Ninja Scroll TV Vol. #1 - Mania.com



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Info:

  • Audio Rating: A-
  • Video Rating: A-
  • Packaging Rating: B+
  • Menus Rating: B+
  • Extras Rating: A-
  • Age Rating: 15 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Urban Vision
  • MSRP: 24.95
  • Running time: 90
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Ninja Scroll

Ninja Scroll TV Vol. #1

By Chris Beveridge     August 31, 2003
Release Date: September 02, 2003


Ninja Scroll TV Vol. #1
© Urban Vision


What They Say
In feudal Japan, the Edo period brought a time of delicate peace bought with blood. Ninja Scroll: The Series chronicles the life of Jubei Kibagami as he wanders the countryside as a ninja for hire. At this time, ninja clans are everywhere. One clan, known as the Hiruko Clan, doomed to live and die in darkness, protects a sacred treasure called the Dragon Stone. The Kimon Clan, however, bent on reviving the power of the Toyotomi, wants the Dragon Stone and the treasure it hides. Jubei Kibagami is the best the man for the job of protecting both the Dragon Stone and the only one that can use it - The Light Maiden. Episode 1 "Tragedy in the Hidden Village" What is destiny? One Hiruko ninja has stolen the sacred Dragon Stone with the hopes of setting his clan free from a life of darkness. The Kimon Clan, however, has other plans for the Stone as well as the Light Maiden. Episode 2 "Departure" With no other choice, Shigure sets out with Dakuan and Tsubute to find the answers about who she really is. Meanwhile, Jubei must fight off both Hiruko and Kimon ninjas and deliver the Dragon Stone to Shigure. Episode 3 "Forbidden Love" The battles heat up as both the Kimon and Hiruko Clans search for the Dragon Stone and the Light Maiden. Neither side is willing to give up the Stone, and it is a bloody free-for-all to see who can get both the Stone and the Maiden. Episode 4 "Broken Stone" For the Kimon and Hiruko, not only is fighting each other difficult, but also trying to steal the Stone from under the watchful eye of Jubei is nearly impossible. One almost-successful attempt at taking the Stone results in splitting the stone in half: Jubei has one half, while the Kimon manage to get the other half.

The Review!
Ten years after the release of the OVA, a new TV series has finally come about.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The series sports a rather solid stereo mix that provides a good amount of directionality across the forward soundstage as well as some depth. There are a few scenes where something is coming from far away and it does a good job of making that feel like it’s in the room. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback. English language fans will be happy to know that there’s a very solid 5.1 mix included that brings the directionality up a few notches in sharpness and clarity as well as a 2.0 mix for those who hate downconverting their audio tracks.

Video:
Airing in Japan a mere five months ago, Ninja Scroll sports a very good looking transfer. Colors are vibrant when required and the dark blacks and blues hold their solid feel without breaking up. Cross coloration and aliasing are virtually non-existent throughout the four episodes. There’s a slight amount of grain throughout the entire production, providing some areas with a more film-like feel, but it’s mostly noticeable during the darker sequences.

Packaging:
Going for that traditional look, the main cover has a great image of Jubei set against a moon, with the background providing the only real color to the image. The border surrounds it nicely while providing the volume number and name at the top and the series logo inside. I believe the Japanese version of the logo is listed along the outside of the border as well. The back cover provides a few shots from the show and some promotional artwork. The summary is pretty good but difficult to read with the font used. The discs extras are clearly listed and the usual production information is done up nicely as well. The insert provides another look at the front cover but without any of the text. It opens up to provide two panels for the four episodes, giving a shot from each of them, the episode number and title as well as a summary and the chapter listing titles. The back of the insert talks about the soundtrack for the show and the two music producers.

Menu:
The main menu works out nicely here where it adopts a similar style to the cover framing and has animation playing inside of it but with a filter over it that gives it a slight paper/grain feel. Selections are nicely laid out with the ability to choose by episode, play all or go into the setup or special features. There’s a very slight transitional animation going into the submenus and each submenu has its own piece of music playing. Access times are nice and fast and we had no issues getting around.

Extras:
The opening volume is pleasantly laden with some good extras. The first is a set of four storyboard to feature presentations, each running about two minutes or so. Using three angles, you can view it as the storyboard with an inset window of the animation itself, just the storyboard itself or the actual finished animation. These showcases continue to be interesting to see how it went from concept to finish. The trailers section covers a variety of them, from the TV series regular trailers, promotional ones and one for the soundtrack as well. An interview section takes a look at the two men behind the music. Each segment runs about eight minutes in length, which is something I’m sure Kitaro fans will love. Also on the plus side, when they interview Peter McEvilley, they subtitled that track as well. A two minute video piece covering the creation of the cover art in “accelerated” mode is interesting and continues to make me envious of artists. Rounding it out is an art gallery that covers various images from pencil sketches to initial coloring to final coloring.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Ten years after its initial release, the original OVA continues to be something that gets recommended to new fans in the US and bandied about as one of the better action shows available. While I’ve found myself caring less and less for the OVA since the first time I saw it, it’s quite easy to see why a new series, with a push from Urban Vision, was created. It’s something that has a solid fanbase and will be excited to have something new come out.

With it being a TV series though, it has to walk the line a bit more carefully than the OVA did. While that was a very bloody and sexually laden piece, the TV series manages to take aspects of that and reworks it into this medium nicely. There’s still a surprising amount of blood flowing, bodies being crushed and decapitated, but there’s also strong hints of sexuality throughout and some amusing maskings providing cover for the more obvious areas.

The series again focuses on Jubei Kibagami, a wandering mercenary for hire who picks and chooses his jobs depending on his mood. He spends his idle time wandering the countryside looking for a good place to sleep and relax as well as finding food and occasionally some company. We meet up with him early on as he’s trying to catch some shut-eye, but there’s a group of overpowered ninjas fighting nearby that causes him no end of problems.

Ninjas in this world are pretty varied with most of them having some unique power. The first group we run into has a woman who spawns little demons that are mostly skin and fangs, or later on we meet one who can turn her limbs into plants that can move underground. Or another that uses her hair as a weapon. They get really weird as well, such as one gentleman who has a cover over his eye, hiding a hypnotic disco ball behind it. And there’s always the ten story high mechanical-like enemy who leaps across the countryside, usually opting to step on his opponents or take his two weapons and use them as wheels with which he can roll over the area.

His initial meeting with the ninjas here ends up helping the one that was trying to escape from them. He ties to hire Jubei, but he refuses since he doesn’t trust people who wear masks. But his refusal is not to be, eventually, as the ninja is being pursued by a faction trying to acquire the Sacred Dragon Stone he carries. It’s the pursuit of him that ends up bringing Jubei back into contact with him later on after he wanders into a local village inside a unique valley.

The village here appears calm and pleasant, but contains nothing but regular human ninjas and warriors. Jubei’s arrival brings bad omens and it’s not long before one of the factions arrives looking for the Stone, destroying the village as they progress. Only one person survives here, a young woman we’re introduced to as Shigure, who is supposedly the Light Maiden that one of the factions is after. She manages to make an escape from the burning valley and ends up acquiring some help along the way in the form of a roguish thief and a seemingly off-kilter old priest.

The show then moves towards having Jubei trying to catch up to Shigure and deliver the Dragon Stone to her so he can be done with a promise he made. Of course, he runs into a multitude of nasty ninjas along the way who want the stone themselves and Shigure finds that her first trip outside of her peaceful valley village is fraught with all kinds of evil. She brings an interesting balance to Jubei as well as the more group nature of the series with Dakuan the priest and Tsubute the rogue. Each is looking out for their own interests and that usually makes group efforts somewhat comical.

In fact, the light nature at times is one of the things that makes this show rather enjoyable. Jubei has a good sense of humor to him that comes across at the best times. During one sequence where he’s exchanging swords with an opponent who pushes up close to him, he informs him that he doesn’t like the way he’s being stared at since he doesn’t really go that way. This kind of flippancy shows up at just the right time throughout the episodes here, and that helps things from becoming far too overly serious or dark.

One aspect that really shines through here and it’s definitely given some notice, is the music. With Kitaro providing the opening (Jubei’s Theme) and the ending (Shigure’s Theme) and McEvilley using elements of both in other songs, this is a top notch score. There’s a number of areas where it comes across perfectly and really enhances the situation beautifully. Some of the material I’m not too keen on, but it’s far overwhelmed by the good materials. In his interview, Kitaro says he’d love to do more anime composing. I hope people are listening to that and take him up on it. The cross promotion alone is worth it.

I had somewhat low expectations going into Ninja Scroll, since the OVA has turned into a gateway title for Dragonball Z fans and those looking for something violent and sexual. The TV series takes the best elements from that and turns it into a fun and enjoyable action/adventure storyline that gives Jubei an interesting group to team up with. This is definitely in the style of some of the more traditional drama series of the past and it’s a lot more fun and enjoyable than I expected it to be.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Creating the cover art with Yoshimatsu featurette,Interviews with Kitaro and Peter "Peas" McEvilley (the composers of the soundtrack),Art gallery,Storyboard to feature comparison

Review Equipment
Toshiba TW40X81 40" HDTV, Panasonic RP-82 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Sony speakers.


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