In order to best describe what works and does not work about this show, I need to be upfront about one aspect that will turn many anime fans away from this show: the primary joke of this adaptation is that, like Trigger’s earlier show Inferno Cop, it resembles a Williams Street (read: Adult Swim) cartoon, and looks about as cheap as those shows do. If the idea of purposefully awful animation (in some cases, literally moving stills across the screen), then you will never be able to accept this show. I need to say this first because the reason the show got awful viewership, low viewer scores on sites like ANN and myanimelist, and got Funimation placing stickers on the cover claiming “it sucks” is because of the animation.
Beyond the adaptational choice to move the way it does, this is an adaptation of a bizarre comedy project by two writers claiming to have been translating the novels of two American authors and publishing the translation over Twitter, then compiling them into actual novels. The plot is intentionally insane, over-the-top, and ridiculous, resembling 80s American action movies that became obsessed with sticking ninjas into them. The plot follows a man whose wife and child were killed by a powerful businessman and criminal overlord (and ninja). This man enters into a contract with a vengeful spirit who wishes to kill all ninja and becomes Ninja Slayer, a vigilante on a vengeful quest to bring down the criminal presence in the city of Neo-Saitama. Along the way, we meet punk ninja, spineless businessmen, vague prophecies, communist revolutionaries, horny scientists, sexy hackers, a ninja with Vietnam flashbacks, nightmares about families being killed, and lots of people pissing their pants in fear. Oh, and a clip show of episode ideas that the animation crew never got to animating.
As mentioned before, the show prides itself in trying to resemble an Adult Swim show (and not a good one like Rick And Morty or Venture Bros, no, they want to look like Aqua Teen Hunger Force, which looks bad and I don’t care if you like how it looks). Most of the action scenes tend to be represented by static character model moving across the screen (shown here). This gives some cheap laughs early on, but the novelty of this animation wears off fairly quickly, possibly because each episode is 15 minutes instead of 5, and possibly because the show doesn’t only rely on that. While they aren’t too long or intensive, there are cuts in the show which are animated more like anime usually is, which does not help the idea that this show is actually supposed to look bad (to some, it just comes across as either lazy or that they had no money at all to spend and had to resort to the cheapest alternative to actually animating). While it can give some funny moments all throughout, please know that the awful animation joke is one which grows old way too quickly (like, it’s old by episode 5 and this is a 26 episode series).
Animation aside, the actual designs are exactly what they needed to by. Everything (and yes, I do mean everything) is over-designed and gaudy looking. Every ninja has a stupid theme to their design the show wants you to recognize, because they will be designed in the stupidest form of tat theme imaginable. Every henchman is literally a clone of the same bodyguard model. Every woman (with one exception) is over-sexualized to absurd degrees. For a show trying to play the cheesy 80s action movie card, it’s everything I could ever hope the designs could look like.
And now, the writing. Look, I knew that they were going for cheesy, but I have to recommend the Japanese version over the dub. Despite being a series made to work better in English (and it does work in English), the dub winks at the audience too much, while the Japanese track just plays everything as straight as I’d wish. After all, cheesiness only works when you completely go into it and don’t try to wink to the camera.
Look, I’ll level with you: I’m a Studio Trigger fanboy (with the exception of Kiznaiver, they’ve never created anything I didn’t like), so I may be biased. But, that being said, there is a solid comedy within here. If you’re willing to look past the intentionally odd pacing, cheesiness, questionable content, and the intentionally bad-looking animation, you’ll find an enjoyable comedy that really deserves a second look.
FINAL GRADE: B+
PROS: Kick-ass music, funny writing, appropriately ridiculous
CONS: Animation joke gets old fast, writing occasionally dips too far into cheesy territory
Ninja Slayer From Animation is licensed by Funimation and is available for streaming at Funimation.com and Hulu.com. It’s available on home video by Funimation.