What do rappers, wrestlers and Capcom fighting game characters have in common? There’s a lot of boasting, well-named moves and a lot of referencing oneself. That is not unlike the read that Ninja Slayer Kills! offers and it feels very much like an action first over the top affair. How does it read though?
Ninja Slayer Kills! 1 (Kodansha Comics)
This book opens with a foreword asking the reader to turn to the back to read a glossary. Not the most energetic of intros, but it makes a lot of sense once you delve into this. That’s because the book uses untranslatable ninja terminology throughout. Remember this dear reader, you must keep your eyes on these back pages to understand what the heck some of these characters are talking about. It goes without saying there’s some culture being imbued on this tale—set in a futuristic 2019, where cybernetics reign supreme and ancient ninja culture has awakened. This is a revenge tale through and through, but also a very complex world-building first volume as well.
There’s a lot of energy in this third adaptation of the popular novel series and it’s not just in the art by Kōtarō Sekine. Characters are very animated, shouting and referencing what is going on in the book itself. That leads to a rather vapid sort of read, but you can’t help but like the wildness this world brings. Essentially it’s science fiction meets ninjas meets a fighting game. Aside from an opening that sets up the revenge aspect the protagonist is set on, the story is really one fight sequence after another. Bad guys take on the Ninja Slayer and he slays them. He has some help from friends, but very little is developed in regards to these supporting characters.
This can’t end well…
I came into this property blind, so maybe I’m not the ideal reader for a property like this, but for the most part I felt like I was in the dark. True, the plot moves very quickly and it’s probably keeping things a mystery on purpose, but I felt confused more than anything. The element of the Ninja terminology is quite cool, as is the idea of this power being not unlike the Force in Star Wars, but there just wasn’t enough here to chew on. Instead it’s really all about the action.
This premise is pretty interesting, especially the cybernetics infusing the ninja fighting styles. Why the world is like this and who these characters are—aside from petty gangsters, which is what I gathered from the short detail given about them—sets up a compelling world to delve into. There’s certainly a foundation here to build on.
While there are some effective panels of action and some neat character design, again I was left in the dark quite a bit. Unfortunately Sekine doesn’t compose the action sequences in the clearest way, instead cutting to extreme closeups of faces or weapons that hurt one’s ability to follow the choreography of the scene. These elements do heighten the drama and showcase the power on display, but not having a good sense of what is going on makes the action scenes feel boring.
Kōtarō Sekine’s character design is quite something though, and there are extra pages at the back that go over each. Sekine has some interesting notes on each that help flesh them out and gives them more depth. It’s too bad the depth can only be found in the extras section, but some of these characters only last a few pages so that’s understandable.
Overall this is a pass. The action is hard to follow and none of the characters are fleshed out enough to make them matter. The premise is strong and the art design is fantastic though, which gives me hope volume 2 will be a solid read.