Monkey Punch, creator of megahit Japan comic Lupin III, dies

This undated photo shows Monkey Punch's megahit comic series of master thief Lupin The Third. His office, MP Pictures, said Wednesday, April 17, 2019, that Monkey Punch, whose real name is Kazuhiko Kato, died of pneumonia on April 11. (Sadayuki Goto/Kyodo News via AP)
This June, 2004, photo shows cartoonist Monkey Punch drawing his character Fujiko Mine on whiteboard at a symposium in Nishinomiya, western Japan. Monkey Punch, best known as the creator of a Japanese megahit comic series of master thief Lupin The Third, has died at age of 81. His office, MP Pictures, said Wednesday, April 17, 2019, that Monkey Punch, whose real name is Kazuhiko Kato, died of pneumonia on April 11.(Kyodo News via AP)

TOKYO — Cartoonist Monkey Punch, best known as the creator of the Japanese megahit comic series Lupin III, has died at age of 81.

His office, MP Pictures, said Wednesday that Monkey Punch, whose real name is Kazuhiko Kato, died of pneumonia on April 11.

The story of master thief Lupin's adventures with his gang — gunman Daisuke Jigen, sword master Goemon Ishikawa and sexy beauty Fujiko Mine, as well as a detective, Zenigata — started in 1967.

The cartoon also was adapted for TV animation and movies, some directed by renowned animators including Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata.

Kato himself directed the 1996 animated film "Lupin III: Dead or Alive." Miyazaki, who directed a 1971 Lupin animation for TV, made his feature-length film debut with "Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro" in 1997.

The hard-boiled, yet comical story with a bit of sexy content has quickly won adult comic fans and became a longtime best-seller. Kato's intended readership was adults, and he reportedly has told younger fans to watch Lupin TV animation and read comic books when they become high school students.

The main character in his trademark red jacket is a grandson of famous Arsene Lupin in a Maurice Leblanc detective story.

The son of a fisherman in Hokkaido, in northern Japan, Kato debuted as a professional cartoonist in 1965 while working part time at a rental bookstore, and started using his penname Monkey Punch soon after the Lupin series started in the Weekly Manga Action magazine.

Despite his age, he quickly adapted to digital animation and studied animation on multimedia formats at a technical graduate school in Tokyo in the 2000s. Kato also taught animation at a university in Nishinomiya in western Japan.

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