When it comes to manga based on ninjas, there is nobody more famous than Sanpei Shirato. Born in 1935, Sanpei Shurato set the standard for unfolding action scenes in his manga. His manga boasts a slow multi-panel style of story telling that builds tension for it’s readers. This talent was very apparent in his first popular work, NINJA BUGEICHO. Sanpei Shurato’s super detailed illustrations are jaw dropping. Many of his action packed stories went on to be movies or anime. Some of the most famous were, SASUKE (1968), NINPU KAMUI GAIDEN (1969) and the live action feature WATARI (1966). The earliest entry was Toei Doga’s SHONEN NINJA KAZE FUJI-MARU (Boy Ninja, Fuji-Maru of the Wind). This 1964 black and white animated TV Series ran for 65 episodes and was serialized in Bakura magazine. The title of the show was named after the program’s sponsor Fujisawa.
The series takes place during feudal Japan. It begins with a woman working the fields in the country. While tending to her chores, her baby (Fuji-Maru), sits in a basket under a tree. Suddenly a giant eagle swoops down out of the sky and grabs the young boy, then carries him away. Years later we find that Fuji-Maru has grown up and was taken in by a band of ninjas known as the Fuma Clan. Under the guidance of his master, Tasuke, Fuji-Maru becomes a very powerful ninja who is the master of wind. Not only can he summon large whirlwinds to knock his enemies off their feet, but he uses an array of ninja weapons and in some cases ninja magic. The countryside is in a three way war among lords, struggling to possess the “Book of the Smoking Dragon”, which are powerful scrolls that contain special martial art techniques. Fuji-Maru must keep the scrolls out of the wrong hands and hopefully reunite with his mother.
The action scenes in SHONEN NINJA KAZE FUJI-MARU are just as exciting as Sanpei Shurato’s ninja manga. During battles you see shurikens thrown, manriki chains used, ninja kamas, and even the traditional sword.
For a special treat, at the end of each episode, there’s a few minutes of live action footage detailing the art of ninjutsu. The short features are hosted by Grandmaster or Soke, Masaaki Hatsumi, who also starred in Toei’s live action hero TV series SEKAI NINJA SEN JIRAIYA (1988). The footage is really cool, and some of it looks as if it may have been culled from a ninja TV series or movie, because it’s kind of slick and well done. When I was a kid, I remember being a fan of Sho Kosugi‘s movies, ENTER THE NINJA and REVENGE OF THE NINJA. I would have really dug SHONEN NINJA KAGE FUJI-MARU if it was on in the US back then.