Zenigata has made it his mission in life to arrest Lupin. He would love to arrest the other members of Lupin's gang, but Zenigata is really after the mastermind himself. Lupin and Zenigata appear to be the worst of enemies, but they are, in a manner of speaking, friends; something Lupin shows openly (often by greeting Zenigata with mock affection), but it is an idea Zenigata is extremely reluctant to entertain. Similarly, he is often awed by Lupin's genius, but refuses to show it. In the movie Mystery of Mamo, it is mentioned that Zenigata has a daughter named Toshiko, but this isn't developed any further. He's unable to settle down because of his eternal pursuit, and although he sometimes longs for female company he has no luck with women - in no small part due to his inability to commit himself to anything but chasing Lupin. The Manga series reveals that he has a grandson, a student at Todai University, who fiercely opposes Lupin's attendance, though by the end of the arc, he has largely given up on having Lupin expelled outright.
The anime Zenigata is a quite sensitive person and often cries in emotional situations, particularly when he thinks Lupin has done something out of consideration for him, or when finding out Lupin is OK after worrying about him. On occasions when Lupin appears to be dead, he mourns him more expressively than anyone else; partly from genuine grief, partly because he no longer has a goal in life. Because of this singular ambition, he is never particularly displeased when Lupin manages to escape his custody, since that means the hunt will go on. In one instance in the manga, Zenigata even goes so far as to cryogenically freeze himself so that he can continue to chase Lupin in the future, though both his and Lupin's cryopods malfunction and they are stuck in the present.
While usually portrayed as a bumbling fool in most of the anime, Zenigata in the manga is a very clever and crafty adversary to Lupin. For instance in the The Castle of Cagliostro, there is heavy security in the castle of both guards and Zenigata's police forces waiting for Lupin to attempt to break into the castle. While Lupin attempts to gain entry through the castle's aqueduct system, Zenigata is apparently the only sentry to realize he could be making that attempt and would have captured Lupin if he hadn't been suddenly called away at the worst possible time. In the movie Dead or Alive, Zenigata is also portrayed much more faithfully to his character in the manga. Despite the difference in his portrayal, Inspector Zenigata's manga and anime character descriptions can be used interchangeably.
While he has rarely been successful in capturing Lupin, this is more because of Lupin's resourcefulness than Zenigata's incompetence. Most of the times he actually does catch Lupin, it's actually one of Lupin's plans, and Zenigata is helping him unknowingly. Zenigata's excellent detective work always manages to lead him to Lupin's current location, despite the fact that Lupin constantly travels around the world. His presence sometimes compromises Lupin's schemes, forcing Lupin to improvise, yet he can never successfully apprehend Lupin. Zenigata has quite the high success rate in other police endeavors such as arresting numerous dangerous criminals after Lupin has defeated them, and it is this degree of success that enables him to still lead the investigation towards Lupin's capture even after so many failed attempts-he is obviously highly decorated and respected, Lupin is the only stain on his otherwise perfect record. By the time of the Goodbye Liberty crisis he has apparently 'Tried and failed to arrest Lupin 738 times'.
His greatest weakness is his extreme single-mindedness; he is so intent upon catching Lupin, that he usually ignores (or fails to discover) any obstacles between them - even insurmountable ones - inevitably resulting in Lupin getting away. He is, however, extremely skilled - few people stand a chance when Zenigata goes after them (including the rest of Lupin's gang, but they are usually ignored if Lupin is present), so his obsession with Lupin may stem from the fact that he's the only one who presents a challenge for Zenigata's talents.
Lupin is genuinely impressed with Zenigata's doggedness and skills, and has implied that he thinks it a shame he has to be a cop - under different circumstances they might have been great partners. When they share a common goal, they work extremely well together.
Zenigata is also aware that while Lupin may be a scoundrel, there are worse evils in the world, and he's willing to team up with Lupin to bring down a more dangerous threat. However, this is always with the mutual understanding that he intends to arrest Lupin upon neutralization of the common foe with his distinctive cry of "LUPIN!! YOU'RE UNDER ARREST!!"
Zenigata has a squad of policemen under his command (no matter where he is, since he is from INTERPOL), and they respect and admire him greatly, almost to the point of fanaticism. They are willing to place themselves in considerable harm's way to help him, and they are even willing to disobey orders from higher ups to support his hunches. However, Zenigata is frequently confronting Lupin alone, simply because he has outrun his backup or is the only one able to catch up with the thief. Zenigata and his backup tend to be humiliated as a group (i.e. all of them being washed away in a wine cellar) and then eluded.
In the second Manga series, World's Most Wanted, Zenigata has a deadly assistant, (named Mellon Kiichi in the American version) whom he usually refers to as "Melon Cop". While generally inferior in experience and ability to Zenigata himself, Melon Cop has certain key differences and talents. These include better aim, the unheard of ability to defeat Zenigata in handcuff-tossing, and a better grip of technology than Zenigata. Also, unlike Zenigata, Melon seems to prefer using assassination methods to stop Lupin and his gang. However, by the end of the second series, he had largely been reduced to secondary character status. From then on, he appears only rarely, and simply to help Zenigata fight Lupin. Melon also seems to be capable of facing Lupin without Zenigata's help, fully defeating him on several occasions, only to have Lupin escape with the help of Jigen or Fujiko. On one notable occasion, Fujiko was captured by Melon with the help of a civilian inventor, and only Lupin and Fujiko working together were able to stop Melon.
Lupin seems to have met Melon before he met Zenigata. This is evidenced by Zenigata having no memory of at least one incident involving the two; Melon shot a boy Lupin had been teaching at the time. Zenigata should remember this if it occurred any time after 1967 (the year Zenigata was assigned to apprehend the thief).
Zenigata is in phenomenal physical shape for a man his age (estimated to be the mid 40s), and has shown proficiency in Judo and Karate, able to dispatch multiple attackers with minimal effort. He's also capable with a jitte, the traditional Japanese police weapon designed to counter attacks with a sword. He is also quite the accurate shot with his gun, a Colt .45 pistol (although nowhere near Jigen's skill level), and an almost inhuman skill with handcuffs, which he likes to throw in a bola-like manner at his prey. However, his diet leaves a lot to be desired, consisting mostly of water-boiled ramen noodles and black coffee; in moments where he has time to spare, he's seen eating gigantic amounts of food, i.e., 20 hamburgers at one setting, usually in anticipation of or to make up for moments of doing without.
Zenigata's subconscious, however, appears to be in full control of his body. During chases he can perform superhuman physical feats without thinking, simply because of his preoccupation with Lupin. For example, in Island of Assassins, the mere mention of Lupin's name is enough to wake him from a critical coma, even as he is about to succumb to a near-fatal bullet wound.
Lupin often refers to Zenigata as tottsan, a form of address that is usually translated as "Old Man" or "Pops" (with "Pops" used most frequently in the English dub). He is named after a famous fictional Japanese detective, Zenigata Heiji. Zenigata's ability to handcuff criminals at a distance also comes from Zenigata Heiji, who threw coins with great force and accuracy and used them as weapons to disable criminals. In Japanese, the title of inspector is keibu (警部), although an early dub of Castle of Cagliostro erroneously stated Keibu as Zenigata's first name. In the Italian version he's often nicknamed Zazà or Papà Zenigata (Daddy Zenigata) by Lupin. The German version often calls him Zazza. The French version calls him Inspecteur Lacogne. In the Philippine dub, he is often called "Defective" Zenigata (mostly as a taunt because of his constant inability to capture Lupin). In the new Spanish dub, Lupin often calls him "Papaíto" ("daddy").
- Chikao Ōtsuka (1969)
- Shunsuke Chikaishi (1969)
- Gorō Naya (1971-1985; 1989-present)
- Seizō Katō (1987)
- Larry Hagman (1970-1974)
- Steve Martin (1977-1980)
- Macdonald Carey (1978-1979)
- John Ritter (1984-2003)
- John Turturro (2004-present)
- Jack Grimes (Toho 1979-1980)
- David Povall (Streamline 1992-1995)
- Marc Matney (AnimEigo 1994-1995)
- Sean Barrett (Manga UK 1996)
- Gerard Plunkett (Viz 1996-2002)
- Dougary Grant (Manga 2000)
- Phillip Willburn (FUNimation 2002-2006)
- Dan Martin (Geneon 2003-2007)