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Content warning: Blood, murder, fanservice
What’s it about? Middle schooler Sakuraba Ittoki has mixed feelings. About what? Becoming the leader of his ninja village, a fact he didn’t know until his hand gets forced by a rival village and a murder attempt…
It feels auspicious to be sitting down with an anime centered on ninja as the 20th anniversary of the Naruto anime comes rolling around. That said, Shinobi no Ittoki is no Naruto: there’s a stark lack of jutsu and the ninja that do exist are… well, much more like the historical figures than my boy Nart and his son.
But perhaps it’s not fair to compare this show to one of the largest shounen franchises of all time. Maybe this is more than what it looks like at first glance. So come with me, reader, and let’s get into Shinobi no Ittoki’s premiere. Maybe we’ll be surprised.
(We won’t. But keep reading!)
Episode 1 starts off with a very stylish montage set in the depths of winter. An owls soars by, large snowflakes fall, and we see a shinobi clad in armor. Flash forward to modern day and Sakuraba Ittoki, your everyday high school boy. Only… wait, who the heck is that in the background? Is that… our secondary character? (It is: they don’t even hide it.)
But that’s jumping the gun, because before there’s a lot of normal before the plot kicks in, and a lot of mild humor before we get Ittoki’s backstory. Like, for instance,s we get a pretty nice ninja parkour scene which like, gotta love it. Oh, and then Ittoki nearly gets murdered by a girl who asks him out, but you’ll have to wait half the premiere’s runtime to get to that.
It all plods along, meandering towards what counts for action. It’s not even on the same level as the slow-paced Management of a Novice Alchemist, which has appeal for people who want Atelier the anime. Instead, you kind of have to wait out things for the plot to start to hint at developing.
The show looks nice overall: it’s got some pretty eye catching sequences right up front, and nothing ever feels muddy. The music is pretty enough, as is the sound design. It’s all very pleasant in an average kind of way. Nothing offensive, nothing hilariously draggable, just… okay.
This extends to the characterization. Ittoki is likable enough: he’s upbeat, genki to the max, and has all the trappings of a middle schooler in a shounen anime. He’s also a bit oblivious, which leads to the big “twist” of this episode, which is where the plot kicks in hard like a… kind of kicking mashed potatoes way. If only he’d listened to his mother, like all good shounen boys should do.
Also: the weirdest thing is that Ittoki questions nothing about his situation: like, does this dude think he’s really cool enough to get asked out by a random girl he’s never talked to? It’s just this side of ridiculous, especially considering that the show telegraphs his bodyguard IMMEDIATELY by making her the most conspicuous person to ever person. Perhaps in any other show, I’d like that, but here? It’s just more to gnaw on before anything happens.
(Oh yeah, and it’s weird that his date–who’s a middle-schooler, BTW–had to get naked to assassinate him. Like. completely unnecessary, adds nothing to the screen, made me feel weird, and just seemed like weird, gratuitous fanservice in the world’s most unsalted show. Just felt the need to rage at that for a moment.)
All in all, Shinobi no Ittoki is… mid with potential. I feel like I’ve said that a lot but honestly, Fall 2022 is full of shows that are so middling it hurts. I hate to lump a show with as curious a premise as this into that lot, but Shinobi just isn’t doing it for me. It needs a bit more oomph: a bit more pizzazz. The characters are like, 40% to being good: the plot just needs to stretch its legs a bit more to be more interesting. It’s there: I can see the bones of it. I’m not saying this is darkhorse territory, but I’m kind of all here for seeing Ittoki’s arc.
That’s a big maybe.
I really do think there’s potential here. I think that Ittoki and the world he inhabits may hide hidden depths. Those aren’t evident in this premiere, but… give it three episodes and see. It might end up being half decent after all.