Friday 17 April 2015

First Impressions: Ninja Slayer From Animation

Ninja Slayer From Animation

Ever since they burst onto the scene with Kill la Kill in 2013, many anime fans will have surely had their eyes fixed on Trigger. While by no means their first rodeo (both as a studio and previously as members of Gainax), the series definitely put them on the mark as one of the studios to watch in the current anime climate. Last year the studio tackled its first light novel-adapted series with the appropriately named When Supernatural Battles Become Commonplace, and now they're back again with another existing franchise suited to their over the top nature. Based on the science fiction novel series originally published across Twitter, Ninja Slayer From Animation is an online series airing on Niconico in Japan and Funimation in North America.

After his wife and child are killed in a ninja turf war, salaryman Kenji Fujikido becomes possessed by a mysterious ninja soul known as Naraku Ninja. Together they become the Ninja Slayer - dedicated to  ridding the world of the evil ninja.

If you were to only have followed the most minimal of promotional material for Ninja Slayer, you're likely to have been expected a very different series to what this first episode (which is only around 10 minutes long) reveals. Both the characters and art style are the kind of 80s schlock that couldn't in any safer place than Trigger's hands, while the animation in the preview trailers proved equally retro in all the right ways. Having Inferno Cop director Akira Amemiya behind the helm also suggested that the show would be wonderfully tongue-in-cheek, just like the source material it's based off of.

What many probably weren't expecting however was the actual second coming of Inferno Cop. Behind a nicely animated opening sequence lies another bizarrely animated 2D venture. Like its predecessor Ninja Slayer predominantly uses static characters jerkily moving across a non-moving background, however this time often segwaying into animated sequences (such as Ninja Slayer's transformation or accompanying fight scenes). After the beautifully animated Little Witch Academia and the sheer energy of Kill la Kill, this is likely to have left a significant portion of Trigger's fanbase cold. This isn't the first time the staff have trolled people like this, but at the same time there is method to the apparent madness. The whole point is to parody Western perceptions of "hardcore" 80s/90s anime, complete with dialogue that blurts out like a bad dub. Sounds about right when you consider all the influences behind the staff's back catalogue.

But how well does the joke work? The problem with parody is that unless it's obvious, many won't get the joke and instantly tune out, and by the sounds of this Ninja Slayer hasn't done particularly well in this regard. Though aiming to be equally over the top this series doesn't feel anywhere near as ridiculous as Inferno Cop, which felt like it was constantly pushing the boundaries of its own absurdity and felt all the stronger for it. It also helped that Inferno Cop's episodes were about half the length of this. The combination of cutouts and fully-fledged animation is a double-edged sword, with each medium somewhat detracting from the other. The full-blown animation leaves you wanting more of this, while seeing the ridiculous ninja fights done with static figures would probably make the whole thing a lot funnier. Seeing the characters getting limbs cut off that way sure is anyway.

Ninja Slayer From Animation is certainly going to be a divisive series, but seeing how the whole thing pans out is definitely going to be interesting. Inferno Cop was a genius little series that came about during Trigger's inception, but Ninja Slayer is coming off the back of it's first big hit - placing it under far more scrutiny. Whether it's clever parody or simply trolling, there's no guarantee this is a joke that's going to keep being funny for 12 weeks. Best thing to do is just buckle in and enjoy the ride.

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