City Hunter: Secret Service

I've always been a fan of City Hunter, having been one of the first anime I was exposed to back in the late 80s when I became a full-fledged fan rather than merely a gigantic Robotech nut. The first Japanese manga compilation became the first of many volumes to sit on my shelves. For some reason, I've always been drawn to the lecherous but imperviously cool detective Ryo Saeba. When ADV started releasing City Hunter on DVD, I once again got excited about the series. City Hunter: Secret Service was a feature length film from 1996, about six years after the final television episode aired. Unfortunately, the things I remembered as compelling about the show are in painfully short supply in Secret Service, and with some unnecessary plot twists, this is far from the best adventure the wandering-eyed P.I. has seen.

James McGuire is a man under fire. Vying for the presidency of the third-world Guiram Republic after a long and wrongful imprisonment, McGuire has become a major target. His daughter Anna, a Secret Service agent, is assigned to guard him since no one really knows her background completely. As a safety measure, McGuire contacts Ryo Saeba to guard Anna! Various villains would love to have both of them out of the way, and that's only half the problem. Anna and James have many secrets that have kept them apart throughout the years, and the bitterness Anna feels towards James may wind up costing him his life. With his faithful partner Kaori around to keep him in line and away from the lovely women he so desires, Saeba may be the only thing keeping the two from an ignominious demise.

I wish there were great things to say about Secret Service, but there aren't. The animation is up only a notch from television work, not striving to the level of even a standard OVA. The music is generally appropriate, though not striking, and the character designs are pretty average throughout. The production level isn't terrible, but nothing stands out.

The plot is really where this thriller falls off the boat. With twists and turns galore, the narrative is hard to follow, but not because the machinations are complex. Fact is, it's a simple tale told in flashback and bits here and there to throw off the audience or perhaps delude it into thinking that there's more here than it appears. What's more, the exposition sequences are tedious. I fell asleep twice trying to make it through the film, and though I was admittedly tired, so was the storytelling. There are a few really enjoyable action sequences in the piece, but they are too few and far between.

I could forgive those problems more readily if the character of Ryo Saeba wasn't almost a parody of itself. Saeba has always had a lustful attitude towards women, and it shows itself in a myriad of ways. In this film, though, that lecherous side is almost never in check, leaving us not with a steady if hot-blooded hero but a libidinous cretin more in line with Ataru from Urusei Yatsura. I didn't like Saeba in Secret Service because he is almost never in control of his urges. It's funny when the man who defines cool turns into a geeky hormone boy once in a while; it's not funny when that's all he is.

I liked the action sequences in Secret Service quite a bit, making it a good deal more watchable than some other low-rated anime. That doesn't excuse sloppy screenplays and limping dialogue that has the audience checking their watches. Saeba-san, I expect better out of you.

City Hunter: Secret Service -- violence, extremely brief nudity, extreme lecherous behavior -- C-