant stream of Lupin III anime series thereafter. It was only during the 2000s that the flood of Lupin III anime slowed down, only to then be revived in 2012 with The Woman Called Fujiko Mine. This shows that, despite ups and downs, Monkey Punch’s characters of Lupin, Jigen, Goemon, Fujiko and Zenigata have now become quintessential icons of modern Japan.
That being said, the Lupin III franchise as a whole could not be doing better now. TMS Entertainment have successfully revived the series’ TV tradition with the uproarious L’avventura Italiana and the forward-thinking Part V. Takeshi Koike has also been instrumental in giving the franchise some box office glamour with his hard-boiled LUPIN the IIIRD series of films – the latest of which, Fujiko Mine’s Lie, is set to come out on May 31.
It’s therefore clear that Monkey Punch’s life work in the Lupin III series will continue to endure for many, many generations to come. From the bottom of our hearts, we here at OTAQUEST thank him for his immeasurable contribution to pop culture and, indeed, modern Japan itself.
For anyone interested in learning more about the life and work of Monkey Punch, I wholeheartedly recommend this 2003 interview with Anime News Network.