Although most people remain blissfully unaware of it, alongside everyday life exists the world of Nabari- a clandestine society of ninjas separated into different villages across Japan. In this world, the most prized item is the legendary Shinrabanshou, a near limitless power that resides in the body of high school student Rokujou Miharu. Despite his personal philosophy of apathy, Miharu is drawn into the world of Nabari, and together with his teacher and friends, he begins a quest to outwit his rivals and gather the five scrolls needed to unlock the Shinrabanshou’s power.
Thanks to Naruto, ninjas have become too mainstream for most, but when Nabari no Ou came along, at first it seemed as if they might once more be cool again. Here was a series that promised an epic battle royale and a clever marriage of the real world and its shadowy underside, all wrapped up in a slick and unique visual style. Action, character and even cats- this was the show that was going to have it all.
Unfortunately, despite showing early promise, the series soon fell into a rut, slowing down the pace so much that even storylines that could have been interesting became lifeless and dull. Whilst the main plotline seemed to turn into nothing more than Miharu and tortured antagonist (or at least tool of the antagonists) Yoite angsting together in the throes of teenage melancholy, the supporting characters attempted to follow their motives in such a lacklustre way that it was impossible to care about what they were trying to achieve. And to be honest, when the culmination of the series is Yoite sitting in a chair and knitting, you know that a series has gone badly wrong somewhere.
Whilst Miharu and Yoite pine away for each other, the other characters prove to be equally uninspiring. Miharu’s closest allies are his teacher Thobari and fellow students Aizawa and Raimei, each of whom have their own issues. A survivor of a legendary samurai clan, Raimei is searching for the beloved older brother who turned evil and murdered the rest of their clan- not only is this a painfully overused plot device, but after its conclusion Raimei abandons all pretence of being a serious swordswoman and becomes a disappointingly incompetent comedy character. Meanwhile, Aizawa is a bland and undeveloped character who just happens to secretly be immortal, whilst Thobari is an experienced older ninja who hates killing people- a recipe for even more angst than ever.
Moving on from the leads, we find ourselves mired in a wealth of minor characters, each following their own agendas. As always, we have antagonists seeking to impose their own order on the world- but despite being cast as threatening enemy figures, defecting to them is as easy for Miharu as going over to a friend’s house for tea. Meanwhile, we have a cunning village leader, a typical strong cold woman who turns out to be ultimately fragile, a comical bad guy named “Mr Frosty”, a mysterious ‘little girl’ who turns out to be immortal and many more. With such a line up, even unspeakable atrocities like using the lives of students to create a special elixir isn’t enough to raise even the slightest flicker of interest.
When it comes to the visuals, however, Nabari no Ou manages to get at least one thing right. Whilst the character designs are attractive yet understated, the backgrounds have a beautiful brushed watercolour look that ensures that they are more memorable than the actual details of each episode. Background music is decent enough but not outstanding.
Despite a promising start, Nabari no Ou disappointingly turned out to be little more than a meander through a world of teenage angst whose only consistency was in its unerring failure to deliver. True, it looked nice, but ultimately it never did come up with the goods.