Ninja Girl and Samurai Master season 1
Clumsy, adorable ninja cadet Chidori finds herself owing her life to the warlord Oda Nobunaga, so upon graduation, she and her compatriot Sukezo go to serve him alongside an expanding cast of colorful heroes including a certain monkey-like errand-boy-turned-general.
Hilarity ensues. No. Really.
Tired of all the Nobunaga clones? Me too. So I walked into Ninja Girl and Samurai Master with literally no expectations, especially once I found out it was based off a four-panel manga. With three minute episodes. This combination is generally the kiss of death for me as a viewer -- usually, such shows are too simplistic, too perfunctory, and just too short to matter to me.
But this is no ordinary show at all. For one, Chidori is adorable yet effective (with the highest on-screen kill count of any character in the series). She fits right in with the very weird and true-to-life cast of historical characters alongside Nobunaga himself, who too many fictional adaptations forget was called "the Fool of Owari" for good reason: he was as unconventional within his time as he was successful. This show gets to showcase how downright *goofy* he really was, from his constantly calling Hideyoshi "Monkey" to his out-of-control sweet tooth (both documented real-life personality traits). Her tactics, while comedic, are actually precisely how shinobi were employed historically, and we even get to see real-life oddities like Hattori Hanzo actually being a jumped-up *samurai* descended from shinobi (!), the Imagawa clan's obsession with the kick-ball sport of kemari, and even dispelling the myth of Hideyoshi's "castle built in one day" (but let's just say it happened like that anyway in the history books, shhh).
In fact, it's evident that instead of just giving us some "cute ninja misadventures" with Nobunaga pastede on yey, the creators did their homework, and gave Chidori a surprisingly realistic role to play in the shadows of real history, and the result is exceptionally entertaining and educational, without having to resort to conspicuous CG, demonic possession, nuclear-powered ninja-killer cyborgs, or everyone being turned into anime babes in boobs-and-butt poses. Instead, it's slapstick exaggerations of real-life traits that give each historical character as distinctive personalities as can be managed in just three minutes an episode -- and the plot is essentially a comedic and simplified take on what has happened in real life, with few changes.
Also, strangely enough, they do not once skimp out on the fact that this was a bloody, dirty, complicated period of time, and Chidori is essentially a tykebomb -- despite her character design, she's roughly high school age, but is seen straight-up slaughtering opponents on the regular while looking like a child, and then actually like a naive, yet kind-hearted ditz when off the clock (with the same voice in Japanese - Inori Minase - as Chino from Is The Order a Rabbit?). Instead of making her a Mary Sue, though, they definitely play to the limitations of such a character within our real life universe -- she'll never be able to earn any credit for her deeds (nor does she really want it, preferring to work for her samurai master) and she plays off rather than outshining the real-life legends, taking the role of the anonymous real-life people who undoubtedly took part in Nobunaga's rise to power.
Right at the end of the first season, we are introduced to Akechi Mitsuhide, who we all know is eventually going to be responsible for Oda's fall, but I was laughing because we get to see Nobunaga rejoicing at having hired a straight-man to give the proper, snarky retorts at all the constant comedy routines under his command (especially his airheaded wife Kichou who we're not quite sure whether she's a bimbo or the true brains behind the clan).
This shouldn't work. But somehow, it never falls into being strident or annoying, maybe because the comedy is consistently on-point, and consistently tied to history that is well-researched and portrayed with a disarming amount of realism. Maybe it's because Oda Nobunaga is portrayed here (in Japanese by Wataru Hatano, who has by this point long since grown out of the harem-lead roles that used to be his bread-and-butter) as very human, with complex emotions and beliefs and unpredictable and outright silly foibles, instead of being some supernatural being or unfathomable tactical genius. It doesn't hurt that the music is shockingly exquisite (both OPs, "Adazakura" by Renka, and "Montage" by Valshe deserve full-length listens), and the show itself, while deceptively simple in appearance, is consistently well-drawn and animated, with a lively but not garish color palette.
I genuinely enjoy and respect Ninja Girl and Samurai Master, and given that at the time of this review, it's well into its third season, I'm clearly not the only one. In an age where crossovers and mashups seem to be the rule, it's refreshing to see a show that tells the history as it was -- chaotic, often dark, but surprisingly funny, sometimes truly strange, and occasionally even downright uplifting.
The best part is that at three minutes an episode, it goes by quickly enough that you can marathon the whole series inside of an evening, if you want.
Not just another Nobunaga show: these are actual, well-researched history lessons packaged within easy-to-digest, fast-paced comedy. — Carlos/Giancarla Ross
Recommended Audience: While nominally rated PG, there is a lot of blood, and occasional dismemberment, which, while often played for laughs, is actually appropriate to the wartime setting and is just as often played straight.
Version(s) Viewed: Digital stream on Crunchyroll, Japanese with English subs.
Review Status: Full (26/26)
Ninja Girl and Samurai Master season 1 © 2016 Naoki Shigeno/Hakusensha・Ninja Girl and Samurai Master Production Committee
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