I’m not a big anime fan, but there are some I enjoy. I still love Mai the Psychic Girl, for example, which was a real joy to read. There are others I keep, but I don’t get into anime all that often.
Along comes Ninja Express, a book that mashes together several genres, but primarily focuses on ninjas and those among us who wish to become one of them. It’s a lighthearted romp that brings home the message that even the least-prepared around us can still rise up and be heroic.
Writer: D.M. Charles
Artist: Drake Tenta
Published by: Nani Comics
Cover price: $14.99
Solicitation: Tired of feeling like a side character in his own life, an out-of-shape boy joins his high school’s Ninja Club in hopes of fulfilling his dreams of becoming a hero, but soon learns of the dangers posed by the club’s rivals. From writer D.M. Charles, winner of the 2015 BRIO (Bronx Recognizes Its Own) Award for Illustrated Text, and artist Drake Tenta, Ninja Express is an action-comedy combining the motifs of Japanese Anime and American video game culture into a coming-of-age story relatable to all the people who have thought of themselves as average by desire to achieve greatness. A true ninja would read this book!
A FUN, ENJOYABLE READ
When I was a child, I would sign up for the Punt, Pass and Kick competition every year. It was a staple back then, and they would announce each person’s name in the local football stadium so each child could strut their stuff with a football. As I said, I’d sign up, but when they called my name, I was always home busily watching Saturday morning cartoons. (In fact, I don’t even think they run this competition any longer.)
This experience helps me relate to Otaki Oshiro, a 15-year-old kid who suddenly decides he’ll join his school’s club for ninjas so he can become the hero of his dreams.
However, that Ninja Beasts club has standards higher than he can meet, so he eventually ends up in a lesser group called the Ninja Express. His attempts to join either group are struggles, but he does want to stop reading about ninjas so he can become one.
One of the strengths of this book was its characterizations. The various people we encounter are at different stages of their lives, and that means there’s no end to fussing and fuming with each other. I particularly liked Sayaka Katsuragi, the leader of the Ninja Express. She’s good at what she does, but training isn’t necessarily her strong suit.
She also likes to try and bring down the “fancy” ninja club at school a peg or two, and that gets the Express in trouble.
There’s a great sequence in which Otaki lives up to his previous lifestyle, but then turns it around, giving the rest of the club the chance to take on Kumana, a female guardian for the “big-time” ninja club. Sometimes it’s not ability in the short run that counts, but being able to keep things going long enough for your friends to enter the fray.
This first volume has a lot of heart and sympathy for those non-athletes among us, and I appreciated that!
This volume is divided into several sections, and the artwork is clearly inspired by anime. Their eyes, the way people appear, the way characters look when surprised – it’s all done so this book could easily sell anywhere anime is sold!
The expressions are particularly good, even the club leader who wears a cloth over the lower portion of her face. I also liked the action sequences, but I would have appreciated a little more in the way of shadows or highlight. Often times, I’d reach a page and not know exactly what to look at first! I’m sure Volume 2 will be better!
BOTTOM LINE: Ninja Is as Ninja Does
A lot of the time, I always feel that anime is communicating the message that what you feel inside can make up for what physical limitations you have. I got that message several times in this book, and I love the notion that literally anyone could be a ninja – particularly if they have the honor necessary to overcome the bad guys.
Ninja Express is a series off to a great start, particularly if you enjoy anime, so I’m looking forward to more from these creators in the future!