Although I am a professional manga person, I am sometimes shockingly ignorant of manga. Not on purpose, of course. But there is a lot of manga out there in the history of manga and I am just one person with one set of eyeballs. Plus, I also like to read novels, non-fiction, and a variety of work in English, too. It’s just not possible for me (or anyone really) to have read all the manga. So I’ve never read Ashita no Joe or Cardcaptor Sakura or Slam Dunk or really any of the really famous titles. I read the first couple volumes of Vagabond on the recommendation of my hairdresser at the time? I’ve always been more interested in randomly picking up whatever title I happen upon at the bookstore than “educating” myself on the “classics”, a stance I take with pretty much all books. All those lists of “a thousands books you have to read before you die” can go to hell, as far as I’m concerned. Read what you love, read what draws your eye. You’re not over here writing a history of the canon or anything. (Unless you are and then you should probably read all those big old books.)
Which is not to say I haven’t read any of the classics. Just that I read them when they come to me in a more organic way. Which is why I didn’t read Kaze to Ki no Uta until just a few years ago. And I utterly adored it, most likely because I wasn’t forcing myself to read it in the name of reading all the manga. So it will come as no surprise that I have never read a single one of the thirty-five volumes of City Hunter. Nor have I seen any of the anime or films based on the manga. Until recently, all I knew about City Hunter was the name. And then est em stepped into the picture
Yes, you know I’ll read anything if est em’s name is attached to it. Especially since I am still waiting on the final volume of Golondrina and need some of her warm, minimalist art to fill the hole in my heart until that bullfighter arrives to completely slay me. And for some reason that I don’t know (but I suspect it’s just because em is a fangirl herself, judging from her many Hetalia doujinshi), that warm, minimalist art is currently starring in a City Hunter spin-off series. Although I snapped up the first volume when it appeared on the shelf of my favourite bookseller earlier this year, I let it languish on my pile of books to be read, uncertain about diving into a spin-off of a series I knew nothing about. Nevertheless, I committed to this unknown spin-off, picking up the second volume when it came out this summer. And then the two books sat around my house until I happened to watch the drama City Hunter: Angel Heart.
I was mostly just looking for any drama to watch as prep for interpreting work. I watch a lot of J-TV to sharpen my ears for when it really counts (i.e., when I’m on the clock), but I’d gone through pretty much everything Netflix had to offer. And when I went back to Crunchyroll, I discovered that they’d seriously pared down their drama offerings, so it was Angel Heart or some show about teenagers kissing and I am far too old and cynical for tales of young love. But the drama got me up to speed on the basics of the City Hunter universe, enough so that I felt like I could take on the challenge of Ijuin and actually have a vague sense of what was going on.
Friends, I needn’t have worried. Ijuin works perfectly well as a standalone series, barring occasional references to Ryo and other characters from the original series. But they never make an appearance; the focus here is on the titular Hayato Ijuin aka Falcon, an essentially blind ex-mercenary who runs a cafe called Cat’s Eye and looks threatening as hell. He basically just wants to make you the perfect cup of coffee after a hard life in the jungle killing people. em really plays up his human and humorous side, delighting in the juxtaposition of his menacing appearance and his good intentions.
For the most part, the series is episodic, each chapter a standalone incident in which Falcon is thrown out of his element in some way. The series starts with what is the most City Hunter of the chapters, heavily featuring characters from that series, a throwback to the Bubble era in which it is set when two young patrons want help recreating the Bubble era for a cafe at their school festival. After that, it’s mostly Falcon helping out people in the neighbourhood—Shinjuku, a place that most visitors to Tokyo wouldn’t think of as a neighbouhood in that conventional, people-live-here sense. But it really is that kind of neighbourhood underneath all the shops and neon signs and station entrances. I live on the edge of it in my Tokyo life, and I see this everyday life side of Shinjuku on my morning runs, so it’s a treat to see it depicted in manga here when the usual portrayal of Shinjuku is all crowds and shops.
Through these little episodes, we get to know Falcon and his kind heart. est em wisely focusses on the relationships in his life, showing us through his actions how much he cares about people, even if he isn’t the greatest at saying it. His relationship with his partner Miki is set up as his core reason for being in a way, but he doesn’t hesitate to help the people who come seeking him out, even if he puts up a curmudgeonly show at first. Over the course of the first two volumes, he helps a little girl find a cat, a woman get revenge on a scammer of a host, a police officer reconnect with her grandmother, a student pass her university exams, a young man reconcile with his girlfriend, and so much more.
There’s something utterly charming about this giant menacing man in sunglasses trying to do good in this world, and est em really is the best person to tackle this spin-off series. She brings the same consideration and empathy to the characters that she does any of her own original characters. It’s clear that she’s spent a lot of time thinking about these people and their motivations so that she can create an entirely new world for them. I’m honestly surprised at how deeply she pulled me into it, given my aforementioned ignorance of City Hunter. So if you too have never crossed paths with that manga, fear not! There is still much to love for you in Ijuin!