Ninja Ryūkenden, directed by Mamoru Kanbe. 50 minutes. November 22, 1991.
Ninja Ryūkenden, which means Legend of the Ninja Dragon Sword, was an OAV based on the popular Nintendo arcade games of 1988-1990, known in America as Ninja Gaiden. These featured Ryū Hayabusa, a young ninja, who finds a letter from his murdered father Ken telling him to go to the archaeologist Dr. Walter Smith in America. Dr. Smith tells Ryū that he and Ken Hayabusa had found two statues of the demon Jashin, a.k.a. the Evil Gods, that could destroy the world, in a ruined temple in the Amazon jungle. They had hidden the statues to protect the world, but now a villain, the Jakyo, is trying to find the statues and destroy the world. The arcade games have Ryū, with CIA help, battling the Jaquio’s minions around the world, killing the Jakyo, foiling the demonic statues which come to life anyway (the Evil Gods are behind them), then fighting the CIA which has been corrupted by the Evil Gods and has taken over trying to destroy the world. (Whew!)
According to Wikipedia, Ninja Gaiden was a loose ninja imitation of Konami’s Transylvanian Castlevania. Nintendo renamed it for America as Ninja Gaiden because “Americans can’t pronounce Ryūkenden”. (Ryū means dragon. It’s also a popular Japanese boys’ name. Gaiden means “side-story”. “The use of gaiden is commonly used in popular Japanese fiction to refer to a spin-off of a previously published work that is neither officially considered a sequel nor a prequel. However, some gaiden are retold stories in the perspective of a different character, similar to that of a flashback.”) In this case, the term is misused because Ninja Gaiden is an original story, not a side story; and this OAV is an original sequel to the arcade games.
Ryū has settled in New York rather than returning to Japan after saving the world from the Evil Ones in the arcade game. He has opened a store, Ryu’s Japanese Shop, with Irene Lew, his girlfriend from the arcade game, as his employee.
One night Ryū is attacked by two masked figures that are obviously minions of the Evil Ones. He kills them, taking an ID card for the Friedman Corporation from one before they explode. Back at his shop, he tells Irene that he can’t spend her birthday with her as he’d promised, but not giving a reason.
Irene, having lunch the next day with her friend, Sara, a newspaper reporter, wonders if Ryū really loves her. Sara says that she can find out from her boyfriend Robert, who is Ryū’s best friend. Robert is Robert T. Sturgeon of the sleazy-appearing Sturgeon & Hammond Detective Agency. Sara is arguing with Robert while his partner, Jeff Hammond, looks on, when a girl from her newspaper arrives to tell her that their chief has assigned her to cover a press conference at the Friedman Corporation. Dr. Ned Friedman has announced that they have discovered a cure for cancer. But at the conference, which Ryū attends, Dr. Friedman just smiles without saying anything. As Ryū walks away, he gets a mental message from Friedman’s young daughter Katharine to save her, as he passes Friedman’s house.
Robert and Jeff are relaxing in a bar when Sara joins them. She comments on Friedman’s uncharacteristic silence at the press conference, when he has a reputation for boasting endlessly about his accomplishments. She has heard a rumor that he conducts biotechnological human experiments at his house. The three investigate, and find Friedman’s home torn apart and covered in dust, indicating that nobody has been there for a long time. They theorize that the real Friedman is dead and replaced by a double. They find the biotechnological experiments, and Ryū in full ninja costume. Sara asks why he’s dressed like that, but Robert isn’t surprised. Ryū asks Sara to not publish her scoop.
Robert asks Ryū what’s going on – rather, to confirm that the Evil Gods are striking again with Ned Friedman as their pawn. Robert was in the Army Special Forces and was ordered to stop the Jacyo, and he met Ryū as the Dragon Ninja also fighting the Evil Gods. Robert quit the Army and opened the detective agency to help Ryū fight the Evil Gods, and he doesn’t like being kept out of the new battle. Ryū says he doesn’t want to lead the Evil Gods to him, Sara, Jeffrey, or Irene.
The three interview Prof. Bucky-Wise, an old classmate of Ned Friedman. He says that even twenty years ago, Friedman was boasting that biotechnology would make him a Messiah, and Bucky-Wise considered him a Mad Scientist. An Ominous Kitten indicates that Bucky-Wise is an evil character himself.
At Ryu’s Japanese Shop, Ryū tries to send Irene far away to safety, but it’s too late. The Ominous Kitten enters, followed by ninja minions of the Evil Gods which are Friedman’s biotechnological creatures. They try to kill Ryū and Irene. Two policemen are attracted by the violence in the shop. They find the dead evil minions, but Ryū and Irene are gone.
Robert, Jeff, and Sara arrive at Irene’s to escort her to safety, but she is snatched by the Evil Gods’ minions. There is a car chase that the three lose. Ryū goes into the Friedman Corporation to get Irene back. Jeff and Robert break out guns to go help him. Sara wants to go with them, but they leave without her.
At the Friedman Corporation, Ryū defeats enemy ninja after enemy ninja, ninja-style. Irene, tied up, and Ned Friedman watch on a video monitor. Jeff and Robert arrive and start shooting the biotechnological monsters. “We like fighting, we like alcohol, and we like women. Some of us even like men.” Ryū mentally senses Katharine, but can’t tell where in the building she is. He finds the laboratory where the superhumans are manufactured and destroys it. He fights upstairs to where Ned Friedman is holding Irene. Friedman says it doesn’t really matter how much Ryū destroys, because he can always build more with the power of the Evil Gods — but Prof. Bucky-Wise appears and kills him as no longer useful to them. Bucky-Wise orders a minion to bring Katharine. He turns into an Evil God, and fights Ryū in a long, climactic battle. Ryū appears to win, and there is a Happily Ever After ending; but the Ominous Kitten reappears, and Katharine turns ominous.
To be continued? Nope. There wasn’t any more.
Ninja Ryūkenden was produced by Studio Junio. It was never released in America.
Next week: My final post for Cartoon Research – Forgotten Anime #60.