Some franchises have a massive impact on the anime and manga sphere. They become so popular that they keep getting spin-offs and reboots long after their initial run ends. City Hunter is one of these franchises. It has a long and storied history and regularly appears on lists of anime and manga that every fan of these mediums should check out. And now, thanks to RetroCrush, American anime fans can enjoy everything this legendary franchise has to offer.
City Hunter started as a manga. It was written and illustrated by Tsukasa Hojo, and serialized in Weekly Shōnen Jump between 1985 and 1991. The series is set in Shinjuku, Tokyo, and follows Ryo Saeba. After a plane crash, Ryo was raised as a guerrilla fighter in Central America. After a war, Ryo makes his way to Japan, and there he meets Hideyuki Makimura, a former police detective. Hideyuki introduces Ryo to the world of sweepers. Sweepers are for-hire vigilantes who are a blend of detectives, bodyguards, assassins and cops.
Despite the dirty nature of the work, the high amount of crime in Shinjuku means that sweepers are in high demand. Ryo and Hideyuki form a sweeper team called "City Hunter," and everything goes well at first. However, when gangsters murder Hideyuki, he has one last request: that Ryo looks after his adopted younger sister Kaori Makimura. Ryo accepts, and Kaori becomes the new second member of City Hunter as the pair learn to live together and solve the cases they are brought.
The manga's blend of action and comedy resonated with audiences and the relationship between Ryo and Kaori was both meaningful and funny, with Kaori's regular annoyance at Ryo's perversion, specifically her habit of hitting him with a massive hammer when he says something perverted, becoming a popular joke in Japan. The manga did very well, and it was collected into a 35 volume collection.
In 2001, Tsukasa Hojo started a spin-off called Angel Heart, which, while almost like a follow-up to the main series, was said to be set in an alternate reality where an assassin called Glass Heart gets Kaori's heart after she is killed in an accident. In 2017, another spin-off called City Hunter Rebirth started, which featured a City Hunter fan being reincarnated into the world of the original manga. By 2016 it was estimated that the original manga's tankōbon volumes had sold over 50 million copies worldwide. And, of course, with this popularity, more spin-offs were inevitable.
In 1987, Sunrise started to broadcast their anime adaption of the series. This series was directed by Kanetsugu Kodama, the director behind a lot of Detective Conan anime. City Hunter lasted for 51 episodes and was very popular. Because of this, it got a 63 episode follow-up in 1988, dubbed City Hunter 2. This was quickly followed by City Hunter 3 in 1989. However, City Hunter 3 only featured 13 episodes. 1991 saw the final City Hunter anime release in the form of City Hunter '91, another 13 episode series.
During this time, the franchise also had three movies released in theaters. These films tended to come out between anime seasons and used the same team as the anime, meaning they feel like extra-long episodes of the main series. The first film, 357 Magnum, was released in 1989, followed by Bay City Wars and Million Dollar Conspiracy, both of which came out in 1990. The late '90s also saw the release of a collection of made-for-TV movies. The first of these movies, Secret Service, came out in 1996 and was directed by Kenji Kodama. However, 1997's Goodbye My Sweetheart and 1999's The Death of Vicious Criminal Saeba Ryo were handled by different directors, giving them a unique feel that sets them apart from the rest of the anime. Finally, in 2005, TMS Entertainment produced a one-season anime based on the Angel Heart spin-off.
However, the franchise is far from over. In 2019, a new film called City Hunter the Movie: Shinjuku Private Eyes was released. This movie was set in modern-day Shinjuku and brought back Kanetsugu Kodama to animate and direct, so the film feels like a natural extension of the franchise, maintaining a retro charm with the modern animation people expect.
The franchise was so popular that many international studios made their own region-specific City Hunter content, usually live-action films. In 1991 Hong Kong got Saviour of the Soul, which took the characters from City Hunter but used them to tell a whole new story. Then, in 1993, Hong Kong got City Hunter, based on the early chapters of the manga and starring Jackie Chan as Ryo. In 2019, Nicky Larson et le Parfum de Cupidon was released in France. It tells a new story using the City Hunter characters. However, it uses the names the characters were given in the French dub of the original anime. This film was made with explicit permission from Tsukasa Hojo, who read and enjoyed the script.
City Hunter has also moved into live-action TV. In 2014, China had a TV adaptation of the manga called Cheng Shi Lie Ren. And later this year, the Philippines is getting a different TV drama based on the franchise. A South Korean drama version was announced in 2008. However, when it came out in 2011, it had no links to the manga, despite retaining the name. Strangely, the main series didn't get a live-action version in Japan, but the spin-off manga Angel Heart did.
City Hunter is a massive franchise that every anime and manga fan should check out at least once. If you're looking for a slice of 1980s action, then the best starting point is the original City Hunter anime series, as it offers a complete experience in a tight package that never fails to amuse and thrill. The fact that City Hunter is still getting new content is a testament to how memorable its world and characters are.