Judge Adam Arseneau says this is harmless anime...but is there really such a thing?
It's Camping, It's a Bear, and It's a Fire!
Known in Japan as Ganbare Goemon, Legend of the Mystical Ninja is good, lighthearted fun for young kids looking for harmless anime. The star of over 20 videogames in Japan, Mystical Ninja is quirky, colorful, and good-natured, and kids will undoubtedly love it. But adults, older kids, or hardcore fans of anime will be pretty nonplussed with this one.
Facts of the Case
There are two worlds: the real world that we live in, and the world of videogames, where the heroes always vanquish the villains. But the villains have a plan to turn the odds around. The evil Lord Makumugge, villain of the videogames, has a plan: dispatch Seppekumaru and his four egg critter assistants to the "real" world in order to take it over once and for all!
Luckily, the hero of the game, Goemon, emerges into the real world with his friends in order to save it, right into the living room of Tsukasa, a young boy who, minutes ago, was enjoying his videogame. Now suddenly, the characters have come to life…and want to live in his house!
Goemon and the videogame gang are making good on their pledge to protect the world, but constantly get distracted by the wonders of the real world, like riding the subway, which they find fascinating and thrilling. Unfortunately, Seppukumaru and his gang of goofballs are determined to undermine their efforts, for once Seppekumaru fills the "rage gauge," he can unleash his army of digital monsters upon the earth and open the earth for his dark master, Lord Makumugge himself! And then, Goemon and friends will have their hands full!
Those well trained in the nerdy arts are sure to remember Goemon and his peers from the four videogames that made it to America bearing their likenesses, such as Mystical Ninja on Nintendo or Legend of the Mystical Ninja on Super Nintendo…neither of which have anything to do with the anime series, at least not directly. This is because nobody would play a videogame with anime characters who bounce around and are annoying.
Okay, they probably would play it. And it isn't to say that Legend of the Mystical Ninja is an annoying anime; rather, let us say that it is tailored to a particular demographic of either the very young or the very bored. Or, possibly both, I suppose. To find an American comparison, Mystical Ninja is vaguely reminiscent of the Samurai Pizza Cats, a three-word combination that I never thought I would ever use again in my life.
The anime does manage to capture the lighthearted and goofy spirit of the videogame to a certain point, but the main element of Mystical Ninja is its old-fashioned style and sensibilities, as if reminiscing about the old days of anime, where people didn't need to get their spleens eviscerated for entertainment and the figures on girls could be as amorphous as a sack of potatoes.
Picture Astro Boy, or Speed Racer—two animes that have absolutely nothing in common with Mystical Ninja, save a subtle-yet-pronounced element of innocence and whimsy, harkening back to the day when anime could be cute, bloodless, and boob-less, totally wholesome and harmless in every way, but still entertaining to all. This is the kind of anime that you could show your kids and not feel too bad about…though, admittedly, some of the references here are pretty strange, like the mushroom-eating in the forest (which suspiciously causes giddy euphoria) and the ritualistic-suicide-themed villain, which is just plain bizarre.
The best thing about Mystical Ninja is this lighthearted spirit; it takes itself about as seriously as Popular Mechanics takes a Yugo. The comedy is funny, the fight scenes are balanced between being childish and being fairly interesting, and each episode does that Power Rangers formula, of "when the villain turns gigantic, summon the gigantic robot to vanquish it!" sort of thing. Also, the giant robot that Goemon summons, Impact, looks like a gigantic German nutcracker wearing a Cossack outfit.
Though the animation itself only dates back to 1997, the style is decisively retro and looks at least 10 years older than that. But this is not a bad thing. For what looks on the surface like a 1970s throwaway anime series complete with campy animation and ridiculously dated sound effects is, in fact, a totally modern series with its own strange and zany sense of humor. True, it has very little to offer anyone over the age of 10 or fans of anime (who have not only seen it all before but would want to light the DVD on fire by way of sacrifice). However, when viewed on its own merits, Mystical Ninja is kind of cute in a strange, ant-eating sort of way. It can definitely inspire a chuckle or two from even the most cynical and hardened otaku.
Like all good anime, Mystical Ninja contains some wildly apocryphal subtitling and dubbing coherency issues, where one often has nothing to do with the other. And we're talking even worse than the acceptable level of incongruity. My favorite, by far, has to be when a character onscreen during the English dub asks "So…lunchtime?" while, according to the English subtitles, he, in fact, proudly inquires, "Will we bivouac here?"
I couldn't follow that leap of logic even if it was on fire and in the dark. Heck, I even had to look up the word "bivouac," and it was still funny.
ADV did a nice job bringing Mystical Ninja to DVD. Five episodes of the series are included on this DVD, which is a nice number of episodes-per-disc for an ongoing DVD series. Given the pseudo-vintage styling of the anime, the transfer looks pretty good, with some very nice color representation. Blues, reds, and greens are very bright, vibrant, and playful, and black levels are solidly average. Some slight grain is evident in the transfer, but overall, it is a respectable, clean transfer. The animation is very simple, almost primitive, but it has been transferred quite efficiently to DVD. Hard to say anything bad about anime on DVD, really; it always looks nice.
Both the original Japanese audio track and the English-dubbed version are included (Dolby Digital 2.0 mixes for both) on this DVD, and credit goes to ADV for preserving the original Japanese music throughout the English dub, and not rerecording some Americanized rap-metal garbage to take the place of it. Both tracks sound pretty much the same, though the English track has had some remastering and engineering done to balance the sound out and spread it across the spectrum further. Bass response is relatively minor, but the subject matter hardly utilizes it; this is the "chuckle chuckle" kind of action anime, not the hard-thumping "blow your mind" kind, so the mix is perfectly acceptable, all things considered. Dialogue is always clear and articulate; more so on the English version, but both tracks sound perfectly serviceable and pleasant.
The only supplementary feature on this Legend of the Mystical Ninja DVD is an 11-minute featurette with interviews with the English voice cast, a feature that anime fans will find delightful, since it gives a great behind-the-scenes look at the actors who bring the characters to badly-dubbed life. It is a much nicer feature than you find on most anime DVDs, but, unfortunately, unless you count the Anime Network commercial tacked annoyingly on the start of the DVD, there isn't anything else of significance here, feature-wise.
However, it should be noted that the half-dozen trailers included on this DVD are presented simply in their original Japanese form, with no dubbing, dialogue, subtitles, or explanations—a purist approach I find commendable, and which is often lacking on American-released anime DVDs.
Legend of the Mystical Ninja isn't the best anime series in the world, but it is certainly cute and innocuous enough to deserve a DVD release. Fans of the video games may enjoy a brief retro revival after watching this DVD, but like all good things from the past, they just don't make 'em like they used to.
Except when Ebisumaru eats all the mushrooms, and starts dancing and twirling his pink streamers around? Oh man! That guy looks just like Mario, but with blue hair.
Sigh. Good times.
Not a bad choice if you want to get younger kinds into anime (if you can find any left that aren't) and certainly less annoying than most youth-oriented series…though I'd hate to be the guy who has to explain to his kid what "seppuku" means.
So, despite an inherent lameness that comes with the youthful territory, The Legend of the Mystical Ninja is hereby released upon its own recognizance into the world, because it doesn't suck nearly enough to be guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: ADV Films
• Interview with English Cast
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