Ryuichi Ikegami is one of the best-known artists in the manga community both in his homeland and the US. His photorealistic work is simply unmistakable; no one else draws characters like him. Because of the eye for detail and his own personal taste for violence and erotica (as he states in the back of some of his manga collections), most of the sagas he illustrates lean towards pulpy crime epics. The first piece of work that was brought stateside was the incredible Mai The Psychic Girl manga, which though action-packed was gentle and soft in comparison to the rest of his portfolio. At any rate, the one thing that nobody's done well is bringing Ikegami's legendary style to anime. Because the look is so crisp and detailed, any anime that copied his style exactly would cost millions. The anime of Crying Freeman, Ikegami's best-known work, was a disappointment; not only were the new character designs bad, but it was poorly animated in almost every respect, so even the well-crafted plot didn't help. But it turns out it wasn't the first time that a studio had attempted to make the transition; Kizuoibito was based on an early work of Ikegami's and came out in 1986, with sequels in following years. Kizuoibito is almost completely absent from the knowledge base of Western fandom, with only a few pages noting the seiyuu (vocal talent) who were involved. Once you see it, you can understand why it never became popular here--not only are the character designs only poor representations of Ikegami's style, but there's a severe wave of misogyny that would likely shock and stun some viewers. It's not completely terrible, but it's not one to seek out, either.
Kizuoibito follows a young journalist, Yuko, as she heads to South America to investigate stories of lost treasure and mafia dealings. Shortly after she arrives, she has a brutal encounter with Keisuke Ibarake, who is known as the "white-haired demon," when he attacks her cameraman and proceeds to assault her. However, there is some connection at a base level, and she is at once repulsed by and attracted to him. After a series of confrontations with the scarred prospector, she and her group realize that he may be their best chance at the promise of gold. When he leaves and they have to set out on their own, however, they become the prey of some ruthless types who have very different plans for them. Without the ruthless prospector's help, they appear doomed to a nasty fate indeed.
Kizuoibito is simply a woman's worst nightmare. Yuko is at first depicted as a strong heroine trained in the martial arts. However, when Ibarake appears on the scene, she becomes a rape victim instead. Although the film tries to justify this by attempting to show she was spellbound by him, that only goes to make it somehow more repugnant. This isn't the only time something like this happens, though; later on, she finds herself once again helpless in a gruesome ritual I won't bother to discuss further. There's no way to get around the simple fact that this is blatant misogyny. Although I haven't read Ikegami's manga of the story, there's enough misogyny in his other titles that it shouldn't be surprising, but it is still disturbing. The sensitive should stay far, far away.
Really, most everybody else should too, because there's really not a whole lot going on here. There's some action, but it's not exciting; the romance is at best questionable; the story itself is difficult to fathom. If the animation were great, it might help, but it's weak. There's no element that makes this show stand out. If anything, it points to strengths in Crying Freeman. There are many similar plot points between the two, but whereas Kizuoibito is difficult at best to watch, Crying Freeman has a sympathetic hero and heroine that deserved a far better animated series than what they got. Perhaps they learned a few lessons from making this one...it's anybody's guess.
It would be difficult to find this show through any standard channels, and I really don't recommend you do. Even if you are a Ryuichi Ikegami fan, read some of his manga instead--the anime of Kizuoibito is just not worth the effort. I have seen worse anime, but why waste your time and money?
Editor's Note: Reminder to self: badly done sex and death sell in the US. A couple of years after the original publication of this review, I went into a Half Price Books that carries manga and started looking at their selection of titles from the publisher Comics One. Sure enough, the manga of Kizuoibito (which though prettier is just as grotesque as the anime) is now available in the United States under the title Wounded Man. You've been warned.
Kizuoibito -- strong sexual content (including rape), nudity, violence, profanity -- D