City Hunter is one of my favorite ice-breakers. Few people have heard of it, let alone seen it. And those that have, well, there’s a good chance that they’re hopelessly addicted like I am. It’s approachable, and has a lot of great content that can snag even those who normally don’t watch anime. Still, it never really caught on in the western market.

What is it?

City Hunter is a series that’s equal parts detective drama, high-paced action show, and goofy comedy. The series is set in modern-day Shinjuku, where crime is rampant and organized crime syndicates rule the streets. Among the seedy underworld are sweepers – hired guns that will solve any problem, no matter how deadly… for a price. There are murmurings and legends of a legendary sweeper that answers the call of those who write “XYZ” on the Shinjuku Station message board.

Ryo Saeba, the legendary City Hunter, is indeed a force to be reckoned with. He’s a crack shot with his trusty .357 Magnum revolver, and can dispatch the greatest of foes with ease. Great skill doesn’t come without its price, though. Saeba is one of the biggest perverts to ever grace the filthy streets of Shinjuku, and will do anything (and I mean anything) to get a little “extra attention” from the ladies!

Why Was It Passed Up?

This is an interesting one, since the show’s obscurity is owed to a number of factors. The most notable of these is the fact that it’s old. City Hunter first hit Japanese airwaves 1987, and the visuals definitely reflect the times. Poofy hair, ’80s fashions, and old school technology are common sights, and constant reminders of the show’s age.

The second reason stems from the way the show was introduced to America. The show had a limited, mail-order only run on VHS through ADV Films’s “ADV Fansubs” line. These came and went, and people forgot about the show. Flash forward to 2002 – ADV announces that they’ll be releasing the show on DVD under the “ADV Fansubs” label. The whole run, even! Then the bad news hit. The series would be available primarily through pre-orders, though a few extras would be printed. Kiss of death #2 was that the show would be subtitled-only, in a time with everything – even Ninja Cadets, a C-grade two-episode OVA – was being dubbed. Kiss of Death # 3 was the fact that the show would be $124.98, maybe lower depending on pre-order totals.

The final reason is the simple fact that, well… it’s a pseudo-realistic cop show! There were no magical powers, sci-fi craziness, or fluffy romances. It was just a man, his gun, and a chick that would bludgeon him when he got grabby. In a time when harem and maid shows were popular, this was a hard sell in and of itself.

As one can expect, the show tanked, despite fairly positive reviews.

Why This Show?

Frankly speaking, this is a show that’s just plain fun to watch. Ryo, being both a suave gunman and a giggling lech at the same time is a fun lead character that one can’t help but snicker at whenever he strikes out in his never-ending search for nookie. The secondary cast is equally as strong, and ranges the psychological gamut from mundane, to wily, to borderline insane. They really add to the overall feel of the show, which focuses on a series of disconnected cases that Ryo takes on for sex and profit -well… maybe not the first part.

The action is fast, the humor is just perverted enough to be funny without being offensive, and the plots all seem to work. The formula is pretty set, as one would expect, but the “curve-ball” episodes the show throws are really amazing. By this, I mean the episode that go away from the standard formula, and into an often much darker and subdued territory. The writing in these installments take a huge step up from the show’s already high standard, and really sell the series as a whole.

Closing Thoughts

City Hunter is one of those absolute buried gems. It’s a show that is exemplary on all qualities, but just never got its due. It’s a favorite of mine, and definitely stands out as one of my “off the head” picks for many inquiries. Unfortunately, the low print run is taking its toll, and specific volumes are getting tough to find (seasons 3 and 4 regularly hit $300 and up). Still, do yourself a favor, and pick up at least one of the sets in the first or second season while they’re still available. You certainly won’t regret it.

City Hunter was originally released by ADV Films.
The series can be purchased at Right Stuf,