Reviewby Zac Bertschy,
DVD 1-3: Ultimate Collection Limited Edition
Jubei Kibagami, the most powerful swordsman of the Edo Period, is swept up into the blood-soaked, demon-slaying adventure of a lifetime when he saves the life of Shigure, a beautiful ninja princess who also happens to be the Light Maiden. Hailing from the doomed Hikuro clan, which is cursed to wander the land in shadow protecting the all-powerful Dragon Stone, Shigure finds herself the target of a witch hunt lead by the villainous Kimon clan, who want nothing more than to find the treasure the Dragon Stone hides. What's a sword-slinging ronin to do? Start killing things, of course!
By now, if you don't know what Ninja Scroll is, odds are you've never heard of this crazy Japanese Animation stuff, either. Acting as a kind of ‘gateway drug’ in the mid-1990's that introduced a legion of teenagers to the thrill of anime, the original Ninja Scroll movie remains a hilariously violent seminal anime film that will be remembered for decades to come.
So, in all their infinite wisdom (and undoubtedly after thinking for a half-second of how much money could be made from resurrecting this long-dormant property), Madhouse and director Tatsuo Sato set out to produce a 13-episode TV series that continues the limb-choppin', freak-killin' adventures of master swordsman Jubei Kibagami. If you thought the movie was ridiculously violent and silly, wait until you see this thing. Lovingly collected for the first time in a handsome metal tin (that even comes with a tiny little statue of the show's hero), now's your chance to wallow through all 13 episodes at once.
Disconnected somewhat from the original film, the TV series follows a mostly convoluted plot about warring ninja tribes and a cute girl whose job it is to save the world from sideshow freaks with superpowers. If it sounds a little silly, that's because it is. The dialogue, scripting and plot structure in this series refuse to let you take them seriously, and that may or may not be intentional; in any case, the result is surprisingly watchable, not because there's an ounce of real quality to be found in the story, but because the entire thing is so over-the-top and ludicrous you can't help but chuckle and go along with whatever goofy thing is going to happen next. Oh sure, everyone's a superpowered badass with a special skill and they all scream fighting words at eachother and rarely does intentional humor find its way into any given episode, but when you're watching someone with a magic metal eyepatch, 80's hair and giant shoulderpads who's followed around by a bald, patchwork spider-woman tell Jubei that he's going to the 9th circle of hell, how are you supposed to take any of it seriously?
Adding to the ridiculous nature of the show are the character designs, which go out of their way to be grotesque and bizarre. You've got people who look like they're melting, half-naked amazon demon chicks with evil fetuses growing out of their shoulderblades, and all manner of giant disgusting fat guys. Freakish villains are no stranger to the Ninja Scroll franchise, and this TV series does a good job upholding the “tradition,” as it were. Some of the villains look so silly and illogical it's hard not to burst into laughter when they appear.
Speaking of appearance, Ninja Scroll TV is no slouch in that regard. Madhouse is renowned for their skill, and it shines, mostly, in Ninja Scroll TV. Obviously a lot of money was dumped into this production, and although some of the later episodes suffer greatly in the quality department, generally the show is highly polished and very fluid. The music is mostly forgettable, although one has to marvel at the opening and closing themes, which were recorded by Kitaro, a mostly-forgotten Japanese New Age artist who was pretty popular back in the early 1990's. The English dub is competent if not spectacular; Dave Rasner adds an appropriate amount of snark to Jubei, and Daisy Torme's performance as Shigure is pleasantly understated. The rest of the performances are fairly run-of-the-mill and won't knock anyone's socks off. It's unoffensive.
This box set collects the entire series, and upon viewing the conclusion to the show, you'll most likely be satisfied. The plot wraps itself up pretty nicely (which is uncommon in today's anime landscape) and the show doesn't overstay its welcome, even if watching it holds the same fascination as inviting the town drunk to your Christmas party. This particular set is loaded up with extras, including a (seemingly chosen at random) list of the top 10 battles in the show, a whole ton of storyboards, a trivia game and a few select episodes with commentary tracks from the English ADR crew.
Frankly, Ninja Scroll TV succeeds in spite of itself. The director (and the character designer) just pushed the show so far over the top that you can't help but enjoy every minute, even though you might be enjoying it for all the wrong reasons. Don't try and watch too many episodes at once, however (unless you've managed to imbibe enough alcoholic beverages to laugh forever); Ninja Scroll TV is best digested in bite-size portions. Anyone who tries to marathon this series deserves some small amount of pity. After only two episodes, you can laugh your fool head off and move on to something else for a while. Watching all 13 episodes at once might make you tear your hair out, since the novelty will wear off before long. Still, the premium box set that Urban Vision has seen fit to release will be a handsome addition to the library of any fan who doesn't take anime too seriously and loves a good blood-spattered gore-fest. It's all in the name of fun.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : D
Animation : B+
Art : B
Music : B-
+ Absolutely the silliest, most violent thing to hit the shelves in a while.
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