There have been many iconic "faces" of Weekly Shonen Jump, but only one face has been around long enough to exist alongside almost all of them... And that face has a giant set of McDonalds Arch-esque, bushy eyebrows. Debuting in 1976 & still running to this very day, making it the longest-running manga in history (in terms of length; Golgo 13 & a couple others are still older), Ryo-san's antics in Kochira Katsushika-ku Kameari Kouen-mae Hashutsujo/This is the Police Station in Front of Kameari Park in Katsushika Ward (Kochikame for short) have run alongside the likes of Ring ni Kakero, Kinnikuman, Fist of the North Star, Dragon Ball, Saint Seiya, Yu Yu Hakusho, Slam Dunk, Rurouni Kenshin, One Piece, Naruto, Bleach, Toriko, & Gintama, with no end in sight. Hell, the very title of the series is so iconic in Japan that even when the term "hashutsujo/police station" officially went back to the original, & more widely-used, term "koban" in 1994 creator Osamu Akimoto didn't bother updating the title. Unfortunately, the series' laid-back nature, not to mention its episodic style & insane length (it's over 180 volumes!), means that in North America it is essentially nothing more than a trivia question of anime fandom, with no real means of checking it out in English. A couple of volumes of the manga have been scanlated, one episode of the TV anime (ep 313) was fansubbed, and the first movie was released on R2 DVD with official English subs, but outside of that we have nothing.
Still, every time I check out the world of Kochikame I have a fun time doing so. That one fansubbed episode was an fun body swap story, the first movie mixed together seriousness & comedy extremely well, and the second movie was better than the first in every way. Unfortunately, getting any episodes of the 1996-2004 TV anime, which ran for 373 episodes, in good quality is kind of hard because said TV series has never been released in full on home video. Okay, technically the show did seem to get a complete release in the rental market, but on the retail side all that's been released are some TV specials on VHS, about the first third of the show on VHS, and some themed DVD releases... And for Jump January I'll be looking at these themed DVD releases. First up are a trio of DVDs released by Bandai Visual back in 2006 to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the series, each of which carry a certain theme. "Selection 1" goes under the subtitle Ninjou-hen/Humanity Chapter, with the focus being on serious episodes that deal with relationships & people's pasts. Oddly enough, while this is the first DVD for this series in terms of release schedule it's also the last in terms of episode chronology. Regardless, though, are these episodes good, even if there aren't any subtitles to them?
[NOTE: I'm using the episode # listed on the back cover of the DVDs; ANN's episode listing features different episode #s.]
Episode 110: The Asakura Story (Aired 12/27/1998)
During a Class Reunion Ryo-san finds out that Kenji Murase, one of his childhood friends, joined a yakuza gang years ago & was recently arrested. Ryo-san manages to arrive at Katsushika Police Headquarters in time to see "Ken-chan" escorted into a police car handcuffed; Ken doesn't want to talk to Ryo-san and even kicks him in the gut. During the drive Ken manages to crash the car & escape with a gun, and Ryo-san volunteers to join the manhunt.
It's a relatively simple episode, with the main focus being on Ryo-san finding Ken & talking out why Ken became a fugitive yakuza, complete with a neat fight sequence between the two. Unfortunately, without any sort of subtitles I couldn't fully understand why Ken became a yakuza, but it's admittedly nothing more than a reason to have Ryo-san & Ken interact. The main story revolves around Ryo-san encouraging Ken to man up & accept the consequences of what he did, bringing up the time a young Kankichi taught Ken how to be good at using a beigoma (the inspiration for the Beyblade tops) when a bully kept bothering him. While not exactly a completely original episode it still delivers some nice backstory for Ryo-san & shows that Kochikame can definitely do serious character-based storytelling when the need arises.
Episode 111: As a Brother...! (Aired 1/17/1999)
Ryo-san's little brother Kinjiro is going to get married & wants to invite Ryo-san to the wedding. Their father, though, is worried that his oldest son will get drunk & ruin everything, so he manages to steal Ryo-san's invitation without him knowing, resulting in Ryo-san rushing to his brother's home & getting into a fight.
This episode is entertaining all the way through, and that's mainly because of the way the Ryotsu family interacts with each other. Kinjiro may look like his older brother, right down to having similarly-bushy eyebrows (though he didn't have them as a kid, while his brother did), but he's the complete opposite in terms of personality by being polite & subdued. The mother, similarly, wants nothing more than to see the entire family together for Kinjiro's wedding. The father, though, is entertaining here simply because he comes off as a bit of an asshole; even when his wife comes across the invitation he stole, he demands food & acts like he didn't do anything wrong. Much like the previous episode there is a flashback story, though a shorter one here, where Kinjiro tells his fiancée about the time he followed an entertainer into a part of town he didn't know & cried until his brother found him later that night. Ryo-san, though, pulls off the best interaction of them all when his brother apologizes for the argument & their mother arrives with the invite. Though he initially sounds like he's going to get revenge on his father, he decides to do so by simply throwing a fun & respectful wedding reception: He tells funny stories, has his brother & sister-in-law get rides on festival floats, and decides to get everyone (including himself) drunk. Overall, the episode does have more comedy than the last, but still puts family at the forefront.
Episode 122: Novice Detective・Ryotsu! (Aired 4/4/1999)
It's a day of cleaning over at the Kameari Park station, with Ryo-san nowhere to be found, and Terai accidentally drops of box of books. One of them is a photo album of what the old station looked like, complete with pictures of Bucho/Manager Ohara when he was a simple officer as well as Ryo-san in his early days. One of the pictures shows Ryo-san without his uniform, so Ohara decides to tell Nakagawa, Reiko, & Terai about Ryo-san's short time as a detectitve (he was promoted because of how good he is a catching crooks), and his relation with Detective Nambu.
It's been said that Ryo-san is the best at catching crooks in all of Jump, which makes it weird that he's always been nothing more than a "beat cop", so it's cool to see a story that showcases why he never actually became a detective: While he loves the thrill of the chase & the actual catching of crooks, Ryo-san just gets tired of the stakedowns, essentially, not to mention the potential emotional toll the job can take. The relationship between Ryo-san & Nambu is not only the focus of this story, but it's also the best part of it. Compared to Ohara, who's always ready to blow up at Ryo-san (just reminiscing of Ryo-san's old beat cop days makes Ohara angry...), Nambu is very patient & supportive of Ryo-san, who's still learning the ropes. The story itself is about Otaguro, who was responsible for the death of Nambu's fiancée, which definitely keeps Ryo-san serious in this episode. When he loses Otaguro during a chase, Nambu even punches Ryo-san, showcasing that even the calm & patient have their moments of losing it. It also showcases some bits of the relationship between Ryo-san & Ohara; even if he can be an annoying goofball, Ohara will always have Ryo-san's back. Overall, this is probably the best episode on this DVD, though it is best experienced rather than explained.
Episode 125: Distant Afterschool (Aired 5/9/1999)
After seeing a news article about his old school being torn down the next day, Ryo-san decides to use his patrol shift to visit the school grounds one last time; to his surprise, old school friends Tonpei & Chinkichi decide to do the same. While exploring the grounds they remember their school life alongside Yukiko Himeno, a transfer student who wanted to become a pianist. Ryo-san, unfortunately, didn't know that Himeno had died five years ago, but the three come across her daughter, Megumi, who also came to the school to see if she can learn more about her mother. When Tonpei & Chinkichi remember that their class left behind a time capsule the four decide to dig for it, all the while reminiscing about Himeno.
This episode gives off a very nostalgic feeling, and that's mainly due to the the fact that it goes back and forth between the modern day & the school days. While it doesn't have quite as strong of a storytelling feel as the middle two episodes do, this definitely is the episode that pushes the "humanity" theme that this DVD aims for, as there is no conflict to be seen here; it's simply about showing a slice of Ryo-san's past & how the relationships he made back then still mean a lot to him now. It gives off the most "feel good" vibe out of all of these episodes and also throws in some entertaining jokes. For example, Himeno & Ryo-san become friends when she asks for his help in finding out who keeps stealing her recorders (the musical instrument). Ryo-san puts a "K" on each recorder, and eventually all the boys in the class has a recorder with a "K" on it. When Ryo-san calls them out on it, the boys cheer that they have something Himeno blew into... Until Ryo-san reveals that the "K" stands for Kankichi, which has all of the boys gagging themselves in disgust. While there isn't one absolutely strong moment in this episode, it's because it has a lot of nice small moments that add up.
All of the episodes on this DVD were directed by Shinji Takamatsu (Gundam X, Brave of Gold Goldran, Gintama, School Rumble), who was the director from episodes 76-338 (or ~70% of this TV series). While Takamatsu is more recognized now for his comedies, he also knows plenty about doing serious fare, and these episodes showcase his talent for that really well. All of them have interesting stories & characters, and none of them are boring. The music by Ryo Yonemitsu (famous for his Nihon Falcom video game work) & Toshihiko Sahashi (the Full Metal Panic! series, The Big O) is appropriately low-key & subdued, fitting for the (relatively) real world environment the series takes place in, with an overall silliness permeating it all. All of these episodes have for their opening "Katsushika Rhapsody" by Kohei Dojima, which has since become the iconic anthem for the series. The laid back style fits the series perfectly, giving off a slight sitcom feel, and even the footage that goes with it tells an appropriately funny story in & of itself. Episodes 110, 111, & 122 feature the fourth ending theme, "Bue no Biabia" by George Tokoro, which is an absolutely silly song that's all about Ryo-san & the silly sounds he can be prone to make; hell, the footage portrays him as an enlightened Buddha at one point. Episode 125 features the fifth ending, "Kyun" by Kanae, which acts as a showcase for the character Maria, who appears in episode 111; I'll hold off on explaining Maria's deal until the next review.
The Ninjou-hen DVD for the Kochikame anime is an interesting way to start off this 30th Anniversary selection of episodes; for a series that is known more for it's comedy & silliness it's almost as if Bandai Visual wanted to make sure people knew that Kochikame can be (mostly) serious when the need arises. As it is it definitely is an enjoyable DVD & it really does help give Ryo-san some nice character development, outside of being a lazy goofball, that is. The nice thing is that these episodes can be understood without any subtitles, since the visuals do a great job of conveying what's going on, though some basic knowledge of Japanese will help with some details. Still, for people who were interested in the series & are wanting to check it out for the first time this isn't exactly an "introduction" all that much. Luckily, the next "Selection" decides to go back to the beginning.