Black Lion Anime Review
Kuro no Shishi
US Release By
Edo-era Sci-fi Splatterfest
50 minute movie
What's In It
- Invincible Cyborg Ninjas
- One long, bloody, explosion-filled chase
- Samurai 'n Aliens!
- Just Plain Stupid.
- Violence: 4 (heavy)
- Nudity: 1 (mild)
- Sex: 0 (none)
- Language: 3 (significant)
In the 16th Century, the evil warlord Oda Nobunaga is involved in a bid to conquer all of Japan. But he is no normal warlord--thanks to a little help from time-traveling aliens and the ninja-hating invincible cybernetic samurai Jinnai, he and his mechanized army are unstoppable. Enter the young ninja Shishimaru. The sole survivor of a battle where his girlfriend and comrades are killed by Jinnai, he is left to seek vengeance on his unkillable nemesis, and if that wasn't hard enough he's ordered to cooperate with a group of formerly enemy ninja to do it. Life in feudal Japan is tough.
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Black Lion is bad anime: Preposterous, gory, and ugly to boot. The story consists of excuses for why there are tanks and cyborg samurai running around the Edo period and watching the main characters' repeated attempts to destroy the immortal Jinnai using the brilliant strategy "If killing him didn't work this time, we've got to kill him harder next time!" Its biggest draw past the utter wrongness of the premise is the never-ending shower of messy chunks that Jinnai reduces pretty much everybody he comes across to. Fortunately, thanks to the creative insanity of Go Nagai, master of cheese, sleaze, and gratuitous violence, Black Lion is so bad it can actually be a lot of fun to watch.
It's splatterfest punctuated by one nonsensical plot twist after another from start to finish, but that magic Nagai touch makes it over-the-top and whacked-out enough to be worth laughing at with a bunch of friends if that's your thing. If it's not... well, you've been warned.
Full ReviewSwitch to Quick Review
Black Lion is bad anime: Preposterous, gory, and ugly to boot. Fortunately, thanks to the creative insanity of Go Nagai, master of cheese, sleaze, and gratuitous violence, Black Lion is so bad it's a whole lot of fun.
The movie starts off with a classic samurai battle, except everybody's favorite evil warlord starts mowing down the opposition with tanks and alien starfighters. Things go rapidly downhill from there.
The plot, if you can call the string of gaping holes that comprise the story a "plot," gives you the impression that it's the set up for some sort of ongoing series about Black Lion battling the evil mechanized hordes of Nobunaga. It's not, but it's not like anybody's going to care since the entire movie is composed of two things: Random and mostly nonsensical babbling that tries to explain why there are cyborgs running around in the Edo period, and a group of heroes trying to kill Jinnai in every way imaginable while getting cut into medium-sized chunks in the process. And there isn't much of the babbling.
Actually, to be fair, that's not quite true--there's also a surprising amount of backstory about the main characters and bickering between the two ninja clans forced into an alliance. Even Jinnai has some "dramatic" flashbacks, and a semi-plausible reason for why he runs around ripping every ninja he sees to shreds. Not that I cared about any of it, but I give credit for the attempt, and I'd expect no less from Nagai--giving personality to preposterous concepts is a trademark.
In the end, the details of the plot and the quality of the characterization really don't matter. What Black Lion has going for it is Go Nagai's ability to take an off-the-wall idea--in this case the juxtaposition of starfighters and samurai--then ratchet it two notches past good taste and infuse it with enough B-movie charm to turn it into something memorably awful.
A few of the stratagems employed alone are cracked enough to be worth wasting your time watching it for. Everything from "Blowing him up didn't work... so let's use even more explosives next time!", to getting the villain stoned (yes, seriously), to some things that can only be summed up by "You have got to be kidding." Combine that sort of lunacy with everything else and the end result is amusingly absurd and enjoyable in its own way.
Visually, Black Lion is about on par with most of Go Nagai's older anime, which is to say garishly colored, somewhat roughly drawn, and all-around rather ugly. But, also true to form, there's a whole heap of action that makes up in creativity, preposterousness (whether that's a word or not), and oh-so-detailed gore what it lacks in style and slick animation. The backgrounds aren't half bad, either. The music is... well, cheesy and forgettable.
In the dub, the acting is cheesy, the dialogue awkward at best, and the whole thing rather poorly slapped together, all of which actually add to Black Lion's appeal. The Japanese version has significantly better dialogue and acting, including veterans Yasunori Matsumoto and Yuusaku Yara as the hero and villain, respectively, and Ai Orikasa as a compatriot of the hero. This gives more emotional force to some of the unexpectedly substantive characters, which does make it less bad overall. The problem is that it's still bad anime, just less fun--Black Lion is one of those things that low-rent dubbing actually helps (unless, of course, the entirely serious characters make it funnier in your eyes).
Anyway, when you put it all together, Black Lion has some silliness, a lot of things that are supposed to be dramatic but end up being silly anyway, and a whole lot of somewhat creative and way-gory violence. It's splatterfest punctuated by one nonsensical plot twist after another from start to finish, but that magic Nagai touch makes it over-the-top and whacked-out enough to be worth laughing at with a bunch of friends if that's your thing. If it's not... well, you've been warned.
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Shares the most with one of Go Nagai's better series, Shuten Douji (The Star Hand Kid). Both involve a weird mix of fantasy and science fiction, but that one sort of makes sense, and is a lot more serious. Ninja Resurrection (not Ninja Scroll) also has a mix of silly technology and samurai, though it's far more disturbing and involves more fantasy. Along the lines of gory and stupid, you might also check out Violence Jack, Red Hawk (though that's just bad), the Abashiri Family (much sillier), Fist of the North Star (the ultimate splatterfest classic), and maybe Yoma: Curse of the Undead (serious, dark, and extremely gory).
Notes and Trivia
Black Lion is one of the many, many anime based on a manga by Go Nagai (that origin explains it feeling like the set-up for a longer series). Nagai is the mind behind dubious classics like Kekko Kamen (the naked superheroine), Violence Jack (the name says it all), and the ever-popular Cutey Honey (the series that started the disappearing clothes transformation sequence).
Real-life warlord Nobunaga Oda is the perpetual whipping-boy of any story set in Japan's past in need of a nasty villain--he's been cast as in league with demons on more than one occasion--but this has to be the most extreme take on him yet.
For no apparent reason, ADV chose to incorrectly Romanize Jinnai's name as "Ginnai" (which by standard practice would be pronounced with a hard "G" sound instead of the correct soft "J" sound).
The full, although rarely used, original title of the video is "Jiku Sengokushi Kuro no Shishi - Jinnai Hen" (時元戦国史 黒の獅士 陣内篇)--"Dimensional Civil War Chronicle Black Lion - Jinnai Chapter."
US DVD Review
ADV's DVD has acceptable English and Japanese soundtracks, an accurate-enough English subtitle track, and a respectably smooth video transfer, considering the age and grain of the original material. The closest thing to an extra feature, however, is ADV's Black Lion trailer.
Gore, gore, and more gore. It qualifies as 16-up, but is barely even serious enough to feel like it deserves it.
Violence: 4 - Blood, chunks, and flying limbs galore, all in exquisite detail, but too over-the-top to be all that serious.
Nudity: 1 - Nothing of note.
Sex/Mature Themes: 0 - Essentially nada.
Language: 3 - A fair amount of swearing in the dub.
Formerly available in North America from ADV on bilingual DVD, and prior to that also on subtitled and dubbed VHS.
As of this writing all of the above are out of print, but Amazon has used copies listed for a few bucks: Black Lion DVD.