Monday, September 22, 2008

Ronin rumble

Sunday September 21, 2008

Ronin rumble



Story: J. Torres
Art: Michael Chang Ting Yu
Publisher: Wildstorm; 144 pages
(ISBN: 978-1401213183)
For ages 16+

IF you’re a huge fan of anime, the name Ninja Scroll (Jubee Ninpucho) should be a familiar one. The highly-acclaimed 1993 anime movie by Yoshiaki Kawajiri revolves around a warrior in feudal Japan, Jubei Kibagami, who gets dragged into a mission involving demons and monsters.

This trade paperback is meant as a continuation of the anime and contains a collection of issues of the comic miniseries by Wildstorm, a publishing imprint of the American comics company, DC Comics.

For the uninitiated, Jubei Kibagami of the Yamashiro clan is a master swordsman with a dark past, one that has left him a wandering ronin (samurai without a lord) who is unfazed by danger €“ even if it involves demons and monsters.

Despite the trials he faces, Jubei still maintains a sense of humour, an easy-going attitude, and a kind heart. The result is an extraordinary and strong character that looks ordinary from the outside.

Jingoku, the first of the comic’s two story arcs, begins innocently enough with Jubei needing a nap and a place to sleep for the night. After rescuing an old lady from a pack of wolves, the lady offers Jubei lodging and tea for the night. But all is not right: he wakes up to find himself face to face with the demons (literally) from his past, many of which are long lost, or dead.

Jingoku is intended to be an introduction to the world of Ninja Scroll, which has characters from the old anime; readers are expected to know who they are and their relation to Jubei.

Worry not, if you haven’t seen Ninja Scroll €“ with a little perseverance, the deep backstory will make sense. Fans of the anime, however, will get the story in no time.

The second story arc, Tengu, is about a village that has been terrorised by monsters for years. Inexplicably, one day Jubei was hired by two monks to save the village from the creatures. “Defeat the monsters and save the village,” so he was told, but if only his task was that simple. Jubei finds his help unwanted, and that the village has a tragic past and sad existence.

Tengu is an excellent tale, unpredictable yet enjoyable, with twists and turns and a captivating backstory. It thrives on Japanese lore and legends. However, its weakness, like Jingoku, is that it expects too much from the reader. Only with knowledge of Japanese lore and legends will the story’s resolution make sense. If you’re not armed with the knowledge, the story seems unresolved and ends on an awkward note.

I am totally surprised that Ninja Scroll, despite it being a highly rated anime, does not have a manga series but a Western-produced comic instead. The action and dialogue in Ninja Scroll (the trade paperback) feels like what it is: a very good Western comic based on a very well-done anime. The outcome is unique: the action scenes are very manga-like though the art style is decidedly American comics. Strangely, because of the character design, the overall look of Ninja Scroll also reminds me of Hong Kong comics.

Ninja Scroll could have been an excellent comic if it had a better introduction to the story and a stronger ending. Still, grab this if you loved the anime, or are a fan of Japanese lore and love stories set in feudal Japan, besides being willing to invest a bit of time and patience to absorb the story.

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