Review: Invasion of the Ninja, by Jeffrey A. Davis

ninjaSynopsis:

It’s the 1980s, and high school student Jamie is enjoying everyday life. Mostly having fun with his friends as they get ready to graduate and move on to the next phases of their life. There’s a slight issue though that’s about to pop its ugly head.

Jamie is a ninja.

Trained by Master Funakoshi, he is one of the few non-Japanese ever to be inducted as one. Life is good, and there’s rarely much call to use his abilities, until now. There’s another ninja clan, the Warui, that have some serious issues with the Funakoshi, and they are spilling into town ready to shed some blood. What are a bunch of part-time ninja high schoolers going to do?

Rating:

Three stars out of five. Christian ninja, man. Game over!

What’s good:

  •  Did I mention I was a ninja? Concept alone deserves some recognition. Some of the Funakoshi clan migrated to the States, and wound up converting to Christianity. It’s still a bit of a stretch, but you have to love the audacity of the idea if anything.
  • The 80’s setting is better than usual. The novel evokes more the old, bad, campy American Ninja movies, and all that’s missing are the mullets and the cargo pants. Namedropping some 80s things is nice, although one character evokes Michaelangelo from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with his constant use of “Dude!”
  • Manages to avoid the preachiness trap. Most of the Christianity feels organic to the situations, and there’s no long filibusters about Jesus. Considering how odd the idea of the book is, and the constant fighting, too much preaching would have almost made it feel like two separate books.

What’s bad:

  •  It felt too long. There were a surprising amount of characters in the town of Sera, and the book is not short in itself.
  • Conservation of Ninjutsu in full force. The conservation of ninjutsu means that while one ninja is an extremely lethal killer, multiple ones can be easily dispatched as cannon fodder. The Warui must be breeding like bunnies back in Japan, because Jamie and his bodies tend to fight seven, ten,  and up to fifty at a time and win.
  • Classic rather than modern ninja. This won’t work so well if your teen is into Naruto, say. The idea of modern ninja is probably closer to superheroes than the army of black sword-slingers done in the past. These days, ninja seem to be more about the supernatural abilities and superhuman feats of strength and ninja magic.

My thoughts:

Not bad at all for a young adult book. It’s not more than three stars, but an offbeat premise and setting forgive a lot of faults. It’s kind of long, though, and it really doesn’t take as much risks as it could. It’s not also for anime fans, because most of them will have a different idea of ninja than the 80s, traditional “We must kill for our honor!” brand here.

I’m not sure you could do the modern brand, though. Ninja have changed quite a bit from the old conception. I don’t think anyone could mistake Naruto for a traditional ninja, with his unobscured face, distinct lack of self, and bizarre, godlike powers. Much of this is because the original height of ninja popularity in the eighties had a lot to do with the Japanese economic miracle and the American fear of being taken over by them. The good American would take on the evil, faceless Japanese, also mentored by a Japanese not so xenophobic or combative. So ninja would reflect this to increasing levels of absurdity. In anime in the nineties and on though, they would increasingly become superheroes if not monsters. A good example of this is the anime Ninja Scroll, in which the evil ninja clan was more a deformed collection of monstrous, mutant freaks than human beings.

Invasion hearkens back to the old tradition of the ninja in American pop culture, and it’s not a bad take on it at that. Worth buying, but maybe more for older readers with a taste for the retro than current teens.

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2 comments

  1. Reblogged this on Aquila et Infans and commented:
    Here’s a great blog for recent Christian speculative fiction. The book reviewed here sounds very amusing. I want to check it out at some point.

    Calling the evil ninja clan the Warui (The Bad) and the Master name, Funakoshi, being the same as the founder of Shotokan Karate are pretty funny too!

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