Japanese Title: Juubee Ninpuuchou
Related: Ninja Scroll: the Series (sequel)
Similar: Afro Samurai
Watched in: Japanese & English
Length: 1 hr. 30 min. movie
- Well-choreographed and brutal action.
- A variety of cool ninja powers.
- Dark visuals to match the grim narrative.
- With the action focus, most characters have little to no development time.
- Some awkward explanatory dialogue.
- Weak music.
Jubei is a vagabond swordsman, hiring out his skills to those who can pay. One night, he helps a ninja woman in trouble. She is Kagero, the last of her ninja unit after an investigation into a mysterious plague led them to slaughter at the hands of a ninja who can turn to stone. He is known as one of the eight devils – eight ninja with extraordinary abilities. A government official looking into the matter hires Jubei to defeat these devils. Thus, Jubei and Kagero are drawn into a plot that threatens to overthrow the government.
Ninja Scroll is an action heavy film of blood, nudity, and cool abilities. The action scenes, Ninja Scroll’s focus, are the most exciting aspect with great choreography and variety in techniques. At only an hour and a half long, there isn’t time to drag out the action or have characters stare into each other’s eyes for episodes on end. Each fight in Ninja Scroll is sharp, intense and varied as Jubei faces the eight devils, all with interesting powers. One ninja can live in shadow, while another can summon snakes from anywhere – anywhere… The manner in which these powers are used is the anime’s most creative aspect. Unfortunately, outside of the action, these villains have no development; they are evil and must do evil things with cool powers.
The lack of development is an issue across the board except for Jubei and Kagero, whose motivations and personalities are explored beyond surface level. The government at the core of the plot doesn’t get any screen time to establish and why this overthrow could be so disastrous. Of course, if your interest lies solely with the action, then this won’t matter. The plot itself is constructed enough to support the action; it isn’t vague or full holes, but does lack depth.
Ninja Scroll is a good-looking film, especially when you consider its 1993 release date. If all you saw during its era was Dragon Ball Z, then Ninja Scroll’s gritty quality comes as a surprise. The artists went for a grim atmosphere throughout, shadows filling all corner of the screen. Even when the sun is out, jet-black shadows contrast with the light in every scene. The animation is good – the blood in particular, which there is plenty of. Each villain has interesting visual designs to fit their abilities. I particularly liked the snake woman with her intricate tattoos.
A great failing is the dialogue. There are several moments where a character will explain how someone died even though we just saw them die. Too much stating the obvious, as well. Jubei slashes the rock ninja, who says in a stilted manner, “A very skilful attack, but you must realise I cannot be cut.” Exposition by stating the obvious isn’t good writing. The dialogue in the latter half gets pretty rubbish at points.
Ninja Scroll stands on its great action and dark atmosphere. It’s a shame that they didn’t extend the airtime to allow for character exploration, and they could have hired a better dialogue writer.
Art – High
Ninja Scroll looks good, defying age, and is loaded with blood.
Sound – Medium
A variety of voices well executed; however, the Japanese takes the edge, as the plethora of ancient Japanese names sound odd in English – a minor gripe. The music is underused and weak overall.
Story – Medium
This is purely about action with a decent narrative structure to support it. The villains are cool in design, just not in development.
Overall Quality – High
Recommendation: Ninja Scroll’s action coupled with dark fantasy art is well worth your time. Just don’t expect extensive character development.
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