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Ninja Attack! True Tales of Assassins, Samurai, and Outlaws – Review

by Miguel Douglas

@isugoi

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Ninja. The word is loaded with connotations, most rooted in fantastic flights of pop culture. But the truth behind these shadowy assassins is more mind-blowing that any manga, more astounding than any anime, more fascinating than any martial arts flick. Ninja Attack! True Tales of Assassins, Samurai, and Outlaws introduces dozens of unforgettable real-life ninja straight out of the annals of Japanese history—many of whom are all but unknown outside of their home country. A product of years of research, and the result is everything you wanted to know about the ninja…but were too afraid you’d get a shuriken in the eye to ask.

Perhaps one of the most distinguishable aspects of traditional Japanese culture, the concept of the ninja has certainly evolved into one of the most iconic symbols of Japanese popular culture known throughout the world. With the creation of countless literature, films, and animated features deriving from exploring the mystique of the ninja, the nature in which we perceive its concept has been highly interpretative throughout the Western world, including even Japan at times. While these interpretations have often been utilized for the sake of advocating entertainment, it has also provided an unlikely entryway in which to better analyze a segment of Japanese history, taking into account both the factual and mythological elements that contribute to developing such an understanding. Authors Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt, the husband and wife team who penned the 2008 book Yokai Attack!: The Japanese Monster Survival Guide, delve into this fascinating world of the ninja, providing an engrossing look into its true history of espionage, assassination, and wisdom.

While the concept of the ninja has offered a multitude of interpretations both within Japan and abroad, it has solidified its cultural longevity mainly because of its distinctiveness. While we’ve all probably had our own interpretation of what a ninja should entail, Ninja Attack! considerably deconstructs the entirety of the ninja legacy in order that it may reaffirm its proper place within the context of historical fact. It’s this ample deconstruction where the book succeeds highly; with the mythology surrounding the topic often preceding that of the history itself—especially within the area of entertainment—the book parallels that of truth and fiction in an attempt to showcase the uniqueness of its true history over such misrepresentation. This authentic insight into historical fact offers an enlightening look into what truly constitutes being a ninja, a world that is much more vast than what stereotypical interpretations usually provide. Breaking free from such intellectual restrictions, the book offers research into a subject that has often times been constrained to fit within an established stereotype, never truly offering an astute look into the extensive realm of the ninja.

In this regard, the book serves as historical literature concerning a subject that hasn’t been this thoroughly overviewed outside Japan. Deriving from comprehensive research on the subject of the ninja, the book interweaves factual-based tales of many prominent ninja figures within Japan with individuals that were influential within their lives. For the most part, many of these elements of ninja history have never been discussed to such length with a Western audience in mind, which makes for a very engaging reading experience for those not too familiar with the subject. In this capacity, the book also offers up many explanations on ninja-related items, practices, and geographical locations that provide considerable background to allow a better understanding of the ninja as a whole. We are given an abundance of information to help us revaluate any initial impressions we might have had concerning the ninja and its purpose, offering up vivid accounts of participants within such a profession. Rather than being overburdened with presenting countless facts that might dissuade the reader from finishing, the book has fun with its material by expressing it through a variety of ways, both creatively and artistically. Perhaps its most striking contribution towards exploring the ninja is the book’s artistic illustrations by artist Yutaka Kondo. These elaborate illustrative pieces add an aesthetic quality to the book, in which we get to view key ninja figures within history given their reputation and traits, all culminating in a suggested visual appearance.

Considering the important nature of the book as a piece of historical literature, its examination of the mythology of the ninja is also something that should be addressed. Like any subject within history, the exaggerated nature of presenting information regarding an individual can often completely overshadow one’s discovery of their true qualities as a human being. While the book acknowledges the mythological traits associated with many of its researched figures, its narrative structure intertwines both truth and lore, resulting in a surprisingly interesting examination of history. While the elements of mythology are still present throughout the reading, the book also heavily incorporates historical fact in order to establish these individuals as human in some capacity, in which we can learn about their faults and failures. While most historians tend to leverage certain individuals they have a liking for, authors Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt are considerate towards elaborating upon the factualness associated with these historic individuals, never seemingly warranting for fiction over fact just to make them seem more impressive as figures in history. Along these lines, the book advocates that these historic individuals are far more remarkable without all the surrounding mythos, and while they certainly contribute to building their reputation, their humanity is what makes them more relatable.

This ultimately culminates in Ninja Attack! being an enjoyable book concerning one of Japan’s most legendary and iconic professions. Considering its application within historical literature, the book refrains from becoming a dry take on history with its usage of applied humor, fantastic illustrations, and informative anecdotes. Perhaps even more indication of its success as a examination of the ninja, the book remains an informative piece concerned with providing the reader with a more comprehensive understanding of a popular segment within Japanese culture and history. Easily accessible to an individual containing even the minutest knowledge on the subject, the book gives way to exploring a subject that is as easily entertaining to read through, as it is to learn from. This book will probably answer every question you have concerning the ninja, which in itself is quite an impressive feat, and once again showcases Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt’s attentiveness toward bringing Japan’s extensive historical–and popular–culture to the rest of the world with considerable ease and accessibility.

Table of contents

1. The Illustrated Ninja, part I

2. Ninja’s Ninja

3. The Illustrated Ninja, part II

4. Ninja Gone Bad

5. The Illustrated Ninja, part III

6. Ninja Magic

7. The Illustrated Ninja, part IV

8. Ninja Rivals

9. The Illustrated Ninja, part V

10. Ninja Users

11. The Illustrated Ninja, part VI

12. The Ninja Destroyer

13. The Illustrated Ninja, part VII

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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