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Ninja Scroll: volume three

voice cast: Rikiya Koyama
director: Tatsuo Sato
125 minutes (15) 2004
MVM DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by John Percival
Ninja Scroll - The Series is the beautifully animated story of wandering ninja Jubei Kibagami looking to be hired. Set in feudal Japan there are ninja clans are everywhere. The Hiruko clan protect a sacred treasure known as the Dragon Stone. The Kimon clan wish to control the power the stone. The job that Jubei finds himself with is protecting both the Dragon Stone and the one person who can use it, the Light Maiden, Shigue.

This series is based upon the anime film of the same name and follows the story further of the central character Jubei. Despite the slightly ropey name, each episode is an exciting piece of an intriguing and action packed story. Being an anime, these ninjas are far from the silent black clad silent assassins we are used to. They are violent, highly skilled sword fighters with special powers and the odd mutation. Then, of course, there is the barely human but very sinister bad guy. One important factor, and probably a big relief for me, is that this is not for kids. It is proper animation for adults. This is most evident is the clouds of blood which opponents get dispatched in. More often than not this will result in two halves of a body sliding apart to reveal the razor sharp blade that did the damage. There is also a sexual element that pops up now and again in the form of revealing outfits, but also one probably unnecessary lesbian scene in a steam bath.

Despite that the familiar story of good versus evil and victory against insurmountable odds, is very well told. Unusually it is the side characters who are the most interesting such as Zofu, a creepy Hiruko ninja who seeks the skills of a master swordsman to help him kill the vicious snake thing he hosts in his stomach. Having had it since a child, he has killed many trying to get rid of the parasite. Over the years obsessed with the task he has become psychotic and his humanity has been the cost. There are other interesting characters each with a good enough story to make them worth taking note of. Set against this odd world of strange powers, even stranger beings and an odd technology it is a pretty impressive story.

I am also quite happy to say that the quality of the animation is very good. It is sharp, clean and quite detailed. There has been a huge creative process behind the scenes to dream up some of the more outlandish characters and creatures. Presented in Dolby digital the voice acting in English is pretty much what we would expect and is seamless with the action. Although forget the subtitles as they probably follow the Japanese translation more than the English dubbing. I was pleasantly surprised by this series having been put off by other ninja stories in the past. What we have is animated well and its thoughtful story set to a heart-thumping pace. The only word of warning I could give really is that there is a lot of violence and blood. Not really for the squeamish.

Disc extras on include trailers, interviews and a storyboard-to-feature comparison.
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