I've been looking for something to help me through the hot 'n' humid summer months and what better way to beat the heat than to stay indoors watching questionable anime and playing questionable games based on said anime?
If you happen to be new around here... hey there. It's ya boy, Mento. I'm one of the busier (but far from busiest) wiki editors around these parts and in the past I've taken on various "projects" in which I ensure our wiki is up to date on all the latest 8-bit and 16-bit video games from the NES, Master System, SNES, Mega Drive, and TurboGrafx-16 libraries. Real cutting-edge shit. That also means I've encountered a fair number of licensed tie-ins for the best (and less best) anime the '80s and '90s had to offer. Researching them out of curiosity and for the sake of a single sentence synopsis on their related games' pages has naturally led to building quite a list of TV shows, animated movies, and this feature's namesake OVAs (Original Video Animations, something between a TV show and a movie that's developed specifically for home video release) I've been meaning to look into further.
Now, I fully appreciate that most licensed games in Japan tend to run into the same issues with licensed games made over here; there's a reason the Angry Video Game Nerd never ran out of material when looking into bad movie tie-ins. Even so, I'm curious to see how well they've at least captured the essence of the source material even if the game itself didn't end up so great. With all that in mind, here's what we're doing here with Game OVA:
- I'm going to watch a reasonable chunk of the anime in question. This might be a movie, one or more OVAs, or several episodes of a TV show. Some of these franchises have existed for a long time in various forms, so I'm going to use my discretion here: I'll focus on those that immediately preceded the video game adaptations and almost certainly were a driving factor in their creation, if not the direct tie-in source (say, if a game follows the events of a specific movie).
- I'll then play as many of the video game adaptations as possible, limited mostly to the 8-bit and 16-bit generations but potentially dipping into Sony PlayStation, Nintendo 64, or the Sega Saturn if I can get the emulators to play nice.
- Finally, I'll be considering which of these game adaptation does right by the anime most. Some might be drawing from the manga directly, so I might have to check in on those too if they don't have a thousand issues. I'll be reviewing whatever I watch also, seeing how it holds up compared to modern day instant classics of the medium like "I died and woke up in a strange fantasy land but suddenly I'm hot now?!" and "I died and woke up in a strange fantasy land but now I'm a wizard with all these spells and also I'm hot?!". (For real though, Spy x Family and Odd Taxi are some very good recent anime I've seen. Feel free to flood these things with other recommendations.)
- For various reasons, I'm not going to touch anything too popular. That is to say, anything with dozens of anime and/or game adaptations. Your DBZs, your Gundams, your Sailor Moons, your Narutos, and whatnot. I feel like I'd be stuck writing an entry on any one of those forever, and they're such known quantities anyway that they wouldn't be all that interesting to read about for the umpteenth time. I ideally want to focus on the type of obscure property that got, like, one OVA in 1986 and a game tie-in and that was all; a case where the multimedia marketing push far exceeded viewer and player interest.
With all those rules enshrined in stone like the Code of Hammurabi, let's get on with our first entry. And speaking of hammurs...
City Hunter is the sobriquet of professional "sweeper" Ryo Saeba, who occupies a role that is part private detective and part one-man army for anyone desperate enough to figure out how to contact him (definite shades of The A-Team). Along with his partner Kaori, who handles most of the administrative aspects of the job, Saeba is ready to handle any danger you throw his way. He's also indescribably horny pretty much all the time but don't let that distract you too much. A typical City Hunter story is half comedy and half action, as he gets into mischief trying to seduce his innocent female clients while doing enough competent detective work to get to the bottom of whatever the mystery happens to be like a dashing anime Columbo. He also tends to get into a lot of shoot-outs and car chases, and those are usually where these bigger budget City Hunter adaptations shine brightest. It's certainly not the times where he's caught peeking through bathroom keyholes by Kaori and forcibly deterred from this behavior with an enormous mallet.
The regular cast of characters are as follows:
- Ryo Saeba: The City Hunter himself, one of Tokyo's finest sweepers when he's paying attention. Crack shot, extremely shrewd, genius tactician, and incorrigible poon hound.
- Kaori Makimura: Saeba's ever-suffering partner. A down-to-earth short-haired brunette with a short temper. She's not a fighter herself, but she can be extremely effective with giant hammers if her target is Ryo. The younger sister of Ryo's former partner, Hideyuki Makimura, who dies early in the TV show and manga.
- Saeko Nogami: A dark-haired policewoman and City Hunter's main contact on the force. A running joke is that she promises all sorts of "favors" for Ryo Saeba if he helps her out, though manages to avoid paying off any of them.
- Reika Nogami: Saeko's sister, a long-haired brunette who works as a private investigator. Occasionally helps Saeba dig up info for his clients, though is just as likely to steal them. Also flirts with him incessantly; pretty much the Fujiko Mine type.
- Umibozu: An imposing dude with a bald head who is almost always wearing camo and sunglasses, despite working as a café host during the day. Umibozu isn't his real name, or even his usual codename (that would be Falcon): it's a bald yokai that Saeba named him after as an insult. The two have a long and antagonistic history from back when they were both mercs, but have (mostly) moved past it.
- Miki: A young woman who is Umibozu's former mercenary protégé and the caretaker of the café he works at. Frequently works as his partner on sweeper missions.
Choosing City Hunter as my first assignment is essentially the same trick as starting my Nintendo 64 feature from earlier this year with Super Mario 64. I am very familiar with City Hunter; in fact, it's one of my favorite anime franchises. Be that as it may however, it is still just about obscure enough to hang here with all this other 20th-century anime detritus and so it seemed like a perfect candidate for a Game OVA trial run.
City Hunter: Ai to Shukumei no Magnum (US: .357 Magnum) (1989)
You know it's going to be a good movie when it starts with an explosion and an assassination in an airport before the opening credits have even shown up. The perpetrator is a swarthy middle-aged man with a cool mustache later identified as a "Colonel Helzen" by an underling after the two escape with an important-looking briefcase stolen from their target, an irascible older spymaster looking to work with the Tokyo PD. .357 Magnum wastes no time in establishing its central mystery before we get the glorious opening credits of Ryo Saeba strutting around looking cool while this song is playing. The movie, doing its due diligence for those who skipped out on the TV show, quickly introduces the main cast: Ryo and Kaori, who are desperate for another client after a long dry spell; Reiko, who flirts with Ryo but only to convince him to do her work for her; Umibozu and Miki, who are chilling in their cafe serving bad coffee and firing at targets in the basement shooting range, respectively; and Seiko, who showed up earlier in the airport scene as one of the Tokyo PD assigned to protect the foreign agent who, sad to say, did not survive the prologue.
At the café we're then properly introduced to the movie's ingénue, Nina Shutenberg: a foreign pianist who has come to Japan for a charity concert but on the downlow is also looking for her unknown father and was informed about Saeba and Umibozu and their jobs as sweepers from a mutual friend. She was also present at the airport bombing, but we're not quite sure how she's connected (though I've plenty of theories, seeing as she's seeking a middle-aged man that almost certainly also has a German-sounding name). Speaking of whom, we get a bit more information on the good Colonel: he's a secret agent for the "East Galiera" government and a shrewd operator with a fearsome reputation as "the Crimson Shinigami" (c'mon, now...). Starting to feel like he might be the movie's villain, I dunno.
Nina is escorted back to City Hunter HQ (Ryo's apartment) and what follows is twenty minutes of, well, let's just call it what it is: sex pestery. Saeba is eventually mollified with extreme violence from Kaori and Nina wisely decides to return to her hotel than to try to spend the night there - though she does find Saeba's attempts to catch her undressing "amusing" which I feel is extremely generous reception of his Pepe le Pou behavior; clearly we as the audience are meant to feel the same, knowing that Ryo won't ever get what he wants because of the ever-timely intervention of Kaori and her absurdly-oversized hammers. We also get one of our first glimpses of "serious Saeba" - if you're following the One Punch Man podcast on the site, it's a similar animation process where his face suddenly becomes a lot more detailed and handsome when he's temporarily required to stop kidding around - as he follows Kaori and Nina back to the hotel out of concern and meets, indirectly, Helzen and his right-hand man who have temporarily abducted Klaus, Nina's grandfather/manager: this leads to a tense stand-off broken by the sudden arrival of Umibozu, who decides to look after Nina and her gramps since Saeba can't be trusted to do so. The plot thickens at the reception for Nina's concert the following day, with her and her grandfather being abducted by a different East Galieran goon - this time working directly for the shady ambassador, the movie's real villain - as Ryo chases after them in his modified Austin Mini Cooper. Helzen somehow snipes the bad dude's radiator from the side of the road as the car drives past at 90mph and then, equally improbably, Ryo disarms the goon by shooting a bullet directly down the barrel of his gun and fucks up his hand. Just the kind of rad nonsense spy shit this franchise dabbles in on the regular.
After this we get the necessary exposition dump: Helzen is indeed Nina's father (gasp!) who apparently used her mother as a cover for his espionage and dumped her soon afterwards, but not before getting her pregnant with Nina. The ambassador, annoyed by his underling's failure, calls in some special forces heavy-hitters to deal with City Hunter. Meanwhile, Nina has fallen for Saeba because of course she has, but he and Kaori are destined to be together in an eternal will-they-or-won't-they scenario so that'll all come to naught. Nina still hands him her pendant for safekeeping - previously the only clue to her father's identity, though also revealed to be the hiding spot for the microfilm the informant from the prologue was trying to smuggle - which I'm sure won't play a role later. I never claimed this franchise couldn't be formulaic, but it's usually the best kind of detective pulp: everyone's hyper-competent when required and the tone veers from comedy to melodrama to tense action at the drop of a hat.
Suffice it to say the rest of the movie is mostly action scenes after this, as the special forces first attack City Hunter's apartment and kidnap the grandfather (and Kaori, who impulsively grabbed onto their helicopter as they flew off) and Saeba takes off to their supposed secret hideout - a luxury resort called Etranger, which is French rather than German but who can even keep track of all those damn European tongues - with Umibozu tagging along for support, because "he could use the exercise." This frontal assault on Etranger coincides with Nina's concert, with the movie becoming anime Commando for the next fifteen minutes as the mansion gets blown to absolute shit and the pivotal showdown between Saeba and Helzen draws closer. The best part of this sequence is when City Hunter shoots the other hand of the same goon from before in a second stand-off, advising him to seek a "desk job," and the dude is so incensed by this he runs into the arsenal underneath the mansion and detonates the many piles of explosives under there. That dude really didn't want to learn Excel.
Said duel then inevitably culminates outside the smouldering ruins of the former resort, underscored by Nina's spirited concert performance, as the two take aim and shoot each other: Helzen's fatal bullet being stopped by, you guessed it, five solid inches of print pornography Nina's pendant. Mr. Helzen forgot to wear any convenient plot-critical pendants that day, so he just dies. Or does he? Well, let's just say it'd be awfully convenient if Saeba helped fake Helzen's demise with a weaker modified bullet so he could get out of being an East Galierian agent and instead make up for lost time with his estranged daughter as the two set sail back to Europe.
Aaaaand that's the movie. Still as baller as I remember, though I'll admit to getting parts of it confused with its sequels Bay City Wars and Million Dollar Conspiracy, both OVAs of about half the length of the movie that were released the following year. It's a predictable enough narrative - more so if you're familiar with the show or the franchise in general - but still entertaining as all hell, especially when you know shit's about to go down in the final act. I'm not kidding about that mansion: between the incendiary stockade and whatever 100lb high-caliber Godzilla-slayer Umibozu carries with him along with a seemingly endless number of grenades it gets real fucked up, and where the movie's animation quality dips a bit in staying on-model for its characters it makes up for in its balletic gunplay and enough irresponsible explosions for a dozen gender reveal parties. Absolutely recommended if you're into Bond action movies and, for whatever reason, wished all his womanizing was played for broad slapstick comedy.
Well, first, there's the manga which ran from 1985 to 1991. That's followed by the original TV anime adaptation: it ran for 51 episodes between April 1987 and March 1988, immediately followed by a second season that aired 63 episodes between April 1988 and July 1989. The film covered here, City Hunter: Ai to Shukumei no Magnum (or City Hunter: .357 Magnum) premiered mere weeks before the end of the second season of the show around June 1989. The movie was followed by the two aforementioned shorter movies Bay City Wars and Million Dollar Conspiracy, both dropping in 1990, and then followed by yet another season of the show that only lasted thirteen episodes across 1991. After that we have three feature-length made-for-TV movies that came later in the 1990s - The Secret Service, Goodbye My Sweetheart, and Death of the Vicious Criminal Ryo Saeba - and then finally the 2019 reboot movie City Hunter: The Movie: Shinjuku Private Eyes.
There's also an entirely different manga continuity with its own anime adaptations called Angel Heart that's set in an alternative timeline where Kaori passes away and her ticker is donated to a young Taiwanese assassin looking for purpose in her life whom meets a grieving Ryo Saeba by pure chance. As I said, this franchise is no stranger to melodrama, even if it tends to get incongruously shoehorned in between the shoot-outs and creepy stalker jokes. And let's not forget also that City Hunter has been adapted by several other countries: the French, the anime aficionados that they are, invented their own version called Nicky Larson (check out this movie poster though; they're not exactly trying to pass him off as an original concept) and Hong Kong saw fit to make a live-action movie in 1993 starring Jackie Chan, in which his Saeba foils a ship hijacking. If you're not familiar, it's the one where he cosplays in drag as Chun-Li to fight frequent collaborator Gary Daniels (who is dressed as Ken Masters). South Korea also did their own well-regarded K-Drama spin on City Hunter in 2011, though it sounds like it took the source material a little more seriously. I'm supposing that means fewer 100-tonne sledgehammers.
I've only seen the three earlier City Hunter movies, but I've been meaning to catch up on the rest of its media for some time now. Hopefully I don't get too distracted by Ryo Saeba and his Miami Vice-ass short-sleeved jackets before it's time to do another one of these Game OVA episodes.
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, we still have the other half of the feature to get on with:
Oddly enough, there's only ever been one video game based on City Hunter. The same-titled City Hunter is a side-scrolling action-adventure game for the PC Engine (the Japanese TurboGrafx-16) similar to Impossible Mission or Zillion in that Saeba runs around labyrinthine buildings shooting dudes while looking for a breadcrumb trail of clues that'll lead him to the area's boss. Worth stating that this isn't Saeba's only video game appearance - he shows up in a few of the Shounen Jump crossover arena fighters, including the semi-recent Jump Force, I'd guess as a Fox McCloud or Samus Aran zoner type - but the PC Engine game is the only City Hunter branded release of which I'm cognizant.
Developed and published by Sunsoft in 1990 - they also worked on the 1989 Batman movie tie-ins around this time - it's a mostly forgotten title that didn't quite capture the imagination as much as its superhero counterpart, but at the same time isn't half bad. I'm also fortunate in this case that it received a fan translation as recently as 2019 by "filler" and "cabbage." It's definitely the kind of game you want to be able to read, since NPC hints are required for progress.
I'd say so. Obviously you're not going to squeeze everything that makes City Hunter work in such a limited framework, but City Hunter: The Game offers a similar mix of combat and investigative work while finding room for the occasional moments of levity. For 1990 it's probably as effective an adaptation as you'd hope to come across, though I can't say running around shooting the same two dudes over and over while trying to ascertain the critical path through a maze of floors and doors before I run out of health isn't something I'm interested in for the long-term.
It truly is too bad there haven't been any more City Hunter adaptations since. I suspect this is going to be a common refrain for most of these anime-to-video game adaptation musings but I think if you gave this license to the Ryu ga Gotoku Studio guys they could really pull something together; the only issue being that it would probably be very close to what the Judgment games are already doing, absent the ridiculous number of firearms. Still, if they ever felt like returning to the third-person shooter fold (their Binary Domain is still a highlight of the genre in my view) and marrying it with their trademark side-story silliness in much the same way they once did for Fist of the North Star, I would absolutely show up to buy it.
That's going to do it for our inaugural episode of Game OVA. What do people think? Any tinkering that needs done with the formula here? I'm probably going to reduce the word count significantly for future entries, but I'm psyched to check out a bunch of probably pretty bad anime and almost certainly even worse games for the foreseeable future. I already have a work-in-progress spreadsheet of everything that might be viable for this feature, but other suggestions are welcome.