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.
“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.”
It’s fun when you do it that way! It’s a bit of use-your-imagination/fill-in-the-blanks the way animation can do it effectively.
Pretty cool. Was this aimed at a child audience? What a different world.
Wouldn’t surprise me.
Interesting, there is also a Lupin III film with ninjas from a clan called Fuma, The Fuma Conspiracy (1987). Is it a commonly used name in anime shows for ninjas or is there some historical significance? I would love to know.
This should explain it:
I read about the series on the blog Vintage Ninja a few years ago that doesn’t seem to be working at the moment. There are some photos of the live action segments on this blog though:
I was hoping you would make a post about this cartoon, as i recently bought the 2 dvd box sets collecting it (i’ve been watching a disc of ken followed by a disc a fujimaru, and then sandwiching in a disc of classic toei features every now and then).
this is a great series; i’m really hooked on it. it certainly seem to be the foundation on which all other kid ninja cartoons are based. compare it to naruto:
NARU and MARU are similar sounding
both are orphans
both shows feature the quest for sacred scrolls containing forbidden ninjutsus
both characters use shadow clone jutsu
leaf hurricane jutsu is featured in both shows
both characters have a close bond with a character named sasuke
both shows feature a continuing story line
questions about the live action segments :
what is the hostess’ name? was she famous, or was this her only claim to fame?
the scenes of ninjas in action used to illustrate the sensei’s lectures… were these clips from television shows? were live action ninja shows popular in japan the way westerns were popular in the usa? seeing these live action ninja clips i can imagine kids going nuts over shows like that.
i’m continuing to watch the ken the wolfboy series. episode 4 featured the worst drawing and animation i’ve ever seen in an animated cartoon. quality went back to normal for episodes 5 through 8, and then something magical happened.
episode 9 featured a story that was not only very imaginative, but also blended the humor and adventure in the series. also, the quality of drawing and animation got a bit better. ken’s face is often more expressive and more cartoony. i don’t speak japanese, but i get the feeling that the humor became more adult and sophisticated… it has a beanie and cecil/jay ward feeling to it.
in episode 10 the series seems to stop taking itself serious altogether and takes a turn for the absurd ( storyline: a robot-manned spaceship accidentally lands in the jungle ). in one scene, after a character makes a silly comment, ken turns to the camera and shrugs his shoulders. breaking through the “4th wall” like this takes the series to an entirely new dimension.
in episode 11 we are told (i think) the tale of anthony and cleopatra. the tale is told in a series of mostly still drawings that are highly modern in design and appear to be done in pencil instead of pen and ink. it had a look akin to that of underground comics that popped up in the usa soon after. also, at the beginning of the cartoon there is a long pan of the wolf pack. there are all kinds of crazy things going on in the shot. a wolf cub is holding a sign, a wolf has a kiss on his cheek, a wolf is looking through a telescope while another wolf reclines on his back napping, a wolf has its tail twisted into heart shape, a wolf has a banner with kanji on it, a wolf looks straight into the camera with a silly grin, etc.
i hope the series continued to grow.
God, Ken the Wolf Boy sounds like the best cartoon ever! You need to make a screenshot of that entire long pan and stick it here!
@ Chris S. – i gladly would if i knew how. i’m guessing the biggest obstacle would be that the region 2 dvd wouldn’t be compatible with my computer.
There’s ways around it if you simply want to change the region on your PC’s drive momentarily though software. I’ve been through this before and it’s pretty easy if you know the right places.
how is this? if it is well received maybe i’ll make more.
I have a copy of that episode in question. Yeah, it’s one of the sillier episodes.
When I was a kid I lived in Okinawa and this manga type cartoon was on – Fugimaru. Living in an American military community, none of my friends spoke Japanese, nor did anyone in my family. We watched Japanese television very often because it was so different from anything we had experience before, and when we came upon Fujimaru, We flipped. It was fantastic even for those like us who could not speak the language. Until this very year, 2022, I had no idea what this cartoon was about? We saw this young boy doing karate moves or ninja type activities and every once in a while he would stick his finger up in a swirl of leaves would begin to fly in big circles getting ever larger heading toward the protagonist or the bad guy or somebody. We had no idea what in the world was going on when this occurred. Neither did we know anything about why this boy was acting like a ninja and running around with a sword, fighting people, etc. now I’ve read these posts and I have a clue about this wonderful cartoon. We never missed it for two years and then it was no longer on the television so we figured it was being remade or was canceled or who knows what happened? But I never thought I might be able to purchase some of these shows until I read your message. Would you be able to tell me where you got these things so that I can order them as well? My little sister would love to get a solid stack of FujiMaru shows as a gift, and I’d love to see them myself. I hope you can help me. My name and email are below, and my telephone number is 1-540-419-4556. Thanks, Rob
I do love this tv show , I do remember this show and the story, I would love to get the DVD’S any Idea where can I buy it from ? And if I can get it in English
Sir, if you ever do find out where one can purchase all or some of the DVDs for this wonderful cartoon that we watched way back in 1964 and 65 while living on Okinawa, would you please let me know how you did this and where you went to purchase the things? I’m not sure but if they are like Europe or South America, Japanese DVDs may not work on American televisions?