First Look: Under Ninja

First Glance: Beneath Ninja

Manga Adaptation by Tezuka Productions
Streaming on Crunchyroll

Premise

Ninjas have infiltrated every aspect of the modern world, working from the shadows as assassins and saboteurs at the every level of society. An unemployed Genin languishing at the bottom of ninja society, Kuro Kumogakure receives a job that may forever change the world of the ninja.

Gee’s verdict: Economically Adapted

Under Ninja’s anime decides to take some liberties with the order of events but after getting over the initial confusion, I find this actually works pretty well in its favor. The original Kengo Hanazawa manga is quite dry and slow paced at the start, placing a heavy emphasis on the monotonous drudgery of our protagonist’s life. It isn’t until the reader has become accustomed to this pace that it begins to introduce the more absurdist elements of ninja society, creating an intentional feeling of whiplash. While this works well for the manga format, I think it may have created a situation where the first episode or two of the Under Ninja anime would have been slow to the point of unappealing.

So instead, the anime chooses to shuffle some events around, weaving present day with flashbacks illustrating the various seemingly unconnected events that lead to our protagonist getting into a knife fight with a ganguro schoolgirl. By dropping slight hints of events to come (or already happened), I think this does a better job of enticing viewers who are unfamiliar with the source material. After all, don’t you want to know about the Dick Slicing Foreigner?

On a technical level, Under Ninja is a pretty ugly show, but Hanezawa’s art is pretty ugly intentionally, so it doesn’t stand out as badly as it could. There’s a grounded quality to Under Ninja’s characters, even if the things they do and say are quite absurd. The characters all have distinct looks and facial shapes that create a sense of stylized realism. I don’t think Under Ninja will be for everyone, but if you can appreciate its specific brand of bone dry absurdist comedy, you’re in for a ride.

Artemis’ verdict: Laughing Confusedly

I… have no idea what I just watched or if it was actually intended to be funny. Sometimes you really have to dig deep when watching anime and ask yourself the big questions. Questions like “Did the creators name a group of ninjas ‘the rear-enders’ on purpose, or is this just a hilarious translation issue?”

Adding to my confusion is that on paper, Under Ninja is listed as a seinen action series, although to me at least, most signs point more to it being a black comedy, and not only because of the marked lack of action going on. It’s not what I’d call a lighthearted show per se – there’s too much explicit language and gore for that – but the premiere had a lot of moments that I couldn’t possibly view in any way but gag material.

The main problem with that, even if all the comedy is indeed intentional, is that there’s far too much space between gags, not to mention some unnecessary scene-jumping. For something billed as an action series, Under Ninja goes in heavy on the dialogue and delivers the promise of action without ever actually committing to it. This episode is very much a slow burn, to the point where whole scenes probably could have been cut out with no real impact to the story. Case in point, I could have done without the flashback sequence entirely, even with its legitimately excellent toilet scene, and that lasted a good 10 minutes when all I wanted to do was hurry up and get back to the rear-enders already.

Boy, the sentences I never thought I’d be writing in a blog post, huh?

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