Ninja Cadets! Anime Review
US Release By
Light Ninja Action
2 30-minute episodes
1996-03-27 - 1996-06-12
Years ago, the Byakuro castle was invaded and its inhabitants slaughtered by the evil Kabusu ninja. Few escaped, but among them was the infant Byakuro Princess. She is no ordinary girl; when she uses a certain mystic scroll, she can call upon untold power, enough to conquer Japan, and possibly the entire world. But although the princess escaped, the scroll remains within Byakuro castle.
Now, a group of young Ninja Cadets--the Princess among them--are being sent on their final test: Recapture the scroll from the occupied castle! (Plus, they get to keep any other cool magical scrolls they find.) Thus, off set Sakura, master of the sword and shuriken; Matsuri, deadly with her fists, hotheaded, and afraid of frogs; Hayashi, quiet, pale, and a skilled chemist and master of explosives; Pochi, young but a brave and capable swordsman; and Yume, who's... a good cook.
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Ninja Cadets is very much like a cross between Ninja Scroll and Battle Athletes--it has the theme and (despite appearances) violence of Ninja Scroll, and it has the cute characters and youthful determination of a series like Battle Athletes. The odd combo makes for a fun romp, and there's potential in the characters and quality visuals--in particular some slick ninja swordfighting and shuriken throwing. But, it's marred by harried pacing, silly action whenever the opponent isn't another ninja, and straight-from-a-bad-video-game monster design. It's also, perhaps not surprisingly, cut short after two episodes.
Might be fun as a rental with friends, but not worth much attention otherwise unless it sounds outrageously appealing.
Full ReviewSwitch to Quick Review
Ninja Cadets is essentially a cross between Ninja Scroll and Battle Athletes. In fact, that's a disturbingly accurate analogy--it has the theme and (despite appearances) violence of Ninja Scroll, and the cute characters and youthful determination of a series like Battle Athletes. The odd combo makes for a fun romp, but it fails to live up to its potential and is yet another OAV attempt that died after two episodes.
Story-wise, Ninja Cadets has a decent start--there are cute (but quite capable) heroes, some freaky villains, and a mystical plan for world domination. The series strikes a good balance of heroism, humor, and action, with the emphasis on the action. There's a fair amount of restraint shown in the humor--when it's funny, it's definitely funny, but it doesn't go overboard with extended gags. (On an unrelated note, unlike the misnamed Ninja Scroll, there are actually a lot of scrolls in this one.)
The characters are the series' strength. Although they aren't original, I definitely liked them: A pair of hotheaded women, a sweet, out-of-her-element flower, the studly-ish Pochi (a hero to be sure, but I'm not exactly sure where he fits in), and a kinda cool (in both senses) gunpowder guy with a big collar. The bad guys, likewise, look interesting, have some personality, and do lots of machinating.
There are, however, two problems dragging the whole thing down (aside from having no conclusion).
First, it's too short--things move along a little too quickly, and there isn't enough time to get aquatinted with the characters. The pacing in the second part is particularly bad--things bounce around the castle randomly, never giving the viewer enough time to settle into a scene or setting. Partly as a result, the whole episode-long battle feels weak.
The other, bigger, problem is that it's an action series with silly fights. Not funny silly, silly like they're supposed to be cool but just plain aren't. The first beast shows some creativity for all 30 seconds it's onscreen, but the big battle at the end of the first episode looks like a boss fight in a side-scrolling video game. The "boss" progresses through a series of phases (none of them interesting), and I could picture an invisible "player" somewhere figuring out how to avoid each new attack form. The second episode is even worse. It starts out cool, but I'll give away the finale and tell you that one of the cadets ends up turning into a giant frog/Godzilla hybrid and fighting a giant robot. Seriously--it even looks like a guy in a foam rubber suit. If that sounds like something you don't want to see in a ninja movie, I agree--it isn't. I have nothing against fanciful steampunk, but this is just plain lame.
Other than the catastrophically bad mechanical and monster design, the series doesn't look that bad. I particularly enjoyed the character designs--distinctive if not original. (The elder Byakuro, even though he's only around for a minute, is way-cool.) The costume design is similarly varied and interesting. The animation is above average, and if you ignore the stupid boss fight in the first episode there are some particularly nice swordfighting sequences. The standard-but-cool-anyway ninja fallbacks--running through the grass, jumping through trees, and the ever-popular flashing shuriken--are worthy of Ninja Scroll and its kin, however out of place they might seem with the cute cadets in them. The art isn't half bad either--good linework, and a few notably pretty wilderness backgrounds. The opening sequences (different in each episode) stand out as almost too slick for something called Ninja Cadets.
The acting in the dubbed version (I haven't seen the sub) is passable, but the writing isn't--too modern, and the few emotional scenes are bad. The casting, however, is praiseworthy: The actors' voices fit the cute characters and sound young enough without being too cute for the ninja stuff. As with most series involving a lot of Japanese names, the English actors never quite get all the names down, and the only one of the lot who actually pronounces everything right is Kaoru. In terms of background music the series is rather quiet. What music there is is functional but not noteworthy.
Summing up, Ninja Cadets is another cute fightin' youngster series, this one featuring ninjas and surprisingly gory violence. Well-animated and filled with good characters, it is marred by poor pacing, straight-from-a-bad-video-game monsters, and a lack of any conclusion. Might be fun as a rental with friends, but not worth buying unless it sounds outrageously appealing.
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As mentioned above, Ninja Cadets one falls somewhere between Battle Athletes and Ninja Scroll, with the mood and feel leaning toward the former. Or, if you want to go in the opposite quality direction for truly preposterous ninja action, the so-bad-it's-almost-good Black Lion is worth a shot.
Notes and Trivia
Ninja Cadets is an original concept by Eiji Suganuma. In addition to the two OVA episodes, a novel version written by Daisuke Kawaguchi was also published between the two video releases.
The Japanese DVD release (on the first day of 1997) was, according to Wikipedia, the first anime released on DVD in Japan, period, and presumably the first anime DVD anywhere in the world. The first US-release anime DVD was Battle Arena Toshinden, a few months later.
US DVD Review
AnimeWorks' DVD is passable, little more. The video transfer is relatively grainy and the compression artifacts are noticeable. The audio is better, consisting of decent Japanese and English stereo audio tracks, plus an English subtitle track. Bonus features consist of some outtakes from the dub (which aren't funny at all), and a decent image gallery (except for some reason they didn't want you to fast forward through it), plus the full credits for both the Japanese version and the English dub. Better in the extras section than nowhere at all, I say. Oh, and you get to hear the particularly high-pitched voice of one of the ninja girls from the dub announcing the features when you select them in the menus.
Despite the cute look, there's a hefty amount of bloody violence and a relatively innocent hot spring scene, hence AnimeWorks' 13-up rating (though even 16-up isn't out of the question if you're quite strict).
Violence: 3 - Fairly graphic violence, particularly in the opening sequence.
Nudity: 2 - One hot spring scene.
Sex/Mature Themes: 0 - Absolutely nothing.
Language: 1 - Not noteworthy.
Staff & Cast
Sakura: Konishi Hiroko
Matsuri: Nakajima Mami
Yume: Miyajima Hitomi
Pochi: Miyata Harunori
Hayashi: Ishizuka Katashi
Kaoru: Suzumura Kenichi
Jame: Kawamura Maria
Nikko: Sugahara Junichi
English Dub Cast
Sakura: Sandy Fox
Matsuri: Lia Sargent
Yume: Georgette Rose
Pochi: Mona Marshall
Hayashi, Matsuzaka: Lex Lang
Kaoru: Jack Cox
Jame: Beth Wernick
Nikko: David Umanski
Yukinobu/Tea House Master: Steve Kramer
Lord Byakuro: Jeffrey Stackhouse
Producers: Hiroshi Tazaki, Kinya Watanabe
Director: Eiji Suganuma
Original Story/Storyboard/Character Design: Eiji Suginuma
Script: Mitsuhiro Yamada
Dramatization: Keitaro Motonaga
Design Works: Takahiro Kishida
Animation Director: Fumitomo Kizaki (1,2); Hiroyuki Kitazume (1); Nobuyuki KItajima (1,2); Eiji Suganuma (1); Masanori Nishii (2); Takahiro Kishida (2)
Art Director and Art Setting: Nobuhito Sue
Director of Photography: Hitoshi Sato
Music: Takeo Miratsu
End Theme song: "Girls' Sunshine"
Lyrics: Tetsuo Kudo
Composer: Takashi Tsushimi
Arrangement: Takeo Miratsu
Sung by: Ninja Girls