Revisiting Ninja Scroll at 25 in 5 Slices

Can you believe it has been 25 years since iconic anime film Ninja Scroll was released? Feel old folks. Feel very old.

Written and directed by Yoshiaki Harajiri (Wicked City, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust) the film is set in feudal Japan and features wandering swordsman Jubei, female ninja Kagero and shady government spy Dakuan as they battle a team of ninjas with supernatural powers called the Eight Devils of Kimon. Two and a half decades after its release does this bloody tale still hold up? With a stone monster-sized SPOILER ALERT and a mild graphic content warning here is my review in five slices:


#1 NSFW Anime

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Well that’s one way to be disarming. He was disarmed before the fight began. He lost his right to bear arms. Okay I’m done

I first saw Ninja Scroll as a teenager and, not having seen much anime hitherto, my jaw dropped at all the nudity, sexual assault and buckets-of-blood gratuitous violence. And rewatching the film it remains a smorgasbord of envelope-pushing graphic content. For those still under the delusion that all anime is for kids this should set them straight as a pin in a vice. Not for the kiddies and not for the faint of heart, this one.

#2 Our Man Jubei

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I am here to kick ass and chew rice balls. And I’m all out of…oh wait. I have a rice ball right here. Never mind

Jubei is one cool cat. He has a sly, sarcastic, devil-may-care attitude that hides a softer side. And he is blazing fast with a sword and a master tactician, which really comes in handy when fighting shadow monsters and women with living snake tattoos. But while capable he does not stand out like other anime heroes such as D from Vampire Hunter D or the Major from Ghost in the Shell and is easily overshadowed by his eccentric allies like the wise-cracking Dakuan and his colourful adversaries.

#3 Killing Kagero

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“Please hold me in your arms like you…oh sorry. My bad.” Definitely last missing arm joke. Maybe

Poor Kagero. This lady had worst luck than the US Park ranger who got struck seven times by lightning.  Let’s check off the list: Kagero is born with toxin-infused blood and is unable to be intimate with anyone without killing them, watches her entire ninja clan be brutally murdered, sees her captain turned into an armless walking bomb, is sexually assaulted (twice!) and is stabbed in the back and then dies after finally declaring her love for Jubei. There is one thing to have a tragic character but this is just too much. Geez!

#4 The Demonic Eight

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You’re pretty like a girl…

Easily the best aspect of Ninja Scroll are the Eight Devils. They are all so well designed and creepy and disturbing. You have rape-y rock dude, shadow claw ninja guy and blind swordsman which seem like your staple anime baddies. But then there is the woman who turns animals and people into bombs, a guy with super long wire tricks and another guy with a wasp hive on his back. That’s right — a freaking wasp hive! Main villain Gemma was a tad underwhelming, but all in all it was oodles of fun seeing the Eight demonstrate their weird powers and rewatching their cool battles with Jubei.

#5 Reopening the Scroll

Are you saying you DON’T want to get high?

Twenty-five years later Ninja Scroll still has some sweet visuals, memorable villains and a very dark, mature tone. But the paper-thin plot is pretty much an excuse to set up the fights and because of that lack of depth it does not hold up as well as some of its other anime contemporaries like Akira and Ghost in the Shell. But if you are looking for some bloody good supernatural ninja battles it is definitely worth watching.

Rating: Ninja Scroll gets 4/5 blood-spurting severed limbs.

For my review of iconic anime Akira you can click here.

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