This OVA takes some liberties with Ninja Gaiden’s story without compromising the most iconic parts of the series.
The Ninja Gaiden series started as a side-scrolling platformer in the arcades and was soon ported to the NES. Its most distinct characteristics were its high difficulty, cinematic cutscenes and its memorable soundtrack. Unlike most platformers from the time, Ninja Gaiden had a convoluted storyline that involved more than kidnapped princesses, vampire hunters with whips or ducks with pogo sticks. As a way to capitalize on the popularity of the franchise, an animation studio released an OVA form that takes some liberties with the story without compromising the most iconic parts of the series.
Set in New York, this anime focuses on Ryu Hayabusa, a nimble ninja who’s investigating the Friedman Enterprises, a company that’s developing biochemical weapons. President Neil Friedman is apparently behind this scheme and he’s trying to unleash the power of the evil gods through some experiments. To fight this company Ryu (also known as the Dragon Ninja) is joined by his girlfriend Irene Lew and private investigator Robert Sturgeon and investigative journalist Sara.
Ryu runs a Japanese shop in New York with his girlfriend Irene. Soon, strange beings start showing up wherever he goes. These encounters are incredibly violent and bloody (Ryu slashes enemies with his sword, Irene shoots one in the head) and the OVA seldom shies holds back when it comes to showing graphic scenes. It makes sense, since this is a franchise where the main character kills everything in his path, but the film would have been different had it been made in America.
The animation’s nothing to write home about, but if you were around in the 90s (this OVA came out in 1991) and watched your healthy dose of anime, you know what to expect from this department. To me, this is more nostalgia than anything else, since it reminds me of a period of time I remember fondly. Nevertheless, I think anyone who grew up in the 90s won’t be bothered by the animation. The characters, on the other hand, have their problems. Their relationships are shallow and plain and all of them fulfill a specific cliché (the silent hero, the woman who exists to be kidnapped, the friend with information, men who only like fighting, women and alcohol and so on.)
In conclusion, the Ninja Ryukenden OVA has a generic plot, plain characters, sexist attitudes towards women and it definitely shows its age in parts. But if you love classic anime or campy action movies that don’t take themselves too seriously, this anime film has something for you.