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Slick’s Nit-Picks: Ninja Scroll (Blu-Ray)

At the end of 2010, I wrote an article titled “Ten Movies I Feel Need The ‘Proper' Blu-Ray Treatment.” Since then, roughly half of the suggested titles have been released on blu-ray, and maybe half of those were done right. What I mean by “done right” is that the blu-ray release features the original theatrical widescreen presentation of the film, whether it fill your HDTV screen or be letterboxed and that the video be restored to its original glory or as close as possible. Out of my list, the only movie that was truly done right was The Incredibles. I do not count the original Star Wars Trilogy as done properly because it has the added crap that made the movies look like shit (in my opinion) and there is no option to watch the original, untouched film. Moving forward to December of 2012, we see the sixth movie from my list hit blu-ray, Ninja Scroll. When I saw this disc, my eyes damn near popped out of my head. I bought it without concern for price, reviews or anything. Of course I was hoping the product inside would be as fantastic as the new cover, but I was to own it regardless.

I WAS THINKING ABOUT…YOUR BODY MTR fans who listen to the show know that I go on about how soft Hollywood has gotten these days. Despite having a solid film rating system that should be enough to tell sensitive people to stay away for m certain films, movies have been handholding with fans to turn a profit. Great scenes get cut from movies that make the overall product suffer and we sometimes don’t even get that material back in the home release. Thankfully, Ninja Scroll is untouched in terms of content, language and action. The film is turning twenty this year so this is one of those “you haven’t seen this?” movies. Seriously, if you haven’t you need to go buy this disc now. The plot is very simple. A wandering ninja by the name of Jubei Kibagami meets Kagero, the sole survivor of the Koga ninja clan. They team up with this scummy old bastard named Dakuan to stop fiendish plot that would otherwise plunge Japan into civil war. The characters and action of the film have influenced several works, including the Samurai Showdown (Spirits in Japan) video game series, the Naruto manga/anime series and Ninja Scroll television show which was not nearly as good as the movie. This movie is seriously one of those “how do you call yourself an anime fan and you have not seen this” pieces.

DON’T LET IT CROSS YOUR MIND Ninja Scroll was originally released on VHS and DVD by Manga Video. I have no idea why, but they let their license expire and it was picked up by Sentai Filmworks. Basically, that does not even matter, because neither company has done a very good job of preserving the initial film quality. Don’t get me wrong, Sentai did a really good job of cleaning up the picture; the lines are sharper, the colors are more vibrant and they even added one or two little computer effects if you pay attention. The problem is that just like on the DVD, the colors bleed and the picture is a little sloppy. And then there is the killer. No one wants to watch a blu-ray on their HDTV in 4:3. When I saw that on the back of the package I was almost sorry I bought it….almost. If all you have is the DVD or *gasp* the VHS tape, this is still a must own until someone really gets on their game and gives this the true and proper HD treatment.

RUIN YOUR PLANS? Not at all. Where the video suffers, the audio flourishes as Sentai has maintained the 5.1 Dolby surround that was on the DVD release. I played both the DVD and the blu-ray back to back on the same system at the same volume and the blu-ray is actually a bit louder an more clear. The only audio hangup which is common to both discs is when Tessai tells Kagero that he will kill her slowly after Jubei. That part is no one’s fault because the word “slowly” gets drowned out by the sound of Tessai’s blade. If you have a good surround system or at least a decent sound bar, you can sit back and enjoy that all to familiar battle horn that fans have come to love.

GENMA! Yeah, Jubei’s reaction to seeing his arch-enemy is about how I felt when I saw the extras on this disc, or lack of such. To say that there are slim pickings is putting things lightly and what you do get is not very good. To start, the subtitles for the Japanese version are not terribly accurate and the subtitles for the English version are the same translated subs for the Japanese dialogue. I mean, I am not hearing impaired or anything, but there are those who are and sometimes I just prefer to watch anime in Japanese, but for get that on this disc. Aside from bad subs, you get Japanese commentary on the film and previews of other Sentai Filmworks offerings. If you are expecting more than that then expect to be severely disappointed.

You should know that anything negative I have said in this review pertains only to the production value of the blu-ray disc release of Ninja Scroll. The movie itself is amazing and needs to be seen. Jubei Kibagami is the epitome of what a classic badass hero is. He does not have a spotless past and he will do dirty work for money. Still, he is much deeper than a sword for hire; ultimately it’s about what is right and wrong to him. If only a production house would do him some justice and release his tale in true high definition. Despite being on blu-ray, this is still not an HD release and the disc loses huge points for that. Fans of the movie will want to have it in their collection because it is still the best available version, but everyone should hope for an actual HD version. As of now, I cannot remove this from my list of movies that need a proper HD treatment.