UNDER NINJA – Episode 1

By: Cy Catwell October 7, 20230 Comments
a ninja holding himself up in a bathroom stall

Content Warning: Mild Gore

What’s it about? Within the shadows of Japan, a battle rages on between the 200,000 ninja still carrying out missions for the betterment of the country via NIN, or the National Intelligence of NINJA. But NIN isn’t the only organization around: there’s UNDER NINJA, an opposition group of ninja who oppose NIN as often as they can. One such member is Kuro, a loner and a NEET turned high school student sent to the front lines to use his skills. Will he rise to the top, or will UNDER NINJA…go under?

Sigh. I bet you’re wondering how I got here?

I pride myself on dumpster diving: I crave that trash, i.e. the most out there, potentially zany, weird anime each season can serve me on a tarnished, dented silver platter. That can often range from the hypersexual to the “geez, what did I just watch?” It sustains me: it gives me life. It fills my finite minutes on this planet with immense joy. So naturally, when we do the quarterly selection for anime, I go for what’s going to be most interesting, especially if I have zero information on it.

Enter UNDER NINJA, a show that is so brutally uninteresting my teeth hurt. It’s very much focused on how powerful Japan’s secret defense–ninja–are, and while it hasn’t dipped its toes fully into nationalism, it’s there around the edges and boy howdy, does it feel icky. There’s a clear trajectory from the moment the show begins: I can only assume that it’ll stay the course.

A ninja leaves an origami crane as a mark of its presence.

Episode 1, “Throw a Rock, Hit a Ninja,” starts off in…somewhere with Americans? An ambiguous yellow-tinted place with Americans who discover that their target has been killed by a ninja, which they discover because the ninja left a motherfucking origami crane. You know, the symbol of someone Japanese AND ninja. (It is, reader, hilariously ridiculous but not for the reason I think UNDER NINJA wants me to think.)

Hard cut to Kuro standing on a roof, both before and after the opening. Surrounded by ninja, Kuro adjusts his genitalia, realizes he standing on gum because he’s barefoot, and oh yeah, he’s about to face off against a bunch of ganguro-style ninja one-on-many. It’s the perfect setup for a big throwdown.

But before we get to that, let’s take a moment to see how Kuro got here. Unfortunately, this kind of kills momentum and let me tell you, that’s definitely an indicator of how the rest of this premiere is going to go.

An unnamed foreign declaring his desire to become a ninja gets started when he's told ninja are about.

Gonna be real, I hate Kuro; which is bad, because I think I’m supposed to like him and want to see him grow. But I don’t want to see him grow: I want to see him go away. His sarcasm isn’t enjoyable, nor is his completely uninterested, monotone voice direction. He’s just kind of a guy, and it’s…not very interesting. 

Granted, this is a show quite grounded in reality outside of, you know, the plot about ninja: in many ways, Kuro is just some dude who happens to be the lead. But he’s not engaging at all, though everyone else kind of sucks too: I didn’t really find a single likable person in the cast. Maybe that’s too harsh for a lead who’s actually seventeen, but like, it’s rough going when even the fart joke that results in him shooting a blow dart doesn’t get more than a sigh from me.

There’s also the nationalism part: like I said in the beginning, it’s there but it’s not full blown. At least not yet. 

That said, there’s one scene that sticks out to me that really hints at this show’s ethos. It’s an encounter between a ninja working a desk job and a blonde-haired, blue-eyed foreigner who’s come to Japan. Why, you may ask? To become a ninja. He looks ridiculous, naturally, storming into an office demanding to become a ninja in broad daylight with that one umbrella that looks like a sheathed katana. He’s a fool and a caricature of everything that a true ninja–who would presumably be Yamato Japanese and only Yamato Japanese, given the rest of the cast we see– is not.

And while yeah, there’s a lot of people who have a very superficial relationship to and understanding of Japan and this particular stereotype of (white) Americans goes back decades in anime, the scene just really felt like it was positioning Japan as being superior, which is something that’s not new to the country’s fraught history in Asia. Also, there’s like, that historical flashback about showing up other companies with the superiority of ninjas: that’s definitely a point in the bucket.

Kuro stands before three fellow ninja, waiting for a challenge.

I know what I watched, and honestly, I gotta be real: I ain’t got a lot good to say here. This show is so…not what I would ever want. And like sure, it’s just the premiere but a premiere tells you a lot about the trajectory of a show, and honestly, it ain’t looking good for UNDER NINJA, especially since we don’t even get any action in the first episode. That, combined with the buffoon foreigner that’s definitely going to be recurring just really put me off this premiere entirely.

A part of me likes how grounded in reality this show is: like, no one’s shooting fireballs or summoning beasts here. Everything is grounded in actual methodology that would work in real life: they have to be careful of blowing their cover, they have to craft tools, they have to learn techniques for fighting. Heck, they even have ninja who do deliveries. That part I like: it’s just everything else around this that genuinely bothers me.

Part of what makes ninja anime fun is the fact that they’re not promoting a deeply nationalist agenda. I mean, imagine if Uzamaki Naruto was about a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Japanese ninja who also would definitely vote for Abe Shinzo. It would be wild, yes, but I don’t know that that’s my kind of wild, y’all. Yet that’s kind of what UNDER NINJA is pushing, beneath it all: this weird show that’s deffo about how cool ninja are and how stealthy they are and how much better than anything else they are, which… oof.

So, should you watch this?

I mean, this exists: it’s on Crunchyroll, has a bang opening, and can be watched but I don’t know that you should. Me? I think I’m going to because I have a deep, haunting morbid curiosity about just what UNDER NINJA’s trying to do. But don’t be like me: value your precious, irreplaceable, finite minutes on this earth.

About the Author : Cy Catwell

Cy Catwell is a Queer Blerd journalist and JP-EN translation & localization editor with a passion for idols, citypop, visual novels, and the iyashikei/healing anime genre.

You can follow their work as a professional Blerd at Backlit Pixels, get snapshots of their out of office life on Instagram at @pixelatedrhapsody, and follow them on their Twitter at @pixelatedlenses.

Read more articles from Cy Catwell

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