Standing beside (or some might say above) great classics about feudal Japan such as Ruroni Kenshin and The Dagger of Kamui, one of the best anime released in the 90s to impact both Japanese and American anime fans is Ninja Scroll. But how does this latest release in the U.S. market fare to prior ones?
What They Say:
Swords shatter, blood sprays, and demons suck the life out of dying men as the wildest samurai adventure ever made is unleashed to tear your senses asunder! Jubei Kibagami has always been the master dealer of death, but in rescuing a ninja woman from a monster he sets loose a chain of events that puts death in his own veins and sends them on a nightmarish odyssey through a surreal and devil infested ancient Japan. How do demonic possessions, an annihilated village and a man thought safely buried in his past all connect? If Jubei can’t piece the blood soaked clues together, his only consolation will be that he won’t live to regret it for very long! Prepare your mind and steel your gut for the insanely gore packed orgy of violence that still stands alone and unchallenged as the ultimate anime action feature: the epic milestone in animation that is the legendary Ninja Scroll.
The audio presentation for this release comes with the Japanese 2.0 track present, the English 2.0 and a Japanese commentary track, which all sounded ok.
As the main selling point of this re-release, it was important to know if the digital remastering of the picture would be any good. I’m happy to see that the visuals are much clearer than previous releases. The movie was originally released in 1993, and looks great here. The restoration amplifies the best aspects of director Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s cel animation style which holds up fine after 20 years as the colors are truly vibrant and the art lines a sharper than ever. The picture is intact here and there’s no cropping and zooming for any illusion of a widescreen picture. The subtitles are colored and detailed appropriately, which makes them easy to read as needed.
The front contains the cutout of the two lead characters taken from the original movie poster, placed on top various movie scenes done up in black & red. It’s easy to see it done to distinguish from previous releases in the U.S. The back a mixed bag though as it has some nice screen shots but the text description is a bit lengthy and rather small to read.
The menu is rather simple with the original movie poster on the left side and white text links on the right with mini blood splatters acting as pointers. Easy to navigate.
This aspect is a bit disappointing. After seeing other releases with cast interviews, and various behind the scenes vids on the making of this movie, this release containing a Japanese commentary track, which is actually pretty educational as director Yoshiaki Kawajiri talks about everything that went into making this film. There’s also trailers for other Sentai Filmworks products.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
For those not familiar, the story of Ninja Scroll is done in tribute to the legendary warrior Jubei, who was said to travel ancient Japan and was victorious in many battles with his swordsmanship. This movie mixes up a few legends about his adventures and has become a staple of American anime fandom since the 90s.
As the movie opens, Jubei takes down three pursuers who want revenge after he retrieved an expensive sword and returned it to a poor village. The scene shifts to the next day when the local Chamberlain hears about a nearby village that has been quarantined after an apparent plague has wiped out all its inhabitants. He also hears of a group of men who rode through it just prior to the infection taking hold, but dismisses this report from his lieutenant.
Later that lieutenant, his female agent Kagero and over 20 men are attacked by a huge warrior with immense strength, the power to shift his body into a rock-like form, and deadly accuracy with a spinning bladed weapon. Kagero is the only one to survive this bloody massacre, but she is captured by the rock warrior who shifts back to human form for his carnal needs. In the midst of this, Jubei appears to expose the warrior’s weakness and helps Kagero escape.
Eventually, Jubei runs across a diminutive old man named Dakuan who is a spy for the Tokugawa shogunate. He tells Jubei of the Devils of Kimon, a group of unnatural warriors looking to loot a ton of gold, led by one whom Jubei thought he had dealt with decisively 5 years ago. Dakuan encourages Jubei to help him take down this group but Jubei initially refuses, until Dakuan tells him he’s just poisoned Jubei in a subtle manner and there’s only one day for Jubei to take an antidote before … the end. They go and reunite with Kagero and the pursuit is on.
Ninja Scroll was one anime other productions tried to emulate with ultra-violence, gore and bloodshed. However, without the high budget or the talents of director Yoshiaki Kawajiri, who had perfected his techniques of slick movements, high contrasts, dark colored themes and intense facial movements, most of these other productions were rather lackluster. Kawajiri’s work on Wicked City and Goku: Midnight Eye among other productions had shown him to be king of horrific action anime, much like Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust would show years later. In writing and directing Ninja Scroll, he was able to depict the violent world of ancient Japan and make people believe in what was happening on the big screen, much like the live action movies showing that era, and in some aspects, more effectively.
Despite my misgivings about the extras, it’s still really nice to see this edition of Ninja Scroll on the shelves. The picture quality is very nice and the commentary is informative to have after all the years this movie has been out. So if you’re wondering if it’s worth the time and money to replace your old copy of Ninja Scroll, I’d say that’s a decent move.
Japanese Language 2.0 Dolby, Optional English subtitles, English 2.0 audio, Japanese language commentary with director Yoshiaki Kawajiri
Content Grade: A
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: A
Extras Grade: B
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: November 21st, 2012
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1, 16:9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Panasonic 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Marantz stereo receiver