Retro Anime: Crying Freeman (1988-1994)

We take a step back in time to review Crying Freeman.

Does my chest not impress you?
I remember coming upon Crying Freeman back in the olden days of anime (the 1990s) and snatching up the VHS after reading the summary of the plot on the back of the case. A Japanese potter named Yō Hinomura get tangled up with a Chinese Mafia gang known as the 108 Dragons. They kidnap him and turn him into a ruthless assassin with the codename of “Crying Freeman”--so named because of the silent tears that Yō sheds after killing his victims. The six part OVA (Original Video Animation) was based on a manga series written by Kazuo Koike and illustrated by Ryoichi Ikegami. The manga was extremely explicit with pornographic sexual content and graphic violence and the anime was toned down on both fronts. It was animated by Toei Animation and they did keep the intricate style of Ikegami’s character designs albeit slightly simplified.

The overall plot of Crying Freeman is pure exploitation and pulp but in a guilty pleasure type of way. Every character is over-the-top and crazy with wacky abilities and background stories. This is in direct opposition with the relatively realistic character designs and backgrounds and it makes for an interesting contrast. When I watched it as a teenager, it was the Streamline English dubbed version, which is super cheesy and overacted. The original Japanese version is more refined and poetic which makes the story flow much better. 

Do my tears not impress you?
There are definitely a lot of instances of ridiculous Japanese style plot twists and silly character motivations, but it moves along at a brisk pace. This being an anime from a different era, some people might find the sexual situations the female characters are forced into to be very distasteful, but for what it’s worth, many of the women are strong characters who kick some ass. Freeman’s wife Emu Hino is particularly interesting and nuanced and is my favorite character in the anime. The anime is gory and violent but the action scenes have fluid animation and clever angles. Freeman likes to fight his enemies in the nude for some reason, and it never ceases to amuse me to see him beating the crap out of everyone bare ass naked. I will say Ikegami is quite adept at drawing attractive male and female bodies.

Shades of Death (the first two episodes) is the strongest story arc of the series and the quality does go down a bit in the later episodes. As an aside, the music in Crying Freeman is glorious only in the way that late-eighties anime can be. Lots of synth piano work with traditional Koto accompaniment and some porno saxophone for good measure. When that’s not happening, you have heartfelt ballads being sung over bloody kung-fu fights and heads being exploded by bullets. It’s hilarious and really sets the mood for the entire show. A warning: do not by any means seek out and watch Christophe Gans’ 1995 live-action adaptation of Crying Freeman—it’s awful in every possible way. Just stick to the manga if you need to get your fix. The manga is pretty good though it is hard to find because it’s been out of print for almost a decade. Overall, this is a great anime for fans of crime sagas or eighties era anime.

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-Michelle Kisner