Ninja Scroll: 10th Aniversary Edition (1994)

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Released 20-Nov-2003

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Anime Main Menu Audio & Animation
Interviews-Crew-director
Interviews-Cast-English-language voice actors
Notes-The History of Jubei
Biographies-Character-11
Trailer-Madman Propaganda (6)
DVD Credits
Rating Rated R
Year Of Production 1994
Running Time 91:18 (Case: 94)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (52:08) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Yoshiaki Kawajiri
Studio
Distributor

Madman Entertainment
Starring None Given
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $34.95 Music Kaoru Wada


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 5.1 EX (384Kb/s)
English dts 6.1 ES Discrete (768Kb/s)
Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 EX (384Kb/s)
Japanese dts 6.1 ES Discrete (768Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (160Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures Yes
Subtitles English Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

Ninja Scroll was something of a breakthrough in the awareness of anime in the US. Less so here in Australia, I think, although it was one of the earlier titles released on DVD. It's interesting to see that they have considered it important enough to be worthy of releasing a 10th anniversary edition, although there are other reasons for doing so.

One of the reasons they've released this new edition is that this title was only previously available in a censored form. In case you are wondering, I've checked the scenes that I know were censored, and they are all uncut on this disc. If you know the film, and that's what you wanted to know, then you can skip ahead to the transfer discussion. If you haven't seen this film before, and want to know what it's about, keep reading.

This is a violent and bloody story, but there are plenty of those about. This is quite good as an action thriller, but it wouldn't be so memorable just for that. What makes this one somewhat distinctive is some of the more unusual moments. One of the most memorable images (I know, I've tried to forget it!) is of one of the bad guys drinking blood from an arm he has just ripped off (it is curious how that particular image was not censored in the earlier release...). There are moments of nudity, and sex, and rape not things that are common in American animation. The vast quantities of blood spraying all over the place were once a little shocking, but that's one area where US movies have definitely caught up.

Our hero is a man called Jubei. Apparently he is loosely based on a man in Japanese history (the same Yagyu Jubei who appears in Jubei-chan the Ninja Girl, in fact). He is a master swordsman, but he is wandering, helping out where his sword appears to be needed (not an uncommon theme in Japanese cinema).

Jubei makes the acquaintance of a ninja woman called Kagero. She is the only survivor of a massacre of her Koga ninja team.

The third person who might be considered to be on the side of the angels is Dakuan, a wizened old man who is dressed as a monk or priest (complete with the staff with rings on the end). He is really a spy or agent for the Tokugawa government. He manipulates Jubei and Kagero into assisting his investigations.

On the other side we have the Devils of Kimon, a group of supernatural bad folks, each with a unique method of attack. They are led by Yurimaru, who has a nasty way with fine threads and lightning he reports back to their employer, communicating over a thread (this is accompanied by a neat sound effect on the English soundtrack, but not on the Japanese, or at least not to anything like the same extent). The first representative of the Devils that we meet is Tessai, a giant of a man with stone skin and a giant flying blade. There's also Benisato, a lady who likes snakes; Shijima, a creature who hides in shadows and attacks using a steel claw on a chain; Mushizu and his wasps; the blind swordsman Mujuru Utsutsu; and the somewhat psychotic Zakuro, who specialises in explosive zombies. The strange thing is that there is definite mention of "the eight Devils of Kimon", but that's only seven maybe one of them was off sick? Or maybe they count Gemma as one of them, which seems odd, given that he is referred to as their employer at one point.

Jubei is surprised and incensed when he learns who is employing the Devils. Now he has personal reasons for continuing, reasons of revenge.

This is a very good action thriller, and quite entertaining for adults, but most emphatically not for children that R rating is well deserved.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

This movie was shot in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, and that's what we get on this disc. Unsurprisingly, it's not 16x9 enhanced.

The picture is quite sharp and clear it's like they drew a squeegee over the previous version, and removed a cloudy film. There's no film grain. There's no low level noise.

Colour is strong and solid, but there is some variation in the colour of blood (sometimes red, sometimes orange) I suspect this is inherent in the source. There's no colour bleed or over-saturation, except that the outside sometimes shows up as an over-hot white when looking through a window or door. That's probably deliberate.

There are next to no film artefacts; the only remaining ones are in the sky, and they could well be deliberate spots it's clear that they really have restored this film, and they've done a superb job of it.

There is next to no aliasing on a progressive system, but there is some visible aliasing on a non-progressive player going into a TV. There's some interleaving on shots with a lot of motion, but it is invisible when playing the film you have to freeze-frame and single-step to see it. There are no MPEG errors.

The only subtitles are in English I watched them with the Japanese soundtracks. They are reasonably well-timed, and easy to read.

The disc is single sided and dual layered, formatted RSDL. The layer change is at 52:08. It is quite noticeable because it interrupts the ambient noise, and it's not a quick change.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

There are six (yup, six!) soundtracks, in English, Japanese, French, and Spanish. Both English and Japanese are presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 EX and in dts es 6.1 discrete. I listened to both dts es soundtracks in full, and most of both Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks. I didn't notice any big differences between the Dolby Digital EX and dts es renderings of either soundtrack.

The English-language dialogue is clear and comprehensible throughout, although there were some unusual translations: why did the translator choose "epidemic", when "plague" would have been a more natural word in context, for example? The Japanese-language dialogue sounds clear. The sync between dialogue and animated mouth movements was not especially good, with the most notable error coming at 87:07 in the Japanese soundtrack Dakuan starts talking while his mouth is quite obviously closed.

The score was written by Kaoru Wada, and it is rather good stuff, using plenty of percussion well-suited to the on-screen action.

The English soundtrack seems to have had its Foley work re-done, and has some excellent directional sound, using the surrounds (including the rear centre) quite nicely. There's ambient noise a lot of the time. The Japanese soundtrack is not as obvious, but it does make use of the surrounds. The subwoofer, on both languages, never draws attention to itself, but does get used from time to time.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Menu

The menu is subtly animated with music. It is easy to operate.

Interview director Yoshiaki Kawajiri (20:48)

This interview contains some interesting comments by the director (he was also responsible for the story, screenplay, and character designs). Unfortunately, the video quality is fairly poor (it looks like it was shot with a cheap consumer video camera), and the audio quality is appalling. There is a huge amount of background noise, plus a variety of audio artefacts. Fortunately, it is subtitled, so you can turn the audio down, and read what is being said. The interviewer seems to be an amateur, asking long rambling questions, but fortunately the answers are worthwhile.

Interview English-language voice actors Wendee Lee and Dean Wein (16:27)

This is strange. Wendee Lee is in the credits (under her previous name, Wendee Day) - she played Kageru. But Dean Wein doesn't appear in the credits at all. According to the placard at the start of the interview he played Jubei. According the Anime News Network anime encyclopaedia that role was played by Dean Elliot (maybe he got married?); according to IMDB it was Bradley Lavelle.

Anyway, this is an interview with both of them in what looks like a studio. The video quality is fairly poor, almost as bad as the interview with the director, but the audio quality is not as bad; there's very little background noise, at least, but their voices sound somewhat muffled. They have a fair bit to say about voice-acting in general, and a little bit about Ninja Scroll in particular, but it is not all that illuminating.

Character Profiles

This is a single page of information about eleven of the main characters in Ninja Scroll..

The History of Jubei

Six pages of notes about the real Yagyu Jubei Mitsuyoshi. Interesting reading, and you can see how it might have inspired a story like this one.

Madman Propaganda

Trailers for six Madman titles. Each trailer is individually selectable.

Censorship

    There is censorship information available for this title. Click here to read it (a new window will open). WARNING: Often these entries contain MAJOR plot spoilers.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

This film has been released before in both Region 1 and Region 4, and now is being released in 10th anniversary editions in both regions. I only have three of the four versions to hand, so I'll forget about the original R1, if that's OK with you?

The original Region 4 disc came to us via the UK, and that's a bad thing. It meant that the UK censors got to it, and clipped out pieces of a number of scenes (see the censorship notes). Apart from that vandalism, the disc wasn't too bad it had a reasonable transfer for the time, albeit too soft, possibly due to it being compressed onto a single layer. It offers English sound in Dolby Digital 5.1, and Japanese in Dolby Digital 2.0. It included the character profiles, the theatrical trailer, and some Manga Entertainment advertising. Not a bad disc, but there's no compelling reason to buy it any more.

The new Region 1 disc has the longest list of features, and comes on a DVD-18: a double-sided, dual-layer disc, for a total of four layers. It offers almost exactly the same features as the Region 4 disc on one side, and almost the same on the other side. The difference between the two sides is simple: one is full-screen, and one is wide-screen. When I first saw this, I was excited I had only ever seen Ninja Scroll in full-screen, and I looked forward to seeing it in wide-screen (I'm a big fan of wide-screen). However, it turns out that this wide-screen presentation was something of a stunt they have chopped the top and bottom off the full-screen version, doing something like a vertical pan-and-scan conversion. The result looks OK a lot of the time, but feels a touch cramped at other times. To make things worse, this trimming means that the image is enlarged when displayed on a wide display; this means that the black lines outlining the characters get quite wide, which looks ugly. If you really want this kind of "wide-screen", and your display supports it, you can get the same effect by zooming the image (then, when you've decided you don't really want it, you can un-zoom it). The other thing that I don't like about the Region 1 disc is that the sound behind the main menu is rather loud, and the animation behind the menu is distracting.

A word about packaging: the old Region 4 disc was in a simple keep-case. The new Region 4 is still in a keep-case (a good quality transparent Amaray), but it's scored a cardboard slipcase, too a nice effort. The Region 1 packaging is a bit fancier: a slipcase holding a cardboard folder than opens twice to expose the disc (in a clear plastic holder glued to the cardboard) it's pretty, but a bit flimsier than the Amaray.

The Region 4 disc is missing:

The Region 1 disc is missing:

The video transfer on the Region 1 discs is similar to the Region 4, but noticeably darker some details get lost in the darkness, making the R1 a less attractive option. Both transfers show a fair bit of aliasing, and neither has a wonderful layer change (the R1 full-screen side has the layer change at 69:12, making a pause too long). The interviews with the director and English-language voice actors still offer poor quality audio and video, but that's the source material.

I recommend the new Region 4 as the best on offer, unless you yearn for a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. It's a single-sided disc, which makes it easier to handle. It offers a good transfer of the digitally restored film. And it's uncut.

Summary

A well-known anime feature, given a substantial touch-up for its tenth anniversary (and just before the release of the TV series on DVD...).

The video quality is excellent.

The audio quality is very good.

There are more extras this time around, even if both interviews offer rather poor video and audio.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Tony Rogers (bio-degrading: making a fool of oneself in a bio...)
Wednesday, November 26, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony VPH-G70 CRT Projector, QuadScan Elite scaler (Tripler), ScreenTechnics 110. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVC-A1SE
SpeakersFront Left, Centre, Right: Krix Euphonix; Rears: Krix KDX-M; Subwoofer: Krix Seismix 5

Other Reviews
DVD Net - Jules F
impulsegamer.com - Tory Favro

Comments (Add)
Are you sure about the 2.0 on the R1? - Anonymous REPLY POSTED
Possible Glitch using Sony DVP NS530 - Matthew D (don't read my bio)
Question about the audio tracks - J Sebastian
DTS 6.1 is very weak! and hardly LFE - Thomas