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Sunday, 18 February 2018

Review - Movie - Ninja Scroll

This review is based on the DVD Collector's Edition, published in the United Kingdom by Manga Entertainment.

Anime in the 1990s are sometimes a mixed bag. Several of them show their age through their animation or dubbing, but some remain great to this day. One of them is 1993's Ninja Scroll, a period action drama that cemented both the career of its writer/director Yoshiaki Kawajiri and the rise of animation studio Madhouse.

The story is pretty standard fair for its time. During the Edo period, a group of ninja are sent to investigate the death of an entire village, only to be all but massacred by one of a shadowy group called the Eight Devils of Kimon. The main protagonists are Jubei Kibagami, a cross between a ronin and a ninja who is blackmailed into helping by the Edo spy Dakuan; and Kagero, a survivor of the Eight Devils who has some serious relationship issues due to being a walking weapon whose touch alone is poisonous. The main plot is somewhat convoluted, but this movie's appeal is in its high action and the freaky powers of the Eight Demons, who fall directly into the tropes associated with ninja during the 20th to 21st century.

In the animation department, the movie is a triumph. It does use the common tricks of that era of anime (repeating animations, mostly-static conversation scenes), but it also features layered backgrounds and choreography that is stunning even after over two decades. The amount of love for the project is clear, ranging from the detail of the various ninja abilities, to the dedicated fight scenes featuring Jubei. There's plenty to enjoy during both the moments of calm and the hectic action scenes which come at frequent intervals. There's also the trait of arousing female and oh-so-manly male character designs that remains ingrained in anime culture.

The music from Kaoru Wada is very good. Not at all in keeping with the period, but also amazingly enjoyable. It pushes along the action and punctuates scenes of emotion without being intrusive. That also means that, aside from a few places where the music forms most of the scene, it can become unmemorable. The English dub is good for the time, having just the right amount of camp without reaching Dragon Ball Z or Pokemon levels.

Please note that this anime isn't for kids. Alongside Ghost in the Shell and Akira, it was one of the pioneers of true adult feature-length anime. This means that there is violence a plenty, blood and gore, disturbing imagery, nudity, and some traditionally awkward animated sexual encounters. I was surprised that it only contains very mild swearing, at least in the English dub. Despite being older than me, Ninja Scroll remains a classic for all the right reasons, even though it shows its age in places.


Oh yes, and a final note. I came to this movie after watching Madhouse's follow-up television series of the same name. I'll probably be reviewing the series next week.

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