Review

by Kim Morrissy,

City Hunter: Shinjuku Private Eyes

Synopsis:
City Hunter: Shinjuku Private Eyes
Ryo Saeba is a sniper and private eye ("sweeper") based in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward, who possesses unrivaled marksmanship and an over-the-top obsession for the opposite sex. He and his partner Kaori Makimura serve as bodyguards and perform other duties for his clients. Their latest client is Ai Shindo, a model who's being attacked by mysterious people and unknowingly holds the key to a vast city-wide conspiracy.
Review:

City Hunter: Shinjuku Private Eyes is a classic City Hunter tale, except the setting is now modern Shinjuku. Like the recent Banana Fish anime, it takes characters from an '80s manga and transplants them into a modern setting without changing the essential plot or the cultural backdrop from which they were originally inspired. The result is a film both nostalgic and jarring, the kind of thing that makes you wonder: “Should they have changed it more, or should they have changed it less?”

If you've consumed any City Hunter media, you'll know the setup here. Ryo Saeba is a “sweeper” who chases after pretty ladies while protecting the streets of Tokyo from crime. He works alongside his partner Kaori, the younger sister of Ryo's previous partner. Although Kaori is constantly exasperated with Ryo's playboy behavior, the two always have each other's backs when the bullets start flying.

Shinjuku Private Eyes tells an original story that in some ways could only have worked in a modern setting. This time, Ryo does battle against drones and mechs rather than just human enemies. But it's mostly just sci-fi nonsense rather than a story drawn from the current state and social climate of Shinjuku in 2019. Then again, it's not as if the original series was meant to be an accurate depiction of Shinjuku at the time either. The sprawling underworld conspiracies and wild gunfights on the streets are a core component of the classic City Hunter plots, and Shinjuku Private Eyes is no different in that regard. The film may update the technology, but that's mainly to spice up the action.

The characters themselves still feel like they're stuck in the 80s and 90s as far as their personalities and dress sense goes. This is most noticeable in anything involving Ryo. He really is a character from a different era, what with his confident handling of guns juxtaposed with his cartoonishly lecherous ways. His original characterization in the manga is hard to swallow in today's world - he would greet his clients by groping them with a serious face. However, as the series went on, Ryo evolved too, and his eternal search for a mokkori chance now comes off as silly and ineffectual rather than sinister. Seeing Ryo in 2019 reminds me how poorly even this sort of character has aged; there was a time when it felt like every anime had a skirt-chasing male character constantly getting punched out by the women he flirts with.

Ryo and Kaori's dynamic also feels old-school. Whenever Ryo plays up, Kaori hits him with her enormous hammer. It's a textbook example of slapstick female-on-male violence that you don't really see that much of in anime anymore. (A relief, since I never liked that trope much anyway.) In City Hunter, those scenes are particularly jarring because the art style never goes super-deformed to indicate that this is all a big joke. The transition between serious and comedic scenes is not always graceful, like when Ryo's attempt to perv on a girl suddenly turns into a shootout.

When City Hunter gets into serious mode (or at least shelves the sex jokes for an extended amount of time), it's a good reminder why at least the action has stood the test of time. Yes, it's ridiculous to watch Ryo take down armored machines with a handgun, but it's awesome, and that's what matters. The extended cast of the series also gets their chance to shine, especially Umibozu, who must have set a record for number of bazooka shots fired in Shinjuku Park in this film. It's impressive how the action steadily escalates without ever leaving the urban confines of Shinjuku.

On the other hand, the actual plot is rather thin and mostly predictable. The character you'd expect from first sight to be the evil scheming mastermind is indeed the evil scheming mastermind. Also, despite the fact that the conclusion hinges on Ryo and Kaori's bond, they don't actually spend much of the film talking to each other. Instead, Ryo spends most of the time interacting with his latest client Ai, to the extent that I felt that their friendship was more developed than his relationship with Kaori. In a way, that makes sense - Shinjuku Private Eyes entirely relies on the audience's previous engagement with the series for its emotional beats - but I do wish Ryo and Kaori's relationship had more consistent focus throughout the film.

Regardless, the payoff near the end of the film is still satisfying. One of my favorite things about City Hunter is how Kaori gets to be cool, even in a non-action role, and that remains true here. Also, that final scene just before the credits affirms that, despite all of its frustrating moments, City Hunter still has its heart after all these years. This came as a relief after spending half the film wondering if my memories were lying to me about how good City Hunter was.

The best part of Shinjuku Private Eyes is the way it plays out almost literally like a greatest hits album. When the film hits its climax, a series of insert songs from the original City Hunter TV series start playing almost back-to-back. Even though I have stronger memories of the manga than the anime, I couldn't help but get swept up in the nostalgia as well. The credits sequence is a particular treat because it revisits all the big moments from the anime series with modern animation. It even brings back the original anime OP theme song "Get Wild" by TM Network.

In the end, City Hunter: Shinjuku Private Eyes was exactly what I expected it to be. As a standalone film, it's mediocre. As a nostalgia piece, it's incredibly loving and faithful to the feel of the original. Transplanting City Hunter into a modern setting, warts and all, was a stark reminder that not every part of it has aged well, but as a one-time reunion tour, this hit the notes I was hoping for. We may never get a City Hunter reboot, but I came out of this film feeling as if I'd relived the best moments.

Grade:
Production Info:
Overall : B
Story : B-
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B+

+ Recaptures the action and emotional highs of City Hunter, Umibozu gets a cute new friend
Comedy hasn't aged well, Ryo and Kaori's relationship is underdeveloped

Chief Director: Kenji Kodama
Script: Yoichi Kato
Unit Director:
Takahiko Kyōgoku
Teruo Satoh
Music: Taku Iwasaki
Original Manga: Tsukasa Hojo
Character Design: Kumiko Takahashi
Art Director: Hiroshi Katō
Chief Animation Director: Yoshihito Hishinuma
Sound Director: Yukio Nagasaki

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City Hunter: Shinjuku Private Eyes (movie 2019)

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