Jubei Chan the Ninja Girl is a patchwork quilt of styles, themes, and tones. A scrap of magical girl here, a square of slapstick there, with a seam of dark realism running down the middle. Smooth, moody animations are juxtaposed with crudely rendered swirly eyes and spiky hair. Just when you expect some fell warrior to utter a phrase like "at last I confront my mortal nemesis," he's equally likely to yell "Zoinks!" while he slobbers over Jubei's breasts.
This attention deficit disordered affair is alternately enjoyable and annoying. Frequent departures from the expected result in many funny moments, but often derail the overall flow. Jubei Chan the Ninja Girl may appeal to many, but I can't see it becoming more than a niche title in an already obscure niche.
Facts of the Case
Jubei is a middle school girl who has developed rather more quickly than her peers. The obtuse Lolita goes about her day, unaware that her bouncy breasts and earnest face fever the minds of every male she meets. It is hard to tell whether the frequent "boings" in the soundtrack refer to Cupid's arrow or something cruder.
One man is particularly eager to make Jubei's acquaintance. Koinusuke, servant of the late master swordsman Yagyu Jubei, has been scouring the globe for 300 years in search of his master's reincarnated spirit. The only clue given Koinusuke was his master's dying breath: "Plump…bouncy…bon bons!" Rest assured, no bon bons are plumper or bouncier than Jubei's. Koinusuke hands Jubei the lovely eyepatch, and she transforms into a statuesque ninja warrior.
Unfortunately for Koinusuke, Jubei is more interested in finishing middle school and sorting through her young suitors than resurrecting a centuries-old school of swordplay. Will the scads of opposing warrior schools change her mind?
When Koinusuke hands Jubei the eyepatch and sees her transform, his lifelong quest is finished. The poignant look of relief, disbelief, joy, and fear on his face is moving. With the geas removed, nothing remains to sustain Koinusuke's fervent longevity. His spirit is released and his body crumbles to ash. This sophisticated emotional sequence showed me the depth and poetry the series was capable of. Seconds later, the truce was shattered when Koinusuke surged up from the ground in dismay with slacked jaw and popping eyes. I sighed in regret and prepared for an hour of wacky antics and faux-serious drama. That's exactly what I got.
A series is what it is, despite what I may want it to be. Jubei Chan the Ninja Girl fares pretty well as slapstick, not so well as serious action.
The action is well choreographed, with blazing sword battles and an emphasis on mood. Jubei's magical girl transformation is cool in a mod sort of way. She kicks some butt and then goes back to innocent schoolgirl. If you viewed just the battles, you might think Jubei Chan the Ninja Girl was hardcore. However, any sense of real drama is impaired by anticipation of the next sight gag.
The gags are numerous and often hit the mark. One running joke is that the leader of "The Ruffians" wears a shirt that changes with his mood, a la Rick the Raccoon from Shirt Tales. Many of the subversive Japanese slogans are funny. It is also funny to watch old men slobber over Jubei's breasts…at least the first 50 times. Then it gets kinda old.
The Ruffians are basically three kids on bikes. They feature prominently in every episode, primarily to bicker among each other and beat up the wrong guy (usually Jubei's father). Whether or not you like The Ruffians will go a long way towards your enjoyment of the series. I got some laughs out of them, but they quickly began to grate.
I did get a kick out of the rapid transformations between animated styles, which were often used to good comedic effect. An embarrassed guy might turn into a child's crayon drawing, for example. This artistic playfulness kept certain gags from being stale.
But one major concern outweighs the rest of the annoyances, and that is Jubei's odd behavior. She never seems to react. To anything. 300 year old guys dying in clouds of ash, throngs of samurai wanting her head, and…what am I forgetting…oh yeah, her mysterious transformations into a ninja warrior who kicks everyone's butt. None of it registers on her blank face. Wake up, girl!
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The audio visual quality is good. The image is crisp with bold colors. There are signs of compression and occasional moiré effects. The focus routinely drifts, sending everyone blurry for a second, but it is not dramatic enough to mar enjoyment of the show.
The audio is handled with more care than most anime series. There is a 5.1 mix of the English dub that adds nice surround effects at times. The music is quite good. The Japanese cast is very listenable, and the main characters of the dub are reasonable equivalents. Jubei sounds older than she should, and some of the minor characters are stupendously miscast.
The extras are barely worth mentioning. "Cooking with Jubei" is simply a static recipe for fried eggs. The photo gallery is a handful of grainy pictures with some weird face drawn over them.
In the end, this series should find some fans. The humor does work, and the spastic elements thrown together approach chaotic glee. The fights are decent and Jubei is comely. If you prefer something with a clearer direction and more gravity, look elsewhere.
Jubei Chan, the court finds you blithely ignorant of everything going on around you, but ignorance of the law is no excuse. Shape up, young lady!
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Scales of Justice
• Cooking with Jubei
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