Reviewed by: Joe
Released by: Manga Entertainment UK
Age Rating: 18
Region: 2 - UK
Length: 94 minutes
English 2.0 Stereo
Japanese 2.0 Stereo
Madhouse Studios anime following the adventures of a ninja who travels the land hiring out his services for gold or a worthy cause. Jubei Kibagami (voice of Kôichi Yamadera) finds one such cause when he stumbles across Kagero (Emi Shinohara), a female ninja who is the lone survivor of a highly skilled group who were sent to investigate suspicious activity involving Tessai (Ryûzaburô Otomo), a formidable warrior with the ability to turn his skin to stone. Jubei agrees to help Kagero but may have cause to doubt his decision as he finds himself facing an increasingly tough array of enemies. When he discovers that Tessai is affiliated to the Eight Devils of Kimon, a group of ninjas led by his oldest foe Himuro Genma (Daisuke Gôri), it is clear that Jubei will require every ounce of his cunning and swordsmanship to survive the quest.
Ninja Scroll is set in world where ninjas are real! These aren't traditional ninjas, but the kind with a variety of powers, such the ability to turn their skin into stone armour, control electricity, creep into the shadows or just simply kick arse. You can imagine these ninjas wailing on their guitars if electric guitars had existed back then in the Tokugawa period or perhaps a shamisen would do instead. The movie has a pulp feel it to it. The origins of the ninjas powers are not explained, nor do they need to be for this film. They just can!
The film is highly influential and it's often imitated, it's clear that this is a landmark title. It's influence can be seen in almost every ninja action movie made since and it is a favourite of many anime parody.
Ninja scroll is directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri, who apart from Ninja Scroll is best known for directing Cyber City Oedo 808, Wicked City, plus the Program segment of the Animatrix.
Animated by renowned studio Madhouse, this is an ultraviolent title. After watching it for 15 minutes you realise this is the reason the 18 certificate exists. It's packed full of good clean violent fun.
The film follows the adventures of Jubei a wandering swordsman for hire, who has been recruited to investigate the cause of a suspicious fatal disease outbreak at a village. Apart from being amazingly good with a sword, Jubei has no powers as such. He's a laidback hero, loosely inspired by folk hero Yagyū Jūbei Mitsuyoshi.
The story progresses as Jubei fights a band of ninja each with their own special ability, as they play a game of cat and mouse, constantly outwitting and tricking each other with ninja skills and fighting to the death. In a world where the bad guys can be eight foot tall with amazingly large chins, Jubei holds his own in combat.
This is the film that cemented Yoshiaki Kawajiri as a superb anime action director. Fight scenes are well coordinated.
With anime it's popular to invent drinking games, often with complicated rules or long lists of scenarios when certain things happen or when characters say or do something.
We sat around and figured out the rules for a Ninja Scroll drinking game. The rules of which can be condensed into a single sentence -
When ever someone dies or gets killed take a drink.
That's all you need to get drunk fairly quickly.
We were lucky enough to see Ninja Scroll at a special Manga Entertainment press screening. On the big screen we really noticed how sharp the newly re-mastered transfer was. We can't wait to get our hands on the Blu-ray! The restored animation is sharp and detailed, the film has aged well and has a big budget feel to it.
The press package also had an excellent article about Ninja Scroll written by Jonathan Clements, which will be included in the blu-ray case as part of a booklet. It mentions some interesting points including how limited animation can be used to mimic motion that is faster than the eye to see. It also mentions some great bits about the use of "transmitted light", a technique often used for glowing eyes and how it's used in effect for sword flashes and the blinding glare of the sun. Insightful articles like this included with the blu-ray make it an excellent package. We wish they would include more booklets like this with releases, as it helps you discover more about each title.
If you like action films and anime then Ninja Scroll is the title for you. It's bit cheesy with a lot of violence, but in that 80's action movie style. Every serious anime fan should see Yoshiaki Kawajiri's works to expand their understanding of anime, even if they're not into the more violent end of the spectrum.