Anime Reporter goes back over two decades into the archives for Ninja Scroll, Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s ultra-violent story set in feudal Japan.
A deadly plague sweeps across the land, leaving death and misery in its wake. A band of mysterious riders gallop as though hell itself is on their heels. It is a dark time to say the least. The story focuses mainly on Jubei, a sell-sword with an impressive history and Kagero, a deadly young warrior with a few secrets of her own. Initially Jubei is on his own, making his way as best he can until he kills someone he perhaps shouldn’t have and ends up forming an uneasy partnership with Dakuan, the creepy wise old-man to end all creepy wise old-men. Dakuan’s plans for settling old scores cross paths with Kagero’s honour-bound duty and the action unfolds from there.
Without giving too much away, the plot is rich in the best traditions of anime, dealing with revenge, justice and a hell of a lot of mystery. Jubei is forced to confront a familiar face from his past, but it won’t be easy. There’s a host of lethal, inhuman killers along the way and they’re all dying for the opportunity to spill Jubei’s blood.
The characters are phenomenal in design, with several demonic warriors boasting powers and appearances that are still innovative and impressive twenty years after it was made. Not to mention intense. This film definitely brushes off the territory of disturbing and truly earns its 18 age rating.
Character designs aren’t the only disturbing or mature elements in play. Action sequences are truly brutal and graphic, spilling blood and organs with the best of the best. There are also several scenes featuring explicit nudity and sexuality, much of which appears in violent and abusive acts. It’s worth saying again; this one is not for kids.
The animationstyle for the film has noticeably aged, though after over twenty years that can hardly be surprising and the 10th anniversary edition is remastered flawlessly. Colours are rich in texture and the movements of characters, if lacking some of the crisp lines and complex effects of modern anime, are impressive and fast paced. The older animation style will only distract viewers who allow it to and there’s no reason why anyone shouldn’t be more engrossed in the film after a few minutes.
As said before, there are some classic plot elements at play, but viewers with a weak stomach should give this one a miss. The true selling point of Ninja Scroll is in its brutality. Battles are bloody and explicit, with harsh language and deeply dark themes and plot points.
Ninja Scroll is best suited for long-time anime fans who are looking for an action anime with an edge. Or several.
Ninja Scroll was created in 1993, meaning that the 10th Anniversary Special Edition DVD has been available from Manga Entertainment UK for over ten years now. The Anniversary Edition comes in two discs, featuring full screen and widescreen versions of the film.
Character Designs: 8.5
86% – “An Epic for the Action Junkies” – Ninja Scroll may be over two decades old but for anyone who hasn’t seen it, this should pack a few surprises. Whether those surprises are pleasant or not may depend on the sensibilities and the stomach of the viewer.