City Hunter – A Look at a Popular Classic

Today we’re taking a moment to talk about the hit 1980s anime and manga series City Hunter, created by Tsukasa Hojo. What makes it special? Why does its popularity last? Also, how does it stand up in the modern era? Let’s investigate!

(*NOTE* This is a repost from our old defunct site MatureManga.net.)

What’s It About?

City Hunter centres around Ryo Saeba, a so-called sweeper operating in Tokyo. His job usually consists of taking on jobs mostly from beautiful women on his insistence, often operating as a bodyguard figure or getting them out of a dangerous situation with the criminal underworld.

City Hunter protagonist Ryo Saeba.
City Hunter’s iconic protagonist Ryo Saeba.

Ryo has a very mysterious past which is slowly revealed throughout the story. What’s notable about him is his extraordinary combat abilities, often making impossible shots with his Colt Python .375 Magnum. Also his extreme womanising tendencies, often getting into trouble with his partner Kaori.

After an assailant shoots and kills his former partner at the start of the story, Kaori becomes Ryo’s new assistant. Ryo’s former partner just so happened to be Kaori’s older brother and the reason as to why Kaori is now under his protection. She understandably takes a while to get to grips with her new profession, but gradually becomes an indispensable partner to Ryo. She also helps keep Ryo’s perverted personality in check with her 100-ton hammer.

Additional characters also include Umibozu, a titan of a man who plays very much the role of a gentle giant. He is an old acquaintance and ally of Ryo who is now also an effective sweeper. Despite his appearance, he has a crippling fear of kittens as well as being incredibly shy in certain situations.

There’s also Saeko, a Tokyo police detective. Whilst an ally she exploits Ryo’s urges to take advantage of him. Often using his skills and knowledge for her own benefit.

City Hunter in the Modern Day

Ryo Saeba with dirty magazine.
Ryo’s perverted nature is meant to be something to be laughed at, not a redeeming quality.

City Hunter nowadays draws its share of criticism, due to Ryo’s perverted nature and for many of the female characters he encounters being damsels in distress. I don’t think City Hunter deserves its criticisms. Here’s why.

As I suggested above, the series isn’t really meant to be taken seriously and is in many ways a spoof of things like James Bond. While Bond was always depicted as being super smooth with the ladies, Ryo Saeba is utterly clueless.

His overly perverted nature is something that is there to be made fun of and to be something of an embarrassment. If Ryo was still being successful with women despite this, I think there would then be a problem. But as it is, I don’t think it quite crosses the line.

There are other far more worthy things to be offended about. Such as some anime and manga series that sexualise underage girls, for example.

The Original Manga

Issue of Weekly Shonen Jump featuring City Hunter.
Fans are still awaiting a full translation of the original manga.

The original City Hunter manga was first released in 1985 by Tsukasa Hojo. Hojo had already had a big success with Cat’s Eye, centring around a trio of female art thieves. City Hunter came fresh off the back of that success and has become Hojo’s signature work.

Weekly Shounen Jump ran the manga for six years, not reaching its conclusion until 1991. At which point numerous series of its anime adaptation had been made.

Unfortunately as stated in my other article, we have never had an English translation of the original manga. This despite its massive success in Japan. There were the Raijin Comics editions in 2003 and 2004, but sadly they only released four volumes.

Thankfully there is an online group making a translation effort. After many years it is almost at the point of completion. So we may not have to wait too much longer.

The Anime Adaptation

Due to the manga not receiving a full release to English speaking audiences, most reading this are probably much more familiar with the anime adaptation like me.

Sunrise released the anime version in 1987 two years after the manga’s release. Sunrise being best known for Gundam of course as well as being responsible for much other classic anime series. Kenji Kodama was in charge of directing duties, having experience of adapting Hojo’s work previously with Cat’s Eye’s anime adaptation.

City Hunter

The first series of City Hunter understandably set the groundwork for what was to come for the franchise. Whilst I enjoyed the first series, I wouldn’t call it one of my absolute favourites. Most of its 51 episodes consist of individual stories, which many people do enjoy. Personally though, I prefer more of an ongoing storyline.

City Hunter 2

The second series and its 63 episodes are in my opinion City Hunter’s peak. It has more of an ongoing storyline, with extended stories lasting two episodes instead of just one each. This allowed for more sophisticated storytelling, with greater room for plots to breathe and develop.

City Hunter 3 & ’91

City Hunter 3 and ’91 were series that only consisted of 13 episodes each, low compared to the previous two series. Because of this, the individual stories of these episodes are once again shorter in length, however still enjoyable.

City Hunter ’91 has a slightly different look and feel. This is because this is the only City Hunter anime to not have Kenji Kodama at the helm. His wife, Sachiko Kamimura was also absent from this entry as character designer for the first time. She was also absent from Shinjuku Private Eyes although her husband did return to the director’s chair.

Movies

City Hunter has had several movies released over the years, however, I felt most of these were a little disappointing. This isn’t a slight on the series; I feel that many movie adaptations of anime series never quite match up to their source material.

Having already seen City Hunter: Shinjuku Private Eyes, however, I can tell you that it’s incredible and hits the heights of City Hunter’s earlier editions. If you are a big fan of City Hunter like I am, you will get a real kick out of it. The movie is for the most part a big love letter to the series. Not only that it features all the great City Hunter songs in its catalogue.

Defining Characteristics

I think what makes City Hunter so special is that it is very much a product of its time. It has so much of an 80s feel to it, with it taking a lot of inspiration from action movies made in the same time period. With the massive nostalgia for that particular decade along with those kinds of movies, it’s not surprising that the series has continued to be successful.

Ryo saeba in his Mini Cooper.
Mr Bean isn’t the only fictional character famous for their Mini Cooper.

For the most part, I’d say City Hunter is mostly a lighthearted and fun series, with a lot of humour sprinkled throughout. However, it does sometimes switch over to a more serious mood when the story requires it.

As mentioned previously, the series features a number of great original songs throughout, with a fantastic accompanying soundtrack really helping to set the tone of the show.

Famed voice actor Akira Kamiya did a fantastic job as always, helping to bring to life the character of Ryo Saeba. Ryo and his supporting cast work really well together. Due to the fact City Hunter is more episodic in nature, how we get to know more about each of them and how they develop over time is one of the things that helps to drive the anime along.

Finding City Hunter

I don’t think I’ve got into another series this way before, but I first became acquainted with City Hunter from its music. Being an anime fan it didn’t take me long to discover the wonderful world of JPop, and so I got into the habit of listening to lots of it. Soon I found City Hunter’s incredible music. And not so long after that, I got around to watching the series and its movies in their entirety.

It was also one of my first forays into the wonderful world of 80s anime, after watching things like Kimagure Orange Road and some Universal Century Gundam.

Spin-Offs and Other Adaptations

City Hunter has been popular enough over the years that countries outside of Japan have made their own adaptations. All of which strangely for an adaptation of an anime or manga have mostly been successful.

Poster for the Korean adaptation of City Hunter.
The Korean TV adaptation of City Hunter was hugely successful.

Many of you will be aware of the 1993 adaptation from Hong Kong starring Jackie Chan. It’s probably most well known for the scene where Chan dresses up as Chun Li of Street Fighter fame.

Then there is the Korean 2011 drama that spanned 20 episodes. I have not seen it previously. However from what I know it seems more loosely based on the source material compared to others. With Korean dramas having been popular the world over for a number of years now, unfortunately this series has made it rather frustrating at times to find City Hunter stuff online to do with the anime and manga series.

Nicky Larson et le Parfum de Cupidon is a French adaptation from last year that seems very faithful to the original concept. City Hunter, under the name Nicky Larson, has always been very popular in France where it has a strong fan base. Tsukasa Hojo himself even gave his own personal approval of the script.

Also, there is Angel Heart, that is a spin-off manga created by Hojo himself. This takes place in an alternate universe to City Hunter so is more of its own separate thing. Angel Heart has a completely different tone to City Hunter and tells a more sentimental story.

In 2017 Hojo was back at it again with Kyou Kara City Hunter. This had the unusual premise of a 40-year-old woman in the real world reincarnated into the world of the City Hunter manga.

Final Thoughts

All in all City Hunter is a wonderful example of 80s anime and manga and is one of the best from its time period. With Shinjuku Private Eyes being such a good movie in my opinion, I hope we will be able to get more City Hunter in the future.

Personally, I am really looking forward to when the manga translation is finally completed. We’ll be sure to cover it here at Retro Anime Realm when the time comes.

City Hunter is currently available to watch on Crunchyroll.

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