The Dagger of Kamui, sometimes referred to as Revenge of the Ninja Warrior, is a classic animated film released in 1985, one of the earliest works of Madhouse, and based on several novels of the same name.
Japan, 19th century, the end of the Edo period. An Ainu foundling named Jiro is taken in by a widowed inn-keeper and her daughter. One evening, Jiro's adoptive family is assassinated by a ninja, and Jiro is framed for the murder with a strange dagger left at the scene. Jiro is forced to flee, with the dagger, in order to escape punishment for the crime. He eventually runs into a strange monk named Tenkai, who unexpectedly presents him with the opportunity to get revenge on the man who actually killed his family. Jiro, still a young and naive boy at the time, accepts the offer, and soon takes the opportunity to stab the man Tenkai's followers captured.
From then on, Jiro's fate is entirely tied to Tenkai's ninja faction, as he is raised and trained in the arts of ninjutsu. But Jiro's first mission, to discover the fate of his lost father and his missing birth family, is complicated when the monk sends his other ninja out to kill him. Jiro's journey takes him throughout feudal Japan — and beyond — following a series of clues that will eventually lead him to the truth. A truth that is inextricably tied to the strange dagger that has become Jiro's main weapon. But will that truth really appease his soul?
The series' animation is top-notch for an 80's animated film, just like its excellent soundtrack. Despite being quite obscure in the West, both the manga and the anime were very influential, namely Go Nagai among others cites it as a reference.
The show provides examples of:
- Ambition Is Evil: Tenkai is this personified since his ultimate goal included toppling the Shogun and taking his place.
- Beauty Equals Goodness: Zigzagged. Most villains on the show are rather lacking in the face department (especially the Three Demon Ninjas), with few exceptions who eventually turn out to be not that bad in the end.
- Because You Were Nice to Me: At the onset of his journey, Jiro meets a young boy named Uraka and his grandfather whom he saves from a group of bullies. Sometime later, after getting framed again for the murder of his mother (the real one this time), Jiro is freed from imprisonment with the help of Uraka.
- Better to Die than Be Killed: A very peculiar instance with the adoptive daughter of the old man who takes Jiro in after his last showdown with Tenkai's militia. Left to mourn her foster parent after Jiro leaves for California, she gets questioned by Tenkai who promises to let her leave if she tells him all she knows. Feeling that she would die anyway, she slits her throat with the shuriken Jiro gave her as a memento.
- Big Bad: Tenkai who remains the main antagonist all through the series.
- BrotherSister Incest: Averted. While Jiro and Oyuki clearly share a strange attraction to one another, they never really act on it, except during the trip to California in which Jiro feeds Oyuki mouth-to-mouth.
- Combat Pragmatist: Although he may use classic ninja techniques, Jiro is quite good at taking advantage of his surroundings to get the drop on his opponents.
- Dark Action Girl: Oyuki.
- Died in Your Arms Tonight: The eventual fate of Oyuki in Jiro's arms, shortly after they were revealed to be brother and sister.
- Doomed Hometown: After killing his adoptive family's murderer, Tenkai has Jiro's entire village burnt to the ground and its inhabitants slaughtered.
- Hidden Weapons: Tenkai's walking staff, which is typical of Buddhist monks, holds a sword inside of it.
- Highly Visible Ninja: It's a wonder Jiro manages to be so stealthy with his bright beige fur tunic and his typical Ainu headband. Oyuki qualifies with her bright red flowers on her kimono but the rest is much darker.
- In the Past, Everyone Will Be Famous: During Jiro's travels in the American Old West, he happens to encounter Mark Twain (who introduces himself with his pen name). Twain describes how inspired he was by seeing Jiro win a showdown without using a gun.
- Knife Nut: The whole cast has a knack for short blades and daggers, as the name of the film implies.
- Large and in Charge: Tenkai is unusually tall and massive and he's indeed the leader of his ninja militia that secretly serve the Shogunate.
- Leotard of Power: Oyuki wears one under her usual short kimono. She's is the only character to wear an anachronic garment since lycra didn't exist at the time.
- Long-Lost Relative: Jiro and Oyuki are brother and sister, which explains why they're so irresistibly drawn to one another.
- Manipulative Bastard: Tenkai.
- Master of Illusion: Oyuki's main ability.
- McGuffin: The eponymous dagger, that holds the way to a secret treasure in its handle.
- Moses in the Bulrushes: Tenkai enforces this trope when Tarouza tried to have his wife escape along with Jiro. Tarouza loses an arm and disappears, Oyaruru loses her husband and son, and baby Jiro gets a cut on his face before being sent downriver and orphaned.
- Ninja: Obviously, since this is who Kamui has to deal with most of the time.
- Ninja Run: All over the place, unsurprisingly. Bonus points for Jiro doing a Power Ninja Run against the sunset with a group of ninja mercenaries he hired.
- Orphan's Ordeal: Jiro's life as a kid was far from easy.
- Orphan's Plot Trinket: The Dagger of Kamui and the note Jiro's birth mother left (which he eventually makes into his Martial Arts Headband.)
- Real Is Brown: The movie is quite low-key in colour which adds to its intended realism, in contrast to the psychedelic ninja action.
- Reverse Grip: Most of the fighters in the series hold their weapons that way.
- Self-Made Orphan: Tragic variation. The ninja who Tenkai had Jiro stab at the start of the movie was the boy's long-lost father. Jiro only learns of this much later. Fortunately for Jiro, Tenkai technically landed the finishing blow.
- Single-Stroke Battle: Used a lot in the movie, more particularly between Jiro and the ninja faction sent after him.
- Terrible Trio: The Matsumae Three (or Three Demonic Ninjas), as their name implies.
- The Corpse Stops Here: Happens to Jiro twice, both times with family members. First, he's found with the Dagger of Kamui at the beginning next to the corpses of his adoptive mother and sister. Years later, he barely has time to reunite with his long-lost birth mother before being drugged and forced to watch another ninja stab her with the Dagger, leaving him to be blamed.
- Token Black Friend: In order to travel to California, Jiro has to take a Western boat. Since Westerners weren't that fond of Japanese people at the time, Jiro befriends Sam, a slave of the captain, after rescuing him when he's left behind by his crewmates. He asks for passage on Sam's ship, the California. Sam decides that he owes the ninja his life, and Jiro buys Sam's freedom when the captain forces the ninja to disembark in Alaska.
- Treasure Map: Jiro discovers that his dagger contains an English poem that's an important key to finding the lost treasure of Captain Kidd.
- Would Hit a Girl: Women get no special treatment for being women in the setting. If they're willing to fight, they will be fought. Oyuki found out the hard way.
- Would Hurt a Child: Tenkai doesn't care much about the age of his victims. Even infants are fair game.