2009 TV Series (episodes 1-13). Director: Kunihisa Sugishima. 325 minutes. DVD, bilingual, $59.98. Distributor: Funimation.
The warring states period and the age of the samurai may have ended long ago, but the ninja are alive and kicking, working in the shadows. They call their world “Nabari.” And the men and women of Iga are at war amongst themselves to control it. Unfortunately, all hope rests with Miharu Rokujou, a teenager more interested in running a restaurant than the fact that a secret art, one containing all ninja knowledge, resides inside him. Apathy, however, can only get you so far. Eventually someone always comes knockin.’
The ninja is by no means new to the anime scene. All powerful, world saving high school students, for that matter, are also pervasive; though such plot-consuming, pubescent power is now so ubiquitous that it’s about as sexy as a white dress at a wedding – or, artistically, arguably a creative as Lady Gaga. Be that as it may, the combination of the two in Nabari strikes a surprisingly good tune.
Obviously, if we have ninja, then we have action. And Nabari doesn’t fail. Koichi, Tobari, and even the samurai cutie Raimei are always ready to draw steel to protect Miharu – plus the usual comic, anime antics. But since the only supernatural force driving this series is the secret ninjutsu of Iga, we have a story largely focused on character development and interaction. Pleasurably so, this humanity emerges at that outset. As the lines are drawn, a strange bond forms between our boy wonder and his supposed enemy Yoite. A powerful, troubled, and gender-ambiguous ninja, he instigates plot twists and machinations that make Nabari a cut above the rest. He also brings out a dark and devious side in Miharu heretofore unseen.
Perhaps our apathetic little ninja is not so boring after all. Either way the initial story arc surrounding this unlikely pair and their contest for the ninja world is challenging and unpredictable.
Off to a good start, Nabari is a good addition to the anime-mingling of medieval and modern Japan. Let’s hope it continues to impress.