animefringe april 2003 / reviews

Crying Freeman Vol.1: Portrait of a Killer
Format: bilingual DVD, 4 eps., 100 min.
Production: ADV / Kazuo Koike / Ryoichi Ikegami
Comments: The classic graphic OVA arrives in happy DVD form.
Animefringe Reviews:
Crying Freeman Vol.1: Portrait of a Killer

I actually own the first Crying Freeman VHS tape, though I didn't buy it -- a friend of mine gave it to me. Back when I was younger, the way to judge whether we wanted to blow $30 on anime or not was to check out the back of the box.

We weren't, however, looking for plot information. Sex? Check. Violence? Check. Not for minors? It is now!

We had to make sure we were getting enough bang for the buck, so to speak.

In that respect, Crying Freeman delivers both sex and violence. Frequently. Without much justification. If you can handle that, then there's actually a pretty cool story here underneath all of the naked bleeding people.

Yo Hinomura was once merely a Japanese artist living a rather successful life. While in New York on a tour promoting his work, his career was ended prematurely when he became involved with the Chinese Mafia -- the 108 Dragons. He refused to cooperate with the rough gang, and as punishment, they kidnapped and tortured him. The leaders of the organization noticed his natural dexterity and strength and decided to mold him into a super assassin. Using the ancient mystical art of acupuncture, Yo Hinomura is hypnotically sealed within his own body, trained only to kill for the 108 Dragons.

While he cannot resist the syndicate's orders, his mind still yearns for free will, and because the Chinese are particularly mean, they give him the codename Freeman. Also, since his will returns to him after he's completed a mission, he always cries after killing a victim. Thus, he became known as Crying Freeman.

The story stays pretty close to the manga series (which was released domestically by Viz) and only leaves out a few small scenes at first. However, as the series progresses, more and more of an abridgement must be made of the show to narrow down the running time.

Even if the story weren't somewhat compressed for the anime series, it still contains a few confusing holes. Freeman goes from a prisoner to leader of the 108 Dragons rather quickly, and he's really keen on getting naked to fight his enemies. In fact, lots of characters have a tendency to disrobe without notice, and while I appreciate the fan service and can watch the show with a straight face, this is a hard anime title to watch with friends.

Me: "Hey everyone, check this scene out! Here, Freeman's going to use a secret assassin's trick to screw with these bad guys GOOD..."

Friend 1: "Uhm...why is he taking his pants off, first?"

Me: "Never mind the pants. Watch him coat the fan with..."

Friend 2: "Hey...that chick in the helicopter's shirt is unbuttoned completely. What the hell?"

Me: "She gets warm easily, I dunno. Just watch and see him fight her!"

It gets hard to justify watching this series, though I can honestly say it has its poetic moments. If you ignore the fact that Freeman NEVER loses (like James Bond, only he kills for a living), then the show can be pretty interesting as far as the plot is concerned. While it often ventures a little too close to melodrama, it's good for a martial arts series.

The visuals still remain attractive, even though this is an older OVA. ADV has done a good job of cleaning this one up, and on DVD it looks far better than my VHS version. The character designs are great, even if they are a bit exaggerated at times. Almost every character is realistically portrayed, with the exception of Freeman's "family" in the 108 Dragons. You'll understand what I mean when you see his "sister."

The music doesn't really hold up very well and sounds cheesy at times. However, given the over-the-top action in this show, it fits in with the general mood of things. The streamline dub is similar to the music, in that it's a bit cheesy but actually sounds good for the series. The one thing I miss in the dub is the fact that characters that speak in Chinese (instead of Japanese) now speak in English only. It sort of rolls over that little detail, but that's why you can watch the Japanese language version.

The package is neither great nor poor, even if it is a little too...gold. There are no extras to speak of on this disc, unless you count previews. If so, then there are six ADV previews here for your pleasure -- if you haven't downloaded them from the Internet yet.

This is a nostalgic show for me so perhaps I like it more than the average viewer. However, anime fans looking for a "mature" series with lots of action should be satisfied here. It has its silly moments, but there really are some interesting elements to be found in Crying Freeman, if you're willing to look for them. I promise!