In the year 1614, the Koga ninja clan and the Iga ninja clan have been locked in a 400 year old battle of extreme hatred and rivalry. No one is sure what originally started the feud (do Ninja’s need a reason to fight??) but for the past 50 years there has been a No Hostilities peace act of accordance directed by one of the Japanese leaders, Hatori Hanzo. The Koga and Iga, ruled by two old ninjas, former forbidden sweethearts Ogen and Danjo, have been summoned to put on a demonstration for the retired Shogun with their best ninja. During the brilliant display of battling tentacles, the Shogun tells Ogen and Danjo that the No Hostilities peace treaty is called off, and that they will battle to the death to determine who will be the next Shogunate, each clan representing one of the candidates. Destruction, chaos and a touch of melodrama ensue. Little old ninja lady Ogen and gruff Koga leader Danjo kill each other shortly after this announcement, despite their still powerful love. The ninja scroll with the names of their 10 best ninjas flies into the hands of their enemies on the beak of an eagle, soaring into the sun (natch).
It’s little touches like these that anime fans will love and appreciate. Obviously upon the opening scene, you understand that this anime is going to take itself very, very seriously. There will be lots of over-the-top emotionalism, hyperbole, intensity, extra long staring contests and death defying skill and wizardry. All tall drinks of water to quench the thirst of epic ninja battles of the likes we haven’t seen since Ninja Scroll. You might inevitably pause the show during one of the episodes to figure out who is who. One of the great things about this series is its refusal to dumb things down for the audience and you are expected to keep up at least 25 different elite ninjas, techniques, places and warlords.
The Koga, lead by meditative heart throb Gennosuke, are mostly quiet thinkers and defensively tactile, which gives them the advantage in sneak attacks and guerilla warfare. Gennosuke wants peace and was engaged to marry the beautiful princess of the Iga, Oboro. The Iga (with the exception of the timid Oboro) are the loud, offensively brazen ninja who tend to overstate their skill…and ego. This now forbidden love and marriage between their new leaders eats at each member of each team, male and female, seeping into flesh and wound and destroying to some degree their inner camaraderie and the mutual hatred of the other clan.
Oboro’s depiction is eye-rollingly traditional cliché. She alone is not really given much of a skill, or desire other than to be married to Geonsuke and it come across as rather a weak point in an otherwise extremely engaging battle between the magical powers of the other male and female ninja. Another slight annoyance would be the tendency to, soap –opera like, have extended staring pauses to draw out the time on that particular episode. This gets noticeable during episode 10. No one likes filler.
However those are slight complaints compared to the intensive plot, political intrigue, character development and characterization as a whole of all of the ninja. Depicting elite Ninjas with a back-story, motivation, skill and a differentiation of dialogue patterns makes each successive kill that much more poignant. It starts to really matter when for example ninja Okoi, using her vampire skills accidently impales herself on the hair of wolf-man ninja MinoNenki. Laughable in typing, the moment is actually – dare I say – sad upon viewing?
It should also be mentioned that the colors and art direction are stunning and the use of saturation on the Blu-ray is a noticeable difference to the DVD release. Released this year, it is number three on JapanCinema’s top Blu-ray’s of all time list. High praise indeed as it beat such BD releases as Summer Wars, Afro Samurai: Complete Murder Sessions and Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood. The manga series won the 2004 Kodansha Manga Award for general manga. It was only natural to follow up with this 24 episode, weekend adventure that ardent and casual anime fans alike will enjoy. Death defying stunts, art, passion, anger, regrets and lots of kick-ass ninjas. Who could ask for more?