Ninja Resurrection Anime Review
Makai Tensho - Jigoku-hen
Resurrection From Hell: Book of Hell
US Release By
Ultraviolent Ninja Action
2 40-minute episodes
1998-02-27 - 1998-03-27
In feudal Japan, there was a growing Christian movement among the people, but powerful warlords have moved to unite the country and crush this intruding religion. The expulsions and purging have proceeded, and there is only one group of holdouts left--a starving band of rebellious farmers now holed up in a castle under siege by the armies of the warlords.
But the leader of this band is not a normal man: A prophecy tells of a child who will be born as a savior to the people, but if he is touched by evil, he will be reborn as the offspring of the Devil. When a group of skilled ninjas are brought in to deal with this uprising, their leader, Jubei, may set in motion events far greater, and darker, than he could imagine.
Soon famous dead warriors begin rising from their graves and the spawn of Satan himself may make an appearance.
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Ninja Resurrection is not a sequel to Ninja Scroll, and don't come expecting one--they have almost nothing in common but ninjas and a Jubei. What it is is a slightly weird but potentially interesting ninja flick overwhelmed by stupidity and ultraviolence. The novel-based story is creative and there are a couple of interesting characters, but in lieu of cool action are super-ninjas with tragically silly abilities and way, way too much tasteless carnage of the most willfully disturbing sort. It also has no conclusion, but at least the soundtrack is nice--grand orchestral and choral themes befitting the apocalyptic overtones of the plot.
If loads of extreme violence and/or the unusual plot sound appealing, you're sick, but you might well love it. Otherwise I'd advise keeping your distance.
Full ReviewSwitch to Quick Review
Ninja Resurrection is yet another ultraviolent ninja action flick, and it's frequently mistaken for a sequel to Ninja Scroll (it's actually based indirectly on a novel by Futaro Yamada). While it has an original story and both the characters and violence are creative, it's simultaneously too bloody and too downright silly to be able to recommend, and there's no conclusion to boot.
While Ninja Resurrection is completely unrelated to Ninja Scroll, it's hard to avoid some comparisons since ninja hack and slash is measured by the Scroll bar these days. It's easy to see where the confusion comes from--the main character is another Jubei and ADV did their darnedest to sell it like a sequel. Bad idea; associating it with Ninja Scroll just makes this not-a-sequel even more of a disappointment than it deserves to be.
It's actually more like a dark, ultraviolent version of Ninja Cadets. That is not a good thing.
Problem number one is the characters. The "hero," Jubei, may be accurately based on history, but he's essentially a bad guy lackey, albeit one who eventually develops some personality. Then there's the inevitable collection of superpowered ninja people (this time on the protagonist's side, since he's a bad guy). Their abilities, rather than being unoriginal but cool, are original but silly. True, I've never seen a collapsible, multi-barreled, wooden missile launcher in a ninja movie before, but that doesn't mean I want to. And you need to see the armor-plated rocket-ninja-thing to appreciate just how flat-out stupid it is. There's also a little guy who looks like he belongs in a Go Nagai movie.
This too-colorful cast drags it across the line between cheesy ninja show and medieval Power Rangers. The silliness factor does go down in the second episode, at which point the disturbing bloodlust kicks in in full force.
I cannot emphasize the word "gore" enough. Most ninja flicks are plenty bloody--severed limbs and spurting sword slashes are de rigueur--but there's a limit to the number of decapitated bodies, disemboweled ninjas, and raining blood a movie can absorb before it starts to get ridiculous. Ninja Resurrection also seems to miss the point of ninja gore. As creative as the carnage is, the bulk of the series is taken up by legions of near-defenseless rebellious peasants getting hacked to pieces. That just doesn't cut it (pun intended) for me.
The flying chunks are rendered with sadistic abandon approaching Fist of the North Star, so you'd think Ninja Resurrection would at least work as splatterfest, but the situation is (or should be) too grim to properly enjoy even on that level. If that's not bad enough, it features things so graphic and disturbing that I'm not even going to try to describe them. The word "gratuitous" doesn't even begin to do it justice. There's also a lot of pointless sexual content directly connected to the violence, making both all the more disturbing.
In summary, the first episode consists of watching a bunch of under-prepared farmers getting cut into little pieces by a protagonist who's only the good guy compared to (literally) Satan. The second episode starts out looking like a standard anime light action show then turns abruptly into a near-pointless shock-and-gore-fest. And there is no third episode--it was, not surprisingly, cut short.
The storyline--ignoring that it dead-ends after two episodes--is the one positive. It's convoluted (which I consider good in a samurai drama) and is in fact historical fiction of a sort. The classic samurai movie intros are one of the best parts--almost like a history lesson, each episode begins with a long list of hard-to-remember names of minor characters and classically-illustrated portraits of various warlords and such. Of course, there are glaring historical inaccuracies--apart from the obvious, there are amusingly incongruent things like rioting peasant farmers in heavy plate armor--but, all things considered, those are the least of its problems.
The Christian purges at the center of the story are based on historical fact, though the use of Christianity is more likely to be significant to viewers outside Japan. Having a Christian warlord is an unusual twist, but the way the religion is handled might well seem a little odd, at best, to someone actually familiar with (or a member of) it. The whole idea of a divine savior being reborn as the Devil is questionable (particularly since all he does is get really mad), and some of the mechanics are a little off, but if that doesn't bother you it basically works.
On the technical end Ninja Resurrection is about par for a reasonably high-budget OAV. The action scenes are nicely animated, although how much fun they are depends on your taste, and you definitely should not expect any ninja showdowns, or any real sword fights for that matter. There's a fair amount of style to the art--hard shadows and cool background scenery abounds. The character designs aren't bad, but they have an uncomfortable Tenchi Muyo flavor, and the "savior" has a pointy nose that looks funny when he starts cackling maniacally. At least the main villain looks the part, though how anyone could mistake him for a good guy escapes me. Jubei looks rather similar to the Ninja Scroll Jubei, though true to historical form he has a cool eyepatch.
The acting in the English dub isn't perfect, but it's well cast and both of the Christian leaders are quite good. In the Japanese version the bad guys sound sufficiently evil, and the peaceful scenes at the beginning of the second episode are acted solidly.
Somewhat ironically, the best part of Ninja Resurrection is probably the soundtrack: Lots of grandiose choir themes that accentuate the apocalyptic overtones of the plot, and several pieces of swelling orchestral music that bring a sense of large-scale importance to otherwise minor scenes.
Summing up, Ninja Resurrection is not a sequel to Ninja Scroll, and don't come expecting one--they have almost nothing in common but ninjas and a Jubei. On its own merits, it's a slightly weird but passable ninja series that has a creative story, a couple of interesting characters, some super-ninjas with tragically silly abilities, and way, way too much tasteless violence for its own good. It also has no conclusion. If loads of extreme violence and/or the unusual plot sound appealing, you're sick, but you might well love it. Otherwise I'd advise keeping your distance.
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If you liked the original Ninja Scroll, you're in serious danger of being disappointed by this one. A much closer match would be the more stylish gory ninja horror of Yoma: Curse of the undead. Others are perhaps Go Nagai's Devilman, or straight splatterfest like Fist of the North Star.
Notes and Trivia
This anime series is based on a manga series by Shouko Toba, "Makai Tenshou: Yume no Ato" ("Resurrection From Hell: Remnants of Dreams"). The manga itself is based on the novel "Makai Tenshou" by Futaro Yamada, which is in turn (very) loosely based on real characters from Japanese history.
The novel has been adapted a number of times, most notably in a 1981 live action version directed by Kinji Fusaku (who later directed Battle Royale), starring Sonny Chiba. It's available in English as "Makai Tensho - Samurai Reincarnation." There's also a 2003 live action movie of the same name (not available in English as of this writing), as well as a pair of other straight-to-video releases (sold in the US as "Reborn From Hell: Samurai Armageddon" and its sequel "Reborn From Hell II").
Finally, there's also a PlayStation 2 game of the same name.
Many of the characters in this series, including Jubei, are based on actual figures from Japanese history. The protagonist is based on a legendary wandering samurai-ninja character from Japanese history with the same name; he (and his famed eyepatch) feature into the rather less serious Jubei-chan TV series. For those wondering, it's not clear whether the Jubei of Ninja Scroll is supposed to have anything to do with the "real" Jubei--his family name is different, as is his M.O.
US DVD Review
ADV has two versions of the DVD available; the original one, which includes stereo tracks in both languages and some art, and the price-reduced "anime essentials" version, which apparently adds a Dolby 5.1 soundtrack in English.
Heaps of violence and very adult themes easily qualify it for ADV's 17+ rating. The particularly offensive scenes are at the end of the first episode and about halfway through the second (don't let the second half's mild start fool you).
Violence: 5 - Violence and gore of the most extreme and offensive sort in abundance.
Nudity: 3 - A few isolated scenes.
Sex/Mature Themes: 4 - Those same scenes, which are outright disturbing.
Language: 1 - Not noteworthy.
Available in North America from ADV on a hybrid DVD, most recently an "Anime Essentials" re-release of their original disc. Was originally available on a pair of subtitled or dubbed VHS tapes, now out of print.
RightStuf still had stock of the newer version at last check.