The manga artist, writer and professor known as Monkey Punch, who created the popular master thief series Lupin III, has died at age 81 from pneumonia. According to reports in the Japanese press, he died April 11 in his longtime hometown of Sakura, Chiba Prefecture.
Born Kazuhiko Katō in 1937 in the coastal town of Hamanaka, Hokkaido, the boy who would be Monkey Punch got his start creating manga strips for his junior high school newspaper. After graduation, he moved to Tokyo to look for work but continued drawing for fun, and ended up recruited as a four-panel strip artist by publisher Futabasha. His big break came with Playboy School in 1965, under the pen name Eiji Gamuta. His boss suggested he change his name to “Monkey Punch” for his next project, and Katō agreed since it was supposed to be a short run — that strip turned out to be Lupin III, and he went by Monkey Punch ever after.
Lupin III — which follows the heist-related escapades of the grandson of author Maurice Leblanc’s iconic “gentleman thief,” Arsene Lupin — debuted in 1967 in Weekly Manga Action. The first series ran for two years, and later was followed by Lupin III: World’s Most Wanted (1977-1981). The hugely popular title inspired several TV anime series, specials and OVAs, as well as nine theatrical animated features, two live-action movies, video games and even a musical. Monkey Punch himself directed Dead or Alive (1996).
Over his four-decade manga career, Monkey Punch contributed to and created many other titles, including Pinky Punky, Cinderella Boy and Musashi – Way of the Gun. He also created original character designs for Bakumatsu Gijinden Roman (2013). In his later years he devoted more time to scholarship. Monkey Punch joined Otemae University’s Faculty of Media and Arts as a professor of manga and animation, and was a visiting professor at Tokyo University of Technology in 2010.
Monkey Punch received an Inkpot Award from Comic-Con International in 1981 and a Tokyo Anime Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2015, as well as the ROMICS d’Oro Award and AMD Lifetime Achievement Award.