City Hunter 2 – episodes 1 to 7

December 19, 2004 on 8:23 pm | In City Hunter | Comments Off on City Hunter 2 – episodes 1 to 7

City Hunter with a 2 on it is the same loveable City Hunter, but with new songs and sharper comedy.

The same deal of Saeba Ryo working as City Hunter, king of the underworld, remains. Because of his fondness for Kaori, he’s still too soft to land himself some real jobs. However, danger still finds him, so now he does all sorts of call things like shooting people’s fingers off! But only when they deserve it.

Ryo gets to do some more outlandish stuff, including one scene in which he sexually harrasses male punks in an alleyway, and Kamiya Akira truly makes this series. His performance in the pratfalling sequences is simply hilarious, and I suppose that he’s cool when he’s playing it smooth and straight. But that scarcely seems to matter. Of course, the truly great comedic moments are when he goes between the two in the space of a second. It seems hard to believe but Kamiya somehow manages to seriously accuse Kaori of “molesting men and stealing their underwear”. Sometimes this series is pure farcical genius.

Some of the themes are amazingly pertinent even to this day: the first episode of the series is about a model whose company wants to turn her into an idol. Problem is, she can’t sing. They record her anyway. Manufacturing idols is something even more controversial today, proof that some things never change and in fact are liable to get worse.
Ryo’s greatest grace is that he refuses to do lolicon, because rightly so it freaks him out. Ryo may well be a pervert, but he’s a very direct, unkinky pervert. That’s the sort of thing people should be looking for in a man.
The other big issue covered is that of what is called the jiageya – people who put pressure on home-owners to sell their houses against their will. This is not particularly hard hitting, but it was topical back in 1988. City Hunter 2 was with the times, which is one of its appeals – almost all of the story lines were based on trends or scandals of the eighties.

The music is almost exactly the same as the first series, but with less repetition and at least one more new, cool Japanese insert song. The OP is way romantic – because they want to show some sort of niceness between Kaori and Ryo. Everyone knows that the two of them can never be together, so witness the tragedy! The ED is one of the greatest ever, largely due to its excellent English (including such phrases as “Faye Dunawaye” and “Diet Food”). It makes one want to dance, and truly that is what one wants from the songs of City Hunter.

Finally, there was an M&M’s soft drink can featured prominently in a dramatic scene.
City Hunter is definitely back. With a 2. Watch it or you’ll get the hammer!

City Hunter: Magnum of Love and Destiny

October 10, 2004 on 3:49 pm | In City Hunter | Comments Off on City Hunter: Magnum of Love and Destiny

Commercially released as .357 Magnum, this 90 TV movie is standard City Hunter fare, which is a good thing.

Nina, a young pianist, comes from West Galiera to play a series of concerts for charity, but she has another reason for her visit to Japan: she visits Ryo, after hearing from Umibozu’s surrogate daughter (who attends the same musical school), that he is good at finding things. She hopes that Ryo will be able to help her find her father, but her grandfather Klaus must not know. Meanwhile, the East Galiera government wants to recover delicate information held by Klaus – which is, coincidentally, desired by Nogami Saeko and presumably the rest of the Japanese government.

This really is City Hunter; after the dramatic airport introduction, it heads straight into Kaori and Ryo not having any work. I maintain that Kaori has been really bad for business, but that’s besides the point.

The story is solid, and the obvious “shock twist” comes in much sooner than one would expect – which is a good thing, because it’s patently obvious. The character drama is also fairly strong, because it applies to the characters. Had it simply been on something like an “international” level, it couldn’t have worked near as well. While Nina, Klaus and misunderstood villain Helzen obviously get a lot of screen time and development for their parts, the normal cast also gets their own.
A few things are added to the City Hunter canon: there are some great moments where Kaori expresses her feelings for Ryo, and where Ryo acknowledges those feelings (albeit to somebody else) and why he can never act on them. It’s slightly different to my initial theory, but Ryo at heart has incredibly noble motives – and he doesn’t seriously want his clients to fall for him. It’s just a pity that Kaori has such image problems. Also, Ryo finally shows some real anger at the Nogami sisters, which is a nice change.
The only unfortunate part of Umibozu’s section is that, despite apparently featuring chronologically after the first series of City Hunter, he inexplicably runs a café with someone called Miki (possibly the pickpocket of episode 46) in this installment. Hopefully that will make sense some time.

Initially, the show is overpowered by music – much more than the series ever features, and lots of it plain comedy pieces. It calms down, however, and makes for a fairly interesting piece of work. There’s creative cinematography, such as Ryo showing his serious side, and the first confrontation between Colonel Helzen and Ryo has some fairly palpable tension.
On the domestic side, Kaori moves a lot more when she hammers Ryo to the ground, and Umibozu eats incredibly indelicately. On the service side, while it doesn’t seem much more than the series, Ryo comes closer to mokkori than he has for years.
There’s no M & M’s this time around, but a Nestlé truck features in the memorable chase scene.

The dubbing made me kind of glad that the TV series didn’t get the whole English treatment – this would have led to some of the beautiful clients getting the “ridiculous exotic accents” treatment. Ryo (here known as “Joe”) is played fairly well by an Australian actor, and Kaori also seems okay – but they’re no match for the dynamite team of Kamiya Akira and Ikira Kazue. The rest of the Japanese cast don’t particularly stand out, but there’s no noticeably poor or annoying performances.

There’s one aspect of the ending that doesn’t make any sense, but that’s okay. The rest of it was pretty good, although not world alighting stuff: this was just like City Hunter, with a little bit of service and more animation of Kaori giving Ryo what for.

City Hunter – episodes 45 to 51

September 26, 2004 on 7:11 pm | In City Hunter | Comments Off on City Hunter – episodes 45 to 51

Despite featuring one of the most pointless episodes in City Hunter history, there is also a grand return to and above form. The seedy side shows itself at the end; the bloody justice necessary for such a job as Ryo’s shines. Also Ryo gets some of the best damn service out of Saeko that is humanly possible. Because really, when it all comes down to it, it’s not about death and rough justice; it’s about the mokkori.

There are two poor endings amongst the lot: the snow episode just stops, the pickpocket episode ends based on unrevealed information. The mokkori endings, however, are frequently hilarious. Mokkori, you see, has a miraculous restorative power. It is a power that can make women from pool sharks to nuns see the truth of their vocations.
The heroines are beginning to see right through Ryo, to the point that they are beginning the divine punishment themselves. Most clients are naïve, but put a pool cue in one of their hands and she’ll dish out all that Ryo can take.

There’s an episode about a widow, which brings up rare mention of good old Makimura. Kaori is a good example of mourning; not a day goes by when she doesn’t remember her dear brother, but she barely ever feels the need to mention him. Ryo feels that it is important not to forget someone, but that it is unhealthy to let your memories consume you. We not only learn that, but also that combining Ryo with traps is a surefire recipe for hilarity. Saeko has a tab, and she finally uses her trademark knives.
The pool episode, when Ryo goes off to look for topless women, reminds one of the days when City Hunter did feature the topless on occasion. The third to last episode is a totally pointless exercise about a nun who gets drunk and loses her rosary. It has the memorable line “It is not my place to judge, Kaori, but men should not wear miniskirts”, but not much else. There’s something inherently wrong about Ryo hitting on a nun, and also with the background menu offering “Potato Cola”. It was clearly an off week in preparation for the two part series finale, the best episodes of City Hunter yet.

The imagery that kicks off the final two episodes is excellent. The idea of Ryo as Makimura is the right way to look at things. Kaori takes it a bit farther than this, actually admitting jealousy. The line “I can be a beautiful woman, too” shows this. Ryo’s problem is that out of respect for Makimura he can’t let anything happen between himself and Kaori. It would just be too weird, as well.
The Lodos Mafia are the bad guys that Ryo is set against by the Nogami sisters. As it turns out, Makimura had been on their tail. Making Makimura a cop was a good idea because Saeko can bring unsolved cases to Ryo and spice some revenge into the deal. The Lodos Mafia look like they’ll be back sometime later, but without one of their bosses (who looked exactly like the villain of Thunderball).
The episodes were great, not so much on a humour level as on a character and drama level; also to see Kaori in a tuxedo being chased by women. To see Ryo revert to his hardened self from before he met Kaori in order to save her was truly worthwhile. Ryo is by no means some “hitokiri battousai” or “Vash the Stampede”. He chooses to operate in a world where people get killed. That he starts shooting without consciously trying not to kill was refreshing. Also, Umibozu pulled one of his flawless serious performances.

Even more bizarre than the M&M’s Airplane is the ship owned by the Lodos Mafia, christened “Ys Falcom”. It would be really interesting to know if this placement was actually paid for or if the animators just thought it would be fun. Maybe Falcom said “Hey, could you associate our game with drug smugglers in some way: perhaps a huge boat?”? It’s possible.

Kamiya Akira’s performance as Ryo has reached the point where it sounds out of place for him to make a smooth come on towards a woman. He’s gone straight for the “Mokkori!” attack for so long now it is hard to even imagine him being reserved in his actions. Ikura Kazue’s Kaori is so defined that she is able to do a spot on Ryo imitation. The two are really all about playing off each other, so this is a good thing.

City Hunter was a fine mokkori adventure with perhaps too few visits to the bloody side of being a sweeper. After this series, there’s still much more to go. The final two episodes were the best cap you could ask for to the series, standing as two of the most well conceived, well balanced episodes of all – and not just about the mokkori. At the risk of openly contradicting myself within the space of one article, sometimes it’s all about death and rough justice; not about the mokkori.

City Hunter – episodes 37 to 44

September 21, 2004 on 8:38 pm | In City Hunter | Comments Off on City Hunter – episodes 37 to 44

City Hunter is not only the home of some happy mokkori and good two parters, it is also the home of M & M’s. In this group of episodes there at least seven viewings of the branding, from Kaori’s grocery bag, to a truck, to Ryo’s toaster. His toaster, dangit!

The first two parter out of this set was about one of those old style, kimono wearing, yakuza warrior women. The scene where she goes to exact her revenge was poetic in its execution, and practically cried out for blood on the snow. City Hunter‘s weakest aspect is at its most obvious here: there is no sense of justice because, since Kaori came on to the scene, no one has been killed by Ryo. He lives in a section outside of the law where the only real way to teach a criminal is to kill him. It’s not even as if he’s taken an oath or anything, it’s just sanitisation. Sometimes people whom Ryo has failed to put down have come back to get him in the same episode.
Consider that many criminals spend their time inside planning their next crime – consider that many are back in almost before they’re out. Ryo’s “stern admonition” approach to dealing with the underworld’s ne’er do wells is highly ineffective.
This episode also highlights that sometimes it would be better if the hero or heroine could succeed without Ryo’s intervention. It would be that much more effective if it could happen with just Ryo’s guidance, not Ryo’s “shooting direct into the barrel of the other guy’s gun, thus making it explode” trick, which frankly wasn’t that impressive all the other times.

The rest of the episodes had some great moments, including Ryo’s way of showing up a gang of punk women (threatening to tell everyone in town the colour of their panties). Ryo is not only taken as a “baby-sitter”, but sometimes as a vicarious boyfriend. These women, who invariably have not yet had a taste of the real world, for some reason look to this man as the ideal model of masculinity. On that note, only my mind could think that a woman could be cured of a grandfather-con by replacing it with shota-con.

The best episodes are always those which display the care and trust that Kaori and Ryo have for one another. That Ryo can make fun of Kaori while she’s wielding a rocket launcher is proof that they are the best of friends. Their relationship is questionable though, because Kaori is always worrying about their lack of work. Is it due to lost credibility from Ryo going so soft? Somehow even the kids on the street know about City Hunter and play at being him; at least he’s not instantly recognisable, which is a small mercy.
It’s hoped that as the series progresses, Ryo will gain credibility, because he can’t stay as he is. The OVAs look more like the serious side of City Hunter (or, depending on who you ask, the more creatively bankrupt).

Unsurprisingly, the specifically best episodes of this set were the two parter wherein justice was served. This episode tackled important questions such as “is it corruption if it’s for a noble cause?” and “how do you fight corruption at the highest level?”. This episode not only featured the major criminal getting what was coming to him, but also featured him killing one of his subordinates. I’ll bring it up again, but the writers seem to think that killing someone is dehumanising. They have a point, but Ryo is too “human” for the profession. Softening is not good. The episode also does quite a job of answering its own improbabilities, which is something too infrequently dealt with all along the board. It also featured one of the best ending lines ever.

Ryo also works on his brilliant non-sequiturs: when everyone looks on him after he makes a mokkori move, he changes tact with “I say, waiter, what do you make of the latest developments in the Persian Gulf?” His abilities as “the man” are beyond doubt as he somehow manages to remove a bra without touching a woman.
Surprisingly for a program seventeen years old, only one thing seems out of date – the cultural reference to tanka: short poems. It just didn’t seem to mean anything. It might still be in Japan, but it’s not something that really has much cross over appeal and it seemed odd to base an episode around it in part. On the other hand, scissors paper rock baseball (featured in the same episode) is always fun, as is the smooth manner of Hayami Sho.

There was some great animation and design in the episode about the moon princess but, as always with City Hunter, this show is from a time when long shots weren’t very good. Anything that’s not a close up is low on detail and not that interesting. That’s not to say that the whole thing is ugly – such shots are generally avoided – but it’s not pleasant to watch those particular scenes.

City Hunter is undoubtedly enjoyable, but still feels like it needs more bite. Despite its seemingly high amount of fan service for the era, the violence seems less than was acceptable for the day. Not to say violence is cool, but it is necessary for the subject matter to mean something. Even though Ryo is the “good guy”, he has to accept the way his world is. He can’t tone it down on account of his partner who, coincidentally, has no problem with violence.

City Hunter – episodes 27 to 36

September 19, 2004 on 5:13 pm | In City Hunter | Comments Off on City Hunter – episodes 27 to 36

City Hunter comes back from the enforced mid season break (due to the architecture of ADV’s release) with a brand new OP! At first it’s something that is no match for “Don’t go away, my love”, but “Go Go Heaven” grows on a person after a while. Sometimes it is played as an insert song, so it becomes quite enjoyable. The elegance of the Saeko animation is wortwhile, too. On the other hand, the “Get Wild” ED tradition increasingly demonstrates its limitations, with every episode ending on a freeze and pan. Some of them aren’t even interesting freezes or pans, but rather arbitrarily chosen shots of not much.

Easily the best thing about these episodes is the increased role of Umibozu, the best comedy sweeper since Saeba Ryo. Well, not that that’s saying much, but he’s damned funny. Umibozu can take shots from a standard gun without sweating, and he’s the best booby trapper in Japan – but he’s terrified of kittens. When you get a situation where Umibozu wants to protect a girl, and Ryo wants to get to that girl, you have one of the greatest situations for comedy ever posed by City Hunter. Umibozu, like Ryo, also knows when and how to play it straight, so he’s a perfectly flexible character. It’s a crime that he is not included in the new OP, while Saeko is. Seventeen years on the statute of limitations is likely to have expired, and anyway it’s something that is likely to have been fixed in the ensuing 100 plus episodes.
The point is that Umibozu is a great character, from the time he falls in love (because despite being the hardest man in Japan, he blushes in the presence of a beautiful woman) to the time that he referees a death match between Ryo and the underworld’s most famous assassin. He’s the sort of character who, when it is discovered he will be featured in an episode, you can’t help but cheer.

The variety of situations Ryo is placed in are still pretty fresh but, as Umibozu remarks, “Ryo has been reduced to the level of a babysitter”; a lot of the times he just looks after women. The episodes with danger in them are the best because otherwise Ryo shows nothing but his soft side. The aforementioned Ryo versus Michael Gallant was a very high point and brought Umibozu and Saeko together, which is something to see.
The other interesting episode out of this was the biker gang, which showed that City Hunter can play around with genre, something admirable in anime. The scenery in this episode in particular showed a different side of the world, and not the underworld Kaori is used to … although the “overworld” with the rich young girl was a bit generic. The fight scenes were great, and there was an ejnoyable resolution to be found.

City Hunter is a lot of fun to watch, and benefits from its sudden inclusion of two-parters. However, due to its lack of an underpinning story and, let’s face it, the hardboiled gunfights and brazen killings of the earlier episodes, it’s not straight out compelling and very infrequently gives that adrenalin rush that it needs to provoke.

City Hunter – episodes 8 to 26

August 31, 2004 on 9:12 pm | In City Hunter | Comments Off on City Hunter – episodes 8 to 26

One, two, mokkori. One, two, mokkori …

City Hunter somewhere down the track seems to have lost a lot of its serious treatment. The blame can rest almost squarely on Kaori’s 10, 100 and 1000 ton hammers. With a woman beating Ryo up at every move he makes, the poor City Hunter’s chances for mokkori with any of the beautiful women in his clientele drastically fall.
The series also takes more turns into the surreal with a psychic gambler, a shrine maiden, a transvestite gangland boss and far, far too many instances of Ryo shooting right into the barrels of his opponent’s guns … from a block away … than is strictly believable.
The most gritty realism comes from … well, there is no gritty realism any more. While Ryo may be a good guy beneath all the lechery, he’s not given much of a chance to show his caring side. He meets a kid from a war torn land and is charged with corrupting him, but the kid is really just a pervert at heart anyway. Of course, he’s not entirely without his sensitive side; the movie episode and the romance course episode showcased some of his more tactful ways of dealing with women. It can only be hoped that the fact neither episode contains any real danger is simple coincidence.
There are instances when the episodes don’t make much sense: episodes where the bad guys were actually good, despite having earlier piloted an attack helicopter and made Ryo’s car explode.

The episodes offer some pretty good situations among the bizarre, such as the tried and true “Police and stalker pop idol” routine. This is mainly handled with the seriousness that it deserves, but also with the intensely odd notion of confusing a gift of brass knuckles with an engagement ring. There’s not really that much more that can be said.

There’s a disappointing dearth of Umibozu scenes – so few as to the point of none – but there’s another recurring character who has been introduced. Nogami Saeko is a police officer and, to Ryo, is poison. No other woman knows how to manipulate Ryo in such a fashion as she. Saeko’s chief tactic is to offer sweet mokkori compensation for whatever task she wants the City Hunter to do. She’s just smart enough, however, to never give him anything. The cases that Saeko takes on are among the more interesting, particularly as she’s the dame for these episodes and no new character with some sort of hidden beauty has to be introduced.
Between Saeko and Kaori, however, it’s unclear if Ryo will ever get any mokkori ever again. Ryo’s failure to be totally emasculated by this pair probably says something about his strength of character. He’ll go on chasing the mokkori no matter how many hammers are thrown his way (and Kaori’s a pretty good shot). Also of note are the “Kaori is a man” jokes, which are becoming increasingly elaborate, hilarious and ludicrous. She was thrown out of a change room as a peeping tom!

Kamiya Akira has, in the time between seriousness, become a master of the pratfall. The sounds that he makes when he gets thrown out of windows or what have you are priceless and not so much accurate as appropriate.

City Hunter is very much a “just one more” series. It’s easy to consume it in vast quantities because it calls to you. Each episode is surprisingly different, despite the constancy of Ryo’s mokkori hunts and Kaori’s hammerings. There’s not a heck of a lot of growth, though, and so comedy continues to be the hardest genre to write for.

City Hunter – episodes 1 to 7

August 21, 2004 on 2:07 pm | In City Hunter | Comments Off on City Hunter – episodes 1 to 7

City Hunter is the kind of anime that, if you’re truly “into” anime, you’re not supposed to like. Of course, the people who say that have a tendency to fall into ditches and get struck by lightning – so, in short, I like it.

From 1987, City Hunter is the story of sweeper Saeba Ryo – a professional killer/bodyguard who also doubles at the world’s greatest sexual harasser. Along with his agent, Makimura (later Makimura’s sister, Kaori), Ryo takes on the requests of almost exclusively beautiful women. Ryo is notable because he likes to get a “feel” for his clients before taking their jobs, and his clients like to throw tables at him before they realise that he’s the man that they hired.
As it stands this is a series that provides a nice balance of drama and comedy.

While each episode may seem the same, and adhere to a formula, Ryo’s clientele come from a variety of backgrounds and not all of them want exactly the same thing. In fact, not all of them fall for Ryo, so there aren’t as many teary pillows as there are clients. Kaori in particular is immune to Ryo’s charm, to the point that he questions her gender. Ryo’s missions vary from revenge to protecting the secrets of a sterility virus to guarding an actress from the hitman she hired to kill herself.
The order of Ryo’s emotions shift; sometimes he’ll do the really cool thing first, like shooting through his hand to impress a girl and prevent street fatalities, and follow it up with his comedy act, such as screaming in pain as soon as the girl leaves him. Other times, he switches from comedy to drama. Admittedly it’s not something that can provide that much variety, but it should not go unappreciated. Ryo clearly can see the finer things in life, but he understands the grit that goes with it.

The growing and contracting cast offers a good selection. Besides Ryo there’s his original partner who acts as an “agent”, Makimura. Makimura was protective of his sister Kaori and seemed to tolerate Ryo’s antics. When he’s replaced by Kaori, for reasons that I won’t go into, there’s a different dynamic. Kaori is the sort who looks like she’ll grow to be quite violent towards Ryo to put him in his place. One of the most encouraging scenes from these episodes is when Kaori decides to join Ryo. He doesn’t try to talk her out of it, he simply makes sure that she understands the risks associated. Sometimes the man has a feeling of social responsibility, even if he does have a tendency to go on panty raids. The only other recurring character so far is Umibozu, another hitman who looks like he could become Ryo’s rival, friend and comic foil.

Perhaps the most impressive facet is the pacing. Each episode tells a different story, and is tightly paced out of necessity. It’s not a format that one might expect from a crime/underworld series, but it works. The villains are very rarely all of the suited variety, and everyone wants something different. Even when it seems the story won’t be resolved in the set time, it somehow is without feeling rushed at all. This makes City Hunter a very suitable series for taking bites out of.

Kamiya Akira’s acting as Ryo is first rate: when he’s serious he’s dashing, and when he’s comedic he sounds somewhat akin to a frog. Ryo’s favourite word is ‘mokkori’, which the subtitles don’t translate. It’s a cute word which should be vaguely construed as ‘sekushi’ – the reason that it seems to have gone untranslated is because it’s a character in itself, and no one other than Ryo would ever use it ever. The remaining cast is made up of eighties stalwarts, many of whom survived well into the nineties. The whole production smacks of Sunrise’s high values and is a great example of the era. Characters are mostly attractive with the exception of a few shots and the drug abusers. The OP, “Don’t Disappear My Love”, is great, with wonderful animation that includes Ryo and Kaori dancing with hat and cane – something one simply can’t afford to miss to be happy in this life. It will be sad to see it go. The ED is slightly too long for the animation allotted, so it actually starts at the end of each episode, making them feel “dynamic” or perhaps “empowering”. The good thing is that this works for both happy and not so happy endings. This song also boasts some good rhyming English hooks, such as “Get Wild and Tough!” followed by “Get Chance and Luck!”. There are even insert songs, which is one of the best ways to add colour to scenes.

So far, City Hunter is highly enjoyable. Maybe it will wear thin over 143 or so episodes, but I don’t plan to watch them all at once.

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