Do you enjoy ninjas? Do you like stupid, stupid movies? How about demons and monsters and gratuitous cartoon violence? If any of this sounds appealing, then might I recommend like literally 50% of all anime movies made from the mid-’80s up until, I guess, right now? But specifically, for present purposes, might I recommend Blood Reign: Curse of the Yoma (aka Yoma: Curse of the Undead, aka Dumbest Pantless Ninja Demonfest [I may have made one of those titles up])?
I lost track of my punctuation for a second there. I think I’m okay, though. Onward.
Yoma is the story of Hikage, a young shinobi who wears a very short kimono and excels at killing things. Hikage’s childhood friend Marou (also a ninja), after participating in a horrible bloody battle, goes nuts and attacks Hikage and runs off. The famous Takeda Clan orders Hikage to pursue Marou, who apparently has turned traitor. When he catches up with his former friend, Hikage learns that Marou has somehow turned into a super-powerful demonic creature (yoma) who can control all the other super-powerful demonic creatures, like, ever. So pretty much there’s killing of said demons, some close calls, a couple of bitchin’ guy-gets-cut-but-doesn’t-realize-it-for-five-seconds/wicked blood-spray things, and, you know. It’s anime ninjas and demons.
The narrative is virtually nonexistent (I never get tired of typing that). Really, it’s a ninja who has to kill his buddy who’s now a demon, and also there’s a couple of love interests, and some giant spiders, and like a demon horse thing. There seem to be some broad allusions to Japanese folklore, but nothing really specific.
Let me be very clear: this movie sucks (actually it’s an OVA, or original video animation for you otaku out there–a two-part straight-to-video release). It was made in the late ’80s but looks much older: it has some sloppy animation work and bad color in places, and just doesn’t make a lot of sense. The skeletal narrative leaves much to be desired in terms of caring about any of the characters. There’s really not much here to like.
And yet I love this piece of crap.
It’s just one of those. It’s definitely so-bad-it’s-good. It defines so-bad-it’s-good. It has ninjas killing demons, for crap’s sake. There are gross disembowelments (disembowelings?) and corpse-monsters and claw-blades and it really makes the giddy little ninja fanboy in me want to live in feudal Japan (despite the rest of me knowing what a bullshit fictionalized pop culture conception I actually have of feudal Japan).
If you’re a child of the 1980s like myself, you may remember the gathering storm of anime marketed toward adult audiences that was percolating on the edges of mainstream US video-store awareness. Thanks in large part to companies like A.D. Vision and US Manga Corps, horror and dark sci-fi anime like the classics Vampire Hunter D, Demon City Shinjuku, and the less-than-classic Yoma were floating around the shelves of seedy video rental stores by the early ’90s. This, and the Sci Fi Channel (before its inane “SyFy” rebranding) running the same handful of films every week in its Saturday Anime block, pretty much guaranteed that a generation of impressionable young American nerds like me would waste even more of their precious youths. What was I talking about?
Yoma‘s one of those films that you might not appreciate if you don’t already remember hating it from your youth. If that doesn’t make sense, shut up, yes it does. Oddly, the crappy animation and character design, the gaping plot holes, and the gleeful, cartoonish gore fill me with a bizarre sense of nostalgia for that most neon and bowl-cut-y and nonsensical of decades, the 1990s. Remember animated GIFs and Geocities? Yeah, those were the days. Yoma is like that. It’s like Geocities. And bowl cuts.