City Hunter: Million Dollar Conspiracy
There are three possible ways to write a television series. The first is to have all of your show's characters and actions matter. In a show like 24 or Alias, every episode propels the plotline forward through the season. Miss an episode, and you feel a bit lost. The second is to do the reverse: create a show where nobody changes and the plotlines all stand alone, since the "reset" button is essentially flipped at the end of each episode. You sit down with a show like King of the Hill, and it doesn't matter that you never watched the first seventy-two seasons--you can jump right in. On the other hand, unless the plots are good, the similarity becomes tedious. The third option is to add subtle character developments over time. With shows like Friends, the changes happen so gradually that it's not hard to keep up with the character arcs, but if you miss a season, you'd notice.
Why is all this important? It's important because City Hunter falls squarely into that middle category. With the exception of an important character death in the first season, nothing important in terms of character growth ever happens. Ryo Saeba will always be a highly lecherous yet ultra cool P.I. who can't pay the rent (or get the ladies, for that matter). Kaori will always care for him, and yet she will always be so annoyed with his attention to other women that the closest she'll ever get to him is with a 100-ton mallet in hand. This isn't bad, but it limits where the story can go. And, frankly, this is the only problem in the otherwise solid OVA entry Million Dollar Conspiracy. It's got some great plot twists, but there's no hope of really expecting the basic dynamic of the show to change.
In City Hunter: Million Dollar Conspiracy, Ryo is desperate for work. So much so, in fact, that he's stooped to handing out fliers in the street with Kaori to drum up business. Enter the gorgeous blond from L.A., Emily. She's convinced that somebody's out to kill her, and she's willing to pay Ryo a million dollars to keep her safe. The money sounds good to Kaori, but Ryo's not willing unless he get can some...er, um..."quality private time" with Emily. They hammer out a deal, and Ryo's more than happy to keep his eyes (and other body parts) trained on Emily at all times. But word from the underground has it that somebody from the West Coast is on their way to Japan to take out Ryo. Could it be Emily? Or is there a darker plan lurking that could endanger the entire trio?
For fans of the TV show, Conspiracy is going to be a nice step up in terms of quality. The animation still isn't great, but there's a bit more fluidity and care put into the work. I don't think we'll ever see a truly high budget City Hunter adventure, but this isn't bad.
From a plot perspective, this is actually a fine story, told in just the right amount of time (50 minutes) and with just the right mix of Saeba-san's dual personality. In the first quarter of the show, Ryo's all lech, ready to chase after virtually any woman he might hope of catching (and many with whom he would have no hope whatsoever). That personality gets old just about the time that it starts to disappear into Ryo's more serious, professional side. The moronic perv does reappear from time to time, but the screenplay carefully avoids making Ryo nothing but his hormones. Then there's the action...it's played well and draws us in just as we're ready to get the story moving. There are numerous plot twists, too, though I won't reveal them here. These little surprises, though not terribly brilliant, keep the ride interesting. I really thoroughly enjoyed this one.
My only problem--going back to my little opening essay--is that we're spinning our wheels here. The ending leaves nothing to resolve...it's like we've pulled out our toys, had our fun, and everything has been back on the shelf where we found it. Maybe it's just me, but the one thing that I truly love about anime is that storylines mean something. To only have thirteen episodes but for each one to have importance is very, very cool. With City Hunter, everything's virtually interchangeable. This story is good enough that I would have liked for it to have some ramifications in the City Hunter world. But that world just can't change, and that's too bad. I've complained about this before with City Hunter--my review of .357 Magnum reads very much the same way--but it's becoming more pronounced for me over time.
The difference is, of course, that Million Dollar Conspiracy is a better program than .357 Magnum by no small amount. My complaints aside, Million Dollar Conspiracy is about as good as I expect City Hunter will ever get. It's the blend of action, fun, and a little lechery that has lasted for a very long time now. If you've never seen any City Hunter at all, this would be a good starter. And if you like City Hunter, well...expect more of the same goodness, and you'll be OK.
City Hunter: Million Dollar Conspiracy -- lechery, violence, brief nudity -- A-