Julien Neaves, Editor
I’ve been discovering and rediscovering a lot of classic anime of late. So, when I saw a post in one of my anime Facebook groups (shout out to The Golden Age of Anime 70s 80s and 90s) about ninja versus demons OVA Blood Reign: Curse of the Yoma (1989) I was intrigued. Based on the manga written and illustrated by Kei Kusunoki, the two-episode OVA follows Takeda clan ninja Hikage in his quest to kill fellow ninja and best friend Maoru after he inexplicably attempted to kill him. During his quest Hikage comes into conflict with the demonic and monstrous Yōma.
I had never heard of Blood Reign before and went in completely blind when I watched it. And I was quite impressed by what I found. With a mild spoiler alert let’s retro review both episodes, Hikage in an Evil World and Maoru with Crazy Fang.
Hikage in an Evil World
Plot: The first episode begins by briefly establishing the world, the rise of the Yoma and Maoru’s betrayal. Hikage’s personal motivation to stop his old friend may be personal, but the actual mission to kill Maoru is to prevent him from possibly revealing the death of the Takeda clan leader, who was offed by a hideous Yoma. Why he would reveal this news is unclear, but best to just roll with it.
After the set-up before moving to the central location, a mysterious village Hikage encounters during his search for the traitor. And this is one strange, Twilight Zone-esque place. The villagers are a little too welcoming, they spend all their time drinking and having a good time, and no one can remember their past before arriving at the village. Yep, red flags all around. But thankfully he is befriended by Aya, a beautiful, redheaded young woman with a large red scar on her face. And there is also an extremely creepy children’s song that is sung in the village. You’ll know it when you hear it.
Review: This episode was quite engrossing. We have an intriguing mystery, an awesome ninja and fluidly animated battle scene and some skin-crawling giant spiders. While watching Hikage expertly battle foes both human and monster I found myself thinking, “This is what a Ninja Gaiden anime should have looked like,” and not the anime we got (I’ll link that for you below).
Hikage in an Evil World does yeoman work in establishing the central conflict, introducing the brave and stoic hero, entertaining with bloody and over-the-the top violence (gotta love that) and crafting a disturbing and impactful story. And it definitely whets the appetite for the concluding episode.
Maoru with Crazy Fang
Plot: While the first episode is a more of a slow burn into a full boil, the second jumps straight into the action. Set two years after the Hikage in an Evil World, our ninja hero travels west in search of Maoru and encounters more ninjas, even more powerful Yoma and another beautiful, redheaded young woman named Aya but sans scar. This all leads to a climactic battle with his former best friend.
Review: The first episode was good, but this one is bigger and better. We get more of an examination of Hikage through his relationship with this new Aya. There are more ninja battles with higher stakes. And there are much more Yoma to contend with and in more varied forms, including a very unfriendly horse demon and a giant snake. Hikage and Aya also visit their own weird village which is even worse than the first. Yikes! And talking about Aya, she may not be the strongest classic anime female character as is quite clingy and almost self-abasing, but it makes sense in the overall story.
The above-mentioned final battle is quite epic in scale and the ending (which I won’t spoil) is beautiful, resonant and tragic. And the fate of new Aya remained rolling around in my head for some time. That is a sign of a competent story.
Blood Reign: Curse of the Yoma may not be on the level of ninja anime classic Ninja Scroll (I will also link that below) but it is solidly animated, action-packed, and features a strong lead in a well-written and delightfully unnerving story. Definitely worth checking out.
Editor Jules’ Score: 8 out of 10
What’s your favourite retro ninja anime film? And you can check out more anime content below:
Julien “Editor Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by the Cryptkeeper, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “13 flavours of awesome sauce”. Read more.