Episode 1 – Ninja Kamui

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Ninja Kamui ?

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I’ve been a long-time fan of the Adult Swim revival of the Toonami block and most of its offerings, but their track record with original anime not named Space Dandy has been something of a mixed bag. While I don’t have as much against the FLCL sequels as a lot of folks do, they still left much to be desired, and the same could also be said for shows like Fena: Pirate Princess, which started off promising only to end up cratering in the end. Still, I’m always down for seeing new anime original projects get made, and I’ve been especially excited for this one because of one name: Sunghoo Park.

While most Shonen Jump fans will recognize his work as the director for the first season of Jujutsu Kaisen, he also directed the adaptation of God of High School which managed to deliver a huge buffet of gorgeous and impeccably directed fight scenes across the board which all helped set the stage for a lot of his later work in Jujutsu Kaisen. More importantly to the purposes of this show (and me), he was the director of the criminally underrated Garo: Vanishing Line, which reimagined the dark tokusatsu franchise into the equivalent of a high-energy Hollywood action movie, and was easily one of the most aggressively cool anime experiences of the late 2010s.

All of that was done while he was still working at Studio MAPPA, and he has since left the dark pits of the MAPPA mines to form his studio, E&H production, with this series being one of its first big showcases. Visually, it’s a pretty strong first outing, too, because no one knows how to direct a fight scene like Sunghoo Park, and his talents are on full display all over this premiere. All of the action is fast-paced and incredibly flashy, with some pretty incredible-looking animation and equally impressive camerawork, which is paired with an over-the-top level of brutality and violence that feels on par with a 90s anime OVA. All of that comes together to give it a real sense of cinematic flair and energy, not unlike the kinds of high-octane action movies it’s paying tribute to, and that’s what I’m here for.

On the other hand, I’m a little colder on the story since there isn’t too much to go off with this premiere. We follow a man named Joe Logan, who’s living quietly with his family in the countryside until they’re killed by a mysterious group of ninjas armed with advanced tech, and he gets ready to go on a path of vengeance. Even without knowing the show’s premise, it’s pretty obvious that his wife and son are doomed from the second they appear on screen, and the fact that we don’t even hear their names until after they die doesn’t help with making the revenge movie cliches here feel heavy-handed and shallow.

It does at least have a pretty decent sense of mystery going, as we don’t know anything about the group that attacked Joe’s family or why. For that matter, we don’t even know anything about Joe himself, as he and his wife seemed to be very much aware that someone was after them; the end of the episode reveals that they’d been using technology to hide their actual faces from both their pursuers and the audience, so it’s pretty likely that Joe Logan isn’t even his actual name. It’s enough to keep me intrigued, so hopefully, there’ll be more substance to the plot in the coming episodes, or at the very least, enough not to feel like a distraction. Story concerns aside, I had a good time with this premiere, and it’s pretty much exactly what I signed up for, so if it can manage to deliver some high-quality action without getting too ham-fisted with the obligatory revenge movie tropes, this series could make for a pretty fun ride.

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Ninja Kamui airs on Adult Swim and streams on Max.