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Review: “Ninja Kamui”: Nu-Toonami’s Least Bad Original

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Without Toonami, we probably wouldn’t have anime emerge as one of the biggest “geek” subcultures, with Anime Expo in Los Angeles drawing one hundred thousand attendees a year. Despite making series like Dragonball Z and Naruto household names, they have had substantially less luck creating their own originals as they have had with licensing hits. It seems like every recent Toonami original has been sent to the woodshed by anime review sites and fan scores on sites like MyAnimeList are often terribly low. In an attempt to turn the tide, Toonami brought the director of one of the hottest anime of the 2020s, season one of Jujutsu Kaisen, to bring a big name creator to the table. The show created was Ninja Kamui, which as the title implied, promised wild ninja action in the vein of Jujutsu Kaisen.Was Sunghoo Park able to break the curse of the Toonami original?

As a massive Toonami fan who witnessed the block’s 2000s Golden Age, it saddens me to say that it didn’t. It is a step in the right direction and far superior to everything made since Fena Pirate Princess launched the Toonami originals initiative in 2021. Some people point to Space Dandy in 2014 as the first good Toonami original, but Toonami showrunner Jason Demarco revealed that although Space Dandy received funding from Toonami, it is not a true Toonami original. So what prevented this show from reaching its full potential? Major spoiler warning for next paragraph.

Most likely, the shoestring resources and budgets for these originals are to blame. The most infamous and talked about aspect of this show was the infamous switch in how action scenes were done. Halfway through the show, the series switches from traditional hand to hand ninja fights to battles in mecha armor that use very clunky CGI. The mecha fights are pretty subpar and use awkward, slow, and aesthetically unpleasant physics. If you want to see great mecha battles, go watch a Gundam show instead and you’ll have a much better time. This was a shame because the opening episodes rivaled Jujutsu Kaisen in terms of action scene quality. So to summarize what made Ninja Kamui suck was crappy CGI mecha fights in the second half.

Well, now we got into how the action in the second half sucked (except a non mecha fight in episode eleven that is worth watching), how about the story. It is a standard ninja wants revenge because evil ninjas killed his wife and son, with the twist being that the evil ninjas are in an unholy alliance with a tech company, who created the mech suits that lead to the downfall of the show’s action. Our protagonist Higan is joined by two cops and a hacker who seek to take down the evil ninjas and evil tech company, Auza. The story is just an excuse for Higan to kill evil ninjas and is not at all the point of the show. It is just cliché-ridden window dressing. Jujutsu Kaisen itself can be argued to be that way too, but it had a quirky and fun cast more interesting than generic cop guy and generic hacker guy. Actually caring about the cast made the drama work much better in Jujutsu Kaisen season 2, which I reviewed a few months ago.

So yeah, it’s another subpar Toonami original, but this one is at least less bad than its predecessors. Unlike Fena: Pirate Princess, the plot wasn’t as dumb and unnecessarily complicated. The traditional ninja fights in episodes 1, 2, and 11 were the saving graces of the series and Sunghoo Park doing what Sunghoo Park does best. If you are streaming this show on Max, just watch episodes 1,2, and 11 and skip the rest. Those three great episodes make Ninja Kamui the least crappy Toonami original and hopefully a sign the curse will be broken eventually. In the meantime, Toonami’s airing Zom 100, an actual good anime. Go watch that instead. Their originals may suck, but their acquisitions are still bangers.

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