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Saturday, January 11, 2014

Kochikame Selection 2: Toujou-hen: Who Are These Police Officers, Anyway?

Even when something has been running non-stop for just over 37 years it usually is best for newcomers to have something to start off with. Sure, you can go right into something long-running & enjoy it (that's essentially how what new Japanese readers of Shonen Jump do with this series), but for others they prefer to be properly introduced to the characters housed within these stories. 

"Selection 2" of Bandai Visual's 30th Anniversary DVD release of the Kochikame TV anime series, subtitled "Toujou-hen/Entrance Chapter", does just that, showcasing four of the anime's earliest episodes that introduce some of the most iconic & well-known characters that live in Katsushika, Tokyo.

Episode 1: The XX Policeman Ryotsu Appears!? (Aired 6/16/1996)
At first glace, Kankichi Ryotsu looks like the wrong (wait, make the "double wrong") kind of cop, what with his habit of being late to work, general destruction of public property while rushing to work, and overall irritating of his station's manager, Daichiro Ohara. While today is payday, Ryo-san immediately is forced to pay back all of the damages he incurred, leaving him with nothing... And since he didn't pack a lunch he has nothing to eat, as well. Unfortunately, a hungry Ryo-san is a desperate Ryo-san.

Instead of simply adapting the very first chapter of the manga, the anime apparently went with an original story to introduce the anime to viewers. In terms of being an introduction, this episode does a perfectly fine job with that, introducing Ryo-san, Ohara, Reiko, & Terai, and showcasing how much of a buffoon Ryo-san can be. The desperation he goes through just to eat something is really what drives this episode: He tries stealing Reiko's lunch, outright tells Terai to give him his lunch, tries making a stew out of random (& likely out of stale) ingredients, and when he goes out on patrol he even challenges a kid to a game of "Whack-a-Kappa" (that's what I'm calling it), with the boy's little brother's takoyaki being Ryo-san's goal. It all ends up with a reckless driver making Ryo-san drop his takoyaki & a resulting chase on a bike, with Ryo-san giving it his absolute most just so that he can make the law breaker pay him back his takoyaki (sure, the kid almost got run over, too... But it's Ryo-san's takoyaki, man). This episode also introduces two anime-exclusive characters, Komachi Ono & Naoko Seisho, a pair of female traffic cops who are usually chasing after some reckless drivers. My only guess is that these two were made to try to attract fans of You're Under Arrest, which was having it's first TV series air at the same time. Overall, it's a fine first episode that gets everyone caught up on the basic idea behind the series.

Episode 2: The Rookie Cop Who Came from the Sky (Aired 6/23/1996)
The Police Station in Front of Kameari Park has a new employee arriving: Rookie cop Keiichi Nakagawa. The son of the head of the Nakagawa Zaibatsu, Keiichi decided to be a cop after seeing the gun-toting action of New York officers... But in Japan officers rarely pull out their guns in general. Ryo-san is put in charge of looking after Nakagawa & showing him the ropes, and Nakagawa's first job as a cop is an interesting one: Help an old painter find the place in Ueno he once drew decades ago so that he can find an old friend.

It's interesting to see how Nakagawa became a part of the Kameari Park group, especially since he shows off a slightly different personality than what he ends up having, but that's more than likely due to his initial presumptions. The big recurring theme with Nakagawa is that he has a lot of money, due to his family, & can utilize just about anything, and this episode shows this off in a nice way. First, Nakagwa arrives at the station via helicopter, utilizing a zipline to lower himself down. Second, when the old painter needs help, and with no vehicles to use, Nakagawa calls in a Ferrari for the trip. The rest of the episode is, surprisingly enough, actual police work. Literally, Ryo-san & Nakagawa drive around with the man, asking people if they can recognize the place in the painting. Obviously, it all ends with them finding the place & the painter seeing his old friend, and Nakagawa realizes that he's chosen the perfect profession for him, even if it isn't quite as action-packed as his dreams led them to be. To end off with a bit of trivia, as you can see in the image above, Nakagawa debuted with a short-sleeve outfit but soon switched over to his usual long-sleeve suit, as pictured below; honestly, I really liked his short-sleeve outfit. In the end, it's a fun episode that shows some nice heart when you least expect it.

Episode 10: Derailment・Runaway・Big Explosion! (Aired 9/8/1996)
Hayato Honda, an "underclassman" of Ryo-san's, introduces himself to Nakagawa & Reiko while visitng Ryo-san one day. Honda is a bit of an effeminate motorcycle cop, as he wears a yellow scarf, loves idols, and is very soft-spoken. When riding his motorcycle, though, Honda shows his split personality: His voice becomes deeper, is much more assertive, and easily showcases his past as a member of a motorcycle gang (where he was nicknamed the "Demon on Two Wheels"). During a public traffic safety class, though, Ryo-san is constantly going against Ohara & calls in Honda to make things more exciting... Which is a horrible idea.

This is similar to the last episode on the previous DVD, mainly in that there really isn't any sort of conflict shown here. In fact, Honda isn't even given quite as much focus here, even though this is his introduction. Instead, the focus is more on Ryo-san & Ohara, whose antics & "battling" during the safety class almost reminded me of Tom & Jerry's battles, complete with some physical humor & damage being done. Honda has his moments still, mainly showcasing how opposite his two personalities are. On foot you almost can't believe that he's a cop, but on the bike he's an utter badass who makes giant leaps with his bike and can even ride straight up poles. Ohara, on the other hand, showcases absolutely no mercy when it comes to getting back at Ryo-san. He orders Nakagawa to give chase in his Ferrari, and even uses Ryo-san & Honda for a head-on collision lesson at the end. As an introduction for Honda it kind of falters slightly, mostly because of how Honda isn't the major focus of the episode, but it more than makes up for it with the battles between Ryo-san & Ohara.

Episode 39: Devotion! Ryotsu & Maria (Aired 4/13/1997)
Ohara adamantly tells Ryo-san that he should get married, since that would likely straighten up Ryo-san into a proper police officer & person. Ryo-san is absolutely against marriage, but after saving a beautiful girl named Ai Asato (a.k.a. Maria, after an ateji reading of the kanji in her full name), who treats him with absolute love, he's worried that Ohara is behind her. After finding out he isn't, though, Ryo-san is ready to sign the marriage papers, but there's only problem he's not aware of: Maria had a ring name, Ryuji Asato, where he was a World Men's Kickboxing Champion. Luckily for Maria, Ryo-san is a giant fan of Ryuji's...

Remember when I said I would bring up Maria in the last review? Well, this is why. Yep, Maria is a pre-op transsexual who is in love with Ryo-san; I don't know when Maria debuted in the manga, but I'm sure it was probably a bit of a shock for its time. This is easily the best episode of these four, delivering laugh after laugh. Admittedly, though, I already knew of Maria's "truth" beforehand, so some moments were funny because I already knew the truth behind it all; if anything, that makes this episode good for re-watching. True to the episode's title, Maria is 150% devoted to Ryo-san, making him lunch, cleaning his apartment while he's asleep, and it's all because his face is similar to that of Maria's kickboxing coach, right down to similar eyebrows. Shockingly, the reveal is downright blunt about it, with Ryo-san laying on Maria's lap, feeling a "bump", followed by a literal "squeeze check" for both him & Maria. I certainly was not expecting such a blunt reveal, but Ohara & the others did expect that Ryo-san would never believe them if he was simply told the truth. The image above is the last shot of the episode, showing that (even after being turned down by Ryo-san) Maria still goes after him, even joining the police force as a traffic cop (learning from Komachi & Naoko) just so that there's always the chance of contact; you have to love Komachi & Naoko's faces, too, because they likely didn't know the truth, either. Just to point out, from what I could find out online, eventually Maria does become a full-fledged woman in the manga after a "magical incident" (hey, no one ever said Kochikame was 100% realistic), but stays a cross-dresser in the anime. Still, best episode of this DVD, no questions asked.

Here's what Maria REALLY looks like under that dress.

If there's something these early episode really showcase, it's that this was definitely an anime with a budget. Even from the first episode there's a lot of a nice, fluid animation, which mixes very nicely with the hand-drawn style it was obviously animated in. The viewers, in turn, tuned in and gave this show really good ratings (usually within the 7.0-9.0 range, at the very least) on a regular basis. The character designs stick to Akimoto's general style (at least, what it ended up becoming, as his early chapters were more gruff & not as silly), but aside from that the designs just feel very friendly to all; it's a style that definitely "looks anime", but not so much that it looks absolutely foreign. Episodes 1, 2, & 10 use the very first opening theme, "Natsu ga Kita! Diamond Head ~ Nagisa no Ojou-sama yori" by Ojou-sama, which is a really silly, but enjoyable, song; it only lasted for the first twelve episodes, but was re-used as the 12th ending theme in the late 200s. Likewise, these three episodes also feature the first ending theme, "Smile" by Hoff Dylan, which is a very nice & calm tune that fits the everyday happenings that are shown off in the footage; I kind of wish it was used for more episodes, honestly. Episode 39 is actually the debut episode for "Katsushika Rhapsody", which was used until Episode 145, but I already covered that song, so instead I'll talk about the third ending theme, "Lady no Yume wa Mangekyou" by Megumi Okina. Much like "Kyun" in the previous DVD it's a fine ending theme, with the footage focusing on Reiko this time.

There are some seiyuu to cover on these DVDs, partially because of new characters I never covered in the movies & partially because of the fact that some voices did change as time went on. For example, before Haruki Sayama voiced Ohara in his deep & gruff style, there was Kouji Hishiya, who voiced the character for the first 19 episodes with a slightly higher-pitched voice; while not as iconic as Sayama's performance, Hishiya's voice did admittedly fit the character nicely too. Similarly, while Kobuhei Hayashiya (Koutaro in Touch) ended up voicing Terai in more episodes, for the first 97 he was voiced by Chafurin (Bob in Gungrave, Inspector Megure in Case Closed/Detective Conan), who did a fine, unassuming performance. Maria is voiced by Kaori Asou (Kuromi in Animation Runner Kuromi, Ririka in Nurse Angel Ririka SOS), who delivers a perfectly obsessed performance for the character. If you're wondering how a man is voiced by a woman, let's just say that Maria got a vocal chords operation (if such a thing exists). Finally, the duo of Komachi & Naoko are voiced by Maya Okamoto (Emma Sheen in Zeta Gundam, Sarah Bryant in Virtua Fighter TV) & Kanako Mitsuhashi (Killua in the original Hunter X Hunter anime), who make a nice duo of chase-hungry traffic cops. Interestingly, a behind-the-scenes misunderstanding led to the two voicing each other's character in the first episode; it's noticeable, but nothing more than a fun bit of trivia. In another bit of trivia, Komachi would end up being voiced by Rieko Miura (Yomiko Readman in the Read or Die series) from Episode 93 until the end.

The Toujou-hen DVD for Kochikame is a great way to get introduced to the series in a quicker fashion than having to watch 39 episodes in a row. Admittedly, I'm sure that there are plenty of other fun episodes within this first year of the show, but this DVD introduces you to Ryo-san & the other "major" re-occurring characters, so I'm sure not too much is lost from missing them; only one other episode from this first year will be covered this month in a later DVD, after all. Compared to the first DVD, though, comedy had a much larger presence in these episodes, and for the last of these "Selection" releases that's what the focus is exactly on.

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