Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Character Design: Anthropomorphic Ninjas!

I had been struggling for a while to come up with a convincing animal ninja, as the only examples come in the form of children's cartoons such as T.M.N.T. Because of this I have decided to steer away from a childish representation and aim my characters and story at a much more mature audience, giving me the opportunity to involve the real life violence that is associated with ninjas of the past.

I began research into the origin of the ninja to find out exactly what they were like, rather than relying on the generalised, stereotypical representation that we are shown in games and films today.

Origin of the Ninja

It is difficult to pin down the emergence of the first ninja, more properly called Shinobi. Japanese folklore states that the ninja descended from a demon that was half man and half crow. However, it seems more likely that the ninja slowly evolved as an opposing force to their upper-class contemporaries, the Samurai, in early feudal Japan. Most sources indicate that the skills that became ‘Ninjutsu’, the ninja's art of stealth, began to develop between 600-900 A.D.

Ninjas were regarded as ruthless as they were hired by Samurai to do things such as assassinations, Planting misinformation, spying and infiltration. These actions would go against a Samurai’s code of honor  and so to preserve their honor  they hired those who were willing to do these deeds. Where a Samurai would fight and die as a warrior, and be granted an ‘ honorable death’ on the battlefield, ninja’s will use any trick that is needed to ensure their own survival.

Ninja Technique, Ninjutsu  

Ninjutsu is practical; if a tactic is effective, then it is acceptable. The Eight Methods taught in many Shinobi schools were: body skills, karate, spear fighting, staff fighting, blade-throwing, use of fire and water, fortification and strategy, and concealment.

Many ninja weapons were modified from farm sickles, saws for wood cutting, pruning shears, etc. If discovered, these items would not give away a ninja's identity. Among the ninja were expert poisoners. Poison was added to food, or applied to a dart or blade. Some ninja disguised themselves as flute-playing mystics. The sturdy flute could be used as a club or blow-dart tube. These disguises were perfect for infiltration and assassination, and are one of the reasons why ninja’s gained their infamous reputation of masters of stealth and disguise.

Ninja’s in Battle

The stereotypical ninja we think of today, clad in black, silently killing samurai guards and sneaking into the emperors’ bed chamber, is more of a generalisation of the ninjas various uses and fighting styles.

During the 14th century, Japan had two separate imperial courts, which battled for control of the country. The Northern Court was controlled by the shoguns and the Southern Court belonged to Emperor Go-Daigo, who wanted to rule in his own right. This was known as the Nanbukucho wars. Ninjas were used heavily during these wars, infiltrating enemy forts and tearing each court apart from the inside, and even burning down the South's Hachiman-yama Fortress. The Southern Court eventually won and Go-Daigo ruled the country as he wished.

About 70 years later, the Onin War broke out. Ninja featured heavily in this conflict, as well. The war began as a succession fight within the ruling Ashikaga clan, but soon devolved into a nation-wide civil war. Although the Onin War ended after 10 years, it ushered in a century of turmoil called the Sengoku Jidai, or ‘Warring States Period’ though it was actually ninja clans fighting, rather than states.
This was the start of the ninja rivalry which drove ninja clans to become more and more violent, and no mercy was shown when it came to battles, as long as a single ninja remained of the apposing clan, the fighting would continue.

The ninja were an important tool during the Sengoku Period, but a destabilizing influence. When war-lord Oda Nobunaga emerged as the strongest daimyo and began to reunite Japan during the 16th century, he saw the ninja strongholds as a threat.

Nobunaga's lightning-quick attack on Iga forced the ninja to fight open battles; they were defeated and scattered to nearby provinces or the mountains of Kii.
While their power-base was destroyed, the ninja did not vanish entirely. Some went into the service of Tokugawa Ieyasu, who later became shogun in 1603.

The much-reduced ninja continued to serve both sides in struggles. In one famous incident from 1600, a ninja sneaked through a group of Tokugawa's defenders at Hataya castle, and planted the flag of the besieging army high on the front gate!

The Edo Period 1603-1868 brought stability and peace to Japan, bringing the ninja story to a close. Ninja skills and legends survived, though, and were embellished to enliven the movies, games and comic books of today.

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