Review/discussion about: Ninja Slayer From Animation
“Revenge is a dish best served cold.” This is a commonly known phrase. It means that, when seeking revenge and enacting that revenge, you need to be as heartless, evil, and cold as humanly possible. Just the word “revenge” sounds ominous enough, but when combined with the other words in this saying, it becomes a sinister aphorism.
Ninja Slayer From Animation is built on revenge. And repetition. And revenge. And saying “Abbah!” a lot. And repetition. And ninjas. And comedy. And, of course, repetition. For Kenji, it is not “revenge is a dish best served cold,” but rather “revenge is me forcing you to ‘recite your death haiku’ and me chopping off your head.”
I am a gentle person, so I cannot say that I have sought revenge of this magnitude. However, I have taken part in petty revenge. Stuff like ignoring a teammate in a multiplayer video game because he insulted me. And now having seen Ninja Slayer, I have some more petty revenge to take part in.
In an anime like Ninja Slayer, it can be pretty easy to say what should not be taken seriously. Nancy used for nothing more than sexual relief? Not serious. Each ninja exploding in a ball of flame for no reason? Not serious. One of the ninjas being a giant lobster? Not serious. The problem is when the anime does try to be serious. Since everything else was not serious, it can be hard to take its serious moments seriously. For example, Kenji is frequently visited by his ninja soul. Metaphorically he represents Kenji’s inner rage, but given the soul’s ridiculous looks and demands, is the audience meant to take this more seriously than its sex, explosions, and lobsters?
This is not to say that the anime is deserving of justification, because it most certainly is not. Ninja Slayer’s narrative is a mess, and that is putting it lightly. The majority of the show is comprised of multiple plotlines focusing on a specific character or set of characters. Plotline is a bit misleading, because Ninja Slayer’s threads barely contain any. What this amounts to is a lot of events happening without anything “happening.”
Generally, the anime sticks to singular, isolated instances. Kenji and Nancy invading a yakuza clone laboratory. Koki crossing paths again with a boy from her past. Dark Ninja receiving a visit from a strange entity. But no matter the plotline, the problem is encountered: none of it matters. Events almost never build off one another, causing nothing but confusion. The worst case of this is when Kenji arrives at a resistance movement (that was never mentioned) to find Yukano (who was forgotten about) and cure her of her amnesia (which is given only the smallest of explanations).
Each plotline also has nearly the exact same set of events happen each and every time. The protagonist shows up, the ninjas bow to one another, and everyone screams a combination of “Yeaart!”, “Arrrgh!”, and “Sayonara!” Ninja Slayer is so repetitive that one of its major conflicts – Kenji fighting against Naraku Ninja, his ninja soul – happens so often that it starts to lose its thematic meaning of embracing one’s anger without letting it take control.
The ending alone is enough to demonstrate how all-over-the-place the show is: almost every single plotline, from Dark Ninja’s “destiny” to Yukano’s amnesia to Nancy’s golden cube, does not conclude. And because their plotlines have yet to conclude, Kenji’s has not ended either, despite defeating (one of) his final opponents. So not only is the narrative filled with disconnected plotlines but the ending is so inconclusive that the audience cannot help but wonder if anything other than Laomoto’s death actually happened, let alone mattered.
But perhaps the biggest pitfall for Ninja Slayer is one that it technically never makes. The anime does, in fact, have an overarching plot – Kenji seeking to avenge the murder of his wife and child. This is the driving force of not just Kenji’s character but also the narrative. Despite this event being so important and literally meaning everything to the anime, not once is the actual scene shown. The scene is alluded to. The scene is talked about in passing. But the scene is never actually shown. Not showing this scene or the events leading up to it or anything else related to such a monumental event makes it nearly impossible to understand Kenji’s plight. That is to say, the foundation for the show is never established from the get-go, so everything that occurs throughout the season lacks a sense of purpose.
Thus, whether or not Ninja Slayer wants to be taken seriously does not matter because the narrative is seriously broken.
Ninja Slayer takes an insane approach to its animation in that it barely has any.
This is not an understatement. Much of the show is filled with cardboard cutouts that stand still but move as if a child were playing house with them. A character does not dodge projectiles, he casually spins in the air. A character does not sprawl on the ground, she lays there as if she were turned to stone. A character does punch another character, he or she moves toward the target, overlaps with the enemy, then moves back. It is an awkward display that forces one to imagine what could have been.
To be fair, the anime does have animated sequences. These, however, like the repetitive story, are mired in repetition. Many fights consist of the same, frame-for-frame set of punches or kicks, lasting many more seconds than necessary (“seconds” seems short, but when the exact same animation is played over and over, those seconds start to add up…). Animated sequences that are not cutouts or repetitive instances are present, but they are rare, leaving Ninja Slayer more or less immobile from start to finish.
Now, Ninja Slayer is a comedy. The cutouts and the repetition, no matter how asinine, is hilarious to watch if only because one cannot believe that it is happening on-screen. This gets back to the previous talk on seriousness. The low animation quality might be something the audience is meant to laugh at. It is an enticing thought if only because it is almost more insane to believe that frozen characters, streams of green goo, and overly realistic explosions were approved beforehand with a clear mindset.
And just to be even fairer to the anime, the show can be pretty clever with its minimum amount of animation. At one point, Kenji is talking with Nancy through a chat room on the computer, but since Kenji is bad at typing, his response is extremely slow. The result is a good minute of both Kenji and Nancy sitting and doing nothing in cyberspace. Similar to the better animated sequences, these clever moments are rare, but they are welcome without a doubt.
Artistically, Ninja Slayer is diverse in its settings, a result of the multiple plotlines. A decrepit city, a moving train, a huge skyscraper, some bamboo woods, and a shipping yard are just a sampling of the areas visited over the course of the show. In fact, the anime is almost always in a new place with each new episode, reducing (however slightly) the overall amount of repetition.
Furthermore, the anime is a rainbow, the colors as diverse as the locations and vibrant in hue. Sometimes the colors can be too bright, which is jarring to see among the darker, more realistic backgrounds, but the wide range of colors is nice to see even if they are not moving much.
Again, to be fair to the anime, the show can get clever with its artistic direction. Throughout the season, Ninja Slayer had giant black bars on both sides of the screen. During the last fight, when Kenji morphs into his final form, these black bars shatter, signifying that he has, at last, achieved tranquility. Per usual, these are rare moments, but they add to the novelty of the entire package.
Better than both the art and the animation are the character designs. While the women are designed with sensuality in mind, the rest of the cast, like Notorious and Gatekeeper, are some combination of weird, goofy, and intriguing. Kenji’s red garb with green outlines and impossibly long scarf turn him into the ultimate ninja. Nancy’s black, skin tight outfit, blonde hair with bun, and voluptuous figure make her out to be the sexy minx that she is. And Dark Ninja’s all-purple attire, with a killer, behind-the-back samurai sword gives him a cool, villainous vibe.
Like Ninja Slayer’s story, the characters in the anime can barely be called characters because there is hardly anything about them worth mentioning.
Nancy is easily the worst written. She has a special neural-to-computer ability, but when her only directive is to be placed in blatant sexual circumstances, her character becomes less of a person and more of an object.
Kenji is almost no different. His go-to line is “ninjas shall perish,” though he does have compassion for ninjas and people who are morally sound. Kenji does not develop much over the course of the season; he constantly seeks revenge and murder, but his character is seldom challenged. He often wrestles with his inner ninja soul, but whether or not he should take a different path or how his actions affect the people (now) close to him are not outright explored. This makes his character rather stale throughout the season. His anger becomes a part of him and not his sole motive as the anime ends, but that is not nearly enough to make up for how plain his character had been.
Yukano had a chance, but the anime drops the ball severely. Yukano is the daughter of Kenji’s former master, Dragon. Following Dragon’s death at the hands of Dark Ninja, she disappears. When she reappears, she calls herself Amnesia because she now has (coincidentally enough) amnesia. She joined an unexplained resistance group, found love at first sight (who is killed off immediately), and essentially becomes evil through her inability to see that her current actions are wrong. As she puts it, she is a “different person.” The problem is that the audience never got to see who she was before, so her transformation has no basis. In fact, the only characterization the anime highlighted was her huge bust.
Almost every other ninja that Kenji and the others encounter is a one-off. They appear, provide their formalities, and proceed to be killed off in some capacity. Only a select few manage to remain relevant throughout the season. Dark Ninja is the most obvious. Yet he, like most of the cast, does not have his past divulged or his motivations made clear. Dark Ninja has next to no presence, appearing to fight Kenji only a handful of times. Altogether, he is a lackluster villain. Laomoto, the main bad guy, is the same. Besides just being mean and huge, nothing about him says he is a worthwhile antagonist. Forest is the only smaller ninja that remains alive, though he is more a comic relief character due to his incoherent mindset.
Koki is arguably the best character that Ninja Slayer has to offer, but again that is not saying too much. In passing, the viewer learns of her suicide attempt and killing of her parents (supposedly, because it is never brought up again). When she gains her ninja soul and refuses to join the Soukaiya, she flees, protecting her best friend and, indirectly, deciding that life is an adventure worth taking. She meets people like Kagi (Silver Karasu) who teaches her in the ways of the sword, acting as a father figure of sorts. Later on she teams up with Genocide the zombie-priest ninja, proving that friends come in all shapes and sizes. While the end shows her still wandering the world alone, her plotline being inconclusive makes a bit more sense since her overall goal is a bit more aimless and her encounters are a bit more random.
Everyone except Nancy has one thing in common: the ninja souls. The souls they harbor give them their powers, but they also give them some symbolic meaning. For Kenji, his soul gives him unrivaled potential and symbolizes his rage that is nearly palpable. For Koki, her soul gives her psychic abilities and symbolizes the mental taxing she experiences with each new encounter. For Laomoto, his multiple souls give him his size and symbolizes his “final boss” status. Each ninja has a different ninja soul, and while they are not all shown in detail (technically speaking, Kenji’s is the only ninja soul that regularly speaks with his human host) their souls match who they are as a person. At least, to the extent that the soul matches their name and their persona.
Koki and this ninja soul symbolism somewhat make up for the abysmal rest of the cast, but only barely.
Ninja Slayer almost never forgets to start its episodes with its opening theme. The all-English lyrics make the song extremely easy to sing along with, even if they do not really make sense. The piece itself is, true to form, somewhat repetitive during the first part. Also, the first part is just a lot of noise without much substance. But once the second part kicks in and the song lets the vocalist do the work, the strength of the piece is heard.
Contrary to the OP and one of Ninja Slayer’s most surprising twists is its ending themes. Plural because the anime uses a different ED for almost every episode. The EDs are mostly rock-n-roll and experimental in design, fitting the oft over-the-top and quirky scenarios that permeate the show. The range of tracks alone is impressive, but it is their ability to cap off each episode in a fun manner that makes them a welcome addition. Plus, this is one of a select few instances where Ninja Slayer foregoes repetition, so at the minimum one can be happy knowing that a new ED is the reward for making it through the “same” content once more.
Voice acting performances in Ninja Slayer are not that impressive, but each role is filled nicely enough. Toshiyuki Morikawa as Kenji uses both a manly and disciplined voice that fits the name “Ninja Slayer.” Chiwa Saito as Nancy gives the sexy woman as sexy of a voice as possible. And Sora Amamiya as Koki deserves a special shout-out for her childlike “Yeeart!” The biggest wonder is whether or not Kenji, Nancy, Koki, and everyone else always gives a new rendition of “Yeeart!” or “Aaaargh!” every time they have to speak those words, or the anime simply reused the same clip time and again. It is probably the latter, but the former makes their efforts that much more notable.
Finally, the remainder of the original soundtrack is a combination of many different genres at once. Some tracks use Asian instruments for that ninja feel. Some tracks focus exclusively on funky beats and techno tunes. Some tracks are downright mysterious. The OST does not reach the same level as the EDs, but it is considerably better than most anything else that Ninja Slayer has to offer.
I think this anime is on the line between infamously bad and “so bad it is good.”
On the one hand, there is so much wrong with the show. Repetition up the wazoo. Boring fights. Absurd developments. The anime even has the audacity to use up an entire episode of scenes that, for one reason or another, were omitted over the course of the season (the scene featuring the masochistic person is particularly bizarre, as is the one with the owl).
On the other hand, each of these problems can be entertaining in their own right. Hearing Nancy say “Take this!” over and over is oddly hilarious. Watching as each ninja explodes in a glorious fashion – Laomoto is essentially a nuclear bomb – is comical. Seeing the insane doctor jump on his hot nurse, with accompanying still-character animation and silly voice acting, is funny. The show has a certain charm to it that is only possible because everything is as ridiculous as it is.
I liked the first half because it felt “fresh” in the sense that this was an anime unlike any I had seen before. The yakuza constantly screaming “Hey, screw you!” The technically-animated-but-not-really sequences. The moonwalking ninja beating up the handicapped, Medusa-esque man.
Unfortunately, due to the repetition, the second half is not the same; that earlier charm starts to wane. Kenji saving Nancy for the umpteenth time or the fights proceeding in almost the same fashion lacks that initial appeal that the first half did.
To be fair (I have been saying this a lot with this one…), the second half does have its moments. The final fight against Laomoto is easily the best because it incorporates moves from earlier in the season as well as lasting for quite a while. The battle does end on a repetitive, back-and-forth, fist-to-face exchange, but the OP playing in the background during the initial bout makes up for this.
The second half also has my favorite episode from the entire season: the episode where Koki and Genocide become buddies. I liked the zombie-priest ninja since he reminded me so much of the monster from Frankenstein (sort of the point). He was the brawn to Koki’s brains, so such a duo was a perfect match. They sadly part ways, but it was still a weird, fun, and heartwarming episode.
Ninja Slayer From Animation hits itself with its own shurikens. The story is riddled with issues, its characters are not worthwhile, and its approach to animation is laughable in more ways than one. Combined with the gross repetition that plagues everything, it is almost a miracle that the anime even exists to begin with. Revenge is a dish best served cold. But for some petty revenge, simply force someone to sit through this anime.
Story: Terrible, nonsensical, incomplete, and purposeless
Animation: Fine, while the actual animation is essentially nonexistent, the nice character designs and artistic direction, alongside some clever moments, make up for this hilarious decision
Characters: Bad, Koki is okay and symbolism exists, but Nancy, Kenji, and every other ninja lack any sort of strength
Sound: Fine, okay OP, good EDs, okay OST, about average VA performances
Enjoyment: Fine, hilarious and charming in its own right, but this hilarity and charm wanes the more it is watched
Final Score: 3/10
Thanks for taking the time to read my review. If you want, take part in the discussion below! :3