Anime: Ninja Scroll

Ninja Scroll is an award-winning 1993 anime film set during the Tokugawa period. As one of Manga Entertainment's first major releases during the mid-1990s anime boom, Ninja Scroll is fondly remembered by those who entered the anime fandom during this period.

The main story begins when a dying peasant girl staggers into the village next to hers and claims a plague has wiped out her village before collapsing. The area is promptly evacuated and quarantined, but the leader of the local lord's ninja force receives reports of a group of strangers seen in the wilderness around the village just before the plague outbreak and asks for permission to investigate.

As the ninja squad make their way towards Shimoda village, they're slaughtered by a giant of a man who can turn his skin into stone. The only survivor of the massacre is Kagero, the sole female ninja in the squad — and she survives only because the stone man (Tessai) wants to rape her. The empty temple he takes her to isn't quite empty, however, as wandering ronin Jubei — the film's protagonist — has stopped there. Jubei manages to wound Tessai in a brief fight and helps Kagero escape, but the duo parts ways afterward.

Kagero returns to report about the death of her squad, and is promptly sent back to gather more information about the attackers. In the meantime, Jubei is attacked by Tessai and then by another strange member of the group of super ninja that Tessai is a part of: the Eight Devils of Kimon. Jubei is saved from one of these attacks by Dakuan, a crazy old man who works as a government agent tracking the Eight Devils. Dakuan asks Jubei to help him, but Jubei refuses until Dakuan traps him in a Poison-and-Cure Gambit before revealing a startling piece of information: the leader of the Eight Devils is Himuro Genma, a man Jubei has some history with — and whom Jubei insists he killed years ago.

Jubei's only chance of survival lies in defeating the Eight Devils of Kimon and retrieving the antidote he needs, and working together with Dakuan and Kagero (after they encounter each other again) appears to give him a greater chance of staying alive. Even for a Master Swordsman, though, taking on the rest of the Eight Devils and their schemes is a formidable challenge as the Devils turn all of their considerable power to wiping out the three protagonists. The Eight Devils are:

  • Tessai, a giant who can turn his skin to stone at will and wields a BFS that doubles as a boomerang.
  • Benisato, who has tattoos of snakes that she can animate, can summon swarms of poisonous snakes, and can shed her skin to escape.
  • Yurimaru, an electrokinetic Bishōnen. He can also send long-distance messages through nearly-invisible wires. Second-In-Command to Genma (and implied to be his lover).
  • Shijima, an assassin who can disappear into shadows and wields a crazy spring-loaded claw/crossbow contraption. He also has a sort of mind control/puppet master ability that he uses to temporarily turn Kagero against Jubei.
  • Utsutsu Mujuro, a blind swordsman.
  • Mushizo, an ugly hunchback who is a living hornets' nest.
  • Zakuro, the explosive specialist whose body appears to be stitched together like Frankenstein's monster and who also gives the same treatment to the Action Bombs she creates.
  • Himuro Genma, who cannot die. The leader of the group and Big Bad of the story, and the Not Quite Dead Arch-Enemy of Jubei.

There is also a minor subplot of the strange love rectangle between Yurimaru, Zakuro, Genma, and Benisato. Zakuro is hot for Yurimaru (who is gay and sleeping with Genma), while Genma is also sleeping with Benisato, much to Yurimaru's chagrin. For these characters, Love Hurts.

The movie was inspired by Futaro Yamada's 1958 Historical Fantasy novel The Kouga Ninja Scrolls, which also served as the basis for Basilisk.

A loosely related anime series was released years after the film's release. A big-screen sequel was announced in 2005, but it's languished in Development Hell ever since.


Tropes:

  • Accidental Hero: Utsuru Mujuro has Jubei dead to rights in their fight before Kagero tries to save Jubei by backstabbing Mujuro; the attack fails and leaves Kagero's blade stuck in a bamboo tree. When Mujuro later attempts a killing blow on Jubei, his sword hits against Kagero's blade (which he can no longer track by his hearing). Jubei doesn't waste the opportunity, and Mujuro dies wondering how Jubei blocked his sword and stabbed him simultaneously.
  • Acquired Poison Immunity: Kagero is immune to all types of poison, although it's implied she's a poison taster because of her immunity (instead of being immune because she's a poison taster).
  • Action Bomb: Zakuro's MO. She turns the leader of the Koga ninjas into one to attack Kagero and Jubei. She later becomes this herself, sinking the cargo ship in the process.
  • An Aesop: Delivered by Dakuan, of all people.
  • Affably Evil: Utsutsu Mujuro, who saves Jubei and Kagero from Zakuro's death trap so he can have a proper duel with Jubei. Of all the Eight Devils, he comes off as the least sadistic.
  • And I Must Scream/A Fate Worse Than Death: This is Genma's final fate: encased in a shell of molten gold that sinks into the depths of the ocean.
  • Badass Grandpa: Dakuan. Being old hasn't dulled his effectiveness as a government spy much.
  • Badass Normal: Unlike the Devils, Jubei doesn't have any special powers, which means he must rely on his basic skills and his wits to come out ahead. That said, Jubei has the ability to perform an iaijutsu draw which can strike an enemy or object that is beyond the actual range of his blade. The visual effects used to convey this are fairly understated in the movie (and much less so in the series).
  • Boring Invincible Hero: Subverted with Jubei. The Action Prologue and his first encounter with Tessai seem to point toward Jubei being this, and while he kills ninja mooks by the truckload, when he battles the Eight Devils of Kimon he only barely manages to defeat them and tends to get beat up pretty bad in the process. A few he manages to kill only by sheer luck.
  • Bee Bee Gun: The ugly hunchback Mushizo is a living hornets' nest. He communicates with and controls the insects, using them to gather information and as a weapon. The wasps' deadliness has some basis in reality.
  • Big Damn Heroes:
    • Jubei is this to Kagero when he confronts Tessai.
    • Kagero returns the favour when Jubei fights Utsuro Mujuro.
  • Blade Reflection: Utsutsu Mujuro uses this to blind Jubei.
  • Blood Lust: Tessai drinks the blood from the lead Koga ninja's dismembered arm, for no apparent reason than to just freak out Kagero.
  • Body Horror: Good God. All over the damn place, but noteworthy examples include...
    • Benisato stuffing a nun's corpse full of snakes and using it as a puppet—the sight of the serpents bursting out of the nun's eyes and mouth is disturbing!
    • Mushizo's hunchbacked for a good reason—he's got a goddamn hornet hive fused with his back, and we see them emerge from it!! Oh, and there's no forgetting how they start stinging him from within after he plunges into a pond, and they're trying to escape the water.
    • Zakuro taking the corpse of Kagero's former leader and stuffing it full of gunpowder as an explosive trap for Jubei and Kagero. The result is a stitched-together mess of a body that's still missing its arms, with its eyes and lips sewn shut.
    • Genma recovering from mortal injuries is rather graphic, from Jubei headbutting the crown of his skull inward to being cut partially in half from the waist up. And that's not counting what he looks like after being caught in a tidal wave of molten gold...
  • Broken Bird: Kagero has been pretty much used and abused by everyone until she meets Jubei.
  • The Brute: Tessai. How he's able to move with the grace and agility of a ninja is up for debate.
  • Can't Have Sex, Ever: Kagero's body absorbs poisons instead of processing them. It makes her ideal for her job, and protects her from the bite of one of Benisato's snakes, but the numerous toxins have made her bodily fluids so poisonous that even kissing someone else would be deadly. Tessai finds out the hard way.
  • Carrying the Antidote: This trope is subverted; Jubei thinks Dakuan is doing this, so he attempts to Cut The Knot by hitting Dakuan with the poison too, but Dakuan had already thrown away the poisoned shuriken and replaced it with an ordinary one.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The wire attached to Jubei's sword, which he can use to pull the sword into his hand when it's been loose.
  • Coitus Uninterruptus: Kagero reports the massacre to her chamberlain, who is...preoccupied, much to Kagero's disgust (and possible jealousy, depending on how you interpret the face she makes).
  • Conservation of Ninjutsu: Justified; Jubei blows through a group of mooks in the opening scene, but is forced to fight for his life against the Eight Devils of Kimon throughout the rest of the film.
  • Convection Schmonvection: The climactic fight takes place on a burning ship. The fire is hot enough to melt gold. Gold's melting point is over one thousand degrees Celsius, yet the combatants fight without discomfort or having their clothes burst into flames.
  • Corpse Land: Shimoda village is littered with diseased corpses. Then we find out they were poisoned...
  • Crapsack World: This is a Japan where the ninja aren't just skilled shadow fighters, they're legitimate supernatural monsters that come out of nowhere, resurrect from the dead, betray each other left and right, pop out of the shadows to molest you, disguise themselves as normal people to trap you with venomous snakes, poison whole villages, rape you or your corpse and display barely even practical concern when all their friends, lovers, and family die in one evening because, by then, you've seen and done so much that the darkness of the loss and insanity of it all doesn't even faze you at that point. In this world, you literally have to break the laws of nature just to survive. No thank you.
    • Just to drive it home further, there is one, ONE moment in the entire movie that has happiness in it. It's the villager who cheerfully tells his neighbor that the storm made his wife go into labor and now he has a ninth child, and even this moment is cut short because a damn corpse wanders in under control of one of the devils to tell them that a plague has wiped out Shimoda village.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Jubei and Dakuan.
  • Death Seeker: Kagero shows signs of this throughout the movie. In the dub, Jubei chastises Kagero several times over her willingness to throw her life away even in situations where she doesn't need to take such risks.
  • Depraved Bisexual: Genma is said to be sleeping with both Yurimaru and Benisato.
  • Depraved Homosexual: Yurimaru only has eyes for Genma, rudely and roughly spurning Zakuro's advances.
  • Deus Sex Machina:
    • What Shijima does to Kagero to take control of her appears to involve molesting her; see Rape as Drama below.
    • Benisato extrudes a snake from her vagina to bite Kagero.
    • Subverted when Jubei chooses not to sleep with Kagero despite knowing her poisonous bodily fluids would counteract Dakuan's poison.
  • Disability Superpower: Utsutsu Mujuro may be blind but he's a fearsomely skilled swordsman, and it's only a trick of fate that saves Jubei in their fight.
  • Divided We Fall: This is in play among the bad guys. Yurimaru is upset over the fact that Benisato is sleeping with Genma, so when Kagero gets the drop on Benisato he takes the chance to kill her for her failure, despite the fact that she still could have been a major threat to Jubei at least with minimal effort. Later when Zakuro is upset with the way Yurimaru has coldly rebuffed her, she uses one of her Action Bombs with the intent of blowing both him and Jubei up. Yurimaru had been on the edge of torturing and electrocuting Jubei to death, but the distraction lets Jubei get away and only results in Yurimaru's death. The infighting among these villains saved the good guys a lot of trouble.
  • Effeminate Misogynistic Guy: Yurimaru sleeps with Genma, treats Zakuro like garbage, and murders Benisato for failing twice in a row. Since Benisato was also sleeping with Genma, jealousy may also have been a factor.
  • Everything Is Better With Explosions: Zakuro's special ability is infecting corpses with gunpowder.
  • Exotic Weapon Supremacy: Shijima—his prosthetic arm can shoot its claw-tipped fingers out on the end of a long chain.
  • Eye Scream: Tessai is not hard as rock all over.
  • Fan Disservice: Lots of it, although given the tone of the film, it's difficult to say whether it was intended that way...
  • Fanservice:
    • Benisato and Kagero, though the circumstances in both cases makes it rather disturbing.
    • Zakuro's swimsuit-esque outfit also qualifies.
    • There's also Jubei's appearance at the hot spring.
  • Go Out with a Smile: Kagero's heartbreaking farewell to Jubei.
  • Gorn: Quite a bit, especially in the first half of the move and especially any scene with Tessai in it.
  • Gosh Hornet: Mushizo sends a swarm of hornets to attack the Power Trio. Kagero uses sleeping powder mixed with pollen to hold them off.
  • He Who Fights Monsters
    Dakuan: When you fight demons, be a demon yourself, or you can't win!
  • High-Pressure Blood: It rains blood during the Koga massacre.
  • Historical Fantasy
  • Honor Before Reason:
  • Hot Springs Episode: Jubei drops by a hot spring after fighting Tessai.
  • If I Can't Have You: Zakuro doesn't take Yurimaru's rejection very well, especially since he treated her poorly.
  • Interplay of Sex and Violence: Benisato and Kagero both have powers that revolve around this.
  • Intimate Healing: Dakuan tells Kagero she has to sleep with Jubei to cure his poison. Their kiss is implied to be enough to cure him.
  • Irony: The death of Utsutsu Mujuro is rather ironic: after saying Jubei's sight was a weakness, Mujuro is killed because he couldn't see a knife stuck in a bamboo tree (which deflected his attack and gave Jubei the chance to deliver the killing blow).
  • Jerkass: The chamberlain and Dakuan fall under this trope. The chamberlain, especially, seeing as he's Genma in disguise.
  • Juggle Fu: In Jubei's introduction and Establishing Character Moment, he simply had to take care of three disgruntled assailants before he could finish eating his rice-ball. So, he tosses said rice-ball straight into the air as two of his would-be murderers leap into him, blocks the first with his sheathed sword and knocks him silly with a headbutt, takes his spear and smashes the second incoming idiot unconscious with it, then cuts the pistol of the third in half and sheathes his sword in one fast motion so fast the audience couldn't see it, and then opens his hand and catches the rice ball, nonchalantly finishing his lunch afterwards. It's as Badass as it sounds.
  • Last Kiss: In a world where lust, violence, and greed have cheapened sex as an expression of love, Kagero's simple kiss for Jubei was an expression of love stronger than any other.
  • Mad Bomber: Zakuro. And because just throwing simple explosives would be too dull, she combines this with controlling corpses that she's sewn gunpowder into.
  • Made of Iron: Jubei takes absurd amounts of punishment throughout the film and walks away.
  • Make Sure He's Dead: Yurimaru electrocutes an entire river trying to kill Jubei and his friends — then makes sure to comb it for dead bodies.
  • Master of Disguise: It turns out that Genma can do this. Being able to control every atom of his flesh and bone allows him to not only recover from any wound, but alter his body to look like the chamberlain that's sponsoring Kagero's ninja clan.
  • Master of Your Domain: The Big Bad has an extreme example of this trope.
  • Meaningful Name: Tessai means "Made of Iron." Fitting, as he can turn his skin to stone.
  • Men Don't Cry: Played with in Jubei's case; he tries to be this even when faced with the death of friends and loved ones, with the emphasis on the word tries.
  • Miniature Senior Citizens: Dakuan is barely waist-high to Jubei.
  • Nice Hat: Jubei's kasa hat. He's slightly upset when Tessai damages it (not to mention it's completely unsalvageable by round two).
  • Ninja: Every named character in the film is a ninja.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: The final fight between Genma and Jubei is easily one of these, with Jubei on the bad end of it. He survives by sheer determination, a well-timed collapse of support timbers as the burning ship begins to break apart, and a wave of molten gold engulfing Genma.
  • Not Distracted by the Sexy: Pay special attention to Benisato's introduction. While Jubei is making small talk, he's also readying his sword for the draw.
  • Off with His Head!: Jubei initially doesn't believe that Genma is behind the plot because he clearly recalls slicing off his head.
  • Oh Crap!
    • Yurimaru, while electrocuting Jubei, sees a rat wander into the room and collapse, displaying sutures on its belly. He connects the dots (floor covered with black powder + Zakuro's remote bomb = BOOM) when it's far too late.
    • Zakuro has her own when confronting Dakuan in the hold of Genma's ship. She hacks open his sake gourd when he throws it at her and asks if that's all he's got. "Not at all," Jubei replies and drops a lit candle into the pool of flammable alcohol at her feet.
    • There's one a split-second before this; Dakuan is about to light the fuse to blow up Zakuro when a thrown knife slices the wick on his candle.
  • One-Man Army: The best way to describe Jubei's fight with Genma's ninja minions—specifically, the Mooks—would be Lawnmower versus Grass.
  • People Puppets: Three of the Eight Devils of Kimon have mastered this art, in different ways:
    • Shijima can use some unspecified technique to control people's bodies—he manipulates the body of a girl from Shimoda village to spread the rumors about a plague. Later on, he hypnotizes Kagero with the same technique and sends her after Jubei.
    • Benisato slips snakes into the body of a dead nun and uses her as a mouthpiece before setting the snakes loose on Jubei.
    • Zakuro can fill corpses with gunpowder, turning them into stitched-together, zombified Action Bombs.
  • Pillars of Moral Character: Kagero qualifies as On (恩), due to her desire to repay her debt to Jubei for saving her from Tessai.
  • Poisonous Person: Kagero. As a result, she's the perfect person to taste-test for poisons, or assassinate an enemy by sleeping with them.
  • Psycho Electro: Yurimaru, who channels the lightning through the slender steel wires that he throws to snare and strangle his victims.
  • Rape as Drama:
    • When Kagero resists Tessai's attempts to rape her, he flat-out tells her he wouldn't mind raping her corpse instead.
    • Shijima molests Kagero, but whether it's part of establishing his mind control over her, for his own twisted kicks, or both is never made clear.
  • Razor Wind: This is Jubei's only supernatural power (other than his ability to survive getting the crap beaten out of him by Tessai and Genma).
    • The supernatural part being the skill, durability, and muscle necessary to use it. It involves a wire. Throwing Your Sword Always Works, right?
    • Not necessarily. Jubei is shown specifically holding his sword when launching this attack a couple of times, so it may be a straight-up Razor Wind Sword Beam.
  • Rubber Man: Dakuan has a subdued version of this—as he infiltrates the ship of the Toyotomi retainer, he's seen stretching his arm to incredible lengths to hang onto the railing.
  • Sexposition: The film contains an important strategy meeting which the authority figure coldly attends while in the middle of a Coitus Uninterruptus.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Well, sort of. Some of the film's character designers also worked on Samurai Shodown and its sequels, and several characters' designs are based on characters from Ninja Scroll: Caffeine Nicotine (Dakuan); Tachibana Ukyo (Mujuro); Shiki (Benisato); Amakusa (Yurimaru); Basara (Shijima); Sieger (Genma).
    • In a more direct fashion: Kibagami Jubei's name comes from Kibagami Genjuro and Yagyu Jubei.
    • Mujuro is a blind swordsman in the vein of Zatoichi.
  • Significant Hair Cut: Kagero cuts off her topknot to show she's not going to Stay in the Kitchen while her fellow ninjas are out risking their lives.
  • Single Tear: Jubei may be a man amongst men, but when his manly heart is overwhelmed with grief for the deaths of his friends at his own hands and Kagero at Genma's, even he cannot help but shed these.
  • Sissy Villain: Yurimaru. He wears the most complex outfit of the Eight Devils, and often indulges in such artful activities as calligraphy or pausing to smell the flowers.
  • Smug Snake: Benisato. The best example of this would be when she gets chewed out by Yurimaru (and has to block one of his steel wires), but has the nerve to taunt him about her relationship with Genma despite her superior's own relationship with their master.
  • A Storm Is Coming: Jubei says this as he runs off at the end of the film's opening scene.
  • Sword Sparks: Most visible in Jubei's duel with Mujuro, when their swords cross.
  • Suck Out the Poison: Jubei attempts to do this to Kagero's thigh after she's bitten by a snake, but he earns a swift kick for the effort (as she was trying to protect Jubei).
  • Summon to Hand: Jubei does this with his sword via a barely-visible string.
  • Taking You with Me:
    • Tessai attempted this with Jubei, but failed. (Tessai left an impression of Jubei's face in stone so his comrades could avenge him, though.)
    • Mushizo also attempts this by using a Last Ditch Move... twice in a row. He tries to spear Jubei after he falls into the water, and when Jubei blocks that attack with his sword, the wasp-user spits out a poison needle from his mouth (which Jubei manages to block with his sword's handle).
  • The Load: Despite traveling with talented comrades in the movie and TV show, Jubei pretty much ends up doing all the work and killing most everyone. It seems pretty pointless in the movie, when he's fighting Utsutsu, that he calls out "This one's mine!" when they've pretty much all been his. He kills six of the Eight Devils of Kimon, with the other two lost to betrayal from their own brethren.
    • Subverted, however, in that his comrades in the movie have their own contributions. Dakuan's Rubber Man and camoflauge abilities make him good at infiltration. Kagero ends up making all the difference in three of Jubei's confrontations with the Eight Devils—her status as a Poisonous Person has a delayed effect on Tessai that weakens his stone skin; she ambushed Benisato when her snakes had Jubei at her mercy; and her kodachi getting stuck in a bamboo tree blocked Mujuro's sword and gave Jubei the opening to land the killing blow.
  • Tragic Keepsake: Jubei ties Kagero's headband on his sword's scabbard.
  • Trying Not to Cry: Yeah, Men Don't Cry in medieval Japan, but it still took all that Jubei had to do so until Kagero passed on in his arms, and even then a Single Tear that honored his manly heart was shed.
  • Tsundere: Kagero is a rare tragic example of this trope; she didn't learn to express her feelings until it was too late.
  • Twinkle Toes Samurai: Utsutsu Mujuro.
  • Use Your Head: During the climax, Jubei manages to knock Genma to the ground — despite having a broken arm — and repeatedly headbutts Genma hard enough to cave his face in. Genma gets back up seconds later, but still...
  • Villainous Rescue: Yurimaru has strung up Jubei with his wires and is torturing him by via electrocution — then Zakuro uses one of her "living bombs" to kill Yurimaru (Jubei manages to escape, although he is severely hurt).
  • Walking the Earth: Jubei starts the movie doing this. He ends the movie in the same way.
  • What Measure Is a Mook?: The Koga ninja clan is regarded as expendable; their lord regards their slaughter with irritation, since they didn't do their job properly.
  • When She Smiles: Kagero blushing like a normal girl for the first time as Jubei tenderly held her was simply adorable.
  • Woman Scorned: Zakuro doesn't take Yurimaru rejecting her well at all. Of course, Yurimaru's poor treatment of her probably didn't help much...
  • World of Badass: There's Jubei, Kagero, Dakuan, the Eight Devils of Kimon...
  • Worthy Opponent: Mujuro has this opinion of Jubei, saving him and Kagero from a fatal plunge down a cliff so he can duel Jubei personally.
  • Yandere: Zakuro
  • Yaoi Guys: This trope is alluded to with Genma and Yurimaru.
  • You Have Failed Me / You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Yurimaru kills Benisato for failing twice to kill Jubei in one evening; the fact she was sleeping with Genma, his lover, was an added bonus.
  • You Need to Get Laid: Apparently Dakuan's second objective in hiring Jubei and Kagero in the same team.