Ninja Resurrection: The Revenge of Jubei Review
The works of novelist Futaro Yamada, who often penned fantasy tales relating to ninja and samurai heroes, have enjoyed great success throughout the years in various formats. His 1967 book Makai Tensho was part of his Jubei Yagyu trilogy and was amongst the first to try and flesh out this mysterious warrior who simply became a legend. Director Kinji Fukasaku made the first attempt of bringing Makai Tensho to the big screen in 1981 with Sonny Chiba in the starring role, to great success, while toward the end of the nineties Yasunori Urata went to work on an OVA. 2003 saw the most recent revival of Yamada’s tale - a CG laden spectacle featuring Koichi Sato and Yosuke Kubozuka. It also enjoyed no less than four manga interpretations, a stage play and even a video game in 2003.
The factual story that they all share takes place around 1638 in the aftermath of a historical battle known as the Shimabara Rebellion, led by seventeen year old Tokisada Shiro Amakusa. With their cruel daimyo Matsukura Shigeharu raising taxes to impossible levels the local peasants rose, many of which converted to Christianity, which eventually led the Tokugawa Shogunate to stamp out the religion and lay down a stark warning to anyone else who dared raise up against them under the guidance of Jesus Christ. Whilst defending Hara Castle Amakusa and approximately 37,000 of his followers fell and it would take another two hundred years before the religion would be safely acknowledged.
It’s from here that Futaro Yamada places a spin on the entire situation. An evil Lord known as Mori Soiken manages to string along the young Amakusa and when the leader is killed in battle, Soiken sets out to resurrect him from the dead, along with several famous samurai. Central to the tale is Jubei Yagyu who has been sent by the Shogunate to destroy the devilish Amakusa and bring back stability to the Tokugawa regime.
Makai Tensho is a fascinating tale and one which would be perfectly suited to the world of anime. Ninja Resurrection: The Revenge of Jubei came about in 1996 where it was intended to be a fully realised story, following the adventures of Jubei Yagyu as he fought against spiritual historical figures. But it seems that it was never meant to be. Ten years on and there are still no signs of a follow up, which leaves us with a rather messy title that simply goes nowhere.
Here we have two episodes which run for approximately forty minutes each. The first on the disc “The Revenge of Jubei” follows the final moments of Shiro Amakusa’s life, in which he had the inevitable burden of leading thousands of men, woman and children to their deaths. Jubei Yagyu eventually arrives at Hara Castle and proclaims that he must kill Amakusa on the orders of the Shogunate.
The episode sets everything up quite nicely, beginning with a helpful narration and subsequently going on to place enough focus on Amakusa and those around him. It creates an ominous tone and prepares us for the horrors to come. Once it hits the point where the main antagonist is established it picks no bones about how it intends to play out the rest of the events. Before Jubei enters the fray it makes every effort to show a period in time that was barbaric; taking a bit of perverse dramatic license, it showers frames in blood as ghastly decapitations and torso rippings take place, also conjuring up disturbing images of children getting slaughtered and mass panic running rife. The trouble is that half the run time on episode one is indeed made up of drawn out sequences such as this that don’t drive the narrative along as effectively as it perhaps should. With only two victims proving to be significant in the way that Amakusa will go about his business the rest is clearly designed to emulate popular and controversial anime such as Ninja Scroll and Urotsukidoji, which were certainly big selling titles and major talking points. It tries to titillate by throwing in some poorly staged sexual encounters and continues to meander and pad out a storyline that really needs to be concentrating on other areas. When Jubei arrives a battle ensues, it quickly ends and the rebellion is over, and that leaves us wondering where it’ll head next.
Which brings us to “Hell’s Spawn”. Taking place several months after the Shimabara uprising, we join a complacent Jubei near his home at Yagyu Village in Nara. Here he rests, neglecting his duty of taking care of Yagyu castle, fairly safe in the knowledge that he need not draw his sword again. Ninja Resurrection then becomes a little more interesting, mainly due to the character development that begins to take place, involving Jubei and the relationship with his father. It also manages to set up part of a story arc involving Lord Yorinobu who has ordered Jushin Sekiguchi - a friend of the Yagyu clan - to deliver all Yagyu clan’s daughters aged between 15 and 22 to him. Jubei questions this, but unfortunately he cannot prevent Onui and Ohina from being taken. After this Mori returns and resurrects Amakusa, along with Mataemon Araki, Inshun Houzouin, Botaro Tamiya and Munenori Tajima who will be his loyal ghostly servants. In between all of this other rumblings begin to take place and ambiguity takes over; we have Musashi Miyamoto who has now retired, but carries some kind of agenda it seems, while the pace begins to even itself out a little. But with the resurrection of Amakusa comes the end of the OVA.
What more can I say? Aside from Ninja Resurrection ending rather abruptly it does have some other fairly decent qualities. The animation isn’t too shabby throughout, but there are clear signs of a small budget being worked with; some bouts of action look great, while others are a little lazier and the general character designs come across as being something of a Ninja Scroll knock-off. At this point I should probably note that Ninja Resurrection kicked up quite a fuss amongst U.S. fans at the time of its release: ADV marketed it in such a way that people were convinced that it was a direct sequel to Ninja Scroll, which also happened to feature a hero named Jubei. However, there is no relation between either title, so for those of you wondering just in case you managed to spot the identical font that ADV managed to whip up for this release, you can safely avoid.
Ninja Resurrection is being repackaged as part of ADV’s Classic Collection, which bizzarely has a R.R.P. of just £5 less than it was almost four years ago. Still going with the old Ninja Scroll vibe, let’s hope that not too many people get roped in by it. There are no extra features, save for some old ADV previews.
Ninja Resurrection is presented in a 1.33:1 ratio, which reflects its intended video look. It’s not too bad looking, despite being the usual standards conversion. The colours throughout are given a muted tone, which I suspect is inherent to the source material, as this is hardly meant to be a chirpy looking series. Black levels could do with being a little deeper and contrast isn’t quite up to the usual standard, but there’s nothing here to overly distract. Detail is very good; the standard of animation might vary but line work is bold and there aren’t too many soft spots. It appears however that ADV are using a tape master and the series has forced English translations during the credit sequence and when placing location names.
Audio options consist of Japanese 2.0 and English 5.1. As a general rule I listen to the original Japanese audio, and it holds up well here. Dialogue presents no problems, being clear across the central speakers, while the rears offer the occasional spark of ambience for weather effects and action sequences. The English version is pretty much the same, only louder.
Optional English subtitles are included, providing a solid translation, with nothing in the way of grammatical errors.
You’ll have to forgive me for this routine review. I just can’t go into any more detail as I find it impossible to talk about based on what is here. It’s difficult to fully assess the series for what might have been. In its only form on this disc I cannot heartily recommend it, even to those who are fans of ninja and samurai works in general. Because of its frustrating climax the series ends with no redeeming sense of closure, which makes it a title that nobody would likely revisit.