By Hugh David.
As academics argue about how to define the historical location of anime fans in the West – is it now five or six generations? The latest group seems resolutely uninterested in what an older generation thinks anime was actually all about. Call it a triumph of marketing, the smart use of existing fan groups to help launch anime titles into the U.K. and U.S. off the back of Akira, or just cynical cashing-in, but the way anime was packaged and sold during the 1990s using science fiction, heavy metal and lots of swearing created a very particular set of expectations for a generation of fans. For them a title like Ninja Slayer is a long-awaited breath of foetid, blood-spraying air, the answer to all those prayers they cried out when faced with yet another TV season of high-school/harem/romantic comedies and magical boy/girl shows.
On paper, this sounds like it has all the makings of a huge mainstream hit from an older era: based on a series of novels already adapted as a 2013 manga, this is the tale of a salaryman who loses his family in a war between ninja clans, and is then possessed by the soul of a ninja. In escaping death, he becomes the Ninja Slayer, destined to pursue vengeance throughout the near-future underworld of Neo-Saitama. Cue special moves and lots of Mortal Kombat-esque blood-letting, all under the aegis of former key animator and episode director Akira Akemiya, who here steps up from such shows as Space Dandy and Gurren Lagann to direct for Studio Trigger (Kill La Kill, Little Witch Academia). The opening theme music is from the Boom Boom Satellites, while various endings come from a range of other famous performers including Melt Banana and Electric Eel Shock. However, this is not the sort of story that constitutes mainstream anime today in Japan, so it isn’t made and delivered the same way; instead, these are 15-minute episodes explicitly designed for streaming, visually more in keeping with the simpler styles that Adult Swim and online animation have made popular worldwide, and that is exactly who this is for – the global audience created two decades ago.
The internationally accessible website niconico received over a million views for Ninja Slayer’s debut ahead of its Japanese TV airing, as well as being streamed simultaneously around the world in multiple languages, including on Viewster in the U.K. This is old-school story-telling meets new-school delivery, maybe the perfect blend for the stories international anime fans want to see even if the domestic market doesn’t. After Sailor Moon Crystal and now this, the door’s wide open for all sorts of projects to finally take shape. Whatever else Ninja Slayer is remembered for, being a key stepping stone in the evolution of the anime business opening back up from the domestic focus it has had for far too long may prove to be its most important legacy.
Ninja Slayer is currently streaming on Viewster.