NINJA SCROLL - DVD review

The plot is slightly above average for ye old samurai flick, but in the end, that's what "Ninja Scroll" is.

Shades

This DVD, as the name implies, is a re-release of one of Manga Entertainment's best known features. "Ninja Scroll" was one of the earlier anime movies I watched, so I was pretty excited when this disc came my way. The back boasts of a 1.78:1 aspect ratio option, which I was initially excited about. More about that later.

"Ninja Scroll" is a fast paced action/thriller movie, with spies, ninjas, intrigue, and lots and lots of killing. I believe that the point was to try to recreate a samurai flick, with all of the superhuman skills and action, and in that "Ninja Scroll" certainly succeeds. The plot is not particularly deep, but it doesn't pretend to be either. Like the director says in his interview on the disc, the show is aimed at a more teenage audience.

The main hero is Kibagami Jubei, a folk hero in Japan. The son of a noble, the real Jubei disappeared from the capitol for twelve years with no account of his whereabouts, a time which is attributed by legend to Jubei wondering around the countryside, righting wrongs and fighting the good fight, all while incognito. In this particular movie, Jubei stumbles onto a plot that threatens Japan's stability, so of course he swings in to action to save the day.

Strange, but watching this movie again, I just wasn't as impressed with it as I used to be. The biggest hook for the movie seems to be in its shock value, which doesn't appeal to me much anymore. I think the most memorable such scene was when one of the bad guys chugs blood out of an arm he just ripped off of a ninja. That's by no means all of the gore though, there's severed limbs aplenty along with electrocutions and detonations.

The plot is slightly above average for ye old samurai flick, but in the end, that's what "Ninja Scroll" is. The film is short enough that you won't get bored, but only just. The action scenes are incredibly animated, for the time it was created in, and still won't disappoint.

Video:
You can watch the video in either 1.33:1 (full-screen on 4:3 monitors) or anamorphic widescreen 1.78:1 (full screen on 16:9 monitors). The DVD is double-sided, with one of the video formats on either side. Considering that I've never seen "Ninja Scroll" offered in anything other that 1.33:1, where did the 1.78:1 print come from? Anime fans tend to be one of the more vociferous groups when so much as a single frame has its color levels adjusted, so I was surprised for this new print to come out. As it turns out, Manga created the 1.78:1 print by chopping off the top and bottom of the 1.33:1 print. I couldn't believe it, but if you compare a few shots from each print, it's easy to see that that's what happened. This is unacceptable. I can understand, although not condone, why sometimes a 1.78:1 aspect ratio is pan and scanned down to 1.33:1 (people like my brother don't like black bars on their TVs), but the kind of people who own a 16:9 TV today are more likely to be concerned about video quality. Therefore, in what world does it make sense to crop a 1.33:1 print to 1.78:1? I don't know either.

The animation quality has started to show its years. "Ninja Scroll" was produced before there was any computer generated graphics in anime, so there are plenty of static looking backgrounds, repeating frames, and sliding cels to simulate motion. However, whenever there's any fighting or fighting-related activities, the animation is full frame. The color palette looks a little shallow, particularly on Jubei, whose clothes, hair, skin, and eyes are all similar shades of brown.

There is some artifacting in the video, although most of it appears to be things that Manga has no control over, such as dust on the cels. For purposes of rating the video quality, I'm going to pretend that the "widescreen" print doesn't exist, and you should do the same if you buy this DVD.

Audio:
Manga went all out in the audio department. You can watch the show in DTS-ES 6.1 Japanese, Dolby Digital EX 5.1 Japanese, DTS-ES 6.1 English, Dolby Digital EX 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo French, and Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo Spanish. There is an option for English subtitles. I watched it in Japanese with English subtitles. I chose to watch the show in DTS-ES 6.1 Japanese with English subtitles. The sound quality was great, no static or noise error that I could hear. Most of the channel separation is noticeable in environmental effects.

Extras:
There's not much in the way of extras, considering this is a "Special Edition" disc. The extras are on both sides of the DVD. The first extra is "Director Interview", which was a nice touch. Instead of subtitling a Japanese interview, it appears that Manga actually went and interviewed the director themselves. Most of the questions are pretty stock, such as how the director, Yoshiaki Kawajiri, felt about the movies good reception in overseas markets. Others are a little dated, as they ask Yoshiaki how he feels about CG in anime (this was a big deal five years ago, but the issue has pretty well settled down by now).

There's also an "English Actors Interview", which has an interview with Brad Lavelle, the voice of Jubei, and Wendee Lee, the voice of Kagero. Although I suppose it wasn't that different than other interviews I've seen with voice actors, it was still enjoyable. I'm interested in the business behind producing domestic anime, so these interviews are a good source of anecdotal tales of the day to day work.

Finally, there's a section given over to short comments for each character in the movie, as well as some historical background on the real Jubei. An interesting, if brief, read.

--Miscellaneous--
The DVD comes in a cardboard slip case with a three section fold out case inside. The case itself is covered in art work and has the chapter list printed on it. There's a "Ninja Scroll" post card, as well as a medium sized folded up double sided poster. Unfortunately, both sides of the poster are rather fuzzy, so it's not much of a perk.

Film Value:
"Ninja Scroll" is like many other ninja/samurai movies. There's plenty of sword play, super-ninja skills, miscellanies action, and some nudity. Your father's animation it ain't. Beyond the novelty of seeing such scenes in animation, there is not much to recommend this film over other chop-socky films. It's somewhat better than average for the genre, so if that's the kind of film you want to see, give "Ninja Scroll" a look. Just don't watch the widescreen version.

Ratings

Video
7
Audio
9
Extras
5
Film Value
6