There are two genres of warrior stories that come out of anime: serious stories of feudal-era Japan, which are unfortunately rare, and tales of fighters taking on hordes of demons and monsters, which are exceedingly common. The latter genre was defined in part by Hokuto no Ken, which ran for years based solely on an "Incredible Hulk" style paper-thin plot, lots of fighting with unnatural (though mostly human) beings, and bloodbaths straight out of the Apocalypse. Ninja Scroll owes a huge debt to the Hokuto school. Yet, in some ways, it transcends its birthright.
The story revolves around the adventures of Jubei, a mercenary Ninja who tends to let his heart dictate his missions more than the pay he gets. As the story starts, a plague wipes out an entire village. Jubei gets involved with a strange woman who is the lone survivor of the ninja team sent in to investigate, as well as a wise if manipulative old man who is determined to make Jubei follow his destiny. It turns out that Jubei's old rival Genma is not only alive--and as Jubei beheaded him, he should have been pretty dead--but he's behind a lot more than just the plague. Genma is actually in league with a team of demons in an attempt to take over Japan. In Mortal Kombat style, Jubei and company take out each new boss on their way to reach Genma.
Although the plot of Ninja Scroll has no real continuity--several sequences could have been switched in terms of order and still made sense--it is enjoyable for what it is: a well-animated, freewheeling slashfest. The dub, though not really great, imposes a slight tongue-in-cheek feel that can make the most ridiculous moments vaguely acceptable. It gives the feeling that we all know that this is over the top. Those who like their ninjas served (or is that severed?) up raw will like this fast-paced tale that still has time for character development. Those who prefer realistic tales of ronin or tend to shun brutal violence should stay far away.
Ninja Scroll -- GRAPHIC violence, adult situations and language, nudity -- B