"From the Land of the Rising Sun, one hundred determined athletes have accepted the challenge to become...Ninja Warrior! Divided into four extreme stages, competitors must face the ultimate test of strength and will, in their quest to become champion. Many are called, few are chosen. Now, let's find out who's tough enough to become the next...Ninja Warrior!"
Ninja Warrior serves as the American title of Sasuke, a Japanese sports entertainment program — no, not that kind of sports entertainment — made famous through G4TV's Americanization. Ninja Warrior has grown in popularity thanks specifically to its heightened exposure via American television.At its core, Sasuke works like an obstacle course with the difficulty knob turned up to "Nightmare Mode" before getting broken off. A competitor gets one try at a perfect run, and if they go off-course on any obstacle or run out of time on timed segments, they don't get another shot until the next competition. Sasuke eventually turned into a national phenomenon in Japan, where regulars and champions from the course get near-instant recognition. A total of twenty-seven competitions — about two per year — have happened since the show's inception.The Sasuke course sits at the base of Midoriyama, regardless of weather conditions; competitors have to learn how to adjust to extreme heat, cold, or rain if they hope to beat the course. Each competition traditionally begins in the afternoon, then continues for as long as it takes all one hundred competitors to either fail or complete the course. The individual stages and obstacles can change from one tournament to the other, but the general purposes of each stage remain the same:
In Stage 1, competitors have to clear obstacles focused on testing speed and agility within a set time limit.
In Stage 2, competitors have to clear obstacles focused on testing strength and endurance — especially upper body strength — within a set time limit.
Stage 3 has no timer thanks to the obstacles focusing more on a competitor's overall strength. The last three obstacles don't have a place to stop and relax, which further ratches up the challenge factor.
Stage 4, the last stage, generally works the same no matter what: any competitor lucky enough to get this far must ascend to the top of a large tower within a very stringent time limit. One version features a two-stage climb over 100 feet using a spider-wall method for the first half and an open rope climb the rest of the way. Another version challenges competitors to make a straigh-up fifty-foot rope climb. A third version replaces the Spider Climb with a rope ladder. A fourth version of this stage — first seen in the 27th competition — reduces the tower in height to 66 feet and brings a rope climb similar to the first version of Stage 4 back.
Each stage, including the final stage, ends in one of two ways: a competitor fails via falling off an obstacle or not finishing in time, or they clear the stage and hits the trigger button (or crosses a finish line) at the end of the stage. A competitor could technically clear every obstacle during a stage and still fail the run because they didn't hit the trigger in time. (In one case, the competitor didn't even know about the trigger.)Out of the 27 competitions (2,700 attempts) to date, only three men have defeated the entire course (a success rate of 0.12%). Yuuji Urushihara became the first man to beat the course twice when completed the course during the 27th competition. In one competition, a half-dozen competitors made it to the final stage — only for each one to systematically fail. In another, thanks to the redesigned course, no one made it past level 2.Sasuke allows women to compete, and only one woman has ever completed Stage 1 — but the all-female Kunoichi gives women their own spotlight. Kunoichi follows the same rules as Sasuke — and even films at the same location — but it occurs less frequently (only eight competitions have occured to date, which averages out to one per year) and uses obstacles that focus more on balance and speed. Out of the eight competitions (800 attempts), one woman — Ayako Miyake — completed the entire course three times in a row, and two other women have also finished the entire course (both accomplished the feat during the 8th competition).In 2007, G4TV — which airs Ninja Warrior in the US — held an "American Ninja Challenge" and chose the best competitors from this challenge to try out for Sasuke's 19th competition. Since then, they have run a new "American Ninja Challenge" that coincides with upcoming Sasuke competitions.The popularity of the contest eventually led G4 to film the first-ever American Ninja Warrior, an all-American edition of the competition. G4 filmed this competition in Japan on the Sasuke course, but limited the competition to ten finalists. The eight-part special, which covers both the tryouts and the actual competition in Japan, premiered in December 2009. In later years, the show has worked like a Survivor-type reality show, with three teams of five men competing against each other to receive a shot to compete at the actual Sasuke competition.Do not confuse Sasuke with the character Sasuke from Naruto.*
Fun fact: the narrator of Ninja Warrior voices Kakashi on that same series.
Ninja Warrior / Sasuke contains examples of the following tropes:
Accent Upon The Wrong Syllable: Shunsuke Nagasaki's name is continually pronounced "Shun-soo-kay" by Dave Wittenberg when it should be "Shun-skay". It's especially bizarre because others whose names are pronounced in a similar fashion are correctly pronounced.
What makes this really strange is that Wittenberg is an anime voice actor, so you would think he would be used to Japanese pronunciations.
Action Mom: Chie Nishimura, who returns later in Kunoichi, making it to the third stage, showing even as a housewife, she's still got it.
Another one made a to-scale mock-up of the course and did impressively well; he only ran out of time on the last rope climb.
Badass: Pretty much all the serious competitors, and even a few somewhat silly ones like comedian Wakky.
Badass Adorable: Ayako Miyake is really really cute and has also won Kunoichi three times, consecutively. Yuko Mizuno, Rena Higashi, and Rie Komiya also count.
Badass Bystander: Each and every one of the "Ninja Warrior All-Stars", whose professions run the gamut from fishermen to government employees to gas station managers. Only Toshihiro Takeda, a firefighter, is in a profession that people perceive as having to regularly deal with the kind of exertion that the obstacles provide.
Not just the "All-Stars". In the 22nd tournament, only one man made it to Stage 4, and was the first person to do so since Makoto Nagano beat Stage 4. His name is Yuuji Urushihara. His profession? Shoe salesman.
He topped that in the 24th tournament by becoming the third man to ever beat the entire course. Then did it AGAIN in the 27th tournament by being the only man to do it twice.
Badass Family: Makoto Nagano's wife Asami competed in at least one run of Kunoichi, and did quite well all things considered.
Badass Grandpa: He's not that old, but Kenjiro Ishimaru is the oldest competitor to clear the first stage, being in his 50s and in excellent physical condition. Of course, fans of Kamen Rider Den-O already knew how awesome he is.
"Blind Idiot" Translation: For some inexplicable reason, fireman Kouji Yamada is always referred to as Yasushi Yamada in the US broadcast.
Boring Failure Hero: Katsumi Yamada is a notable subversion. Not only has he never managed to obtain Total Victory, but from the 14th tournament on he hasn't even managed to complete the first stage. The fact that he's focused his life completely on this (which cost him his job and his family) makes it all the more heartbreaking. Nevertheless, he is considered an All-Star and fans (as well as the other All-Stars) continue to cheer him on for him to one day reach on top of Midoriyama.
Contest Winner Cameo: Following the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, G4 and Sasuke's producers auctioned off a spot in the 27th tournament, with the proceeds going to the recovery efforts. The winner's run was shown, and though he failed on the First Stage he said he was honored to be there at all and glad that his money would be helping people.
Determinator: A good way to tell an All-Star apart from the others is his determination to beat the course, and his crushing disappointment when he fails.
Bunpei Shiratori is a textbook example in the 15th tournament: after falling victim to heat exhaustion, the officials were unsure if he could even perform in the First Stage without endangering his health; regardless, he went on to get all the way to the Third Stage with little issue.
Distaff Counterpart: The ladies-only spin-off Kunoichi (aka "Women of Ninja Warrior") has a different set of obstacles focusing on balance and agility instead of upper-body strength. As mentioned above, it's still very difficult.
Downer Ending: Makoto Nagano fell less than two-tenths of a second short of completing Stage 4 in the 12th tournament. But take heart. He eventually does win... three years later.
Sasuke 28 ends with the All-Stars, who have all announced their retirement, eliminated in Stage 1. Definitely a very sour note for them to end on.
Every Year They Fizzle Out: While it's a given that most of the competitors will probably fail at some point in Stage 3 (most superheroes would probably fail Stage 3), Katsumi Yamada is the poster boy of the trope. Every tournament the announcers discuss how he spends his life training, and every year he fails – with a particularly bad stretch where he couldn't clear Stage 2. Ever since Sasuke 14, he has been unable to complete Stage 1.
Kazuhiko Akiyama would count, given his poor performances since his victory, but he suffers from chronic poor health and blindness, something the announcers bring up every time he competes since his victory.
Fanservice: The Kunoichi episodes. Come on, man. Come on.
Faux Action Girl: Yuko Mizuno; she's a very accomplished woman, but has suffered a lot of bad luck lately.
Gag Dub: The Spanish dub is a pretty lame Gag Dub, with a lot of toilet humor and lame risqué jokes, that tries to capitalize on the smashing success that Takeshi's Castle had in Spain, in the 80s, with a similar (though much funnier) dub.
Game-Breaking Bug: Every now-and-then some obstacle on the course comes apart, and causes the contestant to lose. The Barrel Roll of early competitions is possibly most notable for randomly falling off the tracks every now and then.
Most recently, Levi Meeuwenburg took on the second stage and jumped on a sliding bar obstacle when the bar jumped the track and dropped him into the water, disqualifying him.
In the fourth women's tournament, one of the youngest competitors had what turned out to be one of the strongest Stage 1 runs... until she slipped on a towel that had been accidentally left on the course by one of the production team, and fell into the water. This led to an outraged reaction when the producers made the disqualification stand and refused to allow her another run, on the grounds that she should have seen the towel and avoided it.
Makoto Nagano fell victim to one of these during Stage 1's slide jump. While the obstacle worked fine for everyone else, part of the rope attached to the slider was stuck on the outside railing, which caused the slider to stop too many feet away from the net, and made the jump towards the net impossibly long. After Nagano complained about the rope getting cut off, the officials took a second look, and agreed with him, thus disqualifying his attempt. The good news and bad news: Nagano has to do the entire course over again. He succeeds.
In Sasuke 24, Kenji Takahashi was one of the competitors to make it to the final stage. During his climb, his safety line got tangled up and he was unable to continue until time eventually ran out.
Game Breaking Injury: Shingo Yamamoto's shoulder could certainly qualify, as it's dislocated on him three times to date. Fellow All-Star Bunpei Shiratori has been unable to compete in recent tournaments because of an injury.
Trampolinist Daisuke Nakata was the victim of a hit-and-run prior to Sasuke 17, leaving him with severely weakened grip strength. The effects are clearly seen when he attempts the third stage of the tournament, unable to make it past the Arm Rings, the first obstacle. He competes again in Sasuke 20, but he's unable to get past the Salmon Ladder.
Drew Drechsel injured his knee during stage one in The finals of American Ninja Warrior 3 and had to drop out the rest of the tournament. He was the only one of the 10 finalists to not complete stage one.
Heroic RROD: Many of the best contestants have the ability to make it all the way through, but get stuck on something that drains all the strength they have for the later obstacles.
Hey, It's That Guy!: Quite a few Tokusatsu actors crop up in this competition, including Kane Kosugi (Ninja Black/Jiraiya), Mitsuomi Takahashi (Bouken Red/Satoru Akashi), Toshiki Kashu (Agito/Shoichi Tsugami), Kenjiro Ishimaru (Owner), Keisuke Kato (Ixa/Keisuke Nago) and Masahiro Inoue (Decade/Tsukasa Kadoya). G4 doesn't tend to show their runs, apparently because Sasuke draws attention to their Toku roles and copyright issues are involved. However, you can occasionally see them in the audience (in one tournament, Kato and Inoue are sitting next to each other and remarking on other contestants) and they did once show Takahashi run the First Stage, complete with the announcer repeatedly calling him "Bouken Red" (which was subbed).
Kane Kosugi's runs actually are shown, mostly because he was a regular in early seasons (along with his brother Shane) and is better known for action movies than Kakuranger. Likewise Ishimaru, who is one of the oldest competitors to clear the First Stage, and is credited for his travel show and work as a narrator more than being on Den-O.
Joke Character: "The Octopus", "The Butterfly", "Superman", and a cavalcade of comedians, cosplayers, near-nudists, and humorous pro wrestlers. They usually don't get very far in Stage 1. Only twice did one of these guys – both times comedian Kinnikun Nakayama – manage to get to Stage 2.
It should be noted that Kinnikun Nakayama is very, very muscular.
Lost in Translation: Hiroyuki Asaoka – a teacher of the Japanese equivalent of elementary school – is known by the alliterative pun nickname "Sasuke Sensei". In the English subtitles and narration, the nickname is changed to "Professor Ninja Warrior", which ruins the pun.
Mighty Glacier: Travis Schraeder can best be described as this; he's an extremely strong competitor and rarely loses the course by falling, but rarely manages to outrun the clock. He competed 2 and timed out once. Oddly, in his first attempt, he posted the fastest Stage 1 clear.
No Celebrities Were Harmed: A Barack Obama pastiche runs in the 22nd edition, complete with the crowd waving flags and chanting, "Yes, we can!". He fails, and the announcer shouts out, "No, you can't!"
Overly-Long Name: One competitor had such a long name that he was eliminated before the announcer had a chance to properly introduce him.
Overshadowed by Awesome: With all the attention G4 gives to Levi Meuwenberg, Brian Orosco and others, it's easy to forget about Brett Sims, the winner of the first two American Ninja Warrior contests.
Platform Hell: Definitely a Real Life example. Boy howdy! Only three people (Kazuhiko Akiyama in the 4th Competition, fan favorite Makoto Nagano in the 17th Competition, and Yuuji Urishihara in the 24th and 27th Competition) have completed the entire course in 27 competitions. If you include the Kunoichi competitions, with Satomi Kadoi, Rie Komiya (who couldn't get past the Halfpipe Attack in Sasuke), and Ayako Miyake (who beat the Kunoichi course three times in a row), only six people have ever completed the course.
Serial Escalation: If there is any stage or obstacle that is considered "too easy," it will be redesigned for the next tournament to make sure it is harder. In Sasuke 19 and 22, Stage 1 eliminated all of the Ninja Warrior All-Stars.
Not only did Sasuke 19 eliminate every All-Star in Stage 1, but 98 of the 100 competitors were eliminated on the stage. The two remaining competitors were both eliminated on the Salmon Ladder, an early but difficult Stage 2 obstacle.
Sasuke 25 reveals the Double Salmon Ladder for Stage 2, where you transition from one set of pegs to another, and the Ultimate Cliffhanger in Stage 3. Of the competitors who made it to the Cliffhanger, none are able to get beyond the first couple cliff transitions.
And just to add to the confusion, the name pronunciation, and the name used on the Sasuke Wiki, is Li En Zhi, a fourth possibility.
It's Wakky, not Wacky. G4 doesn't seem to understand this.
Spin-Off: Until about the 8th Competition, the background is dotted with the emblems for Muscle Ranking; Sasuke was initially run during that show, and was spun off.
Spiritual Successor: ABC's Wipeout series was inspired by Ninja Warrior – to the point where there was a lawsuit over the similarities between Wipeout and Sasuke – but has fewer competitors, changes up the rules (falling off the course during a stage doesn't eliminate you, finishing last does; the first person to complete the last stage sets the pace that the other competitors must beat to win the competition), and uses "wacky" challenges instead of challenges meant to test one's physical limits. It also features another stark difference: whereas there's no advertised prize that a contestant can get (other than fame) for beating the entire course, Wipeout offers a $50,000 purse to the last person standing.
Super Strength: You'll need as much upper-body as can be humanly summoned to beat Stage 3.
Take Your Time: Anyone that reaches Stage 3 has an unlimited amount of time to complete it. Considering the obstacles in this stage, this is very justified.
Tempting Fate: During one competition, the announcer mentions that the current competitor, Makoto Nagano, barely ever made mistakes. Upon nearing the end of the course he forgets to kick off of the right part of the second to last obstacle and fails the course.
In Sasuke 25, right before Toshihiro Takeda takes on Stage 2, he smugly remarks how no one's failed at the new Double Salmon Ladder yet. Guess who's the first one that does.
10-Minute Retirement: Katsumi Yamada has remarked several times that he will stop competing, but he always seems to come back.
Title Drop: The Japanese announcer whenever one of the G4 competitors is running the course.
True Companions: It may be a competition, but the real opponent is the course rather than the other contestants. As a result, regulars like the All-Stars and the up-and-coming young guns have a great deal of respect for and camaraderie with each other. Shown rather touchingly by G4's special detailing Levi Meeuwenberg's training, where he spent a good deal of time with the All-Stars (Makoto Nagano in particular) and all of them were eager to let this person they barely knew into their homes and treat him as one of their own.
World of Badass: It's a show about people from all walks of life, from Olympic athletes to gas station attendants, running an insanely grueling Japanese obstacle course in the name of glory.
Yank the Dog's Chain: The most glaring example is Katsumi Yamada, to the point where he actually quit competing for a tournament before having a He's Back moment
Shingo Yamamoto manages to get to the third stage in the 23rd competition, the first time since the 17th competition and failed on the first obstacle. The reason? Remember when he dislocated his shoulder during his ascent on the Final Stage (See Downer Ending)? The same shoulder got dislocated only seconds after starting the third stage!
For double the ouch factor, if you watch the replay, and know it's coming, you can actually see the moment his shoulder pops.
After making it through the qualifying round of American Ninja Warrior 2 and going through the entire boot camp training regiment, Levi Meeuwenburg broke his wrist just before the Americans were set to head to Japan. He was still able to go, but he was unable to compete, prompting Adam Laplante to be brought in to take his place.
You Are Too Late: Yuko Mizuno provides the worst example: she made it to the top of the tower in the final stage and hit the trigger mere moments after time ran out.