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Western Animation / Checkered Ninja

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Eternally he wanders in a lonesome pace
Taiko Nakamura — guardian of justice
— Taiko Nakamura's theme

Checkered Ninja (Danish: Ternet Ninja) is an animated movie produced by A. Film and written by Anders Matthesen based on his novel of the same name. It premiered in Denmark on Christmas Day of 2018 and has broken quite a few Danish box office records, including most successful Danish animated movie of all time and most successful Danish movie of the 21st century, and has won the Robert Awards for best child/youth movie, best song and best adapted screenplay. Level K holds the international distribution rights and showed it on the European Film Market in February 2019.

The movie follows Aske, a 7th grader with a strained relationship to his step-family members and who pines after Jessica, a girl in the grade above. He receives a checkered ninja doll from his Uncle Stewart on his 13th birthday and quickly grows wise of the fact that the doll lives and can help Aske with whatever troubles him, but on the condition that he helps the doll take revenge on an evil man...

The film received a sequel, Checkered Ninja 2, in August 2021. In the sequel, the main villain Phillip Eberfrø got released from jail with the help of his lawyer and right-hand man, who plan on getting rid of the evidence of his murder by killing the witnesses, specifically the rest of the kids from the factory. Aske and TN have to travel to Thailand to stop Phillip and his associates before it's too late.

The upcoming third sequel, Checkered Ninja 3 (releasing in August 2025) will take place one year after the events of the Thailand incident. Aske's interests in ninja missions is starting to fade, and would rather spend time with his friends. TN feels neglected at home until he finds a way to help Aske defend himself after accidentally confronting Marco, Jessica's "bad boy" lover. Later on, Aske befriends a girl his age named Emily, making Jessica jealous. On top of that, TN has a new problem - one of his biggest enemies is somehow back for revenge.

Checkered Ninja provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Anti-Hero: The Checkered Ninja is crass and has no issue using violence or blackmail to achieve his goals, but he really just wants to punish a man who murdered a child for a petty reason to make up for his own failure to protect ten children when he was alive, and ultimately, he does genuinely care about Aske's well being.
  • Adapted Out: Kanya, Aske's temporary love interest and Honey Bee's adoptive older sister, was removed during the production of the movie's sequel, with the original book being her only appearance.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Jessica is an example of this, but her friends, twin sisters Mie and Fie take it to the extreme, as in the sequel they even sang a song about wanting a bad boy.
  • Arc Words: "If I don't do it, somebody/nobody else will."
  • Art Shift/Medium Blending: The movie changes to a 2D Samurai Jack-esque style when explaining Taiko's backstory.
    • Sune is briefly seen watching a Naruto-esque anime on his tablet, animated in 2D.
  • Apathetic Citizens: One of the major themes of the film is that a lot of the awful things that happen in the world only happen because people don't care enough to make sure they won't, and several characters justify their awful behavior with the phrase "If I don't do it, somebody else will." Subverted by Aske by the end.
  • Blackmail: Sune blackmails Aske about the latter's crush on Jessica and the love poem he wrote about her in order to have him do Sune's book report on all three volumes The Lord of the Rings.
    • He does it again in the sequel, when he manages to catch Taiko moving and talking on a video recording, and threatens to show it to the parents if he doesn't get to join in on the adventure. Thankfully, while he is The Load at first, he actually does end up providing valuable help in the climax.
  • Bloodless Carnage:
    • Not a single drop of blood is visible during the rap sequence explaining Taiko's backstory, where ninjas are seen sliced apart and stabbed and a criminal is seen being mauled by a dog.
    • Very much averted in the sequel, which begins with the bloody murder of Mr. Chan, the sweatshop owner from the beginning of the first film. While the shot itself is offscreen, we see his arm laying in a pool of blood which is still sticking to his list of former child laborers.
  • Callback: To writer and director Anders Matthesen's earlier radio comedy days. In the sequel, Sune utters "Wow, that's pretty fast, huh?" while riding a scooter. This is a line from some of Matthesen's early radio skits, where a customer commented on the speed of a tatoo artsits work.
  • The Cameo: Plenty of characters from Terkel In Trouble make cameo appearances.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Honey Bee, one of the child slave factory workers. She played a minor role in the first movie, where she was called on by Mr. Chan to get Phillip some water. When the water she got was dirty, Chan ended up hitting her and send her off to get a bottle of clean water to him. In the sequel, Honey, now adopted by a restaurant owner, is one of the children targeted by Phillip and his accomplices to kill as a way to get rid of the evidence of his murder. Thanks to the work of Aske, TN and Sune, Honey was prevented from facing the same fate as Quang.
  • Creator's Culture Carryover: In the second movie, despite being set in Thailand, the vehicles adorn European Union style license plates (the one that has a blue rectangle on the left, the country's flag inset within).
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: In the sequel, Phillip Eberfrø is killed by being thrown down into a cage full of venomous snakes that start biting away at him.
  • Darker and Edgier:
    • Than Terkel In Trouble, its spiritual predecessor. While both movies are full of gore, dark humor and crass language, Terkel In Trouble is almost entirely meant to be taken as pure shits and giggles, while Checkered Ninja is a serious story about a vengeful spirit punishing child abusers that pointedly does NOT treat violence against children as a joke.
    • The sequel is this to the first film, as Phillip Eberfrø gets out from prison and, with the help from his lawyer, plans to kill every witness to his crimes - which includes the ten children at the sweatshop.
  • Dirty Old Man:
    • Downplayed. When the subject of Jessica comes up in Aske's household, the middle-aged Jørn makes a lustful comment about her in passing.
    • Stewart was always this when used as a character in Anders Matthesen's standup, but it shines here. He enters the film visiting a Thai strip club, later makes very suggestive remarks at some female beachgoers and makes some highly inappropriate jokes about his sexual escapades.
  • Downer Beginning:
    • The movie opens on a glum factory with miserable child workers (including the youngest being a toddler), and once Phillip enters the picture, things go from bad to worse.
    • The sequel similarly begins with the sweatshop owner being murdered, and Phillip Eberfrø declaring that nobody can stop him from being released with a sinister grin.
  • Friend to All Children: Flip-flopped with the Checkered Ninja. His goal is to avenge the murder of a child, but he has no qualms about humiliating and hurting Aske to get to that goal.
  • Fun with Acronyms: In the sequel, after Sune discovers that the ninja doll is alive, and that Aske refers to him as T.N., he comes up with a number of nicknames poking fun at his girlier look. These range from "Tøse-Nisse" ("Girly Elf") to "Totalt Nuttet" ("Totally Adorable"). When they end up on better terms, he comes up with "Top Nice" instead.
  • Hard Truth Aesop: Using dirty and/or underhanded tactics in a fight might be cowardly, but if your goal is simply to win, go right ahead.
  • Highly-Visible Ninja: In the sequel, Taiko gets stuck in a pink, heart-patterned body stuffed with polybeads, making him highly visible AND noisy. Downplayed somewhat in that he is still toy size and good at hiding or playing possum, though.
  • Hypocrite: The ninja/Nakamura, despite on a quest to avenge a child's death, is not above potentially killing children himself, though it's unknown how much of it is just talk.
  • I Choose to Stay: Despite being a vengeful spirit summoned by lightning to right wrongs committed against children, Taiko chooses to stay with Aske by the end of the sequel instead of going back to the heavens.
  • Ironic Echo: Many characters justify their terrible behavior and immoral actions with the phrase "If I don't do it, somebody else will." When Aske and Taiko's actions are broadcast on TV in the end, and Aske's mother ponders what a person who would do that is thinking, he responds "I think he might be thinking 'If I don't do it, nobody else will' right as he decides to become a vigilante on his own.
  • I Made Copies: When Sune's attempt at blackmailing Aske backfires, Aske thinks he is home free as Sune no longer has the blackmail material, the notebook with his love poem about Jessica, only for Sune to spitefully and gleefully reveal he has made and kept a copy for this eventuality.
  • Jerkass: Sune is rude, crude, takes full advantage of his father's coddling and favoritism, and takes great delight in tormenting Aske for practically no reason. It takes nearly getting smothered by Taiko for him to mellow out, and even then it's only out of fear.
    • He gets a bit of Character Development in the sequel. While he's still crass, whiny and stupid, he tries to be friendlier to Aske and eventually joins in on the action to help him and Taiko in the climax.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: A lot of the songs of the movie base their comedy on mixing stereotypical genre melodies with ridiculous lyrics. For instance, a song played at a Junior High Schooler party sounds like a stereotypical club track, while the lyrics are all about a guy insisting that everybody at the party needs to try his homemade pesto.
  • Lovable Alpha Bitch: Jessica comes across as this due to a lack of screentime. She seems sweet enough in theory, but on top of being one of the most popular girls in school, she hangs out with two Valley Girl-style friends, only invites Aske to her birthday party when he starts acting "cool" and has no issue getting petty revenge when she thinks he's ridiculing her by making out with his best friend.
    • The sequel drops the lovable part, as she has started to ignore Aske and openly admits she wants a "bad boy", even making out with another guy at a party behind Aske's back. She only has renewed interest in him when a video is released of him defeating Phillip Eberfrø - at which point Aske has finally seen right through her facade and just hangs up on her. She really is only interested in a guy as long as he is "cool" in some way.
  • My Greatest Failure: Taiko's failure to save ten children while he was alive is this to him, to the point that atoning for this by avenging murdered and abused children is his main motivation.
  • My Hover Craft Is Full Of Eels: Sirene's grasp of English is...lacking. When offered meat in the sequel, she tries to explain that she's vegan by politely telling the waiter "None for me thanks, I'm a vagina."
  • Nazi Hunter: VERY downplayed, but one of the acts of heroism we see Aske commit in the sequel is covering up offensive Nazi graffiti.
  • Omniglot: The Checkered Ninja speaks fluent, casual Danish full of modern teenage slang despite being the spirit of a feudal Japanese ninja trapped inside of a doll that was manufactured in Thailand. Possibly justified since magic is involved.
  • Parental Favoritism: Aske's stepfather, Jørn, takes this to ridiculous extremes while claiming he's doing the opposite. He always believes Sunes word over Aske by default, buys Sune snacks that Aske's mother won't let him have and never disciplines his own child. It's particularly bad at Aske's birthday party, where he buys Aske a cheap novelty souvenir... and gives Sune a triple-A newly released video game, all in the name of "treating the boys equally".
    • He's gotten a bit better in the sequel. He still gives Sune cutesy pet names and buys too many treats, but he DOES tell him to pipe down on occasion and reminds him to share his snacks with Aske.
  • Politically Incorrect Hero: Taiko, stuck in a pink and heart-patterned body in the sequel, makes some not-so-timely remarks on "not wanting to look like a bitch". When Aske calls him on it, he remarks that women are for sewing and cooking. Being a 400 year old japanese ninja spirit from the Sengoku era probably has something to do with that, and he does ease up on it as the movie goes on.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Throughout a good half of the first movie Nakamura doesn't reveal his true intentions to Aske, instead claiming he only wants to return a credit card.
  • Purpose-Driven Immortality: Taiko Nakamura, having failed to prevent the death of ten children in life, continually comes back to possess living or dead things to get revenge on child abusers/murderers.
  • Real Men Wear Pink: Averted at first in the sequel, but ultimately played straight - Taiko is not amused by his new ninja body being made with pink cloth covered in a cutesy heart pattern, or with the girly-looking toy sword he ends up with, and it leads to many jokes about how gay and girly he looks. It doesn't stop him from being a badass though, and he gets over it over the course of the film. The sword actually saves him from getting shot at one point, too.
    • Although he gets a slick new black and gold body by the end, he still keeps the sword.
  • Red Herring: invoked Jessica's father is named Phillip Eberfrø, but it's not the Phillip Eberfrø.
  • Seppuku: How Taiko Nakamura goes out the first time around. He later repeats it as the Checkered Ninja in order to become smuggling fodder to frame Philip for smuggling (though being a doll, he doesn't die until he's ripped apart by a sniffer dog).
  • Shared Universe: With Terkel in Trouble due to the numerous cameo appearances by characters from that movie. Stewart Stardust, in particular, stands out as Aske is apparently another nephew of his just like Terkel. And he plays a more important part in the plot this time.
  • Shadow Discretion Shot: Done with the very event that sets the film's plot into motion, that being one of the children at the Thai sweatshop being beaten to death.
  • Shout-Out:
    • At one point, a dart is thrown at a poster featuring a caricature of Mick Øgendahl, another massively popular Danish stand-up comedian with whom Anders Matthesen has a playful rivalry in real life, making it a bit of a Take That!.
    • Sune watches some anime on his iPad that looks pretty similar to Naruto. Fitting for a movie that stars a supernatural ninja.
    • One of the strip clubs seen Thailand in the sequel is called Hello Titty.
  • Smuggling with Dolls: After failing to take down Philip a few times, Aske's and the Checkered Ninja's final gambit involves framing Phillip for smuggling narcotics into Thailand using the Checkered Ninja as smuggling fodder.
  • Spiritual Successor: To Terkel in Trouble.
  • Super Hero Origin:
    • Turns out the whole movie is this for Aske. By the end, he uses a checkered scarf to disguise himself and perform vigilante work, inspired by Taiko.
    • Hilariously, the sequel mixes this with Surprisingly Realistic Outcome. Since Aske lives in a small, rural Danish town, his vigilantism amounts to briefly breaking up an assault by distracting the attackers and covering up offensive graffiti. Once the action relocates to Thailand, though...
  • That Came Out Wrong: Aske at one point tries to make a sheath for the Checkered Ninja's sword, and naturally asks his wood shop teacher for help. Since the Danish word for "sheath" (Skede) is also a word for a vagina, he gets sent to detention.
    Aske: I want to make a sheath/(Vagina) (...) It has to be hollow so you can breathe through it underwater, and it needs a strap so you can carry it on your back.
  • Theme Initials: Ternet Ninja. Taiko Nakamura.
  • The Thing That Would Not Leave: Downplayed, but Jørn sees Stewart at this in the sequel, when they just so happen to run into him in Thailand. Even when they try to shake him off by relocating to a small island, Stewart still shows up.
  • Trickster Mentor: The Checkered Ninja teaches Aske to stand up for himself... by constantly putting him in socially embarrassing and potentially outright dangerous situations without asking him first.
  • Vengeful Ghost: Taiko Nakamura, the spirit of a Ninja who failed to save ten children and now possesses whatever necessary to punish child abusers.
  • Vigilante Man: The Checkered Ninja. By the end of the movie, Aske also qualifies.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Phillip Eberfrø is implied to be one of these in the sequel, at least prior to when his final confrontation with Aske is recorded. As he leaves jail after his lawyer bails him out, there are crowds of people cheering ready to interview him.
  • Voice Changeling: Inexplicably, the Checkered Ninja can mimic voices perfectly, and uses this to both humiliate and aid Aske depending on his current goals.
  • Would Hurt a Child:
    • In a horrifying turn of events, Taiko, whose mission is to punish child abusers, threatens to murder Sune to get Aske to go along with his vengeful scheme against Phillip. Thankfully, it is subverted at the last second.
    • The sequel is about Phillip Eberfrø getting out of jail and planning to kill all the children from the sweatshop, since they are witnesses to his crimes. His lawyer and accomplice, Carsten, is equally bad, and at one point threatens to cut off Aske's ear and beat him with a brass knuckle. And he and Phillip try to kill Aske, TN and Jeppe by locking them up in a shop they've rigged to explode.
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are: The Checkered Ninja tries to teach this to Aske, reasoning that the he's only thought of as the wimpy kid in school is because he believes it when others tell him that.