I have no idea how any anime could be any simpler than this. Ninja Scroll the series clearly rode on the overwhelming success of its 1993 movie predecessor. The series used the exact same tricks and materials. Only this time, instead of a 90-minute long movie, we got the same thing stretched into a 13-episode series.
It was another adventure of Jubei who was unnaturally prone to getting involuntarily involved in other people’s conflict. This time, it was the feud between Hiruko ninja clan and Kimon ninja clan. The Hiruko tried to protect the light maiden, Shigure, who held the power to restore the clan to its former glory. While the Kimon clan sought to steal the same power. Yagyu clan also intervened by order of the current government which feared the rise of the old power.
The story was as simple as that. Jubei met Shigure and decided to help her get away from the deadly ninja sent by both Hiruko and Kimon clan. Every episode was about Jubei battling with one or two new ninja and left mountains of dead bodies behind. I thought it was fun at first. Ninja Scroll the series relied on only one thing; the battle scenes and ninja secret arts. These action sequences were well crafted for its time with fluid movement and trilling speed. And the blood…the show never lacked blood.
I never thought I would say this about any action fantasy show. But some of the ninja in this series were way over the top. I could deal with mutant-like ninja or even the one that was made up of one eyeball. But I just could not swallow the robotic ones. They just didn’t fit with any part or the setting of the show. Some of the ninjas looked very disturbing to me that I was glad I watched them with empty stomach. But that’s a trivial complaint. Let’s just say that I did not find this anime’s character design very appealing.
Ninja Scroll paid more attention to what happened to the characters rather than how these characters changed and grew. Almost all the ninjas appeared on screen in a ‘snapshot’ fashion. They were purely defined by their own unique power, not the kind of person they actually were. Even Jubei himself remain as stable as a mountain. The whole series were like single small episode of Jubei’s adventure. The only one that displayed some dimension was Shigure who lost the one home she knew and took off on a perilous journey. At the end of the show, Shigure finally learned about her origin and had to make the biggest decision of her life.
Kitaro composed the opening and ending theme for this anime. I wasn’t sure if the music was hip in 2003. But listening to them now, in 2012, the two themes felt a little dry and overly simplified. Nevertheless, electronic pieces used throughout the show did give the otherwise conventional action scenes the unconventional feeling. Animation wise, it had nothing special to boast about. I also noticed that the animation in the non-action sequence was almost conspicuously lazy.
Conclusion: Ninja Scroll the series offered nothing but what Ninja Scroll the Movie had already done. Other than occasional impressive action sequences, this series was all-round inferior to the movie and worse, it took much longer time to watch. To my readers, watch Ninja Scroll the Movie instead and you can save 5 precious hours of your life for other cool anime.
Title: Ninja Scroll: The Series
Genre: action, fantasy, historical
Released date: 14 April 2003 – 15 July 2003
Director: Tatsuo Sato
Animated by: Madhouse