If ninjas still existed, operating in the shadows as they once did, would they be wearing outrageous clothing and proclaiming their love for ramen? Or would they have infiltrated Japanese society, keeping an eye on situations and individuals as they blend into the background as students, deliverymen, and bystanders? In Under Ninja the latter is the case. But even though 200,000 ninjas are currently living in Japan, many are part-timers without other work or a way out of the organization keeping tabs on them. Among these is Kuro of the formerly great Kumogakura clan. He and three others are undercover at a school and their first battle, against a group of other ninjas who are formidable, is about to go down. With Kuro spending his days stealing beer from his neighbor (and framing his other drunken neighbor for it), does he have the ability to carry out such a mission? Sometimes tells me that he does indeed…
It’s been a while since I watched a seinen series, so it took me a minute to get used to seeing the hallmarks of some shows in this genre again: duller, sometimes grainy drawings with characters that aren’t attractive in that typically cute anime way; lots of talking with scenes that sometimes linger on for effect; and, the most distinct part of episode one of UNDER NINJA, a non-chronological structure. It starts in the present and jumps backward and then forwards a little (I think), to give background about the main character, Kuro, who despite the fart jokes, is pretty likable. His evolving team also seems like it’ll be fun to follow (if they survive); there’s a self-referential thing going on with this group, as they mention Shonen Jump tropes in a non-shounen series while themselves being shounen-like characters. That makes the episode sound deeper than it is—it’s really not that complicated, which I hope means that viewers who might typically shy away from serious seinen fare will give this series a chance. I don’t know if it’ll turn out to be good (though Kengo Hanazawa, who wrote the manga from which it’s adapted, is pretty well-regarded), but it is certainly different. And it’s fun. The characters, as I mentioned earlier, are seriously flawed but affable; most of the jokes land pretty well; and the world-building and history of ninjas in this story are unique, complete with General MacArthur’s role in their post-WWII annihilation before their recent return due to world conflicts that require their expertise. After all, I think it was the general who said, “Old ninjas never die. They just fade away.” Or something like that.
UNDER NINJA can be streamed on Crunchyroll.
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