Ninja Scroll: The Series Anime Review
Juubee Ninpuuchou Ryuu Hougyoku Hen
Chronicles of the Wind Ninja, Jubei: Book of the Dragon Jewel
US Release By
13 23-minute episodes
2003-04-15 - 2003-07-15
Following the events of the Ninja Scroll movie, Jubei Kibagami continues to aimlessly roam across Japan as a mercenary swordsman. One night, he stumbles into a major battle over a mysterious artifact called the "Dragon Stone" by several demonic members of an organization called the Hiruko clan. When the carnage finally ends, the last survivor of the group gives the stone to Jubei, and with his dying breath, makes him promise that he will deliver it to a woman known as "Shigure, the light maiden". Figuring it will be a simple enough task, Jubei agrees.
But it turns out this task will not be so easy. Shigure denies being the light maiden and is unwilling to accept the stone. Meanwhile, It seems that practically everyone else in area wants it for themselves. Apparently, Jubei is in for a whole lot more then he bargained for.
It's hard to believe a sequel to one of the most famous anime movies of all time could be this bad. The original 1993 film was a huge success, and for very good reasons. It had superb action scenes, an interesting plot, and great characters. Now, 10 years later, along comes a 13-episode TV series of the same name which features the same characters (Jubei and his monk pal Dakuan), more creative demons with unique powers, and even better animation. This series has a different director, but with all the elements of the original story, surely there is no way he could screw this up, right? Unfortunately it turns he can and he did.
The central plot of the series, a warrior guarding a mysterious artifact and the woman who can unlock its power, is a remarkably dull. First of all, it's very simplistic and has been done way too many times before. But more importantly, it has almost no effect on most individual episodes and is mainly used as an excuse for Jubei to kill things. Basically each episode until the final four goes something like this: A demon encounters Jubei's group and demands that they give up the stone. Jubei refuses, the demon attacks, and Jubei kills it. Other than that, nothing is really happening at all. Jubei and his companions seemingly wander around without any specific destination or purpose, doing nothing to discover the truth behind the stone or come up with a plan to use it until the last few episodes. Along the way, some new characters are discovered and some sub-plots are opened up, but these hardly do anything to improve the central story, since they are usually resolved in a single episode.
The characters don't help much either. Jubei's whole "lone wolf" role may have worked well in a 90-minute movie. But in a 13-episode TV series, it gets tiresome, repetitive, and in many cases is contradicted by his actions. Over and over, he keeps re-emphasizing how he likes to wander around without any loyalties, destination, or purpose. Yet at the same time, he seems pretty committed to protecting Dragon Stone and light maiden despite the complete absence of a tangible reward for it. His monk friend Dakuan is rather amusing at times, but his interests in the stone aren't well explained either. The other two main protagonists, Shigure and an amateur thief named Tsubute, are pathetic. Shigure is a complete damsel in distress and always has to rely on others for everything. Tsubute is a useless incompetent buffoon who never does anything meaningful in the entire show. There is absolutely no reason for him to be in the series at all.
Like the movie, the Ninja scroll series has its share of creative villains, each with some sort of special abilities. Some of the more notable ones include a guy who controls legions of deadly moths (perhaps a relative of the Mushizo, the wasp leader in the movie), a girl who turns herself into a deadly fighting machine by attaching other people's body parts to her, and a "puppet master" who takes control of other people's minds. But regardless of their powers, most of the villains don't have a chance to develop important roles because nearly all of them die in the same episode they first appear in. Overall, the series uses the standard "Monster of the week" formula, preventing any good rivalries between Jubei and his opponents from developing. The series does have one villain who appears in several different episodes, the leader of the Kimon clan, but he hardly has any actual role in the story until the 10th episode of the series.
Pretty much the only thing that could have saved this series was some good action scenes. But even in this regard, Ninja Scroll: The Series is a major disappointment. While there are plenty of fight scenes in every episode, they tend to be short, poorly conceived, and in most cases boring. Jubei dispatches nearly all of his foes fairly easily, almost never being pushed to his limit, and I rarely got the feeling that he was ever in any real danger. In some cases, he wins without even touching his opponent. All he has to do is say "it's over" and they fall down dead.
There are only a few positive things I can point out about this show. The music is excellent, particularly the opening theme song. The voice acting is pretty good for the most part, and the animation is well above average. But that's really about it.
Overall, Ninja Scroll: The Series is a colossal failure, not just as sequel to an excellent movie, but also as action series in general. The plot is terrible, the characters are uninteresting, and even the fight scenes don't have much appeal. Even if you absolutely loved the original film, this series isn't worth wasting time on, unless you like seeing invincible samurai heroes randomly wandering around for no reason and easily killing things. If and when there is another continuation of the Ninja Scroll universe, perhaps it will be better then this. After all, it would have a hard time being worse.
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Notes and Trivia
A sequel to the hugely popular Ninja Scroll movie.
As for the Japanese title, Jubei Ninpucho (more accurately written "Juubee Ninpuuchou") is a somewhat hard to translate title; Jubee is of course the title character's name, and "Ninpuuchou" is made up of the characters for ninja ("nin"), wind ("puu") and "chou," a character roughly meaning story. The title, therefore, can probably be translated as something like "The Story of the Wind Ninja, Jubei."
The English title "Ninja Scroll" has little if anything to do with the original title; it was created for the original English release. Interestingly, though, the alternate English title became so well known that some of the Japanese promotional materials for this TV series included a subtitle of "Ninja Scroll" in English under the main Kanji title.
A note on the main character: There is a legendary wandering samurai-ninja character from Japanese history who was called Jubei Yagyu; I don't know if the Jubei Kibagami in this series was supposed to be related in some way or just has the same given name (different family name), but I wouldn't be surprised if that legend was at least responsible for the concept. There are, incidentally, at least a couple of other unrelated anime series that are about or feature Jubei Yagyu.
US DVD Review
Originally released in North America by Urban Vision on three individual bilingual DVD volumes, the first of which hit the street not long after the show completed its Japanese TV run. Later UV put out a box set "Ultimate Collection" set, made up of the three original discs plus a fourth of extras. Extras on this set include: Audio commentary from the director and cast, interviews with members of the Japanese production crew and English dub cast and director, comparisons of the storyboards and finished animation, art galleries, a short about the animation studio, Madhouse, and a trivia game.
Quite a lot of bloody violence and some nudity; 16-up.
Violence: 4 - Just as bloody as the original film.
Nudity: 2 - Moderate.
Sex/Mature Themes: 3 - A few attempted rape scenes.
Language: 1 - Nothing of note.