Manga-ka: Shoko Conami
Rating: Teen (13+)
Release Date: November 2008
Synopsis: “Energetic and strong-willed, Beni doesn’t care if she lives or dies as long as her death will result in embarrassing her arrogant father! But one day, she suddenly encounters Kagetora, a ninja who’s fallen from the sky and swears complete loyalty to her – as her bodyguard. Kagetora has time traveled from a long, long time ago, and has devoted his life to protecting Princess Beni. Little does Kagetora know that this Beni is not the real princess…”
A rich girl with daddy-issues and a time-traveling ninja – what may not scream instant classic still achieves its own irrefutable charm. Shinobi Life is a satisfying story about a proverbial fish out of water proving to be exactly what one woman needs to find happiness. But in true romantic fashion, nothing comes quite that easily and they’ll have more than their share of speed bumps on the road to a happily ever after.
Hitting a speed bump of its own, the book opens rather weakly at first. It introduces of Beni – a young woman in high school who’s grown cold and stilted after years of being emotionally ignored by her Father and several botched kidnappings. It’s her introduction that proves a little soiling to first impressions, pushing her woe-as-me life style a little too hard on readers.
Never the less, the story shifts its gears when a man attacks her and she’s rescued by the most unlikely of heroes – a young man who falls from the sky. Turns out that he’s a ninja accidentally thrown forward in time. Charged with protecting a noble with whom Beni shares an uncanny likeness, the ninja Kagetora now turns his eyes to defending his new princess.
Beni herself is a great female character, though it does take a little time warming up to her. Independent and bitter, the story emphasizes why she acts the way she does but it’s not until we get to see her more vulnerable side that she becomes more endearing. Kagetora makes this possible. Unassuming, honest and completely-out-of-his-element, Kagetora balances his roles as both a knight-in-shining-armour and an initial inconvenience to Beni. It’s not easy to believe that you’ve just been rescued by a ninja, let alone dealing with so much about the modern world confusing him. Thankfully he’s pretty simple-minded and as long as he can do his duty and keep his Princess safe, then his self-imposed mental blinders can block most anything else.
Using the situation to her advantage, Beni ‘hires’ Kagetora as her new bodyguard. There’s no surprise that he proves more effective than any before him. But with her life in the hands of a man who treasures it so, Beni begins to believably fall for him. Along with this comes her understandable hesitation. After all, not only is she hiding that she’s not his real Princess but he’s from another timeline, which is more than a little hitch. The interactions between the two range from sweet to comedic and it doesn’t take long after their first time on page together to begin cheering for their romantic success. It’s also near impossible not to cheer when Kagetora appears to her rescue against some pretty unsettling odds.
In an unexpected twist near the end, the story’s setting suddenly shifts as Beni and Kagetora are both thrown back to his time. But despite the added focus on time traveling, the story still manages to feel grounded and simple, never trying to introduce a sudden multitude of characters or any weird plotlines that lead to cluttered complications. Once you get to this point, you realize just how much has happened in one volume and even more impressively how it doesn’t feel overstuffed or rushed. It’s a real testament to the author’s skill to pace out the story in a way that allows so much to happen so smoothly.
The whole book also reads with a certain tone that feels distinctly more mature than other shoujos. A high school heroine is nothing new but the cast still feels like they react in a way that feels more adult and less superficial than many other manga romances aimed intentionally at younger readers. With an audience out there looking for titles with a more mature vibe, Shinobi Life could easily be right up their alley. The art style also complements this tone. It has many of the usual shoujo features (sparkles, flowers, wide-eyed adoration) but the characters are drawn in a way that suits their ages and it works wonderfully in tandem with the plot, pulling you into each adoring gaze or heart-torn expression.
Along with nice artwork on the inside, the exterior artwork is also beautifully complemented by the design work on the covers – easily one of the most attractive packaging jobs in recent shoujo-memory. The combination of pink cherry blossoms and ninja stars may sound like a recipe for disaster but with nicely laid out elements and an eye-catching logo, the cover comes together as nicely and unexpectedly as the story it precedes.
There were a few moments where the adaptation distracts from the story, in particular regards to a rival-ninja character who appears during the story’s second half. The dialogue he had didn’t feel like it fit with the era he was supposed to be from – such as one line where he refers to the main characters’ situation as being ‘cheesy’. While there isn’t a need for a forced or rigid era-type speech, something free of modern-day slang would’ve felt more appropriate.
With so many great moments here in the first volume, and all played out within a very fulfilling length, it does leave the question as to how the series will go another five volumes. Still, a worry of potential slowing does little to dull the enthusiasm for future volumes after such a strong start. Shinobi Life is a wonderfully charming love-story that shows readers that the unlikely pairing of a high school girl and a ninja can still make for a fantastic read. Highly recommended to manga readers looking for a story to fall in love with.