Series / Ninja Warrior

"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!"
'Opening Narration of Ninja Warrior

Ninja Warrior is 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; it even airs regularly in Australia on SBS2.

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 attempt at a perfect run, and if they go off-course on any obstacle or run out of time on timed segments, they must wait until the next competition for another shot. Sasuke eventually turned into a national phenomenon in Japan, where regulars and champions from the course get near-instant recognition. A total of thirty-four 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, which means the one hundred competitors looking to finish the course that day must adjust to extreme heat, cold, or rain. 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 competition to the next, yet the general purpose of each stage remains the same:

  • In Stage 1, competitors must clear obstacles focused on testing speed and agility within a set time limit.
  • In Stage 2, competitors must clear obstacles focused on testing strength and endurance—especially upper body strength—within a set time limit.
  • In Stage 3, competitors must clear obstacles focused on testing their overall strength. This stage has no timer, and the last three obstacles do not allow the competitor to stop and relax between obstacles, which further raises the challenge.
  • In Stage 4, any remaining competitor(s) must ascend to the top of a large tower within a stringent time limit. One version features a two-stage climb of 75 feet that uses 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 straight-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 back a rope climb similar to the first version of Stage 4. A higher 75-foot high variation of the fourth version was used in the 28th competition, but was replaced by a 78-foot variation of the Spider Climb/Rope Climb version in the next competition. The current version (As of SASUKE 32), which is 82-feet, consists of a Spider Climb followed up by a Salmon Ladder for the first two-thirds, before ending with the rope climb.

Each stage, including the final stage, can end in one of two ways: (1) a competitor fails via falling off an obstacle or not finishing in time or failing via disqualification on certain obstaclesnote , or (2) they clear the stage and either hit a trigger button or cross 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 do not hit the trigger in time. (In one case, the competitor did not even know about the trigger!)

Out of the 3,500 attempts across all 35 competitions to date, only four men have ever defeated the entire course—a success rate of about 0.114%. Yuuji Urushihara became the first man to beat the course twice when he completed the course during the 27th competition. In one competition (SASUKE 3), a half-dozen competitors made it to Stage 4, and each one failed. In another, a re-designed course with harder obstacles ensured that no one made it past Stage 2 (SASUKE 19).

Sasuke allows women to compete, though 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—though it occurs less frequently (only ten competitions have occurred to date, which averages to one per year) and uses obstacles that focus more on balance and speed. Out of a total of ten tournaments to date, one woman (Ayako Miyake) completed the entire course three times in a row, and two other women also finished the entire course (both accomplished the feat during the 8th competition). Kunoichi went on an eight year hiatus between the 8th and 9th competitions, finally resuming in 2017. The most recent tournaments have taken place indoors, similar to the first Sasuke competition, but only have 50 competitors compete instead of 100. In addition, the stages have become more similar to their Sasuke counterparts, featuring more obstacles from the men's course.

In 2007, G4 held an "American Ninja Challenge" and chose the best competitors from this challenge to try out for Sasuke's 19th competition. From then on, G4 would run a new "Ninja Challenge" that coincided with an upcoming Sasuke competition. 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 actual Sasuke course, though it limited the competition to ten finalists rather than run the traditional 100 competitors. The eight-part special, which covered both the tryouts and the actual competition in Japan, premiered in December 2009.

In later years, American Ninja Warrior became 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. In 2012, ANW took on a new format for its fourth season: Competitors try out in regionals across the county to earn a shot at the finals in Las Vegas, where a fully complete Sasuke course has been created for the American contestants. The finals are similar to the traditional Sasuke tournaments, with a full list of 100 competitors taking a shot at the four-stage course, and a cash prize for a final reward. This new format has continued through to the present seasons.

Back in Japan, Sasuke went on an extended hiatus following the 27th tournament due to the bankruptcy of Monster9, the show's original production company. After a year-and-a-half, TBS revived the competition with the 28th competition in December 2012 and the 29th competition in June 2013, under the title of SASUKE RISING. The 30th tournament, which aired in July 2014, broke the twice-a-year pattern in favor of an annual one, as well as returning to the original SASUKE title. By this time, American Ninja Warrior had moved from G4 (shortly before the network itself disappeared from the airwaves) to NBC, with repeats airing on both the NBC-owned Esquire and USA networks. 2017 would later have the twice-a-year pattern return, though it is unknown if it will remain that way for now.

Do not confuse Sasuke with the character Sasuke from Naruto.note 

Ninja Warrior / Sasuke includes 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.
    • Similarly with Rie Komiya, who's first name routinely pronounced like "Rye" by the announcer, when it should be "ree-yay".
    • 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.
  • As Long as It Sounds Foreign / Department of Redundancy Department: The American narration calls it "Mt. Midoriyama"; the Japanese suffix -yama means "mountain". So the narrator is in essence saying "Mount Midori Mountain".
    • Channel guides list the Kunoichi competitions as Kunoichi Women's. The word "kunoichi" essentially means "female ninja".
  • Awesomeness by Analysis / Badass Bookworm: One guy overcame the Warped Wall obstacle (basically a wall curved outward) by studying tapes of it and writing a trigonometric equation.
    • 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 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 he did it again in the 27th tournament by becoming 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.
    • American gymnasts and brothers Morgan and Paul Hamm competed twice. Paul made it to the end of the Second Stage while Morgan made it to the Third Stage.
  • Badass Grandpa: He's not that old, but Kenjiro Ishimaru routinely makes it deep into 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 "Mr. Sasuke" Yamada is a notable subversion. Not only has he never managed to obtain Total Victory, but from the 14th tournament on, he has not even managed to complete the first stage. The fact that he has focused his life completely on this competition (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 for him to one day reach the top of Midoriyama.
  • Boring Invincible Heroine: Averted with Ayako Miyake, who has managed to win the Kunoichi competition three times in a row. It helps that the obstacles are replaced with new (and more difficult) ones which makes the odds of winning even lower, let alone doing so twice. Even more so as she was actually eliminated at the second stage in her fourth competition. invoked
  • 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.
    • There was once a German competitor who made it to the third round and made it to the bar slide. However one side of the bar slid off, which unfortunately counted as disqualification (a rather controversial decision to some since it was more equipment failure then his own actions). Before this was announced however, the man actually tried to continue with the lopsided bar and made it to the end. Even was attempting to make the jump to the goal line before he was stopped.
  • 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, though strength has become more prominent starting from the ninth competition. As mentioned above, it's still very difficult.
  • Death Course
  • 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 in later tournaments.
  • 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 Rolling Log 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 the Slider Drop 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 Slider 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.
    • SASUKE 32 suffered from very damp conditions that caused several competitors to slip on obstacles like the TIE Fighter and Flying Bar. Drew Dreschel nearly timed out on the Warped Wall because of this.
  • 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 shortly after Sasuke 13, 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 competed again in Sasuke 21, but he was 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.
    • Makoto Nagano injured his hamstring in Sasuke 29, and barely managed to make it to the Double Warped Wall before timing out.
  • Game Show
  • Heroic R.R.O.D.: 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.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: In Sasuke 16, Bunpei Shiratori had the actually rather clever idea to grab the resting bar before the Devil's Swing to build up momentum. Unfortunately, this only resulted in the obstacle repeatedly getting stuck behind the resting bar when Makato Nagano attempted the strategy. And then when he tried to make the jump to the final obstacle, he accidentally knocked it out of reach and failed the course.
  • 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. Subverted in SASUKE 31 with "Wreath Man", known by his real name: Ragivaru Anastase. He managed to power through the first stage, while wearing a wreath, and achieved the fastest time in the tournament, and made it up to Stage 3.
  • Little Miss Badass: Rena Higashi was able to reach stage 3 of Kunoichi when she was 13!
  • 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.
  • Luck-Based Mission: Even the best of the contestants will fail with one slight mistake.
  • Married to the Job: All-Star Katsumi Yamada; training for this is his job.
  • 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 twice 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!"
  • No OSHA Compliance: It's mostly notable compared to the American Ninja Warrior counterpart. While the platforms have some padding it's often just carpeting and there are a few obstacles look worn and even involve sharp sheet metal edges. There have been instances of competitors falling off the course and onto the ground, usually due to an obstacle that requires a short run. The American courses have thick padding all around every platform, the obstacles themselves look newer (at least with a fresh coat of paint) and there are fewer obstacles involving sprints or running leaps.
  • Overly Long Name: Jayawaira Umagirya Kankaanamuge Ranbindara. He was eliminated before the announcer had a chance to finish introducing 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 four people (Kazuhiko Akiyama in the 4th Competition, fan favorite Makoto Nagano in the 17th Competition, Yuuji Urushihara in the 24th and 27th Competition, and now Yusuke Morimoto) have completed the entire course in 31 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 seven people have ever completed the course.
  • Positive Discrimination: Women can compete in both Sasuke and Kunoichi, but men can only compete in the former.
  • Promoted Fan Boy: Those who made it to the tournament thanks to G4's "American Ninja Challenge" tie-in.
    • The best of these is Levi Meeuwenberg; in the 20th Competition, he got further than any other competitor and was immediately asked back for the next tournament.
  • Retired Badass: The All-Stars collectively retire from the competition after Sasuke 28, also referred to as Sasuke Rising.
    • 10-Minute Retirement: Makoto Nagano, Shingo Yamamoto and Toshihiro Takeda all return in Sasuke 29, though none are referred to as All-Stars since the title was retired.
    • After SASUKE 32 however, Nagano retired for real. Bunpei Shiratori has also stopped competing, his last tournament being SASUKE 30.
  • Regular Character: Yamamoto Shingo has run in all 35 Sasuke courses. He is the only competitor to do so.
  • Rise to the Challenge: Stage 4, which is best described as "climb tower really fast".
  • 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.
    • Sasuke 28 goes one further, as Stage 3 adds the Crazy Cliffhanger (where, to reach the final cliff, a competitor must leap backwards and grab the miniscule ledge) and the Vertical Limit (a 1 cm wide cliff that a competitor must navigate by grabbing both sides of the wall in a pincer grip. All the competitors who make it to the Crazy Cliffhanger in SASUKE 28 fail on the jump ledge.
    • Sasuke 28 also ratchets up the difficulty on the Salmon Ladder with a new variant: Swap Salmon Ladder. On this one, you have to zig-zag your way up, and the next pegs appear after you clear the last pegs, and unlike previous variants, if the bar lands sideways (One end on a higher rung than the other), you immediately get disqualified. To compensate for that, there is only one Unstable Bridge instead of two right after it.
    • SASUKE 31 then made the Salmon Ladder even harder by introducing the Kudari Salmon Ladder, where at first you just climb up the rungs as normal, before you swing over to another set of rungs where instead of going up, you go down the rungs to complete the obstacle. However, unlike previous Salmon Ladders, the up section and down section have their own separate bars, and instead of going directly to another obstacle without rest, you just swing over to a ramp.
    • SASUKE 32 saw the creation of the Ultra-Crazy Cliffhanger, where you have to jump backwards twice, with the second ledge curving inwards. The final ledge also moves up and down automatically, making the second jump even more difficult to time.
  • Spell My Name with an "S": Lee Yen Chee? Lee Yen Chi? Lee Enchi? Make up your mind, subtitles.
    • 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.
    • Worse yet, none of these are how the guy himself spells them: Lee En-Chih. (Li En Zhi is the traditional Chinese spelling but En-Chih is Taiwanese, which has a different spelling convention.)
    • 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.
    • The lack of a defined prize can be chalked up to Japan's stringent game show laws for civilians.
    • In the UK, The BBC cancelled Total Wipeout - and ITV promptly commissioned Ninja Warrior UK, thus reversing this trope.
  • 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.
    • The Japanese name is Title Dropped a lot.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The Sasuke 27 commercial shown Shingo Yamamoto failing a brand-new obstacle.
  • Transgender: Hibari.
  • 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.
    • This also happened to Makoto Nagano in Sasuke 12, who was just 0.11 seconds short of defeating the Final Stage.