Shinobi Life is a 13 volume shoujo manga series by Shoko Conami and published between the years 2006 - 2012.
In North America, Tokyo Pop only published volumes 1-7 in English before shutting down shop.
In this review I will only spoil a few plot points to explain the series overall, but I assure you, this character driven saga has much more to offer than bones I'll extract here.
The plot opens with Beni Fujiwara, daughter of a wealthy Japanese family, being kidnapped. Only there is something off about this kidnapping. Beni does not seem fearful, but her kidnapper does.
Before we get an answer on what is really going on here, a Ninja falls from the sky.
What a way to open a scene, right?
We quickly learn that Beni has been putting herself in danger to get back at her father, whom she blames her mothers death on.
And that our fallen ninja keeps calling Beni, Princess Beni.
The rest of the first volume is loaded with absurdist humor and misunderstandings as Beni comes to the realization that the man in the ninja costume, Kagetora, might actually be from the past.
Kagetora protected her ancestor, Princess Beni, whom she looks exactly like.
Kagetora thinks he is protecting the Princess in some alternate dimension of the enemy.
While this early plot reads as farfetched and very silly, the first volume ends with a trip to the past and the first inkling that there might be much more substance to the story long term.
I'm glad I did not stop reading.
What started out as a silly story, full of exploited misunderstandings, and a parent versus child feud taken too far, suddenly turns into a heartwarming tale about a secret Shinobi, ninja, village from a time forgotten.
And the story of two orphaned boys who grow up knowing no other life than the Shinobi life.
Our female protagonist falls in love with Kagetora along the way and is plagued by the worry that she is just a replacement for the princess he has lost.
But regardless of her feelings, Beni's father has forbidden a relationship with Kagetora. With his resources, there isn't a place anywhere in the world they could escape him.
Beni pleads with Kagetora to escape to the past with her, but Kagetora knows they won't find the happiness they seek there either.
But before they can find out. They stumble through the portal, and are separated. Landing them both in different timelines.
And this marks the real beginning of our story.
Beni finds herself taken into the Shinobi village by Kagetora. But he is not her Kagetora.
Instead it is his past self of fourteen years old. Training to be a ninja, back before the violent scars covered his body.
Three Things Were Done Expertly in This Manga:
1. Time Travel
2. Character Incorporation
The way time travel works in this story really helps to raise the stakes.
The portals are always located in the same place. In the past you must jump off a certain cliff. In the future you must jump off a certain building. However, you cannot choose what time in the past you will land.
If you are not physically tethered to the other person you will be separated by time travel.
Thus when our characters get separated it becomes a major hurtle for them to get back on the same timeline. Finding one another requires jumping through time over and over again until finally meeting by chance.
It is a desperate task, and yet they do it to once again be together.
Time travel also has one great danger.
The story starts out with Beni and Kagetora, a powerful father, and a handful of petty antagonists. But things quickly escalate. The petty antagonists become a real threat and the father becomes a major barrier.
At the time of Beni's separation from Kagetora, both their lives are in serious danger from Hitake. Another time traveling ninja.
But through the time travel plot we learn the pasts of every single character, witnessing what happened to turn them into who they are today.
Because the time travel lands the characters at random along the time line we put the pieces of this puzzle together out of order, but in a way where each new reveal hits with a punch to the gut.
I often felt conflicted about hating the bad guys & flipping the pages faster to learn the rest of the story.
Like these individuals had a karmic destiny to stay together. Every single character was fully fleshed out and important to the plot by its end.
The insta-love in this series worked for me because of the time travel plot.
Beni and Kagetora have many obstacles to overcome to be happy together. There are not only external barriers barring their way, but also the internal confusion nagging at both of them.
The antagonists accuse Kagetora of using Beni as a replacement for Princess Beni.
Though Kagetora and Beni feel in their hearts that it is not true, neither can prove it.
Beni travels to the past and has the unique opportunity to meet the fourteen year old Kagetora.
She gets to witness firsthand how he became the man he is now. And the origin of the score he must settle with Hitake, his rival.
But most importantly, she gets her proof that she is not a replacement for Princess Beni, because, by traveling back to the past, she actually met Kagetora first.
The mystery which remains, is why does he not remember? And if you want to find out why, you should read Shinobi Life!
This manga was an excellent read. I highly recommend it to you. It is a love story at heart, but the larger plot which ties all the characters together through time and space is even more excellent.
It is unfortunate that we did not see a full English publication in the past, but perhaps we can get it in the future now that Tokyo Pop has reemerged.
Thanks for reading!
Pictures taken by me & edited with Line Camera App