A Springtime with Ninjas (花と忍び) by Narumi Hasegaki is a shōjo, romance comedy, martial arts manga series about a fifteen-year-old girl named Benio. Benio is from the wealthiest family in Japan, and as such, has never been allowed to step foot outside of her family’s compound. Another reason behind Benio’s luxurious imprisonment is due to a unique tradition that the family has been practising for nearly 600 years: whoever steals the female heir’s first kiss ends up becoming her betrothed! But Benio is having none of that outdated crap! She just wants to be a normal girl. Eventually she persuades her uncle in allowing her to attend a regular high school. The only condition is that Benio must be accompanied by a ninja bodyguard at all times.
Normally, shōjo isn’t a genre that I read regularly. However, there were some things about the series that seemed appealing to me, which I discuss briefly in my first impressions. One of those qualities was its length. The series is four volumes long, which made it relatively quick and easy to breeze through. The story is far from perfect and can be as outrageous as you’d expect given the premise, nevertheless, it was rather enjoyable and entertaining, and something that may be fitting for folks looking for a fun manga to read during this pink and blossoming season.
The biggest thing to take note of is how clichéd A Springtime with Ninjas is as a shōjo title. You have the wickedly handsome, playboy bodyguard who has irresistible charm and sweet compassion. He’s strong and seems to bounce back from nearly everything that is thrown, or injected, his way. The girl is naïve, and she ends up being the damsel-in-distress quite often, which leads to intimate encounters between the two characters where feelings turn fluffy and mushy. Most people who encounter Benio immediately find her to be “special” and become interested in one thing or another as it pertains to her. These things cause the story to be extremely predictable and mildly boring. There was significant lack of creativity to the narrative overall. Even so… it wasn’t terrible to read.
Even though the interactions between Benio and Tamaki (the ninja dude) are corny, it’s still cute and hilarious more often than not, so long as you don’t take anything too seriously. Watching Benio get annoyed by Tamaki being a player was substandard yet amusing and I like that it’s not overdone. Most manga with this trope tend to ride that trope into the ground. This one didn’t. It’s there to do a part, which is to entertain, and it does exactly that without it coming off as forced and unnecessarily heavy-handed. That may be what makes it so pleasant: it’s balanced nicely. Benio and Tamaki also have great chemistry and their personalities complement one another very well.
I originally anticipated Benio to be an irritating woman, as most female protagonists of shōjo tend to drive me fucking batty with frustration, however, she wasn’t as annoying. She gets into a lot of trouble due to how naïve she is about the world and her tendency to trust easily. In A Springtime with Ninjas, it actually makes sense because she has been locked up in her family home for her entire life. So, she’s never had any way to build experience with social interactions and learning how to read people. Her naivety was another trait that wasn’t dramatically exaggerated just to add intensity to the story, and when she recognises that she’s in a bit of a tight spot, she actually tries to stand up for herself as much as she can. Women who own up to their situation and try to fight their own crap are amazing and need more positive portrayals everywhere. The execution was average, but the intent and ambiance surrounding these scenes were decent.
Some other minor things that are gratifying are the female friendships Benio forms. They are positive and steer clear of the bullying and jealousy that is typical for the genre. A significant person in Benio’s life, aside from the ninja, isn’t a villain who’s out to get her in the end, which was so refreshing. Her social awkwardness is genuine and isn’t fetishized or villainised. So, lots of satisfying things here.
For flaws, I found two main ones, aside from it being clichéd as fuck. In my first impressions I mentioned a shortcoming of how often Benio gets into trouble a lot. Sure enough this ends up being the biggest flaw of the series. It really is such a contrast to everything else because it’s the only thing that is severely excessive. Given who she is and what her betrothal gains from being involved with a woman like her, from a narrative point-of-view, the obstacles that arise do make sense. Howbeit, I became bored with the gimmick about halfway through the serial.
The second thing that began to irk me was Benio’s obsession at having this intensely fantasised high school experience. Once again, I admit that given her circumstances and upbringing, her idealised concept of what school life should be like is warranted. I spent my entire high school being home-schooled, so it blew my mind to discover that American high school wasn’t exactly as it was portrayed in books and media (shocking, I know; I’m an immigrant, what do you expect?). Yet, Benio’s obsession with it did become a bit tiresome by the end.
The artwork is quite charming. I found the use of shading to be lovely. It makes many of the details in each panel to pop out, and also accentuates the Spring vibe during festivals and scenic scenarios. The panels aren’t always overtly packed to the point where you can’t decipher what is happening. A few of the action scenes can feel slightly disorienting, but I also may have felt this way because I wasn’t wearing my glasses while reading (waiting for my new pair to arrive). All in all, I found the illustrations to be pretty and aesthetically engaging.
Overall, A Springtime with Ninjas is a super basic and clichéd manga series that makes up for its conventional storyline and character (persona) designs by being cute, entertaining, and short. I would recommend this to casual fans of the shōjo and romcom genres, or people who are in the mood for a manga to read during spring that they don’t have to take too seriously.
6 shuriken outta 10.