Ryo Saeba (City Hunter)

Created by Tsukasa Hojo

I stumbled across City Hunter, a 1993 action flick out of Hong King, starring Jackie Chan, late one night on some streaming channel, turned my brain off, and settled in to watch Chan -- as a private eye, no less! -- kick the bejesus out of a bunch of bad guys.

I didn't expect much, and that's about what I got. The typical Hong Kong phooey Chan specialized in at the time, featuring the typical paperweight plot, a lot of cultural in-jokes I didn't get ("You damn gays, may you all get AIDS!" is funny?) and some astounding stuntwork; a high-spirited blend of Die Hard and the Marx Brothers' Coconuts, with a healthy dash of cartooney madness tossed in, as Chan and his assistant (plus a beautiful secret agent) try to thwart a gang of terrorists who have hijacked a cruise ship.

But there was also far more going on here than I expected; a lot more goofiness and even a touch of where'd that come from? surrealism. The BIFF! BAM! POW! opening recalled the Batman TV from the sixties more than your typical Jackie Chan flick. And the jokey, smirky tone Chan adopted when he directly addresses the audience suggested that I was watching some sort of spoof. But a spoof of what?

It turns out it was a spoof of RYO SAEBA (aka "CITY HUNTER"), a very popular Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Tsukasa Hojo that was serialized in Weekly Shönen Jump from 1985 to 1991, and the whole run was subsequently collectied several times in series of graphic novels. The strip also spawned several anime television series and specials, an animated feature film, two live-action feature films (including the Jackie Chan one I caught) and several direct-to-video one-offs.

So saying it's popular might be a little bit of an understatement. City Hunter is one of Weekly Shönen Jump's best-selling series of all time, with over 35 million copies sold in Japan alone.

Mind you, the original is pretty much a spoof, as well. Ryo Saebo is a handsome young Tokyo private eye, a deadly shot (his speciality the "one-hole shot", wherein a series of shots land in the exact same spot repeatedly) and a relentless womanizer (several rough translations from Japanese label him a "pervert"). He only takes on beautiful women clients, much to the dismay of his love-struck young assistant, Kaori.

The joke here is that Ryo thinks of himself as James Bond suave (he often sports a white dinner jacket) but he comes off as a rather obnoxious horny adolescent.

And how does Kaori deal with it? By whacking her boss on the head with a giant oversized mallet straight out of a Looney Toons cartoon, of course.

But wait! There's more!

Kaori is the kid sister of Ryo's murdered partner, Hideyuki Makimura, who insisted, with his dying breath, that Ryo promises never to seduce Kaori. Ryo agrees because he figures Kaori is just a kid. But then Kaori begins to mature!

Oh, the hilarity!

When the perpetually horny Ryo isn't chasing some babe or another, he does actually work as a private eye. Or at least a "city hunter" -- a job that seems to be rather malleable, depending on the plot, he's acted as a secret agent, a bounty hunter, a police officer and an anti-terrorism agent.

Discovered at the age of three at the site of a Central America plane crash, Rya has no idea who his parents were. He was raised as a guerilla fighter by the people who found him, and eventually made his way to Tokyo where he formed the City Hunter Detective Agency with Hideyuki Makimura, a former cop.

COMICS/MANGA

  • CITY HUNTER
    (1985-91, Weekly Shõnen Jump)
    Written and illustrated by Tsukasa Hojo

GRAPHIC NOVELS

The various permutations of manga editions are endless, and the various translations (Spanish, French, English, Korean, Italian, etc., etc., etc.) make it almost impossible to keep track, but the ambitious run -- by publisher Gutsoon -- may be a good place to at least start for English readers. Except the company apparently folded and the series sputtered to a stop after five issues.

TELEVISION/ANIME

  • CITY HUNTER
    (1987-88; Yomiuri Television)
    Animated series
    51 episodes
    Premiere: April 6, 1987
    Directed by Kanetsugu Kodama
    Produced by Sunrise Studios

  • CITY HUNTER 2
    (1988; Yomiuri Television)
    Animated series
    63 episodes
    Premiere: April 6, 1988
    Produced by Sunrise Studios

  • CITY HUNTER 3
    (1989-90; Yomiuri Television)
    Animated series
    13 episodes
    Premiere: October 15, 1989
    Produced by Sunrise Studios

  • CITY HUNTER '91
    (1991; Yomiuri Television)
    Animated series
    13 episodes
    Premiere: April 28, 1991

  • CITY HUNTER: THE SECRET SERVICE
    (1996)
    Animated special
    Air date: January 1996

  • CITY HUNTER: THE MOTION PICTURE
    (1997)
    Animated special
    Air date: April 1997

  • City Hunter: DEATH OF THE VICIOUS CRIMINAL RYO SAEBA
    (1999)
    Animated special
    Air date: April 23, 1999)

STRAIGHT TO VIDEO

  • CITY HUNTER: BAY CITY WARS
    (1990)
    Animated

  • CITY HUNTER: MILLION DOLLAR CONSPIRACY
    (1990)
    Animated

FILMS

  • CITY HUNTER: .357 MAGNUM
    (1989)
    Animated feature film
    Written by Akinori EndÙ
    Directed by Kenji Kodama
    Starring Martin Blacker as RYO SAEBA
    Also starring Jonas Allen, Yõko Asagami

  • CITY HUNTER... Buy this DVD
    aka "Sing si lip yan"

    (1993, Golden Harvest)
    Cantonesee, with English subtitles
    Based on characters created by Tsukasa Hojo
    Screenplay by Jing Wong
    Directed by Jing Wong
    Producers: Eric Huen, Hei-man Chan, Lam Chua, Wai Sum Shia, Wing-Cheung Ho
    Starring Jackie Chan as RYU SAEBA
    and Joey Wang as Kaori Makimura / Carrie
    Also starring Kumiko Goto, Chingmy Yau, Gary Daniels, Carol Wan, Leon La, Lap-Man Tan, Ken Lo, Eric Kot, Jan Lam, Richard Norton

Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.


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