Ninja Scroll (devil 3 of 5)

Dance of death.

3) Mujuro Utsutsu

(voiced by anime legend Norio Wakamoto)

A change of pace from his companions, Utsutsu is a devil with a genuine sense of honor & fair play, and though he speaks with an air of superiority it’s less bluster and more of a well-earned confidence. A supremely talented swordsman, Utsutsu’s real advantage is related to his blindness: his hearing is greatly magnified to compensate, allowing him to rapidly react by echo-location and listening to his opponents’ muscle movements. Basically he’s like the superhero Daredevil… and many, many other genre characters. Honestly, this gag is a little played-out, and probably was even in 1993. Do real life blind people find this trope offensive?

Armed with: A simple katana, which he can also use to “blind” opponents by shining light on their faces. The implication is that he’s merely reflecting sunlight off of it (difficult in a setting where the trees create a lot of shade) but the visual and its effect are so oversold it seems more like it’s glowing of its own accord.

Fights with:

  • Jubei, mostly.
  • Kagero, who again plays a small but vital role.

The Fight: Kagero, having been overcome with emotion, foolishly charged into a trap (you don’t have to be Mister Sensitive Feminist to deduce that this movie thinks VERY little of women), which caught her and reluctant partner Jubei in an explosion that sent them off the side of a cliff. Using Jubei’s cord-attached sword as an impromptu grappling hook, the two find themselves literally hanging on by a thread. They ascend one at a time, and find that not only was Mujuro Utsutsu waiting for them at the top, it was he who held Jubei’s sword after it dislodged from the rocks, acting as their anchor. Very sporting of him– shades of Princess Bride.

Utsutsu challenges the pair, which Jubei takes personally. In fact, all throughout the fight he behaves with uncharacteristic pride, repeatedly insisting to Kagero that he fight Utsutsu alone. This can’t be personal to him since he doesn’t seem to know the devil from earlier, so it’s possible that he sees a more direct challenge to his personal skill in Utsutsu’s straightforward swordsmanship, or perhaps he’s still upset with Kagero for her dumb play earlier– after the fight, he does dress her down about not taking her own life seriously.

Anyway, the two men charge off into the nearby bamboo forest, running alongside each other for a long time before Jubei ever makes his first move. What follows is the closest thing to an actual sword duel in the entirety of Ninja Scroll. And it’s mostly Mujuro’s game: he reacts with ease to all of Jubei’s strikes, and when he goes on the offensive it’s all the hero can do to keep up.

Jubei still attempts to think strategically, though. He brought the fight to the forest to, as Utsutsu immediately guesses, try to dampen the devil’s advantage– the preponderance of static obstacles would ostensibly challenge his ability to navigate. However, Mujuro’s skill is more powerful than that, and he dodges every tree with calm ease. He’s even unruffled when Jubei covertly slashes a few of the bamboo stalks in the hopes that the resulting noise would mask the hero’s own movements, but he is again unsuccessful; Utsutsu can hear him even amongst a veritable cacophony.

Mujuro then puts Jubei on the defensive and pursues him with a series of strikes that the hero only barely counters. One of the advantages of animation is employed here as we see Jubei being pushed what must be a dozen feet or more over the course of his multiple parries– a bit of choreography that would be impractical and/or silly-looking if attempted in live-action.

Waving off Kagero’s attempts to help, Jubei squares off against Utsutsu once more, even as the devil employs his trick of trying to weaken Jubei’s sight with the glare off his blade, turning the hero’s own eyes against him. Jubei gets knocked to the ground as they clash in mid-air, but Mujuro’s killing stroke is stopped short by a dagger Kagero had left planted in a bamboo trunk and escaped his “radar” vision. Jubei wastes no time killing the surprised villain with one lunge through the heart.

Again, even though there’s some slight supernatural enhancement, this is the straightest fight in the whole film; it is, ironically, unusual in its ordinariness. And certainly never boring. Short, as most every Ninja Scroll fight is, but more in the “whew, that was intense” sense rather than the “aw, that’s it?” one. Mujuro Utsutsu is very efficiently introduced, deployed and dispatched, during the course of which we get a thrilling little scene that allows for some very head-scratching relationship development of our two leads. Not truly great, but not bad at all.

Grade: B

Coming Attractions: Ninja, vanish!

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