New to the Site? Click Here for a Primer!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Kochikame the Movie: Ryo-san, You're the Bomb!

As big as anime fandom can get here in North America, the fanbase still seems to generally ignore certain titles. These certain titles are the mega-hits that have become as big of a part of Japan's culture as titles like The Simpsons, M*A*S*H*, and even 60 Minutes are over here. Titles like Doraemon, Sazae-san, & Chibi Maruko-chan are rarely, if ever fansubbed, let alone streamed, and that's simply because these titles aren't exactly the kinds of anime that these people are all too excited to watch. Generally, these anime fans like stuff that isn't episodic and look to eventually have an ending that makes watching all of a show feel like a journey that has reached an end rather than simply feel like an accomplishment. This also applies to manga as well, which is why a title like Golgo 13, which debuted in 1968, is over 160 volumes long and still going, hasn't been scanlated and Viz's release of the manga was a 13-volume "Best of" release (the same can be said of food manga Oishinbo). This also mainly applies to Golgo's long-running compatriot, Kochikame.

Kochikame, which is the short for Kochira Katsushika-ku Kamearikouen-mae Hashutsujo/This is the Police Station in Front of Kameari Park in Katsushika Ward, debuted in the pages of Weekly Shonen Jump back in late-1976 and is still running in the magazine to this day. While Takao Saito has probably taken breaks from Golgo 13 during it's 43-year ongoing run, Osamu Akimoto is known for being one of the most punctual manga-ka in the industry, which probably helps explain why Kochikame is currently at 177 volumes in less time than Golgo, and that's not even including the many manga Akimoto has done on the side. People both young and old have been reading Kochikame for the past 35 years, taking delight at the misadventures of police officer Kankichi Ryotsu (Ryo-san to his readers) and his many, many get-rich-quick schemes that always fail, with the occasional police work actually being done. This open-ended plotline and enjoyable characters combined with the manga's habit of poking fun at the many fads and celebrities that Japan has had in the past 35 years is the reason why Kochikame has been often called "Japan's Equivalent of The Simpsons", even though Kochikame came first by around a decade.

In 1996, the 20th Anniversary of the manga's debut, Studio Gallop and Fuji TV debuted the TV anime adaptation of the manga, which was the very first long-term adaptation of the manga and lasted until late 2004, totaling 367 episodes; in 1985, Tatsunoko made a special that has since gone into obscurity due to it never getting a widespread physical release. Three years later, in 1999, Kochikame got its animated theatrical debut, simply titled Kochikame The Movie. When the DVD release came out the movie was given English subtitles as an attempt to reach out to foreign fans, but is this movie a good start for newcomers to the franchise? Hell, is it even a good movie at all?

After taking a bank robbery drill too seriously in an attempt to get some quick cash, Ryo-san takes a bike ride to clear his thoughts and ends up in the neighborhood he grew up in as a kid. After getting angry at seeing a giant hotel where the old shrine once was, Ryo-san tosses a rock at it, only for the hotel to collapse. It turns out that the hotel was actually destroyed by the mysterious serial-bomber Benten, and the police department calls in FBI bomb expert Lisa Hoshino to help out with future bombings. Ryo-san and Lisa don't get along right away, but they'll have to work together in order to stop Benten, who is oddly only detroying buildings owned by the Shinatora Corporation, which is known to be committing crimes that they always get away with.

Oddly enough, Kochikame The Movie does two things that the manga rarely does: Seriousness and actual police work. The main plot of the movie is about stopping a serial bomber, which involves lots of actual police work, and the general feel of the movie is fairly serious. Don't worry, though, as the comedy is still mixed in very often and it's easy to see why this series has become so beloved in Japan: It's funny as hell. Ryo-san is such a lovable and innocent fool, truly an equivalent to Homer Simpson, and his actions are usually just worthy of full-out laughter. Right from the first scene in the movie, the bank robbery drill, Ryo-san shows off how silly he is and the laugh-worthy moments just don't stop during it. That's not to say that the serious moments suffer, though, because this movie does know how to properly mix the two like it's a simply task, which usually isn't in cases like these. The movie even pulls a false ending, which certainly surprised me, and seeing the movie go into its true climax after the fak-out was just even better.

As silly as Ryo-san is, you can still take him completely serious when the time comes, which is a great thing to see. Even his fellow police officers have their fun oddities to them, from Honda, who is usually very caring and soft-spoken until he gets on his motorcycle, when he becomes a total badass, to Nakagawa, Ryo-san's partner who is actually the son to a wealthy family. The movie does enough to make newcomers understand who these characters are without going into too much depth, which is good; it makes you want to watch the TV series or read the manga so that you can understand them better. The movie-exclusive characters, Lisa Hoshino and Shinatora head Torazo Shinada, are also well-done characters that fit right into the world of Kochikame. Honestly, there isn't really anything negative I can say about this movie, as I had fun throughout the entire thing. Even during the middle of the movie, where Ryo-san is put on suspension and decides to start treasure hunting by digging tunnels under Tokyo, it at first looks like the movie is simply wasting time, but this side-plot even has its importance in the overall scheme of things. I'm not going to say that this is a perfect movie by any means, but it certainly does a great job at being enjoyable for not only existing fans of the series but also for newcomers.

Shinji Takamatsu directed this movie, and anime fans might recognize his work through two other titles: Gintama & School Rumble. Yes, before directing the original Gintama anime series as well as the School Rumble anime, Takamatsu was doing a similar mix of comedy and seriousness with Kochikame, being the longest-serving of the many directors of the TV series as well as directing both movies. The man knows how to mix the two together, or even isolate them, and not make it seem like an oil-and-water mix. The music was done by Toshihiko Sahashi, who also did the music for the Full Metal Panic! anime series, the original Hunter X Hunter anime series, and even Kamen Rider Hibiki (which, coincidentally, also takes place in Katsushika, Tokyo). His music fits in perfectly for the series, delivering both good comedy music as well as some nice serious songs, and I wouldn't be surprised is most of these songs came from the TV series, which Sahashi also worked on. The ending theme is "Kimochi Dayo -film version-" by Takuro Yoshida, and it's a great slow song that reminds you of the everyday-life feel that Kochikame is meant to bring about, even when this movie isn't quite as "everyday".

The voice cast isn't exactly full of names that anime fans and otaku would immediately recognize, but the cast still pulls out a great job. Ryo-san is performed by Lasar Ishii (also romanized as LaSalle Ishii), and he is the one true Ryo-san; literally, aside from the 1985 special which had Kenji Utsumi play Ryo-san, Ishii is the only voice of Ryo-san, and the man even played the character in actual Kochikame plays. Ishii's Ryo-san just sounds perfect for the character, and even though he has had other people portray him in live-action roles I simply can't imagine Ryo-san sounding anything different from Lasar Ishii. Kochikame's main cast is mostly filled with actors who don't normally do voice work, but there are some recognizable names, such as Mitsuru Miyamoto (Roger Smith in The Big O, Maiza Avaro in Baccano!), who voices Nakagawa very well. Really, the cast had already been doing these characters for three years by the time this movie debuted, so everyone sounds very familiar with their roles, which helps everything out.

Like I mentioned in the beginning, when this movie came out on DVD, English subtitles were actually an option, which to this day is still a rarity when it comes to anime on home video in Japan. Thankfully, the subs are very well done; there are no visible mistakes, though there is a habit of not subbing character names unless absolutely needed, and though the lines are directly translated for the most part they also use some shortcuts in sentence structure, so not every single word is fully subbed. Still, I must give credit to Stuart J, Walton, the man who translated this movie (he also worked on Bandai Visual USA's release of Gunbuster), because this makes the movie much more appealing to potential licensors, as the subs would likely be included in the license; simply fix them up to be more clear and concise and you have perfect subtitles for the movie.

Oddly enough, though, this movie had two releases in Japan: In 2000 the movie was originally released in a jewel case, which was apparently a common thing back in the early days of DVD releases in japan, and in 2004 the movie was given a re-release in a traditional DVD case to coincide with the DVD release of Kochikame The Movie 2: UFO Shurai! Tornado Daisakusen!! Naturally, there is also a VHS release of the movie, and actually this movie is fairly expensive on the second-hand market in Japan, with the 2000 release going from 3000-9800 Yen at Amazon Japan! The TV series also has had an odd release in Japan: In late 1999 Pony Canyon released a selection of 8 episodes across 6 VHS "Special" tapes, followed by Bandai Visual releasing the first 128 episodes across 32 VHS tapes from late-2003 to early-2005. Finally, in late-2006 Bandai released 12 select episodes across three "Selection DVDs", each of which had a theme to it: Human Relationships, Introductions, and Slapstick. I was able to get the DVD releases for a good price a day ago, but there's no way in hell I'll even try to hunt down 32 VHS tapes.

Why do I even bother to bring up Kochikame now? Well this weekend is Jump Festa 2012, and one of the big things happening there will be a celebration of Kochikame's 35th Anniversary. In 2006, the series' 30th Anniversary, Ryo-san and his friends were involved in multiple crossovers with series like Golgo 13, Kinnikuman, and Lupin the 3rd, drawn by their original creators, and Ryo-san was even added into many Jump manga of the time in cameos, such as being a marine soldier in One Piece or a zombie in Gintama (both of which were kept intact for the anime adaptations of those chapters!). What am I expecting out of Kochikame's 35th? Well, there hasn't been a Kochikame anime since the end of 2004, when the TV series ended, so it would be cool to see a new anime production made, even if it's just a one-shot movie or special. That's a very-possible result.

DVDs housed in jewel cases...  Those Japanese can be so silly, right?

Kochikame The Movie is an excellent production that will give fans of the series some good fun while also enticing newcomers to possibly check out the franchise. Unfortunately, this movie is one of only two Kochikame productions that have English subtitles, with the other being episode 313 of the TV series (a very amusing body swap story), which was fansubbed. There are also scanlations for about the first 20 chapters of the manga, but it's a shame to see Kochikame given so little attention. In fact, many times when ANN features a news story about Kochikame, most responses feature confusion over what this title is and surprise that it's actually a gigantic hit in Japan. Most anime fans end up hearing about Doraemon and even Sazae-san and Chibi Maruko-chan get some mentions, but that's mostly because they have never-ending anime series. Kochikame is definitely more of a manga phenomenon, though it would be great to see the anime adaptations get some more focus. Looking at this movie I can see that Gintama is actually more Kochikame-esque in it's execution than Sexy Commando Gaiden-esque, though the zany gag manga style is added into Gintama. Though very little of Kochikame is available in English (Viz, please release a small portion of the manga!) I definitely recommend checking it out, especially if you enjoy some good comedy. Ryo-san's antics are universally entertaining, and though some of the jokes are Japan-oriented, naturally, there's more than enough to appeal to anime fans around the world.

Happy 35th Anniversary, Kochikame!

1 comment:

  1. Hi,
    Very nice post, congratulations!
    It's always nice to find Kochikame fans.
    I've been a fan of Kochikame since 2006, when i watched the anime for the first time, i really enjoy it and instantly i've become fan of the show. Nowadays, both the anime and manga are still largely unknown, but gradually the franchise is beginning to be better known among the manga & anime community, in my opinion due to the longevity of the manga. In the beginning of November, i decided to create my own blog about Kochikame, but sometimes due to the lack of information, it's a little hard to translate to english, especially some of the news.

    best regards,
    visit my fan blog of Kochikame: