Genre: Ultraviolent Ninja Action (Action)
What’s in it? Swordfights (but not that many), Feudal-Japan era shoulder mounted missile launcher, Mass Combat, Mass Gore, Beasties, Fantasy, Little Robots/Battlesuits (of sorts), Tragedy
In feudal Japan, there was a growing Christian movement among the people. But powerful warlords aimed 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. The leader of this band is not a normal man: A prophecy tells of a child who will be born; he will be a saviour to the people, but if he is touched by evil, he will be reborn as the offspring of Satan himself. The leader is indeed a man unlike any other, but his advisor is has other plans for this saviour of the people. And although battles have gone well for the peasant army thus far, the food has run out, and the leader of the opposing army has brought in a special team of ninjas to deal with these stubborn rebels.
Months have passed since the troubling events of the peasant “riot”. Jubei has been whiling away the hours in a peaceful mountain castle training two young women in the samurai ways. But when they are abruptly called for by their master, who has apparently been gathering girls from around his lands, Jubei wonders what it might mean. Things become more troubling still when rumours that four warriors, each the master of his weapon, have apparently come back from the dead. What can it all mean? Let’s just say it involves Satan.
Ninja Resurrection was yet another ultra violent ninja action flick, and while it has an original story and some creative characters and violence, it was also a bit too bloody to be taken seriously and too downright silly at times for me to be able to really recommend it. I enjoyed Ninja Scroll, and that probably made this not-actually-a-sequel more of a disappointment than it would have been. In fairness (and despite all appearances), this is not a sequel to Ninja Scroll. It involves a character named Jubei, ADV did their dandiest to sell it as a sequel, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the creators intended to capitalize on the success of Ninja Scroll, but this Jubei is actually a different one and the stories have nothing at all to do with each other. Still, since it’s being sold more or less as a sequel, many people are still going to think of it as one, and since Ninja Scroll is the quintessential violent ninja action movie anyway, I’ll go ahead and start with a comparison.
I wasn’t expecting Ninja Resurrection to live up to Ninja Scroll’s level of old fashioned violent ninja action, but I was expecting it to at least try to copy it – basically a lower budget, not as good rip-off of Ninja Scroll, with slightly different plot and characters. Instead, this is something like a much more grim and violent version of Ninja Cadets. I was sorely disappointed by this Jubei: the standard cool loner hero has been traded in for, essentially, a bad guy. Not just a bad guy, but a bad guy lackey. True, he has some personality that comes out later, but if the thought of a cool anti-hero being the minion of a sleazy looking warlord suppressing a farmer’s uprising doesn’t sit well with you, then you’ve been warned (although it does jibe with stories of the real life Yagyu Jubei). And instead of cool feudal super villains, the super powered ninja people are on Jubei’s side (then again, since he’s essentially a bad guy, I suppose that makes sense). That’s not so bad, but their abilities, rather than being unoriginal but cool and fun (ala a blind swordsman or giant rock guys, for example), were original but frankly pretty silly. True, I’ve never seen a fold-out, multi-barrelled wooden missile launcher in a ninja movie before, but that doesn’t mean it’s worth seeing in the first place, and the armour-plated rocket ninja thing was just plain stupid – you have to see it to really understand. Then there was a little guy who, though I don’t know what he does, looked like a character from a Go Nagai movie…not a good thing if you’re trying to be serious. This is supposed to be a cheesy ninja show, not a medieval Power Rangers episode. On the bright side, the silliness factor does go down in subsequent episodes, but that’s also a warning; this is not a one shot.
Ok, I’ll move on from the comparison to Ninja Scroll and the “heroes” in the story, and look at the rest of the production. The storyline wasn’t actually so bad; it was really convoluted (which I would consider good in a movie of this sort) and had some interesting ideas and historical tie-ins. In fact, one of the good things about Ninja Resurrection was the way the story began. It was done in a style somewhat like classic Japanese samurai movies, almost like a history lesson; there were long lists of hard-to-remember names of characters that only had minor parts, and each episode starts with classically illustrated portraits of various warlords and such. Not much of the story has any real historical basis, but the end result was that the story (not the action, mind you) seemed somehow believable, or at least that the political figures were based on real ones (some, such as Jubei were, at least loosely) – sort of like some fantasy tales that involve magic and dragons, but have real historical figures in them. Of course, there were some glaring historical inaccuracies (other than the whole devil thing) – notice that the rioting peasant farmers were all wearing heavy plate armour? Not likely. One thing that was historically accurate was the Christian purges, which did actually happen. That brings up something that is more likely to be noticed by viewers outside Japan – the use of Christianity in the story. Having a Christian warlord is an unusual twist, but the way it is handled might well seem a little odd, at best, to someone actually familiar with (or a member of) the religion. The whole idea of a divine saviour being reborn as the devil is pretty questionable (particularly since all he did was get really mad), and some of the mechanics of the religious stuff were a little off, but if that doesn’t bother you then the story is interesting enough, and basically worked.
Well, with a few exceptions. For one thing, in the first part the apparent good guy goes bad, and the people who you’d think would be the good guys are more or less the bad guys (and Jubei is only the good guy compared to, literally, the devil). All you’re left with in the first part are a bunch of under prepared farmers getting cut into little pieces (and plenty of that). Then there’s the second part, which started out looking more like a standard anime semi-comedy show, and then turned abruptly into a near-pointless gore-fest. True, it does fit together in the big picture, but the incongruent mood didn’t do anything for me at all.
Ok, as many times as I’ve said the word gore, I haven’t said it enough: most ninja flicks are pretty bloody, and plenty of severed limbs and spurting sword slashes are to be expected, but this one seemed to miss the point of the gore – it’s supposed to be an offshoot of the slick ninja fighting. Most of the action scenes in the first two parts, though, were basically bloodbaths. You didn’t have a good guy hacking through the evil ninja masses or a fight between two skilled swordsmen – it was more like one army hacking another one to pieces (ok, the rain of arrows was pretty cool, but still) or a “good guy” hacking through legions of near-defenceless rebellious peasants. I don’t know about you, but that just doesn’t quite cut it (pardon the pun) for ninja action. And while you expect lots of blood and gore, this was really pushing it; the gore was relatively creative, but there’s a limit to the number of decapitated bodies, disembowelled ninjas, and raining blood a movie can absorb before it starts to get a little too gratuitous. The flying chunks were done with sadistic abandon approaching Fist of the North Star, but the situation was too grim to properly enjoy the gore on that splatter fest level (or at least it should have been), and the gore was too extreme to take seriously. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the second part is worse – less fighting but…things so graphic and disturbing that I’m not even going to try to describe them. The word “gratuitous” doesn’t even do it justice. Admittedly, that all depends on your personal taste, but I at least thought they went overboard. While I’m at it, I’ll also mention that there was quite a bit of pointless sexual content, and a lot of it was directly connected to the violence, making both all the more disturbing.
On the technical end of the production, things weren’t too bad, but for those wondering, definitely different from Ninja Scroll. The animation was not of the same calibre (no surprise there), but it wasn’t bad, either. About the level of a good OAV, which this is. The action scenes were done well, although how much fun they were depends on your taste, and you definitely should not expect any ninja showdowns, or any real swordfights for that matter. The art wasn’t bad and there was a fair amount of style; hard shadows and cool background scenery abounded. The character designs were ok too (although the saviour/bad guy had a really pointy nose that looked funny when he started cackling maniacally), but they looked a lot more like Tenchi Muyo than Ninja Scroll – come prepared if you prefer the latter. Jubei, though a different character, looks pretty similar to the Ninja Scroll Jubei, and the eye patch is funkay. The main bad guy also looked appropriately evil (although how anyone could mistake him for a good guy escapes me…).
The acting in the dub was pretty good. Not perfect, but well cast and I thought that both of the Christian leaders were quite good. I also like the subbed version; the bad guys, while not remarkable, had an appropriate evil tone, and the peaceful scenes at the beginning of the second part were very well acted. On the other end of the aural spectrum, the music was probably the best part of the production; lots of well written (and performed) grandiose choir themes that really accentuated the apocalyptic overtones of the plot, and several pieces of swelling orchestral music that brought a sense of large-scale importance to otherwise minor scenes.
Summing up, Ninja Resurrection was incredibly violent, had some super-ninjas with really silly abilities, and the apparent hero starts out as the minion of a villain. It’s not a sequel to Ninja Scroll, and don’t come expecting one; they have almost nothing in common. On its own merits, it’s a slightly weird but passable ninja series that has a creative story, a couple of interesting characters, and way, way too much (tasteless) violence for its own good. If a lot 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. Final note: There are two parts of an ongoing story as of this writing, but I know of no current plans for more…you’ve been warned.