animefringe october 2003 / feature
Animefringe Coverage:
Ninja Scroll: The TV Series - The Fan-Favorite Returns at Last

It's hard to believe that ten years have gone by since what we know as Ninja Scroll debuted. Yet, the release of the tenth anniversary edition of the fan favorite period piece is only a few days away (or already here, depending on when you're reading this), and now, the television series inspired by the film is readily available. If you're a fan of Jubei Kibagami, then there's plenty more ninja love to go around these days.

As many readers know, Ninja Scroll wasn't a big hit in Japan. Looking back, however, it's not too hard to understand why it had such an impact in America. At the time, there simply wasn't much like it. While the film's animation was impressive enough and the art quality high, most likely it was its gratuitous gore and sexual content that caught the attention of most fans. For many viewers, it was the first time they'd ever seen such blatant adult content in a cartoon, and it overemphasized the fact that not all animation is for children.

Now, of course, we all know that animation isn't merely for children. Also, after having seen ten years worth of other animation, many of us have realized that Ninja Scroll wasn't exactly the most extreme example of what anime has to offer. There are shows out there with more obscene sexual content, there are better examples of ninja movies, there are movies that are far more violent, and there are many productions with better animation.

But for thousands of fans, Ninja Scroll was the first film to introduce us to the potential anime could have. And thus a nostalgic connection was formed, elevating an average animated movie to a cult classic. Like it or hate it, Ninja Scroll influenced a generation of anime fandom, and it's not going away any time soon.

Jubei Kibagami is a popular character in Japanese fiction which helps explain series such as Ninja Resurrection (as it was called in the US), which wasn't really a sequel to Ninja Scroll (as the box led potential purchasers to believe) so much as a release that happened to feature the same character. Jubei-chan the Ninja Girl is yet another anime series that offers a slightly different spin on the whole mythology, and there are plenty of other examples out there, whether they be animated, live-action, or literary.

This TV series, however, was designed to connect to the Ninja Scroll feature film, and was animated by Mad House, the same people behind the original release. According to information from studio insiders, at least one more theatrical release is forthcoming as well, so fans of the series will soon have more than enough new material to enjoy.

Thus, we get to the important part. How does this series stack up to the original movie? First of all, if you're looking for more unnecessary scenes of a sexual nature, then you're going to be disappointed. Even if this is anime, it was on Japanese television, and thus it's significantly tamer in the sex department. Personally, I wasn't disappointed. I don't need random sex scenes to keep my interest in a show.

As far as action scenes go, however, the first batch of episodes has an abundance of exciting battles with outlandishly unique enemies, just as the movie did. And there's no lack of blood or gore here, if you're concerned that those had been cut away, as well.

While simply trying to get some sleep, Jubei Kibagami is drawn into a power struggle between two ninja clans trying to get their hands on the Light Princess, a young warrior named Shigure. While Jubei may be a peerless killer, he's also a very kind person with a keen sense of righteousness, and thus he grudgingly accepts the mantle of Shigure's protector as each side sends increasingly threatening fighters after her.

Of course, he's not alone, but his aid consists (so far) of the ancient monk Dakuan, and a young thief who's looking out for Shigure's possessions more than her welfare.

This series wouldn't have been produced if the movie hadn't received such a positive response here in the United States, and nowhere is it more apparent that this is a collaborative effort than in the music production. With themes composed by the internationally respected Kintaro and Peter McEvilley, an American, there's a nice mix of classic ninja tunes along with rock, rap, and jazz. The music highlights the action of the show exceptionally well, and this might be a soundtrack I'll be looking out for in the near future.

Something that struck me as different in the TV series from the movie was the fact that there are far more mechanical creatures in this new release than there were in the film. I have no trouble with anachronisms, but be prepared to find everything from primitive recording devices to cyborgs in the Edo era of Japan.

Other than that, this looks like it's going to continue the spirit of its decade-old predecessor adequately, and I'm certainly going to be picking up the next disc. As this is going to be a long-term continuing story, as opposed to a two-hour feature, there's much more time to devote to developing the characters we're introduced to. I'm looking forward to seeing more of Jubei's personality, and thanks to the quick domestication of this TV series so far, I'm hoping it won't take too long.

If you move fast, you can find an exclusive edition of the first volume at Best Buy, which contains a bonus CD-ROM with additional content. I'm no fan of exclusive releases (some of us don't live anywhere near a Best Buy), but it's nice to know mainstream businesses are aware of the potential the Ninja Scroll TV series has in the US. We'll just have to see if this release goes on to become as popular as the movie that started it all!