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Review: Ninja Slayer From Animation

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The Ancient YEEART! of Ninjutsu

DOMO, READER-SAN. 

I am Reviewer. NINJA must be slain. 

Ninja Slayer From Animation
Studio: TRIGGER
Viewed On: Viewster
Premiere date: April 6, 2015

At the time of this review's writing, the International Day of the Ninja has just passed, but there's no recent work that captures the essence of "ninja" more than this, Studio TRIGGER's latest series. Ninja Slayer From Animation makes no attempt to hide its goofy, parodic nature. That should be natural, after all, coming from a show that started life as what was essentially a Twitter prank.

"Translated" from nonexistent original sources by a pair of fictional westerners named  "Bradley Bond" and "Philip [email protected] Morzez", Ninja Slayer accurately portrays ninja culture...as seen by westerners engaged in that second wave of Japonisme that swept the world '80s and early '90s. During that time, the markets were flooded with crass, cheaply-made "ninja exploitation" films like American Ninja, and spiced up by gory, explicit OVAs and films that powered the "Japanimation" boom. Ninja Slayer's cyberpunk dystopia of Neo Saitama reflects the kind of twisted sensibility that resulted from the marriage of genuine enthusiasm and outright ignorance on the part of the outsiders.

But Ninja Slayer isn't out to deliver a polemic against cultural appropriation. Bond and Morzez are in on the joke, and know that the best antidote to hotheaded outrage is a tongue planted firmly in cheek. Much to the chagrin of early viewers that didn't realize Ninja Slayer's relation to TRIGGER's own Inferno Cop, the whole thing is played for elaborate, stylized laughs. That's because they know that, played straight, Kenji Fujikido's story of revenge and violence would come across as gravely cliche and unbearably cheesy.

That's why Ninja Slayer and his foes constantly introduce themselves to each other like beginning Japanese-language students practicing for a kaiwa test, and why the whole show is in the archaic 4:3 aspect ratio. It simultaneously pokes fun at and commiserates with the "Ken-sama" of the world, and smirks back at a time when Ken-sama's type represented what most people knew about Japanese culture.

It's also where TRIGGER works in that ninja magic. Deliberate aesthetic choices in Ninja Slayer, like the neon-drenched pallete and aping of old-school cost-cutting techniques recall back the moments of beauty to be found in that awkward time, while at the same time deflating the nostalgic pomposity some older fans may have for the time. It's as if to say "Yep, cartoons were just as stupid then as you think they are now. But they were also awesome!"

The show is hardly perfect, though, and the wild differentials between user ratings in various fan fora serve as testament to that fact. Ninja Slayer may be bold and one of the most creatively distinct anime series this year, but there are times when it's just plain ugly-lookin', beyond what could be excused on style alone. TRIGGER's no longer a scrappy underdog of a studio, which makes the frequent forays into Inferno Cop-style 2D cutout puppetry feel less like a fun diversion and more an unnecessary indulgence. 

The storytelling also fails to rise above its B-grade inspirations. This isn't to say it's all bad or that every show should strive to elevate, but there is a difference between homage and mere copy, and there are times when Ninja Slayer skirts too close to the wrong side of that distinction. 

Then again, for a viewer in the right mindset, Ninja Slayer is a laugh riot and a friendly wink-and-nod, all rolled into a package that never gets boring. And for a show that's very deliberately not accurate to the real-life ninjas of Japanese history, Ninja Slayer certainly gets being surprising down pat. 

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Ninja Slayer From Animation reviewed by Josh Tolentino

8

GREAT

Impressive effort with a few noticeable problems holding it back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.
How we score:  The Japanator reviews guide

 
 
 

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Josh Tolentino
Josh TolentinoManaging Editor   gamer profile

Josh is Japanator's Managing Editor, and contributes to Destructoid as well, as the network's premier apologist for both Harem Anime and Star Trek: Voyager For high school reasons, he's called "u... more + disclosures


 


 


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