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
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
Ninja Scroll provides examples of the following tropes: