The last choice for “Anime of the Day” was a much more lighter fare than what I have chosen this time around. Where Toradora! explored the romantic comedy antics of high school friends the latest choice for this anime feature is all about action and drama. The new anime of the day is the critically-acclaimed and one of the most popular anime ever: Jūbē Ninpūchō also known in the West as Ninja Scroll.
Ninja Scroll many would say belongs in the shonen category in that it caters to teenage and young adult males. While it definitely is age appropriate for the latter it would be wholly inappropriate for the former. This anime OVA (original video animation) definitely has action of the ninja and swordfighting variety, but it also has several scenes of graphic nudity and sexuality outside of the realm of hentai. The violence seen within this ova is also off the charts. But in the end all of these mature themes serve a purpose in telling the story.
The story of Ninja Scroll goes beyond the archetypal ronin anti-hero of Japanese legend. It also deals with complex political machinations which plagued the Tokugawa Shogunate who ruled unified Japan after the end of the Feudal Era. The film delved into the relationships between the Shogunate, the many lords who ruled territory under the Shogunate banner and those retainers who served under the lords themselves.
A film called Ninja Scroll wouldn’t live up to its name if it didn’t involve ninja as well and this film has them in the hundreds. Though the main character of Kimigami Jubei as the wandering swordsman-for-hire is not a ninja himself, but those he ends up allying himself with and those he fights against end up being ninja. It’s the character of Jubei who we see the film’s story unfold for the most part. His character begins the film as a cynical rogue who seems to be out only for himself, but through blackmail, uneasy alliances and, finally, friendship and romance he becomes a sort of Han Solo-type. He still keeps his charm and ability to get win whatever fights he gets himself into, but also learns the value of trust, love and honor that was an anathema to his personality in the beginning of the anime.
This was one of the first anime I saw where the violence exceeded most anything I saw in animation. It definitely influenced many others of my generation as one could see how it translated into live-action with Tarantino’s own Kill Bill, Volume 1. The fight scene with the Crazy 88′s and how limbs where hacked off with ease and blood spurted like firehoses could be traced back to the animation work in this anime.
The anime was released in 1993 and became a major hit in the US when it was licensed for released. It was one of the few anime which I saw using English dubbing and one of those rare English-dubbed anime which actually lived up to its original Japanese-language release. At times, I actually prefer the English-dub just for the fact that I was so used to hearing those English voice-actors performing their roles. It’s a shame that most English-dubbed anime doesn’t have the sort of quality voice-acting that Ninja Scroll apparently had and others couldn’t replicate.
There’s talk of a an official sequel being planned by it’s original writer/director Kawajiri Yoshiaki but no concrete plans have been formalized. But if such talk does have merit and finally does come to fruition with the original crew who brought the original to life in 1993 then I would welcome it.
This fan-made trailer does best in giving a brief idea of the anime’s story…
…and below is the beautiful ending song to the anime composed and sung by Yamanashi Ryouhei. The song is titled: “Somewhere, Faraway, Someone is Listening to a Ballad” or it’s more brief title, “Distant Ballad (tooku de barado)”. Even if one doesn’t understand what the song is saying the emotions being heard in the song’s melody and the singer’s voice is enough if one has seen the anime throughout. It’s quite the powerful ballad and a song I rank in my own personal top 20 ballads of all-time.