Henshin Ninja Arashi (変身忍者 嵐) is another series that occupies a particularly interesting place in the greater tokusphere. Created of course by Shotaro Ishinomori, the series ran for a total of 43 episodes between 1972 and 73. However fast-forward to 2003 and the early planning stages of Kamen Rider Hibiki, and there were originally talks for a Henshin Ninja Arashi remake rather than continuing on the Kamen Rider branding. Just how much of Hibiki was originally intended to be a different series entirely has gotten conflated over the years, but the very least we know that Arashi was a series in the running at the time. So what’s so great about the original that it deserved a shot at a comeback?
Taking place during Japan’s Edo period, the Blood Wheel Clan are a shadowy group of ninjas that plan to destroy the country’s peace and prosperity. During an attack their general Gaitokusmaru unveils the Poison Moray Eel – a monster ninja able to reduce people to mulch with its poison gas attack. Wishing to fight back against the evil clan, Hayata persuades his father Kiju to help transform him master the secret art of becoming a Henshin Ninja – a mix of human and animal. In the past Kiju had helped the Blood Wheel Clan create their own Henshin Ninjas, but became disillusioned when they revealed their evil intentions.
Fired up with a heart of justice, Hayate undergoes the painful ritual of having his whole cell structure altered – becoming the bird-like ninja Arashi. The Arashi suit is just incredible – the designer went all in on the bird-motif, giving the ninja a feathery body as well as clawed hands and feet. The helmet is also extremely elaborate with its bird-faced crest and feathery plume. There are some really great superhero suits from around this period but Arashi is easily one of the best, which makes it all the bigger shame that this series doesn’t have that wider recognition outside of its home country.
The remainder of the episode sees the Blood Wheel Clan show their hand but swiftly taking out any ninjas that stand against them – until Arashi shows up that is. The Henshin Ninja is the only one able to put up a defence against Poison Moray Eel, and the clan immediately identify him as Kiju’s handiwork. The punishment for this betrayal is so severe that even the clan’s great leader Devil Sai shows up to sentence him, and though Arashi is able to save the day he isn’t able to save his father from death. With Devil Sai having reclaimed the Henshin Ninja scroll, Hayata begins his new mission to reclaim the scroll and put an end to the Blood Wheel Clan once and for all.
Despite having an all-too familiar plot, what really makes Henshin Ninja Arashi stand out are its visuals. Taking place in the past naturally means its all done with a very traditional look, and there’s a wide variety of rural locations used for the fight sequences. Shots such as Arashi riding off into the future against the backdrop of Mount Fuji are particularly powerful. It just goes to show that when a core story is that good, you can rework all the elements around it and it’ll still be just as effective.
One thing that is worth mentioning about this episode though is that the subs aren’t great. They’re perfectly legible, but whoever was in charge of inputting them clearly had some sort of html disaster as it’s littered with line break code. By no means a deal breaker, but pretty unfortunate for an official outlet.
Henshin Ninja Arashi is very much just “Kamen Rider with ninjas and horses”, but that’s certainly not a bad thing. Between the fantastic suit design, Edo period aesthetics and the sheer sense of scale it has with the visuals this looks to be a rather special series indeed. While it’s clear that Kamen Rider Hibiki went on to become something different you can certainly see the inspiration it took from this, and it’s a bit of a shame it never came back in full force. I think I’d have even just settled for a crossover somewhere.
You can now find Henshin Ninja Arashi as well as many other tokusatsu shows, on the TOEI Tokusatsu World Official YouTube channel to watch for free with English subtitles.