City Hunter: .357 Magnum

City Hunter is one of those shows that will simply never quit. Like Lupin III before it, it's a mix of goofy comedy and action that has a loyal following. Unlike Lupin III, however, the team behind City Hunter has never really figured out how to make a truly great motion picture out of their franchise. The best Lupin adventures (First Contact, Cagliostro, and Fuma Clan) all have a unique heart and spirit to them, and they reveal sides of the characters previously unforeseen. Ryo Saeba, the lecherously lovable protagonist of City Hunter, never changes, and that's not a good thing for those of us who want to see some character development. Nevertheless, City Hunter: .357 Magnum is a good movie, though hopefully not the best we can expect from this crew.

When .357 starts, we're immediately involved in an assassination. An informant with secrets is about to be picked up by the Tokyo police when one of his enemies takes him out. What is it he has to reveal? Meanwhile, the beautiful musical protégé Nina Shutenberg arrives in the country with her gruff old grandfather acting as her manager. Although she's there to play concerts, she's secretly interested in finding out more about her Japanese father who she knows next to nothing about. Ryo gets in on the case to help Nina find out more about her family's past, but things heat up when Nina and her grandfather become targets. How are they related to the dead mole, and can Ryo put the pieces together in time? And can Ryo's colleague Kaori keep her partner's infamous libido in check long enough to solve the case?

The key to City Hunter is the balance between Ryo's schizophrenic personality: half amorous if dimwitted peeping-tom and horndog, half cool and collected master detective and hero. Here, the two sides are balanced almost perfectly. The first half-hour is a little too devoted to the ecchi side of Ryo, but then things straighten up, and he disappears pretty much from there. Unlike the annoying City Hunter: Secret Service, the comedy is held in check. What's left is a solid action-adventure with some slightly risqué humor. And despite animation that is just barely even TV quality, the action is nice, including an ending sequence that would make John Rambo proud. I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed the last half-hour and thought the rest was pretty good.

The movie is not as balanced as it should be, though. For one, the divergent storylines never really connect quite as they should. Second, I really wish that Ryo was less of a letch. Although Ryo is still this way in the manga to some extent, the anime version is over the top, and it distracts from the inner cool the character possesses. And finally, the movie is not particularly memorable. After watching it only a few days ago, I'm having a hard time remembering specific details. Entertaining? Yes, but hardly something you'll keep in mind for too long.

The hardest truth is that without character development, a show is stuck in neutral. Without either a strong back-story or forward character movement, there's only so much territory you can cover. .357 Magnum's biggest failing is that nothing really important happens to our lead characters. If there were any hope to hold out that Ryo and Kaori might get together, or die, or be permanently scarred or changed by events, we'd probably care more. But without that depth, .357 Magnum is merely a brief entertainment whose memory lasts just a bit longer than its running time. Even the latest Bond movies have shown the super spy to be less than indestructible, and it's worked in their favor. Maybe the folks making the City Hunter movies should take a hint. Or, perhaps, the reality is that City Hunter is best left in bite-size, 24-minute episodes. I've never been too disappointed in even weak episodes because there's not that much invested.

My suggestion is to make City Hunter: .357 Magnum a rental from Netflix or a particularly good rental store that carries a lot of anime. It's a decent adventure and an OK entertainment, but not something that needs to go on your collection shelf.

City Hunter: .357 Magnum -- violence, lechery -- B