Ryuichi Ikegami is my favorite manga illustrator. I love his incredibly detailed, photo-realistic style that adds authenticity to every story he illustrates. Though many manga have far better storylines, fantastical characters, etc., I have never found anyone who creates such stunning, beautiful characters and artwork. Unfortunately, his incredible look is virtually impossible to animate properly, or so it would appear from the variety of attempts made at converting his work to the screen. Crying Freeman has an interesting enough plot in its first story to keep us entertained despite its minimalistic approach to Ikegami's artwork, but beyond that the series becomes more of a chore than a joy.
A mysterious man has become the top assassin for a yakuza group known as the 108 Dragons. He's spotted by a young woman as he commits yet another hit. Rather than being repulsed by the violent act, she notices something very unique--the assassin is, in fact, crying. Now a target herself due to her knowledge, her only refuge is with the very killer she's spotted. Eventually, we find out that the man's code name is Crying Freeman, and we find out that he is actually an unwilling pawn in the machinations of the syndicate. But getting out of the mafia is a great deal harder than getting in.
Crying Freeman is really just a pulp fiction daydream, filled with large doses of graphic violence and steamy sexuality. However, the initial storyline is quite entertaining, particularly because the characters are surprisingly compelling. I think the rational mind is always curious what would make a man into a killer--and this story gives us an answer that makes us question our own snap moral judgments. Beyond that, the story is simply told well, and for the first OVA, it's an exciting jaunt. Keep in mind that my viewpoint is somewhat colored by my love of the manga, but I think it's still very entertaining. I would, however, warn that it is strong stuff that is certainly not for children (and this is especially true of the comic book version).
The problems start off in later episodes, and though I haven't seen them again recently enough to give them proper letter grades, I can mention why they really aren't worth your time. Even in the first episode, the animation is lacking, especially in comparison to Ikegami's brilliantly realized pencils. The characters are fair representations, but they lack the detail and graceful beauty that marks the original artwork. However, beyond the first episode, the tightening of the budgetary belt becomes apparent. Action sequences lack motion and pizzaz; moments of discussion become almost still shots. Of course, these could be overlooked if the plotting was better. However, the farther we get away from the core story of Crying Freeman--the sympathetic killer with a past we want to learn, two young lovers on the run we want to see escape--the more exasperating the series becomes. Though the manga has its share of turns that I didn't like, the animated series simply falls apart past its opening story.
Someday, I would like to see Ryuichi Ikegami's artwork animated in a manner worthy of his beautiful style. In the meantime, watching the first episode of Crying Freeman will give you a taste of that work and might steer you into checking out some of his work. However, unless you want to be thoroughly disappointed, I'd stop watching there.
P.S. I know I have a number of younger readers who wouldn't be interested in the nature of this title. However, if you're interested in seeing some of Ryuichi Ikegami's work on display in a showcase more for teenagers, I would suggest finding a copy of the comic book series Mai The Psychic Girl. It's got his great visuals combined with an intriguing coming-of-age story that involves a young girl with telekinetic powers that the government wants to exploit for their own purposes. I highly recommend it.
Crying Freeman OVA 1 -- graphic violence, nudity, sexual situations -- B+