Reviewby Mike Crandol,
City Hunter: Secret Service
The perennial girl-chasing private eye Ryo (Joe) Saeba and his assistant Kaori accept an unusual assignment. James McGuire, a presidential candidate from the Guinan Republic, is visiting Japan, and his estranged daughter Anna is assigned to the Secret Service detachment charged with protecting him. But someone knows about the family connection and targets Anna to get at McGuire. Ryo and Kaori must protect Anna even as Anna protects her father. There are kidnapping and assassination attempts aplenty, but Ryo still finds plenty of time to try and get some "nookie" from Anna and every other female in sight. Kaori's hammers continue to ensure that all his efforts will be in vain.
1996's "Secret Service" is one of several City Hunter TV specials produced following the end of one of the most internationally popular anime series to date. It's hopelessly contrived and predictable plot is saved only by City Hunter's trademark schizophrenic sense of humor and it's enduring characters. At times the hokey dialogue and cookie-cutter plotting make this almost painful to watch, and yet strangely enough at the end of it all you're left wanting to see more....a testament to why City Hunter has been a fan favorite for well over a decade.
"Secret Service" manages to exactly duplicate all the magic of a "Walker: Texas Ranger" rerun. Ten minutes into the show it's already obvious how things will play out, with the requisite gunfights, double-crosses, and "tear-jerking" drama in all the right places, and an "all's well that ends well" denouement in Umibozu's (known merely as Falcon in the English dub) coffee shop. If the end credits had played over a freeze-frame of the cast laughing with Tom Wopat the picture would have been complete. And with such nuggets of dialogue like "I spent my time trying to work up the courage to commit suicide", the already superficial drama becomes downright laughable. Many more enjoyable episodes of the City Hunter TV series were similarly characterized by such stereotypical plots, but "Secret Service's" hour-and-a-half running time makes it hard to bear.
But in spite of it's tiresome story, this film will please veteran City Hunter fans and likely hook many newcomers as well. City Hunter's main draw as always been Ryo's Jeckyl-and-HYDE persona...a sharpshooting badass one minute and a perverted fanboy the next. His assistant Kaori, sister of Ryo's slain partner and hence "off-limits", is insanely jealous of Ryo's constant girl-chasing, and her reaction is usually to hit him with something large and heavy. Ryo's two personalities and his relationship to Kaori are the key to City Hunter's lasting appeal, no matter how horrible a story the two heroes find themselves in. And because this is animation, the show's entire tone and style can effortlessly morph to match Ryo's split-second changes in character. The constant back-and-forth between hard-boiled crime drama and cartoonish slapstick makes City Hunter unique in the world of anime. Ryo can be engaged in a deadly serious shootout with lethal results, only to be squashed flat in the following scene by one of Kaori's trademark 2,000-pound hammers. But City Hunter is always careful to keep it's two worlds separate: hammers are pulled out of nowhere only at comedically opportune moments, and the Looney Tunes-style antics never intrude on the more serious scenes, ensuring that any threats presented are accepted as potentially life-threatening by the audience. The two styles mix like oil and water, but that is exactly why it's so much fun to watch. "Secret Service" is a showcase of some of the finer City Hunter gags, such as Kaori's creative use of a battering ram to get at Ryo, and Ryo's excursion at a certain type of video store.
The art design upholds the look and feel of the City Hunter world...as such "Secret Service" is a 1996 movie that looks firmly stuck in 1987. While it may have been fun to see a more modern take on the characters' dress, weapons, and vehicles, it was probably for the best to keep things in the familiar vein. The animation is about what one expects from a made-for-TV movie, and though there are many static scenes, there are several more fully-animated actions sequences as well, impressive given the character designs, which are a little more complex than the average anime's. Like the art design the program's music is also derivative of 80's cop shows....I'll leave it to the reader to decide if this is a good thing or not.
ADV Films continues their recent streak of high-quality releases with this DVD. The disc features a crisp video transfer and some fun extras, including the highly-amusing Japanese TV commercials announcing the film's upcoming broadcast, and a bit of omake animation concerning a wacky misunderstanding when Kaori finds Ryo in her panty drawer. The Japanese vocal cast is of course well-known and liked among fans all over the world, and the English dub cast lives up to their performance. Martin Blacker, as Ryo (renamed Joe in the dub), manages the character's two personas with ease and believability, as does the original actor Akira Kamiya. Oddly enough, however, some of the characters' names have been Americanized for the English version. Series regulars Seiko and Umibozu have become Sandra and Falcon, and Ryo is now known as Joe...yet Kaori remains Kaori. This is an unusual practice for ADV, a company which normally doesn't try to cover up it's products' Japanese origins. The only other complaint to be had with the translation is that some of the already-cheesy dialogue has been made even more unbearably bad (note the afore-mentioned "suicide" line). On the whole, though, this is a pretty good presentation.
If you're new to the world of City Hunter, "Secret Service" is an adequate introduction. It's certainly not one of Ryo's best adventures, but it contains all the manic action and comedy that has made City Hunter one of anime's most enduring series. Some fans already familiar with the series will likely be put off by the story deficiencies, but just as many will enjoy this deluxe installment of City Hunter-brand antics. If you place more value on tightly-plotted, arresting stories, stay far away from "Secret Service". But if you're looking for enjoyable characters and mindless fun, this is as good a bet as any.
+ City Hunter's unique mix of serious action and cartoonish slapstick
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