Even after years, the sheer scope and imagination of Ninja Scroll‘s vision still manages to astound – leaving little doubt of its influential power.
Set in feudal Japan, it follows Jubei, a lone ninja-for-hire whose particular set of skills sees him caught up in a mission he, literally, can’t refuse. Forced into an uneasy alliance with love-interest Kagero, they must stop the Eight Devils of Kimon – nasty demon ninja types – from overthrowing the Shogun and conquering Japan.
It’s a relatively simple setup, but one that soon becomes convoluted to the point where you’re merely along for the ride. That’s no bad thing, though, when the ride is this dazzlingly violent. A rare case of style hacking substance to death.
For the romance between Jubei and Kagero may hold an interesting twist on the concept of forbidden love, but Ninja Scroll‘s joy is not to be found in the script – which, with its adult themes of massacre and sexual assault, feels inappropriately hammy at times. Instead, it’s the action sequences – masterfully directed by writer, Yoshiaki Kawajiri – that drops jaws.
Slick, gory and effortlessly exciting, each fight is infused with a supernatural sense of chaos and event – something helped, of course, by Ninja Scroll‘s central blend of sword-and-sorcery.
Indeed, it’s within this mix of fantasy and stylised ultra-violence that you can see the template that others such as Kill Bill and, perhaps its biggest legacy, the manga series Naruto, would go on to follow. The latter of which, in particular, borrows heavily from the grotesque, weird and wonderful Devils Of Kimon – perhaps the single biggest driving force behind what makes makes Ninja Scroll so unique.
After all: with a demon made of rock, a dwarf at one with wasps, a man able to merge into shadows, a woman who can manipulate gunpower and the snake-fused Benisato (an obvious influence for Naruto’s early villain, Orochimaru), Ninja Scroll‘s imagination burns as brightly as its blood.