Inspector Zenigata was conceived as Lupin's arch-rival to create a "human Tom and Jerry".
Monkey Punch has said that he believes the Lupin III story can never end but that if he had to, both Zenigata and Lupin would have to end as equals. They would either both fail, both win or both get very old.
Zenigata is often portrayed as a middle-aged man of average height. He has dark hair, typical of the average Japanese man although, in Plot of the Fuma Clan, he had shaved his head when he joined a monastery. Depending on the occasion, the Inspector will either have his hair cropped into a flat-top or neatly styled into a combover. Zenigata is always seen wearing his signature khaki colored trench coat over a dark brown suit and a stereotypical Inspector's fedora. As with the rest of the characters, the color scheme of his attire slightly changes from series to series.
Throughout the franchise, he has been portrayed as both a serious and competent police inspector and a bumbling, overzealous Lupin chaser. Although every incarnation of him has both of these qualities, the level of seriousness and incompetence varies. In the Green Jacket and Fujiko Mine Series, he is portrayed as more stern, whereas in the Red and Pink series as well as a majority of the TV specials and movies, he is much goofier.
Zenigata is widely respected among his fellow officers at Interpol as an expert criminal catcher. He was able to discover security flaws and took down countless gangs and criminals long before he met Lupin.
Zenigata tends to be impulsive. This is probably due to his strong sense of justice and honor which others often consider old fashioned. Unlike most other officers in the police force and Interpol, he is resistant to bribery and is often offended when someone attempts to bribe him.
Zenigata doesn't tend to drink or smoke as much as Jigen or Lupin but often goes on binges when in a state of depression. In Memories of the Flame: Tokyo Crisis, he drinks heavily after being suspended from the force and has to be carried home by Maria. He is often seen eating either a cup or a bowl of ramen, he only stops eating when Lupin is about.
Because he does not spend much time in one place, Zenigata never bothers to clean up after himself and is extremely messy. His apartment, hotel rooms, and desk at Interpol are usually cluttered with cigarettes, papers, and empty bottles.
Zenigata is not dependent on his police badge. In The Mystery of Mamo, after having been ordered to stop chasing after Lupin, he resigns and declares that he will chase Lupin as a citizen. While in Tokyo Crisis, he continues to investigate even after having been suspended.
In the manga, Zenigata and Lupin attended the same school as each other.
Originally, Zenigata was with the Tokyo Metropolitan Police but joined Interpol after meeting Lupin. In the Part 1 episode Let's Catch Lupin and Go to Europe, he was invited by the Commissioner to attend the conference in France on that he did after "catching" Lupin. His relationship with the Commissioner started pleasant however by the time of The Great Gold Showdown!, he threatened to resign from the Tokyo Metropolitan Police since they clashed regarding on how to catch Lupin and his failure to do so. According to The Dashing Entrance of Lupin III, after unable to catch Lupin as he left Japan, he was demoted to a police officer in Takahata Village until Mister X lured him back to attend the Sirloin to chase after Lupin.
In The Woman Called Fujiko Mine however his backstory is different. While in France, he turned to corruption after being assigned "a low paying, thankless job" because it "was the only way for a guy like me to make it to the top." However, he eventually reported himself to his superiors after witnessing Oscar risking his life to protect his one franc by jumping into a river. After pulling Oscar out of the water, he adopts the boy who grows up to be his second in command and lieutenant.
In some backstory moments such as Is Lupin Burning...?!, Episode 0: First Contact and The Woman Called Fujiko Mine, Zenigata originally wanted to catch Fujiko however once Lupin got his attention it became his main goal.
His obsession has unfortunately put a strain on his marriage and his relationship with his daughter Toshiko (however this has only ever been mentioned once, in The Mystery of Mamo). In episode 100 of the Red Jacket Series, Zenigata is asked if he has any sons or daughters, he states no. He is asked if he has any family and replies, "no". However, this can be attributed to the fact that he is divorced.
Although perpetually unable to permanently detain Lupin, Zenigata has proven over and over again that he is extremely capable. He is shown to be able to take down every member of Lupin's gang with ease.
Zenigata's signature weapon is a pair of handcuffs that are often attached to a rope for long-ranged attacks. He can throw cuffs with almost unhuman accuracy and has never once missed, although Lupin can escape within seconds.
He is also skilled at hand to hand combat. In Dead or Alive, a group of soldiers confronts him while he is eating. He doesn't even get up from the table but still manages to incapacitate all the soldiers (then proceeds to leave money on the counter, stating that the soldiers will probably need some coffee when they come to). In Another Page, he quickly takes down two hitmen. In Angel's Tactics, he manages to fend off a hoard of Bloody Angels minions with Lupin, surprising even Lupin. He also defeats several at once using his handcuffs throwing technique combined with hand to hand combat.
Although not shown often, Zenigata is also skilled at inventing gadgets. In the episode "The Rose and the Pistol" in the Red Jacket Series, he creates a pair of thumb cuffs (dubbed Zenigetchas) that manage to completely stump Lupin. In fact, Lupin himself is unable to escape them until Goemon slices them with the Zantetsuken. In episode 114 of the Red Jacket Series, he invents a train link that can not be uncoupled. In Farewell to Nostradamus, he creates the "Lupin Catcher", a metal detector-like device that beeps when Lupin is near and a chain of handcuffs to hold all four members of Lupin's gang at once.
Zenigata's ability to capture Lupin increases steadily as the series progresses. By the end of the Red Jacket Series, he has already come up with several, extremely inventive plots to prevent Lupin from getting his target. Whereas at the start of the Green Jacket Series, Lupin often escapes him by very simple means. In the special Operation: Return the Treasure alone, he can catch Lupin 3 times. In Seven Days Rhapsody, he discovers that one of the riders in a horse race is Lupin in disguise and calls the bomb squad before removing Lupin's exploding mask. In Sweet Lost Night, he is able to predict all of Lupin's escape methods.
Zenigata has shown his skill on more than one occasion, leading the viewer to wonder about his true capability. In Computer or Lupin? from Part 2, he seeks Lupin's help in returning an item he stole and his passion allows him to easily defeat the gang who are impressed by his skill yet after helping Lupin, he goes back to his ways. In Find the Treasure of Lupin I, Zenigata realizes the gang's lives are in danger, so he creates and deploys a simple plan to capture them for their safety. Within minutes he has captured all three and has them handcuffed to a tree. Lupin comments on more than one occasion that it's a shame Zenigata is a cop.
Zenigata's obsession when he gets upset or close to Lupin seems to give him superhuman abilities. In The Hemingway Papers he is trapped in an underground cell but manages to break the door down when he gets angry enough. In Is Lupin Burning...?! Zenigata is a little less caring but still filled with respect. Once when Zenigata tried to warn Lupin that someone was out to kill him, Lupin replied by saying that it was too bad he was a police officer. He often seems amazed that Zenigata can keep up with him. At times he's overwhelmed by how much thought Zenigata has put into his traps for Lupin. Once, when Lupin thought Zenigata was dead, he sought to take down his supposed murderer.
Ever since the Red Jacket Series despite featuring the nickname in a few Green Jacket episodes, Lupin has called Zenigata "Pops" ("Tottsan" or "Zazà" in other languages). Zenigata has never once complained about the nickname. Based on the big puppy eyes he gives Lupin at times when he seems glad to see him, he may even like the nickname. In The Fuma Conspiracy, Zenigata is so upset about the manner in which Lupin supposedly died that he becomes a Buddhist monk.
While he has some interest in capturing Jigen, Goemon, and Fujiko with the latter wanted as much as Lupin in the past, he is really after only Lupin. Jigen seems to have a genuine fear of being caught by Zenigata. In a few occasions, he even worked with Fujiko.
In the past Zenigata had partners who worked with him to catch Lupin and in the manga, Starmow however they were either incompetent or betrayed him. This also applies to his bosses at Interpol. Since Lupin the Third Part 5, he has an apprentice called Goro Yatagarasu.
Unlike most of the characters, Zenigata is not shown to pursue in love due to his passion of catching Lupin despite sometimes blushes or feels awkward when he sees women. There were times though that he was in a relationship however they, like Jigen, died on him. In The Woman Pops Fell in Love With, he was attracted to Laura Jaws however she died on him. He was attracted to the new police officer Jasmine in ICPO Secret Directive however she also died on him.
The only relationship that survived was with Maria in Tokyo Crisis. Naibaba also wants a relationship with Zenigata as he has an attraction with his butt.
Zenigata is based on a famous Japanese crime-fighting character named Heiji Zenigata. The character is a few hundred years old and was best known for throwing coins as a weapon. Zenigata's handcuff throwing technique is his own take on the character's choice of weapon.
Zenigata was voted the eighth-best supporting character in anime by Mania.com. Mania.com also put Zenigata as the 9th greatest anime detective.
Mike Crandoll of Anime News Network compared Zenigata's pursuit of Lupin to Wile E. Coyote.
- Gorō Naya (1971-2010)
- Shinsuke Chikaishi(Pilot Film Cinemascope)
- Chikao Ōtsuka (Pilot Film TV)
- Seizō Katō (The Plot of the Fuma Clan)
- Koichi Yamadara (2010-current)
- Enzo Consoli (1979-2007, Treasure of the Sorcerer King)
- Marcello Prando (Lupin the Third Part II)
- Paolo Poiret (The Castle of Cagliostro first dub)
- Maurizio Scattorin (The Castle of Cagliostro second dub)
- Sandro Iovino (The Mystery of the Hemingway Papers)
- Rodolfo Bianchi (1991-current)
- David Povell (Streamline dub)
- Seán Barrett (Manga UK dub)
- Marc Matney (AnimEigo dub)
- Kevin Seymour (Animaze dub)
- Dan Lorge (Geneon dub, Treasure of the Sorcerer King)
- Phillip Wilburn (Funimation dub)
- Richard Epcar (The Woman Called Fujiko Mine, Daisuke Jigen's Gravestone, The Blood Spray of Goemon Ishikawa)
- Doug Erholtz (Lupin the 3rd: Part IV, Lupin the 3rd: Part 5, Discotek dubs)
- Luis Mas (Lupin the Third Part I Telecinco dub)
- Mario Hernandez (Lupin the Third Part II Telecinco dub)
- Rafael Calvo (The Castle of Cagliostro Spain dub)
- Juan Jose Moscoso (The Plot of the Fuma Clan)
- Victor Prieto (Lupin the Third Part I Animax dub)
- Patrick Meese (‘’Lupin the Third Part I’’ / “Edgar de la Cambriole”)
- Jacques Ferrière (‘’Lupin the Third Part II’’ / “Edgar le Détective Cambrioleur”)
- According to The Castle of Cagliostro Dictionary Book, Zenigata's birthday is on April 5  however in Bye-Bye Liberty - Close Call! his birthday was given as December 25, 1938 and came from the Saitama prefecture on his badge.
- Zenigata's former voice actor, Gorō Naya, also voices Leonard Dawson from Golgo 13: The Professional. Dawson sounds similar to Zenigata when he is in his angry state.
- In the Manga he is sometimes refered to as Heitaro Zenigata.
- His first name is rarely given. In most animation, on merchandise or character profiles, he is Inspector Zenigata outside of Part 1 and The Mystery of Mamo where it is Heiji Zenigata VII. There were times that it was mentioned; in The Blood Spray of Goemon Ishikawa his Tokyo Metropolitan Police badge lists his full name and in the live action Inspector Zenigata series, he is called Koichi.