Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s original 1993 Ninja Scroll was somewhat of a sleeper hit until it finally hit our Western shores, gaining immense popularity and a cult following for this blood-soaked, violent samurai epic. It took however ten years before anyone thought of capitalising on its success, and in 2003 we finally got Ninja Scroll: The Series, a 13 episode long series directed by Tatsuo Sato (Martian Successor Nadesico; Stellvia) and animated by MADHOUSE studios.
Ninja Scroll: The Series follows master samurai Jubei Kibagami as he inadvertently gets dragged into an age old conflict between the Hiruko and Kimon ninja clans, sparked anew by the awakening of the Light Maiden Shigure and the revealing of the legendary Dragon Stone, the key to untold treasures and fortune.
And that pretty much sums it up. Unfortunately there isn’t all that much substance to the story of Ninja Scroll: The Series as essentially each episode serves as a new battleground for Jubei to take on and defeat a new and even more outlandish than the last opponent before moving on to the next episode and rinse and repeating. There is limited character development in the beginning and towards the end of the story, but for the most part the majority of characters simply make an appearance in one episode to be killed off in the next. The Dragon Stone and the accompanying march of the Light Maiden acts as the vehicle for this tale of destruction and this is pretty much par for the course for the rest of the series.
We do get a couple of supporting characters to add to the ‘story’ and ‘mystery’, but unfortunately they really aren’t good enough to add anything special into the mix and unfortunately this leaves one with no other choice but to declare Ninja Scroll: The Series as pretty much a brain-dead exercise in futility. BUT, and it is a big but, if on the other hand you don’t really care all that much about story and instead just want plain, all out action, then Ninja Scroll simply doesn’t put a foot wrong. Each and every fight is a masterpiece with innovative opponents and ‘abilities’ for Jubei and his trusty compressed air sword skill to tackle, all of which usually comes to a sharp end with a lot of blood and body parts flailing about. It’s certainly as visceral as its predecessor, that much is without a doubt (although I do have to mention that some of the characters and abilities kind of go a bit overboard, leaning quite far out to the ridiculous and just plain stupid category – though if you are already a big Naruto fan then this shouldn’t bother you even in the least! :P).
Artistically, MADHOUSE goes for some fairly interesting and not necessarily attractive facial designs, but overall their character models and environments are all very nicely detailed and portrayed, making Ninja Scroll: The Series certainly look a little bit above ordinary. The chosen colour palette is surprisingly vibrant though, a little bit of a mystery to me as I might have thought that they would have opted for a slightly more gritty feel to the visuals just to try and make the animation a little darker, edgier perhaps. Oh well, at least I can’t complain about the smoothness of the animation and the excellently choreographed fight scenes which really do at times keep you on the edge of you seat. Actually, there are in fact a lot of stylish samurai conventions packed in for good measure as well, so fans of the genre should be kept pretty happy on the visual front as well then.
Musically, Ninja Scroll comes up strong with some excellent arrangements and a very peculiar but perfectly positioned opening number (by Kitaro and Peter McEvilley) which certainly serves to kick off the show with a bang. Similarly the majority of the voice actors all do a stellar job, with the two lead voice actors in veterans Houko Kuwashima as Shigure and Rikiya Koyama as Jubei both putting in exceptionally strong voice performances.
So in summary, if you are looking for a nice juicy, meaty samurai-influenced story then Ninja Scroll: The Series doesn’t exactly offer all that much. However, if you want to see some awesome, extremely well-executed and violent fight scenes with a lot of blood splatter then you will most certainly enjoy it, meaning that ultimately it is up to the type of viewer as to who will get the most satisfaction out of this short, but polished anime series.
Related Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ninja_Scroll:_The_Series