Ninja Attack!: True Tales of Assassins, Samurai, and Outlaws

Author: Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt
Illustrator: Yutaka Kondo

Publisher: Kodansha
ISBN: 9784770031198
Released: November 2010

Ninja Attack!: True Tales of Assassins, Samurai, and Outlaws is the second Attack! book by wife and husband team Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt, although this time they are working with a different illustrator, Yutaka Kondo. I read and thoroughly enjoyed the first Attack! guide, Yokai Attack!, finding it to be both entertaining and informative. In fact, I liked Yokai Attack! so well that I was immediately interested in Ninja Attack!, first published by Kodansha International in 2010. While Yokai Attack! looked at traditional Japanese creatures from folklore and urban legend, Ninja Attack! primarily focuses on real-life figures from Japanese history. As is explained in the books foreword, “Actual, historical ninja are fascinating enough subjects without needing to muddy the waters with fantasy.” Yoda and Alt go on to prove that to be true.

Like Yokai Attack!, Ninja Attack! is organized thematically as opposed to chronologically which might be expected with a book dealing with history. Ninja Attack! features thirty-one important or notable historical figures divided into six groups: “Ninja’s Ninja,” those who served as role models, epitomizing what it means to be a ninja; “Ninja Gone Bad,” which is just what it sounds like; “Ninja Magic,” those that seem supernatural in their abilities; “Ninja Rivals,” samurai and lawmen who interacted with ninja; “Ninja Masters,” those who made good use of and employed ninja; and “Ninja Destroyer,” which is pretty much just Oda Nobunaga. Additional information and fun facts are given throughout the book in the form of sidebars, sections called “The Illustrated Ninja,” in which the authors talk about ninja and ninjutsu more generally, and a brief history of Japan. A glossary, bibliography, and index are also provided, as well as a foreword and an “About This Book” section.

Although there is some variation, most entries in Ninja Attack! consist of five major parts: a full-page, color illustration; a quick fact sheet about the person; a section called “The Man” (or “The Woman” where appropriate), which is a brief biography or introduction of sorts; a section called “The Moment of Glory” which describes an exploit for which the person is known; and a section called “The End” which explains how things ultimately turn out. Some entries have additional sections and in a few cases may be missing some of the ones just listed. One of my few complaints about Yokai Attack! was that the color pages were dropped partway through the book. So, I was very happy to see that this was not the case with Ninja Attack!, which continues to alternate between color and black and white pages from beginning to end.

As much as I loved Yokai Attack!, I think I enjoyed Ninja Attack! even more. The very informal, conversational tone that Yoda and Alt adopt make the book extremely approachable. Even readers who don’t consider themselves history buffs should find Ninja Attack! interesting and probably won’t be scared off. Readers who already know some Japanese history will most likely recognize a number of the people mentioned, but there were plenty who at least I was previously unfamiliar with. A few important fictional ninja are also included in the book, but for the most part Ninja Attack! focuses on historical figures who are known or are believed to have existed, exploring the truth behind the myths and legends that surround ninja even today. Ninja Attack! isn’t the definitive source for its subject area, but it makes a fantastic introduction. Ninja Attack! is lighthearted, thoroughly engaging, and very informative. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the book.