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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 Jubei 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 — but even for a Master Swordsman, 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, the 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, the blind swordsman.
  • Mushizo, the ugly hunchback who is a living hornets' nest.
  • Zakuro, the female 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 the chagrin of Yurimaru. For these characters, Love Hurts.

The movie was inspired by the semi-historical novel "The Kouga Ninja Scrolls" by Futaro Yamada, published in 1958, which is also the basis for Basilisk.

A semi-related anime series was created years after the film's release. A cinematic sequel was announced in 2005, but it's been dangling in Development Hell ever since.

Ninja Scroll provides examples of the following 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.
  • And I Must Scream/A Fate Worse Than Death: This is Genma's final fate: encased in a shell of molten gold and sunk to the bottom of the ocean
  • Badass Grandpa: Dakuan
  • 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.
    • For a given value of "basic", anyway. 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).
  • Bad Guys Do the Dirty Work: Yurimaru and Zakuro's jealousies end up saving the heroes a lot of trouble.
  • Boring Invincible Hero: Heavily 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 apparently just to freak out Kagero.
  • Body Horror: Good God.
  • Broken Bird: Kagero has been pretty much used and abused by everyone until she meets Jubei.
  • The Brute: Tessai
  • Can't Have Sex, Ever: Kagero's body absorbs poisons instead of processing them; it makes her ideal for her job, 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 dropped
  • Coitus Uninterruptus: Kagero reports the massacre to her chamberlain, who is...preoccupied, much to Kagero's disgust (and possibly 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.
  • 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 9th 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 Shimoda village was wiped out due to plague.
  • 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 risk her life.
  • Depraved Bisexual: Genma
  • Depraved Homosexual: Yurimaru
  • 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.
    • Kagero poisons people who sleep with her. This is subverted when Jubei chooses not to sleep with Kagero despite knowing she's the cure to Dakuan's poison.
  • Disability Superpower: Don't mess with the blind swordsman.
  • Effeminate Misogynistic Guy: Yurimaru
  • Everything Is Better With Explosions: Zakuro
  • Exotic Weapon Supremacy: Shijima
  • 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 rather disturbing.
    • Zakuro's outfit 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 Kagero.
  • 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: Jubei refuses to sleep with Kagero despite knowing the act would cured him. They eventually do kiss just before she dies.
  • Hot Springs Episode: Jubei drops by a hot spring after fighting Tessai.
  • If I Can't Have You: Zakuro doesn't take rejection by gay guys very well.
  • 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.
  • Juggle Fu: In Jubei's introduction and Establishing Character Moment, he simply had to take care of three disgruntled assailants before he could finish his delicious 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
  • Made of Iron: Jubei takes absurd amounts of punishment throughout the film and walks away.
  • Make Sure He's Dead: Yurimaru detonates an entire river trying to kill Jubei and his friends — then makes sure to comb it for dead bodies.
  • Master of Your Domain: The Big Bad has an extreme example of this trope.
  • Meaningful Name: Tessai means "Made of Iron.''
  • 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
  • Nice Hat: Jubei's kasa hat. He's slightly upset by it being split by Tessai's blade (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.
  • 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 does not believe that Genma is behind the plot because he clearly recalls lopping 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 minions would be Lawnmower versus Grass.
  • Pillars of Moral Character: Kagero
  • Poisonous Person: Kagero
  • Psycho Electro: Yurimaru
  • 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 jollies, 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).
  • 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
  • Smug Snake: Benisato
  • A Storm Is Coming: Jubei says this as he runs off at the end of the film's opening scene.
  • Sword Sparks
  • 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 as he falls into the water, and when that attack is blocked by Jubei's sword, he 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 6 of the 8 Devils of Kimon, with the other 2 being lost to betrayal from their own brethren.
    • Kagero, at least, successfully helps Jubei in winning several fights indirectly, but despite her supposed talent in ninja martial arts, the only hits she ever makes that connect are, ironically enough, when she's hitting Jubei.
  • 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 real 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.
  • World of Badass
  • Worthy Opponent: Mujuro
  • 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 when she outlives her usefulness by 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.

NEEDLESSCreator/MadhouseNo Game No Life
Neon Genesis EvangelionCreator/Manga EntertainmentNoein
MPD PsychoHorror Anime & MangaNinja Scroll: The Series
DarkstalkersMadmanEntertainment/Anime and MangaNinja Scroll: The Series
Suplex FinisherImageSource/Anime and MangaSuck Out the Poison

alternative title(s): Ninja Scroll
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