It is (supposedly) 1580. Oda Nobunaga is on the verge of ruling Japan, with the aid of a powerful enforcer named Ginnai Doma - a samurai who has been turned into a ninja-killing cyborg. But an Iga ninja named Shishimaru is determined to avenge his brethren, at any cost.
We have historically had some really lousy luck with ninja-themed anime, to the point that apart from Ninja Scroll and the adorable and not-so-serious Jubei-chan the Ninja Girl franchise, we are otherwise saddled with real treats (the kind you find in the litter box first thing in the morning) like Raven Tengu Kabuto and Ninja Resurrection.
Moreover, Black Lion is one of those seemingly countless super-violent late 80s-early 90s OAVs that almost seem dismayingly identical, and I honestly wouldn't have bothered with this if not for an accidental meeting of minds.
Through mutual connections, I found myself at a happy hour hanging out with the English-language voice actor whose claim to voice-over fame is playing Ginnai Doma, the antagonist in this very anime. Jose Brown, like so many of the folks I've come to befriend in the voiceover community, is super, super-cool and full of great stories, so of course I had to go watch him chew the scenery in this work.
To get this right out of the way, Black Lion is really, really bad. It's based on one of Go Nagai's shorter-running works and it shows: the art is bog-standard for 1989 (but this was released in 1992, oops), and there is basically no story, just a bunch of scenes with ninja getting sliced and diced and turned into bloody messes by a very loud, very badass, and truly unstealthy Ginnai Doma. I have to imagine the original Japanese scriptwriters were at a loss to adapt this (already decade-old) manga into an anime, because there was clearly so little to work with. (Googling the Kuro no Shishi manga, it's clear that the character designers in particular must have been miracle workers to salvage anything worth looking at here.)
Also, did we mention Ginnai Doma is a nigh-unkillable, nuclear-powered cyborg ninja-killing samurai? Because, yeah, THAT's a thing that happened in 1580. Obviously, historical accuracy was not something they were going for here, but pretty much the whole thing is ridiculous -- I mean, why even bother giving us a year if you're going to disregard the setting? We get it, Oda Nobunaga is supposed to be horribly evil, but instead of demonic bargains, this time it's anachronistic (alien) technology. Okay then!
Black Lion is relentlessly unsubtle, loud, and often unintentionally hilarious, particularly because ADV had a remarkably bad translation to work with, from the same husband-and-wife dub scriptwriting team that gave us the script for Ki*Me*Ra. You are NOT going to care at all who the good guys are, and just about everyone is going to die. And honestly, with all the cliched, trite (yet often incomprehensible) dialogue from the anonymous and unremarkable "good guy" ninjas, I was really rooting for Ginnai Doma to kill EVERYONE, which I'm really sure *wasn't* the intent of this anime, but tells you a lot about how much fun Jose Brown was having voicing him.
Up to this point, you'll notice I haven't mentioned the protagonist, or anything resembling the words "black lion", and that's because Shishimaru is a boring, stereotypical late 1970s Shonen Magazine hero who is somehow nowhere near strong enough to keep most of his cookie-cutter, paper-thin comrades from dying horrible deaths, and OH RIGHT shishi = lion, Shishimaru is therefore the Black Lion, okay we can all go home now.
Also, I'm pretty sure at some point there are aliens involved, but honestly, I was too busy laughing at the off-the-hook action to care.
So, really, there's two points to be made about this anime:
First: Black Lion is terrible, and at the same time, can be dumb fun if you like vintage blood-n-guts-n-barbecue-sauce action anime.
Second: I know this may be a few years too late, but can the anime industry somehow *please* cast Jose Brown in more things? Because he's really freaking awesome.
Far too flawed to even make the center of the bell curve, but the English dub makes this a good bit of dumb fun and keeps it squarely away from being a contender for the worst. — Carlos Ross
Recommended Audience: The sheer amount of violence precludes any but mature audiences from viewing this anime. Any other objectionable material seems immaterial in comparison.
Version(s) Viewed: English dub
Review Status: Full (1/1)
Black Lion © 1992 Go Nagai / Dynamic Planning Inc / Nippon Columbia Co Ltd
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