Plot: Set in the Sengoku period under the rule of Oda Nobunaga (because anime really likes referencing Oda Nobunaga), three separate ninja clans, the Kasumi, the Hyuga and the Hagakure, known throughout the land as The Shadow Warriors, are being attacked by a demon sent by Oda Nobunaga himself. The Kasumi clan has been wiped out, leaving a kunoichi named Ayame as the sole survivor with a special holy weapon in the form of a short sword. Ayame changes her name to Ayanosuke to take on a masculine status and vows to take revenge for her village.
The Hyuga were also wiped out by the creature, leaving a man named Sakon, wielder of a holy long sword, as its sole survivor. He becomes a bandit leader, I think, for some reason and later meets Ayame. They decide to join up and go to the final clan for assistance, the Hagakure clan. While the Hagakure are glad to help, they soon also get attacked by Nobunaga’s forces, including a group of demons called the Oboro. The main warrior in the Hagakure is named Ryoma and he wields the holy halberd. Together, they must beat Nobunaga’s warriors and get revenge for all they have lost.
Breakdown: I am actually working off the Japanese version of the movie and not the OVA series, so many of my complaints probably stem from the fact that 45 minutes of runtime were shaved from the OVA series in order to make this movie.
This movie is a bit of mess in the first two thirds. The plot’s kinda cliché (sole survivors of their clans, must get revenge with these awesome magic weapons we have for some reason etc.) and we jump around quite a bit. I also had a slightly hard time really connecting emotionally with the main characters, but one of my main beefs was the side characters.
Side characters pop up like the strike of a match and then get extinguished just as quickly. Some prime examples are Kikyo (That name must be a curse), Kayo and Jinpei. These are supposedly people with strong connections to the main characters and yet they appear so briefly and don’t do much until they croak.
I can forgive the clicheness as the title is rather old and it brings some stuff to the table to spice things up, but the first two thirds really left me not caring all that much.
I can’t even remember most of the Oboro members for crying out loud. And I love how one of them actually said that we should’ve guessed that it was his doing when the character hadn’t even been introduced yet and no one knew the guy.
The final third is when the bets are off. The final battle is pretty damn good, and includes some fairly brutal battles and plot twists…….However, it doesn’t make much sense.
Ranmaru, Nobunaga’s right hand man, turns out to be the real bad guy in this whole mess. (The battle with Nobunaga is actually kinda disappointing.) He’s really a demon (if the RED EYES weren’t a giveaway) who orchestrated the whole thing. The holy weapons, the clan destructions, the betrayals, everything in order to open a gate to the underworld and call forth powerful demons. He claims that since he made the holy weapons that they can’t harm him, and it seems that he’s right since Ayame’s short sword powers don’t faze him at all….Yet, what defeats him and seals the gate?
…..Combining the powers of the holy weapons. Yup. Grade A plan you made there, dumbass. A plan that was, I’m not lying here, over five CENTURIES in the making! Five CENTURIES to make this incredibly complex, somewhat convoluted plan go through and one of the steps is to give three of the best ninja clans in existence three holy weapons that have the power to both kill you and thwart your plans. Oh yeah, that’s not a recipe for disaster or anything.
END OF SPOILERS
Besides that, the ending actually is good and I did get emotional at a point. Not nearly crying or anything, but I felt for the character.
The main characters, Ayame/Ayanosuke, Sakon and Ryoma are alright. Ayame is not an annoying female main character like this genre tends to favor and she actually does stuff! WOW! She’s pretty brave and some of her fighting moves are pretty cool, even if she does get the lamest holy weapon. She does tend to cry a lot, but she has good reason at least, and you can tell that Sakon and Ryoma definitely outrank her in power much of the time. However, that can also be excused since they’re seemingly ‘masters’ and she’s, for all I know, just another Kasumi ninja. She’s still a lot stronger than most female leads are in fighting shows, especially back in the 80’s and she has a few moments that are pretty badass.
Sakon is interesting as he doesn’t really have a drive to fight much after a certain point and even leaves in the middle of a damn war. He has good reason as he just doesn’t find much point in the battle. He sees it as warriors throwing their lives away for no reason, and even states that if the others were fighting to give the other clans and innocent people a chance to escape that he’d gladly lay down his life for the cause. Sakon eventually comes back for literally no given reason. I’d suppose it’s for Ayame’s sake but I can’t be sure. He stays up in the mountains doing nothing but meditating and trying to reach enlightenment or something, explains how even if he wanted to help them that he’s I guess too far out of practice to even do much good, yet a couple scenes later he suddenly comes to the rescue….in a mask that he’s wearing for no reason.
Ryoma’s kinda boring, but he’s by no means a bad character. He loses quite a few people that he knew and loved right in front of our eyes as opposed to Ayame and Sakon where we got small flashbacks (with Sakon we barely got anything). However, even this isn’t very impacting since, like I said, we don’t get to know these characters much at all so it’s hard to empathize with any of them when they die. However, he’s very loyal and kind and a great character to follow.
Art: The art and animation are actually pretty good for 1989. The art never seemed crappy and appeared pretty consistent throughout the movie. The animation wasn’t fantastic, but it was still pretty good. The motions were fluid and I didn’t find many animation mistakes.
Music: Here’s another part where I fell off. For the most part, the music is awful. It’s unfitting synthesizer music that sometimes sounds like an NES game. Some points even have music that is really inappropriate for the scene. “Oh hey this character that we don’t care about yet one of the main characters loves is dying by the hands of aforementioned main character! Let’s play really upbeat heroic-ish music!” Not all of the music was bad. Some of it was actually good and fitting, but that just irked me.
Bottomline: It’s a harmless movie, but I’d try to track down the OVA as that likely goes into more detail about the main and side characters and might make you give more of a damn. Seeing as how this series is apparently very highly praised, it’s likely a good bet. The ending does make up for a lot of my complaints, but it still wasn’t fantastic to me.
Recommended Audience: Holy crap, this is gory. People get slashed in half, beheaded, eaten alive, people’s heads blow up (which is another thing that made no sense to me. The monster making these people’s heads blow up can do it with just a glance, yet when he gets to Ryoma he suddenly can’t do it anymore and can’t even crush him properly.) people blow up entirely; just a lot of blood and gore. One instance of nudity which came up for what seems like no reason, but even that was from far away. No sex, no real swearing. The blood and gore is really the biggest issue in this department. Younger audiences may also shy away from all the political talk. 16+