Were you one of those people that watched Sho Kosugi films when you were younger? Watched Kung Fu cinema on television in hopes that "Super Ninja" would be televised? Purchased ninja clothes and weapons online so you can be like those ninjas you watched in the movies?
Well, if you were one of those type of people, then "Ninja Attack! True Tales of Assassins, Samurai and Outlaws" is definitely a book for you! And also a book for those who love stories about real life (and fictional) ninjas in general with some added samurai warriors to make this book even more enticing.
Back again are Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt, the husband and wife team who wrote the 2008 book "Yokai Attack!" featuring Japanese mythological spirits and monsters with a humorous take on the subject, the duo does the same with their ninja (and samurai)-driven book by featuring historical facts about these individuals and their affect on Japanese pop culture many, many years later.
As a child, I have always been into ninja storylines and like many kids back in the '80s, we had access to ninja magazines from our local supermarket and purchasing the latest ninja gear via mail order was not too difficult. Granted, my parents were not exactly the accepting type and when they found ninja stars and a sai in my closet, needless to say, my collection of ninja magazines were trashed and my hopes to becoming like a ninja were dashed.
Well, fortunately, we had a Japanese American student in our school who claimed his father learned ninjitsu from a descendant who trained from one of the last living ninjas, Grand Master Masaaki Hatsumi but when I went to undergo training from my future ninja teacher, to find out that training would be conducted at his home in a trailer park, needless to say, that moment was the end of my pursuit of trying to become a ninja.
So, the next years of my young teenage life of following ninja was through "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" (the black and white comics), whatever was shown in film and the popular "Ninja Gaiden" video game series on the NES and of course, early ninja anime. Needless to say, I wished I had a book that was easily accessible on ninja adventures when I was younger, something cool that would feature other ninjas and their adventures. Stories that would show us why they were so bad ass!
Well, fortunately we now have a ninja book that is not about training or the history of one man, this is a book that goes into the story of various men in Japanese history who were dedicated to the life of the Shinobi, those who have lost their way and those who were active in trying to exterminate the various ninja clans.
"Ninja Attack! True Tales of Assassins, Samurai and Outlaws" was thoroughly researched and similar to Yoda and Alt's latest book, a good dose of humor added as well. Also, provided with each chapter on an individual are cool illustrations by Yutaka Kondo.
The book is broken down in various chapters. The book features "The Illustrated Ninja" which gives the reader information on history, milestones, ninja warring nations, ninja terms, style and weapons, tools, techniques and how the lived. But the main portion of the book deals with a certain ninja individuals.
In the chapter "Ninja Ninja", we learned about characters such as Mochizuki Izumo no Kami, Togakushi Daisuke, Hino Kumawaka-Maru, Momochi Tanba, Mochizuki Chiyojo and many more. In fact, if you play many video games or watch many ninja films, names such as Hattori Hanzo, Matsuo Basho, Sawamura Jinzaburo Yasusuke are also feature.
In each chapter featuring these men, an illustration by Yutaka Kondo are featured and next to it is a file information on that ninja. From their birth-death, occupation, cause of death, nicknames, hobbies, preferred weapon, clan affiliation and confirmation of that ninja's existence.
So, for a ninja like Hattori Hanzo, we learn how he is part of the Iga Clan and he uses a spear. His occupation was a "Jonin" (master ninja) and the chapter would go into describing the man, the moment of their glory, how they died and information of how these ninjas are respected in today's culture. In Hanzo's case, The Hanzomon Line in Tokyo goes to the Hanzo Gate which was a part of the imperial palace.
The next chapter titled "Ninja Gone Bad", we learn about ninjas such as Ishikawa Goemon, Nippon Zaemon, Fuma Kotaro and Kosaka Jinnai who turned to a life of crime. Goemon who was once with ninja Iga clan and after his clan were hunted by Nobunaga's successor Hideoyoshi Toyotomi and Goemon used his skills for profit (which was forbidden). Unfortunately this ninjas arrival to a village was leaked and the ninja along with his young son were boiled to death in an iron cauldron of oil and his death would influence the name of an iron tub as a "Goemon-buro" (Goemon bath) in Japan.
Another ninja, Nippon Zaemon was like the American gangsters of the early '30s who would rob the rich and was on the front of the first wanted poster in Japan and featured is the actual text from Zaemon's wanted poster.
The chapter "Ninja Magic" would focus on ninjas of fiction (and some who were real) in Japanese culture such as En no Ozunu, Kashin Koji, Katoh Danzo, Jiraiya and Sarutobi Sasuke & Kirigakure Saizo. These ninjas used magic and were hunted down by Hideyoshi Toyotomi.
One of the more popular ninjas to use magic were Jiraiya (a name familiar to manga and anime fans of "Naruto") who partnered with his sidekick Tsunade and together they fought against injustice. In Japanese folk tales, Jiraiya was able to summon a large toad and how Japanese pop culture of today has made Jiraiya a major pop culture ninja icon.
The final chapters would deal with ninja rivals, which were typically samurai who fought against the ninja such as ninja rivals Miyamoto Musashi, Yagyu Jubei, Tomoe Gozen, Minamoto no Yoshitsune and Hanegawa Heizo. While most of these names are well-known samurai, Yoda and Alt, make sure to showcase the ninja connection with these samurai. For example, with Miyamoto Musashi, one of the stories of this legendary warrior is how he defeated a warrior named Musashi at the age of 13 and due to the weapons and the location of the duel, it is likely that the man Miyamoto beaten was actually a ninja.
And then there is the chapter of ninja users such as Shotoku Taishi, Takeda Shingen, Sanada Yukimura, Tokugawa Ieyasu and Tokugawa Yoshimune. Powerful individuals in Japan during that feudal era who would employ ninjas (shinobi) as spies. One of the most notable figures covered was Takeda Shinen, a man who would create his own spy network in Japan centuries before the KGB and CIA using trained agents who worked covertly as traveling priests and shrine-maidens.
The final chapter would focus on the ninja destroyer, feudal lord Oda Nobunaga, the man who would conquer Japan and would constantly become the target for ninja trying to assassinate him. While Nobunaga is a man who is covered quite a bit in Japanese books, probably the most interesting story was how Nobunaga had an African man nicknamed Yasuke among his retainers. I have never heard of an African man working with Nobunaga Oda until I read this book and found it to be quite intriguing.
Overall, the presentation of how this book was written was well-done. The authors definitely made it a book that is fun and reader-friendly, but most of all, it is quite obvious that they did their research on each ninja and samurai and how these popular icons of ninja and samurai glory have been portrayed in Japan today or how they had some influence in Japanese pop culture.
The book is rather thorough and informative and for the most part, I had a great time reading this book as it features a lot of information on ninjas and their lifestyle as well as covering the time period in which many of these clans existed.
"Ninja Attack! True Tales of Assassins, Samurai and Outlaws" is another enjoyable, awesome book and yet another home run for the the married duo Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt. Highly recommended!