Ninja is a staple to Japan as the Western is to America. The genre inspired numerous stories in books, movies, comics, and even television. And the first television anime to explore this genre is Shōnen Ninja Kaze no Fujimaru (Fujimaru of the Wind) in 1964.
The anime begins with a woman tendering her field, with her baby in the basket. One day, a large eagle kidnaps the baby and carries him away. Years later, we see that the baby has grown up in a ninja clan known as Fuma. The baby, who is named Fujimaru, has become an advanced ninja, being able to summon wind through Ninjitsu. Indeed, Fujimaru uses this power to trick his enemy and escape, leaving behind his trail.
The story deals with Fujimaru searching for the “Book of the Smoking Dragon”, a series of scrolls that gives instructions on how to do powerful Ninjitsu magic. Initially he was supposed to bring the first scroll back to master Tasuke, but having been disowned by him (called “stray dog orphan” and spat on) due to accidentally burning it when they were ambushed by the enemy (it was later revealed that he burned the fake, and kept the original), Fujimaru decides to embark on his own and find the remaining scrolls himself, while trying to evade the Fuma clan bent on destroying him.
One of the clan members, Sasuke, who found the baby in the first place, is sent to kill Fujimaru, which he reluctantly accepted. During the fight scene, Sasuke, not having the heart to kill him, tricks him and everyone into thinking that Fujimaru successfully defeated him. While he was “dying”, he tells Fujimaru that he is not an orphan, and that his mother is still alive, still searching for her lost child after all these years. Armed with this new information, he decides to find his mother and get the other scrolls before others does. When he goes back to where Sasuke laid, he finds him missing. Sasuke is still alive somewhere.
After every episode there is a live-action segment featuring a soke (Grandmaster) Masaaki Hatsumi, who explains ninja techniques that was featured in the cartoon. It’s an interesting addition and very educational, explaining to the audience how the ninja techniques were done and what they do. A find addition to the action-packed storyline and a neat way to close the show.
The show was produced by Toei Animation, their second television series. Produced in black and white, there were 65 episodes altogether, airing on NET network from June 7, 1964 to August 31, 1965. The story-arc described above ran for 28 episodes. It was based on a manga by Sanpei Shirato, called Kaze no Ishimaru (Ishimaru of the Wind). The name was changed to Fujimaru for the anime because the show was sponsored by Fujisawa Pharmaceuticals, a Japanese drug company. The company’s name is even sung in the very end of the opening theme song, making the connection very clear. Shirato was credited as a creator on only those 28 episodes. Later stories, which were not based on Shirato’s manga, instead named Nashio Kidani and Souji Fukuhara as the show’s creator for episodes 29-51 and 52-65 respectively.
There were many more ninja anime after this, but this is one of the few where it was treated seriously. Other ninja animes, like Hattori the Ninja or Toei’s Pyun Pyun Maru, play off the genre for comedic purposes, sometimes even having it take place in modern times. Fuji-Maru actually takes place in feudal Japan and the story makes use of the timeline. There are violence and characters do get killed, although no blood is ever shown whenever the characters are slit during sword-fight. Japanese television’s censorship in animation is less strict compared to America’s (even today), but showing excessive blood is a big “No No” even when characters get killed in a bloody manner.