animation studio, TROYCApreviewed its latest series—Shinobi no Ittoki—at Crunchyroll Expo 2022. Known for series such as IDOLiSH7 and Aldnoah.Zero, TROYCA‘s new original anime focuses on a protagonist who discovers that he is the head of a secret ninja village. The two episode premiere lacked an opening and ending sequence but kept viewers interested in learning more about what’s to come next. Shinobi no Ittoki leans into action to draw the audience in, and comedy to make them stay.
In the first episode, we’re introduced to a plethora of the series’ characters. Ittoki Sakuraba comes off as a standard anime protagonist, exactly as he’s portrayed in previously released promotional videos. As the next leader in an established ninja village, he has mixed feelings about taking such a responsibility as his family hid this information from him until their hand was forced by an opposing village. He’s suddenly introduced to Kosetsu, who barges into his space without warning and takes her job to protect him very seriously. But she continues to survey him at school without explanation. His uncle, an all around unassuming man, is a convenience store worker who does his job haphazardly and often receives complaints from customers. Ittoki’s mother portrays herself as a typical supportive maternal figure who has the best intentions for her son.
However, Ittoki’s life changes when he receives a love letter in his shoe box. To his shock and surprise, Satomi Tsubaki—a second year student—asks him out on a date. Ittoki is taken aback as they’ve never met but agrees to go out on a date with her. In his excitement, he tells his mother he’s skipping his gymnastics practice. Her expression changes from her usual smiling demeanor, and warns him not to go out with this girl as they’re still strangers. In rebellion, he confirms his date with Satomi and asks his uncle to drive him to their meeting place. When they meet, she invites Ittoki to her room and tries to force herself on him. However, he pushes her off, claiming that he’s not mentally prepared for how quickly things have escalated. Feigning curiosity to distract from his nervousness, Ittoki looks underneath her bed claiming he’s being tricked—and to his surprise—he is. Satomi reveals her true murderous intentions, and her group of henchmen attempt to kidnap him. A group of familiar faces saves Ittoki from this ambush, and take him to an unknown destination.
After a series of back and forth sequences where Ittoki is tossed around like a sack of potatoes, his allies bring him to a secret location. Once he arrives, he learns that his mother is currently the acting chief of their clan out of personal choice. They’re also under attack by the Koga village—an enemy clan—and they are the ones after his life. The Iga village is also quickly losing influence and control over their domain to the Koga. Ittoki is set to be the 19th leader of the Iga clan and steer them into combat with the Koga. However, his mother provides him with the option to run away after raising him to be as straight laced as he can be. He reflects on his options, but finds out from his uncle that his mother took charge after his father died in order to spare Ittoki the responsibility at a young age. Ultimately, Ittoki chooses to stay and accept his fate because his mother would be all alone if he leaves.
While the first episode focused on establishing the stakes of the series, the second episode worked to break tension with comedy. Building on Ittoki’s disbelief, the plot plays on the ridiculousness of transferring him to the Kokuten Ninja School. Satomi, who is revealed to be part of the Koga clan, continues with her crazed plan to assassinate Ittoki for revenge. It’s hinted the killing would atone for the murder of the Koga clan’s previous leader, most likely by Ittoki’s father. When Ittoki is taken to the location of his ninja school transfer examination, he tries to ask his mother about his father’s death. She maintains her silence with a pained expression, so he decides it’s best to leave the question unanswered. He continues on with his exam, and due to the shenanigans of Satomi and the Koga village, he doesn’t pass his task within the time limit. However, he manages to avoid hurting innocent bystanders, which is what allows him to pass the exam after he regroups with his uncle and Kosetsu. In a sudden turn of events, Ittoki’s uncle and mother discuss the possibility of a traitor in the Iga clan.
Far from other well-known shōnen ninja stories, Shinobi no Ittoki establishes its setting in a realistic world with a technological flair. Yet, the first episode has difficulty balancing tone: it lays the groundwork for an interesting, high stakes plot but constantly disrupts its own efforts in favor of breaking tension. Often, emotionally charged scenes come off as hammy, such as when Ittoki cries to the sky after realizing his life has been a lie. But there are a couple of hilarious scenes where the cast lampshades ninja tropes: practicing a water and fire jutsu to prepare for the ninja exam or the existence of the Three Ninja Principles.
From the start, TROYCA‘s animation style shines through with its character designs and flawless key frames. As someone who’s been watching the anime adaptation of IDOLiSH7 and Lord El-Melloi II’s Case Files, I was thoroughly impressed with Ittoki’s parkour sequence in the first five minutes of the premiere. character designer, Isamu Suzuki, has created sharp designs that blends smoothly into animation. The story has an interesting premise, but it’s up to the Shinobi no Ittoki staff to keep the audience engaged. Ittoki is an interesting lead and but it’s questionable if he’ll evolve to a character who takes action to shape his path rather than have the plot shape it for him.