Ninja Kamui Review

Last Updated on by Szuniverse

Back when I was a kid I would watch a lot of anime on TV.  It first started with watching Pokémon on KidsWB on Saturday mornings and coming home from school every day to watch Dragon Ball Z on Toonami. Yet, as a kid I never really stepped into other places to watch anime. I sometimes checked out some shows that aired on Adult Swim, like watching a random episode or two of Cowboy Bebop, Inuyasha, Trigun, and Shin-chan, but the only show that I would continuously watch as it was airing was Bleach. Bleach appealed to me as someone who was becoming a teenager and going through that awkward phase of “I don’t watch cartoons anymore,” and while I honestly don’t know what compelled me to do so, while in high school, I decided to join the anime club there. I may have started Bleach when I was in middle school, but after some time, I fell out of it and only continued watching it when it was on Adult Swim’s rebooted Toonami block. As such, this was all new to me because anime as a medium is so vast and different from western animation, and so it can feel daunting to any newbie who wants to get into anime. I asked for recommendations and the ones who didn’t request I watch Boku no Pico recommended some popular picks, one of them being the film Ninja Scroll. I was 16 and was interested in watching it, so I rented the movie via my local library and loved every minute of it. The animation and art, the action scenes, the over-the-top gore and violence…it was an amazing movie! To this day, I don’t think I have ever seen an anime series or movie do what Ninja Scroll did in an hour and thirty-four minutes.

I bring this up because of the most recent Toonami original that has concluded broadcasting, Ninja Kamui. A co-production with Sola Entertainment, a studio run by Sunghoo Park, director for a few well-known anime like Jujutsu Kaisen

Ninja Kamui is a series that wears its influences on its sleeve but unfortunately, fails to capture that same magic from those influences. 

Note: This review is written with the expectation that the reader has watched the series and discusses spoilers for the later portion of the show.

 The plot of this series follows former ninja Joe Higan as he hides out in the countryside with his wife. The pair were a part of the same clan but broke the clan’s rules as the two fell in love. Years later, they found Joe and killed his family, but having survived the attack that claimed his loved ones, he’s out for revenge.

Ninja Kamui’s biggest flaw is its narrative. A revenge story is fine if it can accomplish one of two things: it must be a compelling narrative with interesting characters or an over-the-top action gorefest that is fun and cathartic to watch. Sad to say, it does neither. Instead, the show ends up feeling lost and unsure of what it wants to be. It wants to be an over-the-top action title, but it never reaches a point of being “off-the-rails” crazy. Such as one moment where Mike Morriss an FBI agent who’s a central character in the show teams up with Jason Cardenas a former AUZA employee where Mike distracts an army and gets himself arrested by ramming a truck through police forces while Jason who is elsewhere, uses his knowledge of AUZA to get through its mainframes. That’s one of the few times where the show is over the top and dumb yet, the show wants you to take it seriously and feels afraid to move into this ridiculous tone more frequently. Sadly, this leaves it needing to lean on having interesting characters, but the show fails in that regard, and I found myself struggling to get invested in the drama when the series gives me no reason to care for these characters.
The characters in Ninja Kamui are, to describe them in a single word, “flat.” The show gives you basic character traits, but it never fully builds on top of them to flesh them out, leaving them feeling very one-note. For example, the relationship between Joe and his family makes it obvious he cares deeply for them, but it ends there. Ninja Kamui, never gives us enough of a set up and lacks context, leaving it at a point where it never really feels fully developed. SilverAbsolution, another member of Toonami Squad, described it perfectly, saying that there should be more scenes where Joe is spending time with his family, either through dreams or flashback sequences, so that we can better understand his pain and the audience can properly sympathize with his character. Regrettably, this never happens and as a result, is rather frustrating. 

 What could they have fixed? Again, turning to SilverAbsolution, who brought this up during the first week of the Ninja Kamui marathon, on the night of May 11th, 2024. Instead of having a random clan ninja sent to kill Joe and his family, instead, it would be a mysterious blue mech. By doing this, it sets the tone that this is a massive threat and could easily kill, and more importantly, it also introduces the CGI mechs in the first episode, allowing them to exist as an important plot element from the start and creating a mystery of who is in the blue mech suit. By the time we reach the final episodes, the two would duke it out as Joe finds out the man in the suit was Zai. At this point, the audience would have known his backstory, and as Joe kills Zai, he cries out in rage and sorrow. This would create a greater emotional impact and allow the show to build more of Zai’s character while also creating a rewarding moment when Joe defeats Yamaji (The leader of the ninja clan). Instead, the story we got doesn’t create a great emotional impact, not for the main characters or the supporting cast.

As is, the story doesn’t feel rewarding to sit down and watch. If the show had been an over-the-top gorefest, it might have fared better. However, even compared to other series, Toonami has ran that tends to have a lot of violence, blood, and gore. By comparison Ninja Kamui is very tame. You compare it to series like Black Lagoon, Made in Abyss, Primal, and the list can go on, Ninja Kamui can be violent, but it never reaches the level of what those shows did or what Ninja Scroll did. Ninja Scroll the movie was very violent. The film had bodies cut in half, blood spewing everywhere, and grotesque nudity. These aspects are part of what made the movie awesome. Sadly, Ninja Kamui barely has anything like this. In the beginning, there are some flying heads and a good amount of blood being splattered but by the middle portion, once the giant mechs get introduced, it falls off, leaving it to feel like it never really goes all out.

Shifting to another aspect of the show’s production, the English dub provided by Sentai Filmworks isn’t great. After two episodes of the English dub, I switched over to the Japanese dub and found it was much better. Despite the talented cast of English actors hired, the direction feels lacking and the characters sounded dull in the episodes I watched dubbed. The Japanese cast gives a better performance with the stand-out being Kenjirou Tsuda as Joe.

In the end, the unfortunate flaws of Ninja Kamui weigh down the series and without a compelling cast of characters with a great narrative to support it, pushes it firmly into being a disappointment. It had a promising start, but it fell apart in its second half and never recovered. It is rather frustrating to see Ninja Kamui turn out as an overall mediocre series because there is potential here, but alas, that potential is never fully realized, and the end result is a middle-of-the-road anime. Despite this, the series is, so far, one of the better Toonami originals, but as far as I am concerned, that isn’t much of a compliment. It has been a continuing issue with Toonami originals not meeting fans expectations or not meeting a high standard of quality, and Ninja Kamui continues that trend. If Ninja Kamui was intended to make a bold statement that Toonami can make the kind of high-quality anime that doesn’t speak only to the core Toonami crowd but also to a mainstream audience of both anime fans and casual viewers, I would say that while it did succeed at this, it also failed. The success comes from the beginning of the series, where the animation and action were of high quality. However, it failed in its second half where mecha took over and became a CGI fest that was frankly rather dull and uninteresting to watch, leaving the series with an overall feeling of being sadly pathetic.



Senior Editorial Writer for Toonami Squad and former writer for Swim Squad. Host for Toonami Squad Sessions Podcast.