Netflix’s latest kiddie cartoon is Hello Ninja, a brutally authentic narrative of the original ninja clans, who acted as spies during Japan’s Sengoku period. The show is based on a rhyming picture book by writer N.D. Wilson and illustrator Forrest Dickison; it details how ninja became magical warriors of folklore, the type of folk who fling shuriken right at your eyeball and kick you in the pancreas before disappearing in a puff of smoke. Or it might just be about tots playing dress-up? Read on for more…
HELLO NINJA: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
Opening Shot: 3:30 in the afternoon. An affluent suburb. 64 degrees and cloudy. A grandmother hoes the garden. A boy plays in the yard. A cat dawdles in the grass.
The Gist: In the hard-hitting debut episode, we learn that the boy is Wesley (voice of Lukas Engel). Pretzel (Sam Vincent) is his cat. Baa-Chan (Mayumi Yoshida) is his grandma. His pal Georgie (Zoey Siewert) comes over to play. Then, Wesley’s mom and dad (Shannon Chan Kent and Vincent Tong) arrive with their neighbor’s pet bunny, who they’re babysitting. Don’t let the bunny get out of his carrier, they warn, because he’s very fast and you’ll never catch him. But the bunny is cunning. He opens the latch and scampers away. Uh oh.
What Mom and Dad don’t realize is, Wesley, Georgie and Pretzel are secretly a ninja trio. As soon as the kids are alone, they transform into their sneaky, chopsocky counterparts and emerge from a mystical dojo, which might be on the other side of a wormhole, although I can’t be sure. They’re greeted by a flying purple dragon with blue hair, who might be the product of hallucinogens, but again, not quite sure. They chase the wily and elusive “cottontail ninja,” using some mystical ninja crapola: First, the speed of the cheetah, which doesn’t work. Then, the stillness of stone, which requires Wesley to wait patiently and quietly for the bunninja to come to him, so he can lure it back to its cage with a carrot. Mission accomplished.
Our Take: So was it all real, or make believe? Reader, I just don’t know. Such is the central mystery of Hello Ninja, which exists on a razor’s edge between fantasy and reality. Are we better off not knowing whether Hobbes was a real tiger or just a figment of Calvin’s imagination? Absolutely. Is reality forever defined by the perception of the individual? Indeed. Is Schrodinger’s cat alive and dead at the same time? You bet. Am I reading too deeply into a kid’s show based on a book with about 37 words in it and falls somewhere between a trifle and a soupçon on the thematic-depth scale? No way.
I digress. Hello Ninja may beguile preschoolers for a few minutes before they beg to watch grown adults unwrap mystery-surprise toys, play with toys in elaborately edited plots, and/or remove the inner goop from toys on YouTube. (If your kid loves PJ Masks, then you’re in luck.) The show is simple and colorful, a little cheaply animated, pretty gentle considering its martial-arts origins, not screechingly loud, and short and sweet with 12-minute episodes. It won’t test anyone’s patience. It’s fine. For parents, it’s far preferable to Ryan’s World, because it has, you know, what do you call them, ACTUAL STORIES instead of just dicking around and yelling. Such is the world we live in now.
Sex and Skin: None.
Parting Shot: Safely in its pen, and no longer the cottontail ninja, the li’l bunny nibbles on a carrot — and no doubt plots its next escape. It will not be so gentle next time. There will be blood. Oh yes. There will be blood.
Sleeper Star: An actual actor, Sam Vincent, is the voice of Pretzel, who only meows and makes cat noises. I’m going to assume Vincent isn’t emitting gibberish, and actually learned the entire feline language and dialect for the role, for authenticity’s sake.
Most Pilot-y Line: “Ninjas land on ninja feet! These three ninjas can’t be beat!” is the sing-songy catchphrase reaffirming that, yes, ninjas have ninja feet, not hippo or naked mole rat feet.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Hello Ninja is solid, middle-of-the-pack kiddie fare. It’s a fanciful dalliance with maybe a little bit of an educational lesson to be learned, if you care to contemplate the true nature of reality while staring blankly into the middle distance. It’s also cute!
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