VN REVISITED: A ‘Tonbei the Mist’ Primer

I reposted this fantastic publicity still of Maki Fuyukichi as Tonbei the Mist from Greg Newman over at the Facebook “The Samurai” Group.

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Got a lot of attention, so I thought this would be a good time to revisit a 2009 article we did, exposing Australia’s #1 ninja folk hero to North American audiences unfamiliar.

(originally published June 2009)

Once upon a time, there was a ground-breaking Japanese TV series called Onmitsu Kenshin (or Onmitsu kenshi), starring Koichi Ose as Shintaro, wandering samurai detective protecting his half-brother the Shogun from various conspiracies and assassins. It was popular in Japan, but when the series shifted gears and integrated ninja as both friend and foe, it blew up and as The Samurai became an international sensation.

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International? Sure, it had a HUGE English-speaking fan base! How could you forget in 1965 when those early seasons were dubbed into English and aired on TV daily? Remember when Ose did that promotional tour, greeted by thousands of screaming fans at the airport ala The Beatles? Remember how each subsequent season got more and more popular, with more and more ninja action? Wasn’t it great how they were syndicated for decades after, followed by other dubbed shows like Phantom Agents! Does anyone still have their officially licensed plastic swords they got for Christmas, or the wildly popular Shintaro trading cards?

No… Drawing a blank…

Well, that’s because it all happened in fucking Australia!!!

Not here, NOOOOOO. Why would Americans want to see dozens of hours of Republic-serial like ninja warfare dubbed into perfect English? Fuck it, we’re fine with direct-to-video bullshit like Full Metal Ninja and Seven Lucky Ninja Kids. Give us turtles and leave us alone, we don’t want any of those historically credible martial arts espionage epics here. No way.

OK, bitter rant subsides for now – to the point.

TONBEI THE MIST!

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If Shintaro was Japan’s (and fucking Australia’s) Lone Ranger, thenTonbei was the Tonto. Played by career ninja legend Maki Fuyukichi - who would go on to the Watari the Ninja Boy live action film, play White Shadow in Masked Ninja AkakageHenshin Ninja Arashi and dozens of other TV and movie shinobi roles – Tonbei was sort of half ace-in-the-hole / half comic relief.

Sure, he was Shintaro’s shadow – scout, spy, saboteur – but the character was so prone to capture and to showing up at fights just as Shintaro put the last ninja down, he became the butt of some unintentional humor.

Either way, Maki’s ‘man of Iga’ is a hugely important character in the development of the genre. Born in the mold of more serious ninja fare like Shinobi-no-mono, he was there to show off outre tools and arcane spy gadgets, give clinics on commando tactics and shadow skills, and get in all sorts of cool ass reverse-grip sword fights.

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So, we’ll be looking a lot at both The Samurai and Tonbei the Mist in coming months, and Maki was such a prolific ninja regular, he’ll be turning up constantly. Consider the below images a primer, and seek out the now out-of-print season box sets of the show on DVD. The best source of info on both the original Japanese show and it’s success in Oz can be found here.

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As of season 2, Tonbei was a regular sidekick to Shintaro, and could call in additional ‘Men of Iga’ as needed. Some of these actors left a bit to be desired in the skill and physicality departments…

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The producers learned early on that getting at least one or two mission-gear costume sequences in per show guaranteed ratings.

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Well used cramped sets – sneaking around and battling other suppa in the rafters above or the crawlspaces below houses were common sequences.

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Maki had great overtured posing and expressions. This pose, where he’s flinging shuriken at the camera’s POV (actually just an empty handed arm motion with whooshing foley) happened two or three times a show.

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And would be followed by an immediate, often grisly result. Check out that shuriken right in the mouth! Ow…

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“Historically accurate” gear, right out of secret scrolls and Hatsumi books, was often featured. Many episodes had Tonbei giving another character informal clinics on such gadgetry.

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Arcane techniques abound as well. Here, Tonbei spreads dust in a hallway to give away the trails of nocturnal invaders.

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He was a master of disguise, too, as this Hugo: Man of a Thousand Faces get-up illustrates. Kinda gross, actually…

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However wide his shadow skill set, Tonbei’s real job was getting captured by the enemy. He did his job well, he did his job often.

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Tonbei in suspension bondage, while a supposed damsel in alleged distress just fine. This is no isolated incident, it happened like every third episode.

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He often forgot to pack his Ninja Net-Proofing Spray, as well.

Amusing as the ‘sidekick-in-peril cliches’ become over the seasons of The Samurai, there are just as many great ninja battles, commando raids, trick weapon duels and other shinobi staples to keep things real. I absolutely love this series, and all jokes aside, if there’s one property I truly resent discovering now instead of in the 1980′s, it’s this one. And it was already in English! What’s the excuse???

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REVISED: A company in Australia called Siren Visual has released an immense 30-disc box set of the dubbed series, complete with retro trading cards!  

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Two feature-length films has made the trading rounds under the stiffly translated title “The Detective Fencer.” (I’d have called it ‘Samurai Sleuth’ LOL) The movies are a step above the show in production values, and deliver a relentless barrage of ninja combat. Highly recommended!

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Posted in Film and TV May 5, 2013 at 5:01 pm.

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Something I bought for myself LAST Christmas…

When you’re a niche geek within an already geeky niche you tend to do your own gift shopping. My session of retail therapy last holiday season was these:

While I’m not the biggest tokusatsu fan out there, I do like the brazen absurdist nature of Akakage, and its importance in the ninja TV pantheon goes without saying. This set of 4-5″ retro-styled vinyl figures was produced in 2000 by Marmit.

'Red Shadow' himself is the tamest of the three. That pompador should be a lot more pronounced in front.

Shirokage is a nice sculpt, one of the only MAKI FUYUKICHI licensed toys ever produced.

Nice as it is, this sculpt of Aokage doesn't nearly capture what an annoying little shit he is on the show...

A nice touch was this stand/background prop in the form of Shirokage's spy kite.

I only wish there was a gigantic toad head for them to pose on, or some of the kaiju produced in larger scale.

This will be my last post before Christmas, so happy holidays everyone!


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Posted in Toys and Statues December 22, 2010 at 7:24 am.

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Own ninja pop culture history!

Siren Visual way down in Australia has re-released their previously available box sets of the landmark series The Samurai with all-new packaging, and just in time for the holidays come new releases of the latter seasons.

I love this new box art, which mimics the beloved trading cards every Australian kid HAD to have in the 60′s and 70′s.

A quick up-to-speed for the uninitiated: The Samurai (orig. Onmitsu Kenshin, also refered to as “Shintaro the Samurai”) was serialized adventure TV in Japan starring Koichi Ose as an ace swordsman on secret missions for the Shogun. Like a jidai-geki Lone Ranger, his ‘Tonto’ was a ninja named Tonbei the Mist, played with vigor by Maki Fuyukichi. Ten-plus ‘seasons’ were dubbed into English and ran in Australia for decades with absolutely massive fan fervor. The Samurai is an institution down under, and remains Japan’s most popular live-action ninja export.

Read more in our Tonbei Primer here.

FINALLY, this intercontinental shinobi mega property is available for those of us in the US who were denied such material during our woefully limited ninja boom of the 80′s.

I HIGHLY recommend…

Now is a great time to buy, as the Aussie dollar is pretty much equal to the American greenback. And hey, it’s the holidays, we’ve all been good this year, right?

The box sets collect one ‘season’  - encompassing a 13-episode self-contained story arc, so any of them are a jumping-on point. The ninja infusion started at Season 2: The Koga Ninja, and really picked up steam in the middle of the run. Eddie Mort was raised on this stuff, and recommends Season 8: The Phantom Ninja. Over the past few years, on his urging, I’ve dropped upwards of a grand on this stuff, and haven’t regretted a nickel of it.

Even coming in as late as I have, I LOVE The Samurai. The sheer volume of 60′s-style B&W ninja action is awesome, the often hysterical Oz dubbing can be a real gas, and watching the bondage-prone Tonbei get captured every episode is a real hoot. You aren’t a real shinobi-cinemaphile if you don’t own at least one season of The Samurai.

Read a superb history of the original Japanese series, the phenomenon in Australia, live events that out-drew The Beatles, the follow-up shows, and the enduring fandom here.

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Posted in Film and TV December 2, 2010 at 11:44 pm.

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WATARI press stills (Part 2)

Pre-pubescent axe-weilding hero Watari goes through standard shinobi like shit through a goose, but things get a lot dicier when he encounters a  bizarre rogues gallery of super-powered villains.

The uber-nemesis of the film is played by RYUTARO OTOMO, but Watari will have to wade through a legion of weirdos to get to him...

Lifted right off the manga pages, these goons are caked in make-up, primary-colored skin paint and off-the-wall costumes. They have powers to match, too. I won't spoil anything for those of you yet to see WATARI, but one of these ninja is actually a robot!

The pervy toad boy and the thick kunoichi are my faves. Can't find any info on who that is, but she's got that joshi puroresu look...

Demon freaks and robo-ninja aside, there are even weirder bits in the film, like this trippy attack by animated butterflies.

This staged still got bit and re-bit for foreign posters, even for other films. Check out the Pakistani poster for Kadokawa's LEGEND OF THE EIGHT SAMURAI below.

Further Reading:

I wrote a short plug for this film on the old Ninja80 blog (aka Not-So-Vintage Ninja)

Kung Fu Cinema wasn’t especially impressed with the martial arts of this film. And another review by Golden Pigsy.

There’s an all-too-small gallery of manga covers here.

And most importantly, BUY THE FILM at Kurotokagi! It’s worth it for the amazing theme song alone.

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Posted in Film and TV September 10, 2010 at 7:46 am.

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WATARI press stills (Part 1)

Scored some 4×6″ B&W press stills from Toei’s 1966 mess of a masterpiece Watari the Ninja Boy (Daininjutsu eiga Watari). Depending on one’s previous knowledge of the Shirato Sanpei manga and where you stand on magical superhero ninjutsu vs. grim and gritty shinobi espionage, Watari is either bullshit or batshit. Could be a little of both, but I personally find this movie enjoyable as hell.

I love Watari‘s live-action cartoon universe and the characters are as outre as the source manga’s. It’s a candy dish of color with some great sets and absolutely awesome costuming. It is too long, too involved, the motivations are murky, etc. and so forth, but I forgive that in appreciation of the fact that this is a kid’s movie with a huge body count.

This collection of press stills – some staged, some from the actual film – lack the movie’s lush color, but do yield details easy to miss otherwise.

In Sanpei's manga, everyone gets by with one eye. The movie is hyper-faithful to the hair styles of the book, even when characters are masked!

Staged still replicating an FX scene in the film. YOSHINOBU KANEKO as the hero uses disappearing magic to avoid a rather nasty screw-tipped rope dart (you can see detail in the still above this one).

Messing with your own relative scale is a common power in this universe. This baddie also attacks as a black cat, then a thousand black cats, then a gigantic black cat!

Japanese press departments specialized in these artworked scenes that never happened. A total bitch to pull off in the days before Photoshop, too - that's all Xacto knife and paintbrush work.

Watari's mentor, and hairstyle inspiration, is shinobi-cinema icon MAKI FUYKICHI.

Watari can be downright brutal in his dealings with evil ninja!

TOMORROW, more stills from this collection, mostly of the increasingly bizarre monster-ninja Watari faces during the film.

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Posted in Film and TV September 9, 2010 at 7:10 am.

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Kaiju in AKAKAGE (part 2)

The Red Shadow kid’s TV series ran 52 episodes over two years. Six of those episodes were later cut together into movies released under titles like Ninjascope (The Magical World of the Ninjas) in Australia and Latin America.

They were also mis-labeled to cash in on the success of another ninja kid’s film Dai Ninjutsu Eiga Watari, so if you get a chance to see something like Watari the Conqueror, Watari and the Fantasticks, Watari and the Seven Monsters or The Magic Sword of Watari, the ninja boy in question is NOT the axe-weilding hero of the 1966 masterpiece, it’s just that twerp Aokage in rather grainy TV footage blown-up for the big screen.

Again, these were all over TV and theaters everywhere else in the world but here… So check out the monsters we missed:

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This were-cat-looking thing is my absolute fave!

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Red Shadow's jeweled mask, combined with his powered-up katana, produced these never-fail monster-exterminating lightning bolts.

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If you’ve never seen an episode of the original show or one of the dubbed composite movies, but the above seem strangely familiar, it’s because the character made a guest appearance in a time-spanning episode of Yokoyama’s landmark Giant Robo / Johnny Socko and his Flying Robot series.

READ MORE:

The Henshin Hall of Fame

Watari-Akakage fan page

Creepy human head mask from Japan

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Posted in Film and TV October 28, 2009 at 9:15 am.

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Kaiju in AKAKAGE (part 1)

Seems Japan has been beset by giant monsters forever, and luckily for us today heroes like Ultraman are around to fend them off. But in the fuedal era, centuries before any space-faring monster fighters, laser-weilding science patrols or little kids with watches that summoned giant robots were around, it was up to a select few NINJA to do these monsters in.

Enter multi-media shinobi superhero Red Shadow, the coifed creature killer of Kamen no Ninja Akakage.

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This government-charged agent of justice (played by Sakaguchi Yûzaburô) could fly, shoot eye beams, summon a magic twister, and all sorts of other jazz. He and partners Aokakge (Blue Shadow, the requisite snot-nosed-brat, played by Yoshinobu Kaneko) and the veteran Shirokage (White Shadow, another one of Maki Fuyukichi‘s several ninja franchise roles) also loved throwing really potent hand grenades at monsters until everything in sight exploded.

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With this flashy ninja vs. giant monster format, prolific shinobi creator Mitsuteru Yokoyama‘s “Masked Ninja Akakage” jumped from hit manga in ’66 to Toei’s first color tokustatsu series in ’67, and has since seen revivals in anime and live action cinema. It is the often goofy but eminently lovable kid’s show that is highest regarded in that chain… Looking at these images, it’s not hard to see why:

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Know what I love most about this shot of the main baddie of the series? It allows me to use a term like "Harryhausen-esque!"

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These optical printer composites were still pretty new territory, especially in color and on a television budget. Sometimes they're rather good, other times not so much, but they are never a deal breaker.

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The tried-and-true model stomping session is always good, though...

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Good use of rear projection. The color exposure differences sometimes hinder these shots, but again, the color format was new.

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Miniature figures and modestly-budgeted modelscapes were often complemented by fire or smoke spitting critters that lent increased dynamics to otherwise cheesy-looking scenes.

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This familiar giant toad is probably the very suit from MAGIC SERPENT, or at least poured from the same foam rubber molds - note the indent on the nose where in the previous movie the glowing horn would have been.

TOMORROW – a whole pile of sponge-suit monsters!


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Posted in Film and TV October 27, 2009 at 9:20 am.

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Coming soon: Watari and Watari…

Somehow, it’s the last week of October… Time flies when you’re running around in an Oni mask like a maniac. Actually, some mid-month travel put a dent in what I wanted to be a more prolific output for MONSTERS AND MASKS MONTH, but such is life.

Coming in the next few days, kaiju mayhem in MASKED NINJA AKAKAGE, freaky villains in WATARI THE NINJA BOY, maybe a flaming demon head floating around in a smoke cloud or two, and for Dia de los Muertos a look at the skull-masked ninja ‘shockers’ of KAIKETSU LION MARU.

Here’s a preview – a Mexican lobby card for the theatrical release of one of the composite Akakage films, which internationally were often mis-titled as “Watari” flicks. Note that it’s presented in “violent color” – god I love Mexico…

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Posted in Film and TV October 25, 2009 at 11:52 am.

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Amazing 1:6 SHIRANUI

mackMiraiNinja2-1

Anyone wanting to show their appreciation of this site can remember me at Christmas and send about three bills to Art of Toy in Japan…

I’m actually a big fan of the Keita Amemiya’s Mirai Ninja (aka Cyber Ninja and/or Future Ninja), despite it’s drawbacks. It’s goofy, looks cheap at times, is set-bound, goes too long and drawn out – just like the Zieram films and Moon Over Tao. But also like those, the character design is OFF THE F’N HOOK! Plus it’s probably the last Maki Fuyukichi ninja film and all the effects are old school analog…

This is the best figure yet of the amazing cyborg franken-ninja. WANT!

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Posted in Toys and Statues August 14, 2009 at 11:58 pm.

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A ‘Tonbei the Mist’ primer

Once upon a time, there was a ground-breaking Japanese TV series called Onmitsu Kenshin (or Onmitsu kenshi), starring Koichi Ose as Shintaro, wandering samurai detective protecting his half-brother the Shogun from various conspiracies and assassins. It was popular in Japan, but when the series shifted gears and integrated ninja as both friend and foe, it blew up and as The Samurai became an international sensation.

tonbei1.jpg

International? Sure, it had a HUGE English-speaking fan base! How could you forget in 1965 when those early seasons were dubbed into English and aired on TV daily? Remember when Ose did that promotional tour, greeted by thousands of screaming fans at the airport ala The Beatles? Remember how each subsequent season got more and more popular, with more and more ninja action? Wasn’t it great how they were syndicated for decades after, followed by other dubbed shows like Phantom Agents! Does anyone still have their officially licensed plastic swords they got for Christmas, or the wildly popular Shintaro trading cards?

No… Drawing a blank…

Well, that’s because it all happened in fucking Australia!!!

Not here, NOOOOOO. Why would Americans want to see dozens of hours of Republic-serial like ninja warfare dubbed into perfect English? Fuck it, we’re fine with direct-to-video bullshit like Full Metal Ninja and Seven Lucky Ninja Kids. Give us turtles and leave us alone, we don’t want any of those historically credible martial arts espionage epics here. No way.

OK, bitter rant subsides for now – to the point.

TONBEI THE MIST!

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If Shintaro was Japan’s (and fucking Australia’s) Lone Ranger, then Tonbei was the Tonto. Played by career ninja legend Maki Fuyukichi – who would go on to the Watari the Ninja Boy live action film, play White Shadow in Masked Ninja Akakage, Henshin Ninja Arashi and dozens of other TV and movie shinobi roles – Tonbei was sort of half ace-in-the-hole / half comic relief.

Sure, he was Shintaro’s shadow – scout, spy, saboteur – but the character was so prone to capture and to showing up at fights just as Shintaro put the last ninja down, he became the butt of some unintentional humor.

Either way, Maki’s ‘man of Iga’ is a hugely important character in the development of the genre. Born in the mold of more serious ninja fare like Shinobi-no-mono, he was there to show off outre tools and arcane spy gadgets, give clinics on commando tactics and shadow skills, and get in all sorts of cool ass reverse-grip sword fights.

tonbei6.jpg

So, we’ll be looking a lot at both The Samurai and Tonbei the Mist in coming months, and Maki was such a prolific ninja regular, he’ll be turning up constantly. Consider the below images a primer, and seek out the now out-of-print season box sets of the show on DVD. The best source of info on both the original Japanese show and it’s success in Oz can be found here.

tonbei5.jpg

As of season 2, Tonbei was a regular sidekick to Shintaro, and could call in additional 'Men of Iga' as needed. Some of these actors left a bit to be desired in the skill and physicality departments...

tonbei4.jpg

The producers learned early on that getting at least one or two mission-gear costume sequences in per show guaranteed ratings.

tonbei3.jpg

Well used cramped sets - sneaking around and battling other suppa in the rafters above or the crawlspaces below houses were common sequences.

tonbei7.jpg

Maki had great overtured posing and expressions. This pose, where he's flinging shuriken at the camera's POV (actually just an empty handed arm motion with whooshing foley) happened two or three times a show.

tonbei8.jpg

And would be followed by an immediate, often grisly result. Check out that shuriken right in the mouth! Ow...

tonbei9.jpg

"Historically accurate" gear, right out of secret scrolls and Hatsumi books, was often featured. Many episodes had Tonbei giving another character informal clinics on such gadgetry.

tonbei11.jpg

Arcane techniques abound as well. Here, Tonbei spreads dust in a hallway to give away the trails of nocturnal invaders.

tonbei10.jpg

He was a master of disguise, too, as this Hugo: Man of a Thousand Faces get-up illustrates. Kinda gross, actually...

tonbei12.jpg

However wide his shadow skill set, Tonbei's real job was getting captured by the enemy. He did his job well, he did his job often.

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Tonbei in suspension bondage, damsel in distress just fine. This is no isolated incident, it happened like every third episode.

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He often forgot to pack his Ninja Net-Proofing Spray, as well.

Amusing as the ‘sidekick-in-peril cliches’ become over the seasons of The Samurai, there are just as many great ninja battles, commando raids, trick weapon duels and other shinobi staples to keep things real. I absolutely love this series, and all jokes aside, if there’s one property I truly resent discovering now instead of in the 1980′s, it’s this one. And it was already in English! What’s the excuse???

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A company called Siren Visual put out seven ‘series’ (13 episode arcs) of the Australian TV broadcasts on DVD a few years back, but lost the license in 2008 and they’ve since been out of print. I’m told the series starting at 8 and 9 were totally amazing, too, so once again we’re shit out of luck… However, one of two feature-length films has made the trading rounds under the stiffly translated title “The Detective Fencer.” (I’d have called it ‘Samurai Sleuth’ LOL) The movie is one step above the show in production values, and delivers a relentless barrage of ninja combat. Highly recommended!

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Posted in Film and TV June 30, 2009 at 2:18 am.

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