“To read and control people’s minds is the secret of the ninja strategy. Only real sincerity can move human hearts.”


A swashbuckling fantasy set in feudal Japan, Ninja Scroll’s action is its strength from mercenery Jubei’s lightning-fast strikes to the variety provided by his superpowered enemies, often requiring intelligence rather than brawn to beat. Ninja Scroll is considered to be responsible for the rise in popularity of adult-oriented anime outside of Japan alongside Akira and Ghost in the Shell. Although praised at the time, Ninja Scroll’s visuals do not hold up as well as its stylised sci-fi contemporaries but its character design is strong, with chins that rival Ben Affleck and distinctive supernatural powers for each of the eight devils that Jubei faces. The level of sex and violence is gratuitous but no longer shocking by modern standards, although the film’s treatment of female ninja Kagero does not hold up well. Jubei and Kagero are both reluctant heroes, coerced by a manipulative government spy, creating an interesting dynamic between the trio with their differing approaches to honour. That ultimately proves more compelling than the convoluted story which is delivered through lengthy bouts of exposition. Ninja Scroll may remain an anime classic but it shows its age in storytelling as much as visual fidelity, yet the action remains thoroughly engaging 30 years later.