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Ninja Scroll (a J!-ENT Anime Blu-ray Disc Review)

December 19, 2012 by  



“Ninja Scroll” in HD!  Better picture quality and crisper and more dynamic lossless audio soundtrack much better than the previous DVD releases and with a audio commentary track featuring director Yoshiaki Kawajiri and character designer Yutaka Minowa, this Blu-ray release of “Ninja Scroll” is the definitive version to own!  Recommended!

Image courtesy of © 1988 Akiyuki Nosaka/Shinchosa. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Ninja Scroll (Jubei Ninpucho)

YEAR OF RELEASE: 1993

DURATION: 94 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, Subtitles: English

RATED: TV MA VSL

COMPANY: Sentai Filmworks

RELEASE DATE: December 4, 2012

Directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri

Screenplay by Yoshiaki Kawajiri

Music by Kaoru Wada

Original Work and Character Design by Yoshiaki Kawajiri

Character Design by Yutaka Minowa

Art Director: Hiromasa Ogura

Animation Director: Yutaka Minowa

Director of Photography: Hitoshi Yamaguchi

Anime Production: Madhouse Studios

Featuring the voices of:

Daisuke Gouri/Richard Epcar as Genma Himuro

Emi Shinohara/Wendee Lee as Kagerou

Kouichi Yamadera/Dean Elliot as Jubei Kibagami

Takeshi Aono/Rudy Luzion as Dakuan

Gara Takashima/Jenny Haniver as Benisato

Junichi Sugawara/Richard Barnes as Shinkurou

Masako Katsuki/Maureen O’Connell as Zakuro

Norio Wakamoto/Anthony Rocissano as Utsutsu Mujuurou

Reizô Nomoto/Richard Barnes as Mushizou

Ryûzaburô Ôtomo/Dougary Grant as Tessai

Shuuichirou Moriyama as Sakaki Hyobu

Toshihiko Seki/Richard Hayworth as Yurimaru

Akitoshi Ohmori as Shijima

Ichirô Nagai as Doujin

Jouji Nakata as Ryouga

Katsuji Mori/Kirk Thornton as Hanza

Katsumi Suzuki as Villager

Osamu Saka as Masked Samurai

Yuusaku Yara as Genpachi

Swords shatter, blood sprays and demons suck the life out of dying men as the wildest samurai adventure ever made is unleashed to tear your senses asunder! Jubei Kibagami has always been the master dealer of death, but in rescuing a ninja woman from a monster he sets loose a chain of events that puts death in his own veins and sends them on a nightmarish odyssey through a surreal and devil infested ancient Japan. How do demonic possessions, an annihilated village and a man Jubei thought safely buried in his past all connect? If Jubei can’t piece the blood-soaked clues together, his only consolation will be that he won’t live to regret it for very long! Prepare your mind and steel your gut for the insanely gore-packed orgy of violence that still stands alone and unchallenged as the ultimate anime action feature: the epic milestone in animation that is the legendary NINJA SCROLL.

One of the more popular anime titles to come out in America in the ’90s, many have clamored for an HD release of “Ninja Scroll”.

Known in Japan as “Jubei Ninpucho”, the 1995 animated action film was produced by Madhouse Studios and was written and directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri (“Lensman”, “Legend of the Galactic Heroes”, “Cyber City Oedo 808”, “Birdy the Mighty”) and featured character designs by Yutaka Minowa (“Program”, “Vampire Hunter D”) and art direction by Hiromasa Ogura (“Blood-C”, “Black Butler”, “FLCL”, “Appleseed”, “Ghost in the Shell” films).

Created as a homage to the Ninpocho ninja novels by Futaro Yamada, the animated film would go on to receive the Citizen’s Award at the 1993 Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival and was a fan favorite in America with its VHS release in 1995.

The animated film would lead to a television series a decade later (with a slight connection to the animated film) and with Sentai Filmworks re-licensing the film for release in North America, in Dec. 2012, “Ninja Scroll” has been released on Blu-ray for the first time and re-released on DVD.

“Ninja Scroll” is a film that takes place in feudal Japan.  Five years before the film took place, the Yamashiro clan’s chief retainers have dug gold out of a secret mine without their lord knowing.  The lord of the Yamashiro Clan is a  man who does not want anyone to find out about his mine and wants the gold all to himself.

Wanting revenge against his retainers for stealing the gold, he orders his team of ninjas which include Jubei Kibagami and Shinkuro, who are led by Gemma Himuro, to kill the retainers and telling them that he intends to report the mine to the government (which is not true).

After the ninjas were successful in killing the retainers, gives Gemma the order to have Shinkuro  kill Jubei, in hopes that the ninjas will kill each other and so no one but him will know about his gold and the hidden mine.  Jubei fights Shinkuro and in self defense, ends up killing him.  Wanting revenge for his betrayal, Jubei sneaks upon Gemma and kills him to avenge the ninja team.  Jubei leaves to become a ronin, a wandering swordsman for hire.

Years later, Gemma who was thought to be dead, has found a way to reincarnate himself and lead a demon ninja group known as the Devils of Kimon (which consists of Gemma Himuro, Tessai, Benisato, Mushizo, Mujuro Utsusu, Shijima, Yurimaru and Zakuro).

Each work for the Shogun of the Dark.  Meanwhile, Gemma tells the Shogun of the hidden mine and the Tokugawa government is also trying to find the mine.  But as the Devils of Kimon try to eliminate any witness to the mine, they slaughter an entire village with poison and to make it seem as if a plague has hit the area.

The Mochizuki Koga ninja are sent to check on the reported deaths and to see if they died of an actual plague.  But they are slaughtered by the Shogun of the Dark, one female ninja known as Kagero is captured and nearly raped by the golem Tessai.

But Kagero is rescued by Jubei and this leads to a few of the Devils of Kimon now having Jubei on their target.  But for Jubei, when he finds out from a Tokugawa Shogunate spy named Dakuan that the people responsible for kidnapping Kagero is the Devils of Kimon but wanting Jubei to join him in fighting the Devils of Kimon, to force him in doing so, he poisons Jubei with a fatal poison and the only way he can get an antidote is if he and Kagero joins forces with him and investigate the Devils of Kimon.

And through their adventures of pursuing the Devils of Kimon, what will Jubei find out?

VIDEO:

“Ninja Scroll” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:35:1) aspect ratio.   Before I discuss picture quality, it’s important to remind people that this animated film was released in 1993, so it’s an old school anime film that is not HD native.  Also, when it comes to releasing classic anime on Blu-ray, you have the very expensive way, which was done with a film such as “Akira” and then you have a digital restoration or upconvert to HD as we have seen with “Yu Yu Hakusho”, “Grave of the Fireflies” and even the abandoned “Dragon Ball Z” release.  The fact is that restoring old school anime to Blu-ray is expensive and rarely do we see old school anime go through the more expensive route of restoration.

With “Ninja Scroll”, the Blu-ray was first released in Japan earlier in May and with the Japanese reviewers, many commented of how many releases of the film there were since its LD release, but for those who have purchased each version, they discussed how much better the Blu-ray looked from the previous DVD release.

Having watched the VHS, owning the LD, DVD and now watching the 2012 Blu-ray release, I can easily say that this is the best version I have seen of “Ninja Scroll” to date.  But I must emphasize that it appears there was DNR used to clean up grain, which may upset some purists who prefer the grain.  Still, for an older film on Blu-ray that didn’t go through the very expensive route of receiving digital restoration, I do feel that old fans and those who are curious about this old school anime film will find this Blu-ray release to be quite acceptable. There’s only so much that can be done with older animated films and for now, this is the best version of the film to be released thus far.

AUDIO:

“Ninja Scroll” is presented in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0.  And because of the 5.1, as one can expect from the English lossless soundtrack, it has better dynamic range and use of the surround channels.  I was surprised by the Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo track as I have read the Japanese version of the Blu-ray released featured a 6.1 EX/DTS soundtrack.  It’s also important to note that this is part of the old school anime dubbing, so those who grew up watching this film will be happy to have the original English voice talent featured.  And the Japanese voice acting for the film is well-done!

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Ninja Scroll” comes with an audio commentary (with English subtitles) featuring writer Hiroyuki Ohnuma moderating a panel featuring director Yoshiaka Kawajiri and character designer Yutaka Minowa.  Very fascinating and humorous commentary.

For many anime fans in America who discovered Japanese animation during the mid ’90s, if there was one title that captured the attention of audiences due to its action, violence and feudal Japan setting, “Ninja Scroll” was that anime series.

One of the few anime titles to reach rental video stores at the time, “Ninja Scroll” was one of those VHS titles that was difficult to rent because of its popularity and it was always out.   And while the VHS was released in stores, because of the nature of the anime industry and anime fandom at the time, the VHS were released via English dub or Japanese with English subtitles.  Eventually, the film would be released on DVD and people were happy because it featured both the soundtracks and was an upgrade in quality.

But in the past few years, I’ve noticed many people wanting “Ninja Scroll” on Blu-ray and to tell you the truth, prior to this Blu-ray release, part of me felt there was a huge possibility because the animated film was so popular with a western audience.  But then there was this other side that wasn’t so sure because there is a large group of anime fans who rather see HD native releases on Blu-ray and thus have no interest in older anime.

But in 2011 and 2012, I’m quite grateful to see anime companies trying to please fans of newer anime and also fans of old school titles and we have seen a few titles being released on Blu-ray.  For Sentai Filmworks, with the recent release of “Grave of the Fireflies” and now with “Ninja Scroll”, I’m actually looking forward to seeing more old school anime being released on Blu-ray.

As for “Ninja Scroll”, this is an action-driven anime series that western audiences have loved for two decades.  As controversial this anime was back then for its violence, action, supernatural characters and sex….pretty much a mature and dark storyline that anime fans today seem to clamor for.

“Ninja Scroll” is a cool, violent and action-packed animated film that showcases traditional Japanese anime filmmaking from handdrawn characters and painted cells but a dark fantasy take on feudal Japan with a ninja storyline.  Sure, newer anime fans probably have seen this before with anime series such as “Gasaraki”, been spoiled on ninja action with “Naruto Shippuden” but “Ninja Scroll” still remains to be a unique storyline that even the TV series it spawned, can’t even match up to this original film.

As for the Blu-ray release, its “Ninja Scroll” in HD!  Better picture quality and crisper and more dynamic lossless audio soundtrack much better than the previous DVD releases and with a audio commentary track featuring director Yoshiaki Kawajiri and character designer Yutaka Minowa, this Blu-ray release of “Ninja Scroll” is the definitive version to own!

If you love or enjoy old school anime and want to see a dark action film that made an impact for American anime fans in the past and many have demanded for its Blu-ray release in the present, “Ninja Scroll” on Blu-ray is recommended!

 

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