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Ninja Scroll (10th Anniversary Edition)

Warner Music // Unrated // September 30, 2003
List Price: $34.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by J. Doyle Wallis | posted September 16, 2003 | E-mail the Author

Director Yoshiaki Kawajiri (Demon City Shinjuku, Vampire Hunter D) and Mad House Studios (Perfect Blue) managed to create one of the greatest action-fantasy animes, ever.

Shimida village is suddenly decimated overnight, apparently due to being struck by a plague. Neighboring towns soon evacuate under this looming invisible threat. However, mysterious riders were seen going to the town shortly before the plague, so the local chamberlain sends his Koda ninja team to investigate. But, the entire ninja team is wiped out except for the lovely, poison ninja Kagero, who is nearly raped by Tessai, large warrior seemingly covered in stone. However, she is saved by wandering rouge samurai Jubei Kibagami, and the plot unfolds.

Despite not wanting to get involved in the conspiracies around these mystery demonic warriors and the evacuation of the locals, Jubei is forced into participating. Forced, because he is poisoned by Dasuan, a spy investigating the area, by his growing attraction to Kagero, and the fact that he is linked to the villain behind it all, Gemma, a man he thought he had killed years before. Gemma is one of the Eight Devils of Kimon, warriors imbued with freakish, deadly powers and servants of the Shogun of the Dark. They have cleared out the towns in order to recieve a shipment of gold that will make the Shogun powerful enough to usurp the current governing leaders. But, for Jubei, the matter is more personal, driven to battle the man he already killed once and to defend the woman he is falling in love with.

The opening scene of Ninja Scroll is Jubei walking on a bridge and being confronted by a couple of bad guys. When he swipes at the leader, the tall man is revealed to be a midget, who leaps from his tall man contraption just as Jubei's sword turns it into splinters. It is that kind of un-predictability and fantastic action outlandishness that makes the film a winner. The basic plot is just Jubei and his companions going into the area to intercept/stop the gold shipment and confronting the Eight Devils of Kimon along the way. But, really what else do you need? The animation and direction are just lovely to look at, and the action is keenly slick and wonderfully gory. The Eight Devils are an well imagined group of adversaries, from the rock-skinned Tessai, to the hunchback with a wasps nest in his hump, to the blind samurai, or the shadow demon, who falls into shadows and attacks with a metal claw-arm-thingy.

And, let's face it. When it comes to the majority of anime, especially action driven anime, the characterizations are usually pretty simple and cliched and often the plotting is pretty threadbare. Now, I'm not saying the plot of Ninja Scroll is great, but it does move well, and the story and characters are not so thin as to make the entire film seem like a bunch of action scenes tied together. I mean, it is just a bunch of action scenes tied together, but as you get into the characters, the backstory, and the unfolding conspiracy, you just are as involved in them as the action. Jubei is a great anti-hero, cocky, resistant, a bad ass, yet vulnerable and clearly has a big heart. Comic relief comes in the form of the scrappy Dasuan. And, Kegero is a suitable love interest, the woman with a poison touch, though for a ninja she sure has to be saved an awful lot. Great heroes, nasty adversaries, eye-popping visuals, imaginative action, decent story, it is a mark above the rest and still holds up after all these years.

The DVD: Manga Entertainment... Previously released in a more basic edition, one that had to be corrected due to some playing problems and audio dropoff.

Picture: Full-Screen or 16X9 Enhanced Widescreen options. Only the widescreen version was available on my screener, but I owned the vhs from the day it came out. Now, the widescreen is a matting job. Although I didn't have my vhs on hand for comparison, I think I've seen it enough to notice the image was matted and missing some info. I guess some people will look at their widescreen tv's and say, "Damnit, I paid so much for this thing everything I watch better be in widescreen." Me, I'll stick with the full-screen.

It looks great. Colors are pretty vibrant and the contrast ids deep and rich. Sharpness details appear good. There are some minor spots and wear. Obviously, in ten years some anime has gotten slicker production values. The only problem I noticed was a slight stutter in the image when there are slow pans. It was difficult to tell if this was a transfer quirk, or just some definition detail in the actual animation that I hadn't noticed before because I'd always seen the film on vhs. But, it wasn't a huge annoyance and only occurred briefly in inconsequential, transitional scenes.

Sound: English and Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, and 5.1 or 6.1 DTS options, as well as French and Spanish Stereo, with optional English subtitles. Obviously the big difference here is the new DTS mixes. I always stick with the Japanese tracks. The English dubs just do not seem as good, the guy doing Jubei sounds like he is trying too hard to be cool. The fx is the real standout here, from subtle effects like the bamboo trees falling in the blind samurai Kimon Devil Vs. Jubei fight, to the swooshing blade of Tessai, the sound of blood gushing, or even the sound of hundreds of snakes falling from a ceiling. The range is pretty good, though it is a ten year old anime, so there is some limit to the dynamics.

Extras: Packaging is a sleeker slipcase--- Chapter Selections--- Two-Sided Poster and Postcard--- "Historical Jubei's" Text info--- Character Profiles--- English Actor Interview (16:26)--- Director Interview (20:48).--- Manga promo extras and trailers

Conclusion: Manga has improved their previous release slightly. The picture and sound have more options but the "Anniversary Edition" tag doesn't mean loads of extras. Sure, you get some interviews, a poster, and new packaging, but that is it. If you already have the "corrected" previous release, you may not need to drain your wallet again on this version. But, for anyone who has held off, this version isn't much more than the previous, barer edition, making this one the edition to purchase if you want Ninja Scroll.

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