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Recently seen TV shows #5

May 26, 2009

Sukeban Deka III: Romance of the Ninja Girls (1986-1987) – 4,5/5

After the iconic pop-culture fusion Sukeban Deka II: Legend of the Girl in the Iron Mask (1985-1986) Toei and Fuji TV faced an impossible challenge; how to equal the preceding series? During the show’s run Yoko Minamino had became one of the biggest idols of all time. Her shoes would not be filled easily by just anyone… except ninja. Yes, in Sukeban Deka III teenage ninja girls walk in school uniform and battle masked assasins on the streets of modern Tokyo.

Yui Kazama – played by the supercute Yui Asaka – is a hyper-energetic countryside girl know as the Great Sukeban of Kyushu (Asaka’s real real life home before she became an idol), raised by her ninja master uncle. She is sent to Tokyo to meet her sisters Yuka (Yuka Onishi) and Yuma (Yuma Nakamura) who are the leading sukebans in their school… and also members ninja family. The legends says that when time is ready it is the Kazama family that must defend Japan in an epic battle between good and evil. Lead by a mysterious Hannya-masked ninja, the three sisters begin their fight.

The first two Sukeban Deka shows concentrated on modern day pop-culture. The third series finds its inspiration in ninja legends. The currupt high school principals are gone, and now almost every villain dresses in black, arms with knives, and walks on rooftops. A special mention must be given to the kabuki-masked martial arts devil making his first appearance in episode 5. Although his face is not revealed in this episode, Toei fans should be quick to recognize him from voice as he is one of most famous Toei villains of the 1970s…

While the previous sukeban fighters were never quite up to the physical requirements of the role, Yui, Yuma and Yuka succeed rather well in their roles. Asaka’s yo-yo art is the most impressive seen in any of the three shows, and Nakamura’s way trapping enemies with knitting needles and wire is yet another original fighting method. But by far most impressive is Oshishi’s combination of metal crane shuriken and crane style kung fu that occasionally puts weaker martial arts movies into shame. As far as performances go Nakamura and Onishi both fare well but obviously pale in comparison to Sagara and Yoshizawa of the previous series. Asaka on the other hand is brilliant; very funny and endlessly charming, without trying to copy anything from her predecessors.

Asaka was the youngest of the three Sukeban Dekas. Unlike Saito and Minamino who were 18, Asaka was only 16 years old when the show started. This was also taken into consideration in the screenplay. When she introduced herself she said ”Kazama Yui, class B1”, rather than B2 like the other two sukeban dekas (Nanno actually proceeded to B3 during the second show’s course). Like her predecessors, she was given the code name Asamiya Saki, but she didn’t use it very often. A cover identity was not really needed against ninjas, and most of ger enemies knew her identity anyway.

Yui also performs on the series’ pitch perfect soundtrack together with Nakamura and Onishi. While perhaps not as big stars as the leads of the second show, Asaka, Nakamura and Onishi almost exceed the previous show with their brilliant pop songs. Former Onyanko Satomi Fukunaga – who plays a supporting role in the series – is also heard on the soundtrack. She is responsible for the first of the five theme songs. Ichiro Nitta also delivers his usual terrific score.

The only real weakness comes during the last 10 episodes. After bringing the epic story to mythical dimensions, the screenwriters are struck by an overly strong urge to re-imagine the Star Wars trilogy. This doesn’t feel a very natural move after so succcesfully building on Japanese pop culture legends and ninja mythology. This setback doesn’t wreck the show, but it does prevent if from becoming the very best Sukeban Deka show. Nevertheless, Sukeban Deka III is an unforgettable and completely unique piece of television history.

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