Of course, Shonen Jump has been around a lot longer than the 2000s, even if we've not necessarily seen a lot of those titles. We've got a few of the big-name titles from the 1980s, such as Jojo's Bizarre Adventure, Fist of the North Star, and today's selection.
CITY HUNTER (Shiti Hanta), by Hojo Tsukasa. First published in 1985, and first published in North America in 2003.
There are many crimes within the confines of Tokyo that go unpunished. There are good people who lose their lives and the police and courts can only do so much. These are the cases that lead people to private detective Ryo Saeba, aka City Hunter. Saeba's got a way with a gun, a quick wit, and a love of the ladies that manages to get out of tight situations time and again. His skills are put to the test, though, when his long-time partner is murdered and he must team up with his sister to avenge his death.
It's hard to believe that there are a time when the pages of Shonen Jump weren't filled with a bunch of spiky-haired kids but instead with lots of burly bruisers and grown men. Compared to many of its contemporaries, City Hunter is a rather modest and understated title, as it's essentially a detective procedural that were all over TV in the 70s and 80s. Maybe that's the reason City Hunter holds up pretty well nearly three decades later.
The stories here are fairly episodic, and it's only towards the end of the first volume that we start to see ones that span more than a single chapter. They all tend to follow the same formula, though - Ryo investigates the villain of the week, saves the day, wins over the latest woman to come wandering into his life, and everything goes back to the status quo. As for the stories themselves, they can be all over the place. It covers everything from simple murder to crooked boxers to a horde of zombie-like PCP users, and while some of these stories flirt with the ridiculous, they never cross the line into it, so they remain delightfully pulpy. Ryo himself is rather understated as a character. He's loyal and just, and he's able to think on his feet just as fast as he can shoot. Honestly, the only thing that distinguishes him from literally any other detective character you can think of is his lechery. The stories make a running gag out of him hitting on just about every woman that crosses his path. Some of these instances come off as somewhat creepy today, but for the most part it's harmless.
City Hunter doesn't start to really find its footing until the ending story where Ryo's partner is killed. This allows Tsukasa to introduce the partner's sister, Kaori, as his new sidekick and love interest. She's shown to be competent enough when the chips are down, but it seems the most use Tsukasa has for her is to have her smack down Ryo for being a perv. I'm sure this gag was hammered oh-so-firmly into the ground over the manga's full run, but here it's just a dumb gag that adds a bit of levity during or after the more serious story fodder, much like Kaori herself. When you put all of these elements together, you can see that City Hunter isn't as sensational as a lot of its contemporaries or genre-mates, which does make it a bit forgettable. That doesn't mean that it isn't pulpy good fun in the mean time.
Tsukasa's art is handsome and grounded. It's a fine fit for the down-to-earth setting, but it does have one mild disadvantage: everyone tends to look the same. It's mostly in the faces; it seems just about everyone who isn't a villain has the same generically good-looking face. What that means is that it's hard to keep track of who is who. Still, it's very expressive and Ryo can usually be distinguished by his confident, nearly permanent smirk. The action scenes are clean, crisply drawn (if not a little stiff) and easy to follow. The backgrounds are beautifully detailed, taking full advantage of both the glamour and the grit of 1980s Tokyo. Even the fanservice is handsome and grounded! There might be quite a few ladies who end up in their underpants at some point or another, they don't get the sort of lurid close-ups and lovingly detailed undergarments that later series would employ, and the raciest anything gets is when we see some deeper than average cleavage. Overall the art here isn't exceptional, but it's still skillful and it still has a very timeless look.
City Hunter is a solid package of good art and pulpy fun detective stories that's hurt only by the lack of larger story continuity and some of the leading man's seedier qualities. It's good fun for those who like old-school detective procedurals, but not compelling enough to reach modern day audiences.
This series was published by Raijin Comics. This series is complete in Japan with 35 volumes available. 5 volumes were released and all are currently out of print.
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