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  Ninja the Wonder Boy
1985 | Kid Pix Inc. - Knack Company, Ltd.
ninja the wonder boy kidpix paramount home video

Anime Bargain Bin contributor Nostalgiamadman brings us lucky readers the low down on the awkwardly titled Ninja the Wonder Boy.

Boy's love fighting. Boy's love Ninja's. Some boy's even love Wonder Boy™. So all boy's should love Ninja the Wonder Boy, right?

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Ninja the Wonder Boy started out life in 1979 on the Japanese Tokyo Channel 12 as Manga Sarutobi Sasuke. Set in Feudal Japan each week the brave but buffoonish young trainee ninja Sasuke would fight to defend his region and friends from the evil intentions of Master Ninja Hanzo and the rival Iga Clan.

Inspired by a novel by Kazuo Den which had already been animated into a TV series in 1968 titled Sasuke. The novel follows the same basic premise but in a far more serious and realistic tone, following the life of young Sasuke who is sent away by his father to learn the ways of the ninja and defend the country from the oppressive Shogunate.

Manga Sarutobi Sasuke's lead was a comedic take on a popular character of childrens literature made famous in the early 1900's. This character is believed to have been based on Kozuki Sasuke, a ninja legend from the Meiji era of Japanese history.

The show was created by Eiji Okabe, director of Nippon Animation's Diary of Anne Frank, and was animated by Knack, best known in the west for Little Norse Prince, It lasted 24 episodes and ended in April 1980.

Yoshimitsu Banno, the series director, is most famous in fan circles for the 1971 Godzilla outing Godzilla Vs. Hedorah but was also assistant director on the Akira Kurosawa movies Throne of Blood and Hidden Fortress.

In the West Sarutobi Sasuke was shown in its entirety in Italy and in France on the Canale 5 network starting in 1981.

In the USA it was subject to yet another Jim Terry Kidpix video adaptation under the title Ninja the Wonder Boy. A number of episodes where condensed into one 90 minute story with all new music by Bullets and voices dubbed by the same cast as Crushers, Time Fighters etc. Whereas most of the characters original names were kept Sarutobi Sasuke becomes Duke Hayakawa and Hanzo's evil magician henchman is renamed Dragon although he is still referred to by his original name of Devilman on both the U.S. and U.K. video sleeves.

The Kidpix edit was released in America and Britain in 1985 by Paramount Home Video and My-TV respectively, as well as playing around the clock in Kidpix cinemas in shopping malls across the USA. Six years later a second feature length volume of the continuing adventures of Duke and Iron Mike was released entitled Ninja the Wonder Boy Part 2, also from Kidpix.

Oddly this isn't the only anime released in the West under the cumbersome title Ninja the Wonder Boy. The other was the 1964 TV series Shonen Ninja Kaze no Fujimaru from Toei, but it received a far smaller release.

ninja the wonder boy manga sarutobi sasuke
The Japanese title card
Manga Sarutobi Sasuke vinyl single


I know I’m in for a cheesy movie when there’s a mistake before the video even comes out of the box. The summary is fairly bland--“The action is fast and furious…with nonstop laughter” and suchlike--as are the accompanying screen caps that show the main characters in innocuous close-ups. The third one, however, is from some other movie entirely [later identified as "Robby Rascal" another JT video]. This is gonna be fun.

Robby the Rascal

Things begin with, what else, a song by Bullets. Having heard more of their stuff recently I’m amazed I haven’t forgotten the words since I first saw this movie almost twenty years ago. Sing along! #He’s got so many tricks up his sleeve! He does magic you won’t believe! He’s here, there, he’s everywhere! He can disappear into thin air! He’s got the power! He can make thunder! Ninja the Wonder Boy!#

The story opens in feudal Japan. Duke Hayakawa, ninja trainee who’ll be our Wonder Boy for the movie, messes around with a monkey until friend/fellow student/big sister figure Blossom tells him her father, the master, wants them to come back to their secluded mountain home right away. Already there accosting Master White, who is way too old to be Blossom’s pa, is an evil ninja named Hanzo who is trying to get White to side with his bosses, Tokugawa and Lord Willard, in an upcoming battle. Duke chases Hanzo away but Hanzo uses his ninpo magic to turn the rope Duke’s using to cross a ravine into a snake and Duke takes a fall. Don’t want to shock you, but he survives.

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Over supper Master White tells the children war is coming. Duke is excited about using his ninja powers in a for-real war, and in light of these circumstances Master White decides to let him undergo advanced ninja training. After a 30-second training montage Duke is proclaimed an official ninja. White sends him to Ueda Castle to offer himself as a retainer to Lord Sanada, the local official being picked on by Hanzo’s bosses. I couldn’t help but think of Ace Venture: When Nature Calls from Duke’s sudden promotion.

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Duke travels to Sanada’s besieged castle and attempts to sneak past the guards, but, strengthening that Ace Ventura feeling, is caught in the act. He escapes by tickling the leader, a tetsubo-wielding bear of a man called Iron Mike. Really.

Duke makes his way into a meeting between Sanada and his officers. They’re preparing to counterattack but Sanada would rather surrender than risk his subjects’ lives. I’m sure they’ll appreciate that when they’re living under despotic rule. Duke enters the meeting and convinces Sanada to accept his services when he says Master White sent him.

The next day, rather than surrender like he said he would, Sanada and his daughter Yuki secretly flee the castle with Duke and Iron Mike coming along. They’re attacked by Tokugawa’s ninjas on the way to a safe house but Duke scares them by creating monster trees that roar at them before he takes them out with a waterspout (worst ninjas ever!). Was there some reason they couldn’t do that to him?

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After languishing in hiding for a while Yuki wants to pick flowers but her father is worried their enemies could be lying in wait for them. To score some points with the comely princess Duke volunteers to bring her back white lilies and Iron Mike and his dog, Boots, go too. On their way back they see a village burning and go to help. They learn a wizard calling himself Dragon (who looks a lot more like a devil than a dragon. Even the box calls him “Devilman”) conjured up the illusion of a raging fire to part the local official from his gold with promises of putting it out. Duke attacks Dragon as he boats away but has a humiliating panic attack and swims for all he’s worth after Dragon turns a handkerchief into a crocodile. I take back what I said about those other ninjas.

Ninja the Wonder Boy ninja the wonder boy ninja the wonder boy

Dragon meets with Lord Willard who hires him to deal with Sanada. He warns the wizard that Sanada is guarded by Duke and Iron Mike, “a formidable pair.” Dragon retorts he isn’t afraid of Duke, and after Wonder Boy’s episode in the river I have to agree.

After Duke has an extremely unproductive meeting with Master White about what to do next time he meets Dragon, our heroes depart to deliver an important letter from the Master to Sanada. Mike accidentally loses it and Duke frisks him then uses magic to strip him (I don’t wish to imply anything but does it seem like Duke touches the big hairy man a lot?). Fortunately the letter is returned to them by a little boy named Naga who invites them over for supper.
Dragon contacts a fellow practitioner of magic, the witch Sabbath, and assigns her to destroy Duke and steal the message. She spies on Duke and Mike having supper at Naga’s house, then for no real reason turns into a pair of skeletons. After they sing a short Bullets song, Sabbath casts a spell that makes Naga’s sister ill. Duke sets off in hot pursuit while sending Mike and Boots back to Sanada without him.

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Mike runs into Sabbath disguised as a little girl and is hypnotized into handing over the letter. Boots grabs it and runs away just in time. Sabbath has Mike attack Duke, and after some bandying about between ninja and witch Duke defeats Sabbath by accident: while dodging one of her attacks he sends a shuriken flying that catches the sun at just the right angle to flash light in Sabbath’s eyes, making her turn into a stingray and fly away. Naga’s sister recovers and Duke starts to frisk Mike for the letter again but Boots returns it just before things can get uncomfortable. For all this hoopla about the message we never find out what it says.

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Dragon next summons the witch Glacia who appears to our heroes as a woman trapped in a snowstorm. I couldn’t tell you the name but she’s obviously voiced by the same person who did Ceres in Starvengers. Leading them to her domus to reward them for saving her, she dopes Mike with spiked soup (nudge nudge, wink wink). Duke leaves to get firewood but after he returns Glacia attacks him with her ice magic. The two are evenly matched until Mike sobers up enough to attack Glacia and give Duke an opening to defeat her (off screen) with a magic fire ring.

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On their road trip back to Sanada’s house the boys next come upon a family in need of money to save their ranch. The father is in training to win an upcoming horse race to get the money. After Dragon’s new accomplice, the Hag, injures the father so he’s unable to compete, Duke forces Mike to go on a crash diet to race in his place. The Hag connives with some sleazy brothers who own a competing ranch to sabotage the race but Mike wins because he has the power of righteousness (and a carrot on a stick) on his side. Hag attacks Duke directly but again it’s Mike who saves the day by knocking her amulet away. Duke turns into a phoenix and chases her out of sight.

Enraged at these constant upsets, Dragon is even more displeased when his ex, the exhibitionist Delilah, comes by and says she can do what his witches haven’t been able to. Delilah turns her new boyfriend, the Neanderthal-esque Gigantus, loose on the countryside. He terrorizes villages and defeats Duke and Mike, but his rampage ends when he meets a little girl named Yumi too innocent to be afraid of him and takes her home. His home. A bunch of terrified villagers implore Duke and Mike to get rid of the monster, especially one bereaved woman who wails her daughter has disappeared. Guess who.

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Afraid the girl will cost her control over Gigantus, Delilah sneaks Yumi out of the old castle where they’re hiding in the middle of the night with promises of pretty flowers to pick. Delilah tries to murder her but Duke shows up before she can do the dirty deed. They have a magic fight and Duke wins after reflecting Delilah’s petrifying magic at her. Let that be a lesson, villains: never use gorgons, the hero always thinks to use a mirror. Always. The fight travels inside as Gigantus tries to take Yumi out of harm’s way. As a last act of defiance Delilah explodes and sets the building on fire. Duke and Gigantus fight each other to come to Yumi’s rescue until the building finally collapses. Duke is mourning his failure until Gigantus and Yumi emerge from the debris a little sooty but intact. The villagers realize just because Gigantus was a funny lookin’ sunuvagun it doesn’t mean he was evil. So the next time someone busts up your house, it just means they want to be your friend.

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Arriving at Sanada’s home away from home (where did they go to pick flowers? France?), Duke finds out a ninja by the name of Saizo has come to protect the fugitive nobleman as well (does it seem like I’m dropping the names of a lot of extremely tiny characters?). Blossom (remember her [and using a lot of parentheses]?) is visiting too. Saizo’s reason for being around is actually to get his butt kicked by Dragon’s new underling, Magic Lantern. I’m getting the feeling Dragon was hired more as a magical talent coordinator than a wizardly arch villain. During her next attack Duke finds out why Saizo lost: Magic Lantern can copy the powers of whoever she fights. After literally blowing each other away Blossom finds Magic Lantern (who still looks like Duke) and nurses her/him back to health, only realizing her mistake when the real Duke finds them. Finding out Magic Lantern’s power Blossom calls her a cheater and the witch leaves to get her head straight.

When they meet for their next battle Magic Lantern has been so moved by Blossom’s kindness she forgoes her copycat magic to fight Duke with her innate warrior skills and quickly loses. Dragon, quite annoyed at one his flunkies actually trying to fight fair, shows up giant-sized to take matters (and Blossom) into his own hands. Magic Lantern uses her copycat magic on Dragon to save Blossom but is hurled to the ground after duplicating one of Dragon’s attacks. With the villain defeated for now Blossom promises they’ll take care of their new friend until she gets better but since she’s never seen again want to bet that’s not what happened in the original version? In the final episode, uh, portion of the movie Duke is told Tokugawa and Lord Willard have finally been captured but Hanzo is still on the loose. Hanzo? Who the hell is…oh, yeah, bad guy on screen for a minute about an hour and a half ago.

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Duke and Mike set out to find the rogue ninja. We meet Iko, Hanzo’s sister who flashes back to meeting Duke before when they accidentally ran into each other while bathing at hot springs. And now that I think about it “flashes” was an ironic choice of words, if you know what I mean. At the exact same time Duke is remembering the sight of his first naked woman. Awful lot of skin in this movie for a company called Kidpix. Not that they show anything but I’d hate to have been the person who had to deal with parents who walked in on the part where Duke is fantasizing about a naked ninja babe.

Ninja the Wonder Boy ninja the wonder boy ninja the wonder boy
Ninja the Wonder Boy ninja the wonder boy ninja the wonder boy

With the running time having almost worn out its welcome Dragon shows up for the final battle royal. Duke pits his magic against the evil wizard but finds himself outmatched until Iko shows up. By flashing light from their swords into his eyes they cause Dragon to assume a demonic form before he turns to smoke and blows away, vowing revenge. Remember kids: against evil incarnate, a flashbulb is your best friend.

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With Ultimate Evil defeated for now Duke tells his friends he plans to return to Master White’s retreat and sharpen his ninja skills. Iko admits to Duke that Hanzo is her brother and she promptly runs off to bring him to justice. While hoofing it back to Master White’s place, Duke yanks an old woman’s skirt up and is so scared by her face he falls right on his own.

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What happens next? Did Duke catch Hanzo? Did the old lady send Duke to his room? If anyone can confirm the existence of Ninja the Wonder Boy 2, someday we might just find out.

Missing videos

Ninja the Wonder Boy!!
# He's got the power! He can make thunder!... He's a bundle of Dynamite!! #

Wonder Boy Vs. Devilman Dragon
The final fight between Wonder Boy and his nemesis, with help from Iron Mike and Iko.

Decent action
  Lots of tough female characters
Unfunny slapstick humor
  Very compressed
  Surprising amount of nudity for a kids cartoon

After seeing Jim Terry try to win over the preteen girl set with Wee Wendy he’s back to his core audience of young boys with a generic action import. With how obscure his non-Force Five releases are, though, I’m tempted to say Mr. Terry should’ve stuck with giant robots. If he and 3B had worked together who knows where it all could’ve ended?

For being stuffed to the gills with ninjas and wizards, Ninja the Wonder Boy is awfully dodgy and uninteresting. I’m to understand the Japanese studio that produced it was somewhat notorious for inferior products and if these are the best episodes they could find to squeeze into a 90 minute movie I can’t say I’m surprised. Then again, perhaps ninjas are just something that was never meant to be kiddified. Making this all quite surprising is the purported sequel. No, I wasn’t kidding. If it’s real I’d love to see it turn up on Anime Bargain Bin Reviews someday.

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