Kouga Ninja Scrolls (Basilisk Novel) Vol. #01 (Mania.com)

By:Jarred Pine
Review Date: Monday, December 11, 2006
Release Date: Tuesday, December 26, 2006



Creative Talent
Writer/Artist:Futaro Yamada
Translated by:
Adapted by:Geoff Sant

What They Say
To resolve a clash over succession, the shogun Ieyasu Tokugawa has devised the ultimate contest. Two rival ninja clans, the Kouga and the Iga, will meet in a battle to the death. The victor will rule Japan for the next thousand years. But in the midst of this bloody war, an unlikely romance blooms between Gennosuke of the Kouga clan and Oboro of the Iga clan. Gennosuke and Oboro are the next leaders of their clans and their fates are inextricably bound with that of their families. In the colossal fight, the star-crossed lovers are faced with a fatal choice between true love and destiny. Can romance conquer a four-hundred-year-old rivalry? Or is their love fated to end in death?

The Review
While reading the Kouga Ninja Scrolls novel, the one question that I couldnt help but repeatedly ask was, have we overdone it a bit with this franchise?

NOTE: The following review is based on an advance uncorrected proof, and is not the final published version of the book.

Contents (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):

In case youve had your head buried in the sand for the past year, Ill give a short summary of the story while keeping it short and sweet for those of you who have read it a million times already. Two rival ninja clans, the Kouga and Iga, have had their 400 year old truce undone in a political move to determine the next heir to the Tokugawa throne. Each clan picks 10 of their best ninja and the winner will be the clan who survives. Could this 1958 novel be the egg that gave birth to the ninja and tournament battle stories in manga and anime which proliferate the bookshelves and airwaves today?

Thankfully, writer Futaro Yamada throws a few kinks in the story that keeps the survivalist theme from becoming a little too ho-hum. The war between the clans kicks off on an uneven keel, with one side getting the upper-hand early on with the other left in the dark about the events circling their clan. To complicate matters, this declaration of war is happening on the eve of a marriage between opposing clan members. While the two lovers want peace, the other members still hold inherited grudges against the other clan.

However, even with Yamadas clever additions to the storyline it still suffers from one key problem--lack of any character depth. The ninja are just tools for the slaughter, where the reader is pulled along kill after kill with no attachment at all for any of the characters. The introduction does a great job at setting the stage and the conclusion has its moments of suspense, but getting from point A to B offers little outside of voyeuristic appeal. Little threads of relationship romance between ninja are thrown in to try and force some motivation and attachment, but those threads are only paper thin. Even the central tragic love story is completely overwhelmed, reduced to a mere plot device turned excuse for a tragic ending.

As the story progresses to its finale, Yamadas experience with suspense and mystery writing kicks in. With only a couple of combatants left to meet their demise, the scheming and maneuvering becomes much more engaging; even if its for a superficial reason like wanting to know which ninja stands last. Having Ofuku, also known historically as Lady Kasuga, enter the story also creates another layer of suspense, as she has much more of a political stake in the outcome. I actually found myself wishing that this would have become a much bigger part of the story from the beginning, as the whole political aspect is mostly dropped in favor of the violent battles featuring outlandish supernatural powers.

Del Reys translation of the book is handled quite well. No there are not any honorifics and there is not a glossary of Japanese terms (which usually should be translated anyway), but the book reads very well for a general audience, which I think is a smart idea. The prose comes at you in very short-sentence bursts and with a direct manner, much like the action in the book. There is a cast of characters included in the book to help readers with remembering each of the ninja as well as the real historical players.

Comments
While reading the Kouga Ninja Scrolls novel, the one question that I couldnt help but repeatedly ask was, have we overdone it a bit with this franchise? I am definitely content now reading the original source material for the Basilisk manga, anime, and live-action adaptations, but Im left wondering how many anime or manga fans will pick up a novel that truthfully fares much better in its animated or illustrated formats. Basilisk is nothing like the Narutos and other shounen jump hipster franchises where fans flock to buy up anything and everything. After spending hundreds of dollars on the anime and $14 per manga volume, will there be money left to spend?



Mania Grade: B
Art Rating: N/A
Packaging Rating: N/A
Text/Translatin Rating: N/A
Age Rating: All
Released By: Del Rey
MSRP: 13.95
Pages: 336
ISBN: 0-345-49510-1
Size: B6
Orientation: Left to Right