26 January 2008 | BrianDanaCamp
SWORD FOR TRUTH Short, made-for-video Japanese animated ninja tale
SWORD FOR TRUTH (1990) is a compact (51-minute) ninja OAV that looks forward to NINJA SCROLL (1993) and even shares some of its stylistic touches. At half the length it's nowhere near as intricate or compelling as the later film but it should satisfy fans who are looking for a quick fix of nonstop gory ninja action. It tells the story of Shiranosuke Sakaki, a lone swordsman who intervenes when the Nakura clan is attacked by an outsized, bloodthirsty white tiger which makes short work of the clan's first line of defense. The tiger is a diversionary tactic to lure the guards away from Princess Mayu who is abducted by the Seki Ninja and held hostage until the Nakura clan can turn over the treasured Ginryu sword to them. The clan leader, Daizen Imura, is so impressed with Sakaki that he hires him to take the sword to Benten Island, where the Sekis are waiting, to bring back the princess in one piece. That's basically all there is to the story, which ends in such a fashion, including the introduction of new characters and a possible new conflict, that it's clear a sequel was planned that was never made.
Still, it's filled with all kinds of elements designed to please fans of hard-edged ninja anime: "kunoichi" (female ninjas in striking red outfits); sex (the hero is quite a ladies' man); nudity; an "Invincible" ninja who can eject swords out of his body after they've been plunged into his flesh; a monstrous underwater ninja; and plenty of decapitation, dismemberment, and spurting blood. The chief problem is that the blood is usually colored black, making the whole thing look a lot less bloody than it should be. One wonders if the colors were changed in the transfer process to avoid a harsh rating, which makes no sense since anime isn't subject to a ratings system. So much ninja anime is notably bloody; why the sudden caution?
For anime buffs who may be put off by the bloodshed, I should point out that the artwork and design are of singular high quality and worth examining even if the animation is stiffer than usual and uses short cuts in the action staging. The linework is bold, the colors are richdespite the nighttime settings for most of the actionand the backgrounds are rendered in exquisite detail. The character design is particularly strong, with great detail and distinct facial features accorded even the most minor characters. The director is Osamu Dezaki (under the name Tsutomu Dezaki), with character design and animation direction by Dezaki's longtime partner, Akio Sugino, and the piece reflects the distinct animation style of these creators, as seen in such other notable titles as SPACE ADVENTURE COBRA, GOLGO 13, and BLACK JACK, among other titles.