I bet no one would believe this story if I told them. A ninja fell from the sky in a sudden downpour of rain and saved me, a girl who wanted to die to spite her arrogant father. Pretty much anyone would say I’m crazy, huh?
In the grand internet battle between ninjas and pirates, I’ve always favoured ninjas. But although I prefer Naruto to One Piece, I don’t always find the frantic action and profound angst of the world’s most popular ninja manga to be suited to my mood. Sometimes I want something a bit less high-powered, a bit less epic, a bit softer, a bit more… well… girly. Still with the shurikens and ass-kicking, of course, but played in a different key. Enter Shinobi Life, in which teenage romance and ninja action intersect to delightful effect.
Kagetora is a ninja charged with protecting the princess Beni; while escorting her from a battle, he falls through a vortex in time and finds himself in the 21st century. By chance or by fate, he happens to have fallen on the roof of a building where a girl who looks exactly like Beni, and is herself called Beni, is arguing with a kidnapper. She falls off the roof, and Kagetora saves her — and is immediately berated, because this Beni actually wants to die. Kagetora is convinced that all the trappings of the modern era — skyscrapers, mobile phones, television — are a sorcerous illusion wrought by the enemy, and that he must still protect his “Beni-hime-sama”, even if she insists she doesn’t need protection and behaves completely differently from the princess he knows.
Kagetora’s fish-out-of-water position in the modern world makes for a few good laughs — he’s indignant at the sight of Beni’s G-string sticking up over her jeans because “a lady should not wear a loincloth!”, and when he sees Beni’s family dog he immediately asks for some faeces, to Beni’s disgust, because he thinks it’s a wolf, and wolf faeces is apparently good for signalling. (Before I read Shinobi Life, I didn’t know that. Never let it be said that manga are not educational!) But there’s more to the story than that; the core of it is the development of Beni and Kagetora’s relationship from pure feudal loyalty on his side and bemused tolerance on hers to something closer and more equal. There’s a plot beyond the relationship, involving kidnappings and Beni’s rich father and Kagetora’s clan and a bit of time travel, but it develops in a slightly choppy, stop-start way — although, that said, the choppiness comes across as the kind of ground-clearing, orchestra-tuning-up stuff that a lot of manga have to do in their first volume to establish their premises and the main characters’ relationships. The story all fits together and makes sense — which is pretty rare with time travel stories — and it serves to sharpen the focus on Beni and Kagetora, and on the differences in their personalities that make them oddly well-suited to each other.
Conami’s art is smooth, fluid, and very attractive; the character design for Kagetora is particularly easy on the eye, and she seems to take pleasure in putting him in different outfits (a motif I’d be glad to see continued). Overall, Shinobi Life is a fun and charming twist on the ninja concept, and I’ll be watching out for the next volume.