"There's no crying in baseball!!!" - Jimmy Dugan, A League of Their Own
There are some combinations that work well...chocolate and peanut butter. The Coen Brothers. Spike and Jet. The cast of Seinfeld. Spaceships and big guns. When these happen, it's as natural as air. On the other hand, you can attempt and force certain partnerships, but they just don't work no matter how hard you try. Ben Affleck is no superhero, J. Lo is no lesbian assassin, and Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore is just...creepy. In the same manner, Ninja Cadets wants to put together two completely unalike elements--bloody samurai action and dorky teenagers--and make them appear attractive together. And for a few minutes, it works. But eventually, the show falls apart because it's really just a gimmick...and an incomplete, poorly paced gimmick at that.
In a violent opening confrontation that seems gorier than it actually is (due to some surprisingly effective sound effects), Ninja Cadets starts with an infant princess narrowly escaping from the hands of Kabusu raiders intent on kidnapping her and overthrowing their rival Byakuro clan. Years later, the Byakuro are still on the run from the Kabusu, and six of their able warriors are readying for their final test to become shinobi. Well, able enough...they are all teenagers with lots of spunk and skill, and since only two of them can complete their quest to steal an ancient scroll from the old Byakuro castle, they are at each other's throats quite a bit. But Sakura is special...though she doesn't know it, she is the princess of years past. The Kabusu know it, though, and they send an elite team after her. Though the Kabusu leader got her afro done on Bad Hair Day at Supercuts, they are determined to kidnap Sakura and use her as leverage against her clan. As the teens race to the castle, they meet weird creatures, defeat evil foes, and act like the cast of Slayers (only in feudal Japan).
Writer/director Eiji Suganuma has worked on a variety of shows, most notably as animation director on Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040. Ninja Cadets is the only title I know of where he had the reins in his hands, and unfortunately, he bungles his first major effort. His later work on Tokyo 2040 shows that he's since been employed at what he's skilled at: making slick-looking productions with a certain flair look really good. And there's no doubt that Ninja Cadets looks good. Though the animation drops off in a few places, the artwork looks great and Cadets' characters are perky enough.
Ninja Cadets actually gets off to a healthy start, what with the exciting opening and a few key sequences done well in the first episode. For a while, the start of the show keeps us going when we go through the obligatory introductions to our six lead characters, our troop of villains, and the contrived test these folks have to go through. But since the OVA keeps moving, even as we sit through yet another predictable "hot springs" sequence, we're all right with it...for a while.
But my interest started to wane as the second episode started, and that's where the show crumbles. We've come too far in the first episode, and so there's not enough to fill another half-hour. Thus, Suganuma fills the second OVA with battle after battle, with each one more contrived than the next. I was watching the show in the middle of the day, during my peak hours, and I felt myself falling asleep after twenty-five minutes of boredom. To top it all off, the show doesn't even end. It's not an exercise in utter frustration like the non-ending of Please Save My Earth, but it comes close. Combined with the pointlessness of the last thirty minutes and the knowledge that there is no conclusion, it's enough to frustrate even the most laid-back anime fan.
Looking back at the entire show, I'm struck that part of the problem is that the program has no idea what it wants to be. It's too violent for general audiences, too lackluster for the action crowd, and not funny enough for the comedy crew. It wants to be goofy and hip and edgy all at the same time, but it doesn't have the creative juice to do any of it. It brings me back to the point I tried to make at the beginning...kids (even teenagers) and ninjas don't mix. It's one thing to have a young ninja fleeing his homeland (ala The Dagger of Kamui). It's another entirely to make a game out of having teens slash through creatures and poke giant spider eyes out.
If I were to rate Ninja Cadets on its two separate episodes, the first episode would get a better rating than the ruinous second. But a show is only as good as its ending, and this one is poor. Although there are fans out there desperate to find the second coming of the Ninja Scroll or Rurouni Kenshin experience and willing to rent anything set in feudal Japan, this is one you should skip...it's not terrible, but it doesn't have the goods.
Ninja Cadets -- violence (some graphic), brief suggestive themes -- C