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A ninja-for-hire is forced into fighting an old nemesis who is bent on overthrowing the Japanese government. His nemesis is also the leader of a group of demons each with superhuman powers.
For more about Ninja Scroll and the Ninja Scroll Blu-ray release, see Ninja Scroll Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on November 24, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: K˘ichi Yamadera, Emi Shinohara, Dean Elliott, Wendee Lee
Director: Yoshiaki Kawajiri
» See full cast & crew
Ninja Scroll Blu-ray Review
Unwrap this scroll only if you dare.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, November 24, 2012
There seems to be a large contingent of anime fans who were introduced to the genre through either Akira or Ninja Scroll. Akira debuted in 1988 and Ninja Scroll in 1993 (though it didn't matriculate stateside until a couple of years later), which means Leonardo DiCaprio would have been around 14 when Akira came out and around 18 when Ninja Scroll premiered, but it wasn't until more than a decade later that DiCaprio, having moved on from "mere" superstardom to having his own production company, announced that he was trying to develop live action versions of both of these anime classics. Akira had actually been kicking around Hollywood for a while, with various drafts and casting preferences having been widely ballyhooed. Ninja Scroll, however, was a "new" entity, at least in terms of being suggested for a live action remake. As of 2012, neither of these properties has seen the live action light of day, but in revisiting Ninja Scroll after all of these years, some may be asking why another Hollywood heavy hitter never thought of adapting this weird and frankly incredibly violent piece into a live action feature, namely Quentin Tarantino. Ninja Scroll's dryer than dry humor coupled with its kick ass ethos would seem to be a near perfect combination for the auteur. But unless (or until) that live action version comes along, fans will probably be more than content with this new Blu-ray release of one of the most iconic nineties anime titles, a piece that in some ways may seem kind of quaint (if that's the right word for an anime that features a supernatural ogre raping a woman, not to mention intense amounts of blood and gore), but which in other ways clearly influenced a whole glut of properties which are still being churned out with great regularity today.
There's an interesting sort of irony at work when one compares Akira with Ninja Scroll. Akira is often held up as the paradigm of an anime about a dystopian future. Ninja Scroll might similarly be lauded as the perfect example of an anime about a dystopian past. Some may come to Ninja Scroll and find it formulaic, without realizing that in many salient ways this property invented the formula that so many other anime have unambitiously followed to a tee ever since. The lone hero ninja, the supernaturally endowed villains, the ruthless but incredibly attractive female accompliceŚthey're all here, and more, but Ninja Scroll stands apart from and well above the rabble. The film is undeniably visceral, and may in fact be both too erotic and too violent for some, but for those who can stomach the film's manic propensities, it's a one of a kind experience that is not easily forgotten.
Ninja Scroll features one of the more complexly structured plots for what is basically a slice 'em, dice 'em ninja enterprise, and the opening few moments may throw some viewers for a loop until various characters are introduced and the main storyline gets underway. The hero of the piece is Jubei Kibagami, whom we meet as he appropriately dices and slices his way through some hapless souls with whom he evidently has some history. We then get a fantastic set piece which introduces the main female of the story, Kagero, as she and a team of ninjas attempt to ferret out what is causing a plague in a Japanese village. This ninja aggregation is beset by what is obviously supernatural forces, and all of them save Kagero are rather ruthlessly slaughtered, including several pretty graphic decapitations and vivisections. Kagero is captured by a gigantic beast who seems to be made of stone, who takes the poor woman back to his lair and begins to assault her sexually in one of the most shocking scenes in the anime. At that very moment Jubei appears and takes on the beast, who is called Tessai. Jubei manages to help Kagero escape, but she doesn't seem particularly appreciative, and Jubei soon finds himself dealing not just with Tessai, whom he eventually vanquishes, but also with another vicious character, a woman whose tattoos of snakes slither off of her body and begin attacking him.
What ensues ends up being a battle between good and evil (how could it be otherwise?), with the evil side having some supernatural "dark force" elements, and the good guys having incredible ninja skills. Jubei ends up getting more or less blackmailed into working with a weird little Yoda-esque monk named Dakuan, and Kagero also becomes part of this troupe, leading to a sort of "odd triple" of people trying to overcome the machinations of an evil Shogun who is after a huge stash of gold which he believes will give him the wherewithal to take over a fractured Japan.
Ninja Scroll has been perhaps inordinately controversial due to its graphic violence and sexual content, two elements which may very well continue to shock even the most jaded modern day viewer. This is obviously not an anime for those who shirk from overly overt depictions that include some frankly very disturbing imagery. Balancing those aspects, though, are a really compelling story and some of the best realized animation of its era, animation that includes expert character designs as well as some unusually well done fight sequences. In fact great swaths of the anime look almost like old Japanese wood etchings or silkscreens come magically to life.
Younger anime fans who are used to some of the more playful outings in this incredibly varied genre may be shocked at the visceral quality of Ninja Scroll. Even those who experienced the film during its mid-nineties roll out may well find themselves surprised at how impactful so much of the imagery still is. With those rather sizable caveats, Ninja Scroll is easily one of the most distinctive anime of all time and certainly should be seen by anyone with an adventurous heart and cast iron stomach.
Ninja Scroll Blu-ray, Video Quality
Ninja Scroll is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Sentai Filmworks with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.35:1. Anyone more familiar with more contemporary anime outings may find this film features a surprisingly bland palette, at least relatively speaking. A lot of the anime plays out in shades of beige and brown, with many sequences tinged with a blue luster. The image seems to have been rather aggressively cleaned, which means there's barely any grain, which may displease some, though in the case of an animated feature like this, it obviously doesn't create the same waxy effect that often shows up in live action outings. Line detail is exceptionally crisp in this film, and the fluidity of the motion also looks beautiful in this high definition presentation.
Ninja Scroll Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Ninja Scroll features a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix for its English dub and a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix for the original Japanese language track. Both of these tracks sound great, and purists will no doubt want to opt for the Japanese language track, which features excellent fidelity and some fulsome low frequencies. Those really wanting more of an over the top mix should be well pleased with the English dub, however, as it offers some fantastic surround activity throughout the action sequences. The English voice cast is also quite well modulated, with some good character turns. Fidelity on both of these tracks is excellent, and dynamic range is wide, especially on the 5.1 option.
Ninja Scroll Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Ninja Scroll Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Ninja Scroll is not an anime for everyone, and indeed it's not even an anime for every anime lover. This is one of the most graphically sexual non-hentai releases you'll ever see, and the violence is similarly graphic, to the point that it's almost hard to watch at times. But the story and especially the characters are extremely gripping, the animation style is unsurpassed, and there's rarely been an anime of any kind that has featured this kind of visceral impact. Despite the violence and sexuality, there's also a rather sly sense of humor that runs through the piece, though some viewers may be too shocked to realize it, at least on the first viewing. This is one of the most unique and inventive anime of the past generation, and while this high definition transfer seems to have been degrained rather dramatically, the fact that this is an animated feature may help to ameliorate that issue for at least some viewers. Recommended.
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Ninja Scroll Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Ninja Scroll Blu-ray - September 23, 2012
Sentai Filmworks has announced the long awaited Blu-ray release of Manga Entertainment's Ninja Scroll. Presented in HD for the first time, Ninja Scroll remains one of the most influential feature-length anime in the west. The landmark anime arrives on Blu-ray on ...
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