Ninja Scroll: The Series - The Ultimate Collection
Directed by Jack Fletcher and Tatsuo Sato
Distributed by Urban Vision
Produced by Mad House LTD
Rating: Viewer Discretion is Advised
Reviewed by Jon Minners
We have noticed a trend in the United States lately and it involves old television series becoming big screen movies and vice versa. Rarely does it ever really work here with the exception of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or the first Charlie’s Angels film, but in Japan, this is not the trend; it is the norm and a very successful one at that. Constantly, hit anime series are made into feature length films and in the case of Ninja Scroll; the hit film created over a decade ago is now a hit series definitely doing justice to its predecessor.
If Urban Vision decides to release an anime title, you can expect it to be of the highest quality. From Vampire Hunter D to Golgo 13 and beyond, Urban Vision is profoundly selective of the titles it chooses to release, assuring viewers of quality films each and every time out.
Not a sequel to the movie of the same name; Ninja Scroll: The Series is a more comprehensive retelling of the movie’s story set in feudal Japan and again chronicling the life of Jubei Kilagami; the swordsman who like Madonna is known the world over to anime lovers just by his first name. Jubei’s hands are filled with ninja clans at every turn and in this tale find himself protecting Shigure, the Light Maiden while in possession of the sacred treasure called the Dragon Stone. Jubei encounters the Hiruko Clan, doomed to live and die in darkness with the sole job of protecting the stone and the Kimon Clan who hope to revive the power of the Toyotomi through the Dragon Stone.
Along for the adventure is Shigure, whose village and everyone in it was destroyed by the Kimon Clan; a mysterious old man named Dakuan and a new addition to the cast, not seen in the movie, Tsubute, a thief who we see does have a heart and seems to find the family he has been lacking in his newfound friends.
This is one of the best action series I have seen in a quite awhile. Flanked by your typical, ordinarily beautiful animation and a topnotch soundtrack composed by Kitaro and the techno/rock fusion of Peter McEvilley, the story, action and characters put this series over the top and while I loved the film, I found the series just as entertaining, despite lacking some of the movie’s charm and drama.
As a series, the storyline is given more time to fully develop along with the characters, of which more are featured through the course of the three discs that expands everything we loved about the film. So much attention was paid to character design, from a woman who shoots deadly leeches out of her body to another who uses her hair as a deadly weapon to a cat-like creature with cunning reflexes and a monster of a man who can transform into a juggernaut of destruction. There is even one woman named Rengoku who can sew on anybody’s body part to better complement her fighting abilities; whether it be snake skin or bear arms. She is freaky, but her story has a very unique and twisted Twilight Zone-style ending.
In fact, many of the characters deaths come in truly unique and profound ways. In one battle, we learn just how fast and dangerous Jubei’s sword is when one creature arrogantly says, “I’m waiting,” as she stands ready to fight. Jubei simply responds, “It’s too late,” right before her body splits in half. You see a lot of this scattered throughout the film, providing me with a fond recollection of the film Fist of the Northstar, which displayed similarly abrupt and intriguing death scenes. Each death just makes Jubei that much more badass cool of a character.
Of course that is also conveyed thanks to great dialogue and the style in which the dialogue is spoken. In addition, the writing for this series is so superior, even when it strays from the main storyline, such as in The Diamond Child, when Tsubute steals the Dragon Stone from Jubei and runs into Tatsunosuke, another thief who steals to support his sister on his family’s farm. The newest thief has interesting powers and the Kimon promise him the wealth he needs if he can get the Dragon Stone. It is a story that rounds out Tsubute as a character and sets the stage for an amazing save by Jubei that was very reminiscent of episodes of Thundercats where Lion-O was barely featured only to rescue his friends.
My favorite episode is Shelter From The Rain, which focuses only on Jubei, as he is poisoned by a ninja that can possess the bodies of others. A woman and her son help Jubei, but the woman has another agenda involving Jubei’s past as an assassin. Will she be able to put that past behind her when danger strikes?
Of course, viewers are taken back on the main task at hand and finally discover the true power of the Dragon Stone in a wonderful conclusion that leaves you satisfied while at the same time wanting more. The film also leaves us with one of the best messages I have heard since Eric Draven said, “It can’t rain all the time,” in the first Crow. The wandering Jubei tells the sheltered Shigure she hasn’t missed much that life has to offer by stating, “The sky is the sky everywhere you go and people are people.” Something about that line just amplifies life a little and is a line worth repeating.
This great story is presented on three discs with a fourth disc containing audio commentary from the director and cast, a look at Mad House Animation Studio, a trivia game and much, much more. With great quotable lines, an adrenaline rush of action, an intriguing story, enjoyable characters and a killer soundtrack, should you buy this DVD? Do you really need to ask?