ANNOTATED GUIDE TO

PART ONE- General Stuff

Here's some background analysis on the game's weapons, heroes, items, shops, and enemies.

 

In Japan, the heroes of Mystical Ninja are named Goemon and Ebisumaru, and both are based on two legendary "noble thieves"of Samurai -era Japan: Ishikawa Goemon (circa 1558-1632) and Nezumi Kozo (1797-1831). Much like Robin Hood, these were men famous for stealing from the hated rich to give to the exploited poor. Their stories are the subject of numerous fables, plays, and movies in Japan. Some aspects of their historic personalities carry over into this game, but overall they have been retooled from thieves into ninjas.

In the English/American version, Goemon and Ebisumaru are named Kid Ying and Doctor Yang, respectively. This is obviously a reference to the Ying-Yang, a symbol of the Buddhist faith. The Buddhists believe that life is defined by the presence of opposing forces inside everything and everyone, with these coexisting contrary forces collectively producing harmonious wholes. "Ying" and "Yang" are terms used to describe opposing forces. The personalities of Kid Ying and Dr. Yang are certainly opposites — one is a serious fighter while the other is a lazy goof-off.

Some have criticized the American translators for renaming two Japanese heroes after a symbol and religion usually associated more with China, but it's important to recall that Buddhism has a strong presence in Japanese culture as well, particularly in the pre-modern era where this game takes place.

Dr. Yang wears a strange-looking hood on his head; this is a Tenugui or Japanese towel that has been twisted into a mask. It's less a disguise than a symbol of being a sneaky sort of character, like one of those Lone Ranger-style masks stereotypical cartoon robbers in America wear.

Kid Ying / Goemon

Dr. Yang / Ebisumaru

 


WEAPONS

Both Ying and Yang use "disguised" weapons; that is to say they fight using objects that were not designed for fighting. Ninjas would often use ordinary household objects as weapons because it helped them remain covert.


Kid Ying uses a traditional Japanese tobacco pipe, known as Kiseru, as his weapon. The original Goemon was famous for pipe-smoking.

Dr. Yang fights using a Japanese flute, known as Fue.

As his secondary "throwing" weapon, Ying throws Koban coins. Coins in ancient Japan were these large, heavy things. Some were as big as a human hand. If you were strong enough, it was possible to heave coins at people and cause quite a bit of pain. There is a famous Japanese legend about a guy named Zenigata Heiji who caught criminals by throwing coins as his weapon.

As his throwing weapon Yang uses Ninja Stars, or as the Japanese call them, Shuriken. Though Shuriken look like they were designed to kill they were actually originally just a humble carpenter's tool. The idea was you would use the sharp points to dig hammered-in nails out of wood. The ninjas found another use.



JUDO

At various points in the game Ying and Yang can visit a Jujitsu  trainer who will teach them deadly special moves. None of the moves are based on actual Japanese martial arts, but they do contain references to other things. Each character has their own distinct moves:


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Yang rides around on a bull, ramming enemies. The design of the bull is based on a common Japanese good luck charm known as akabeko, literally "red cow". They're made of paper-mache (hariko) and have little bobbing heads. It's a common symbol of the Japanese town of Aizu.

Yang hovers in the air by flapping two traditional Sensu paper folding fans. His particular fans feature the design of the Japanese flag on them. This is the only time the Japanese flag appears in Mystical Ninja.

Yang dons a kimono gown and does a passionate little dance. The performance is known as Buyo and is the traditional dance of Japan. It's normally done by women.

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Each character has four Judo moves in all, but the ones I haven't mentioned aren't based on anything Japanese-y.

Ying rides a tiger, which is also based on a hariko good luck charm. Tigers in Japan are associated with bravery and masculine strength. Just like here, I guess.

Ying dresses up as a weird-looking guy and whips his hair at enemies. The costume he's wearing comes from Japanese Kabuki theater (more on this later). The character is supposed to be a lion and on stage the actors really do swing their "manes" around like that.



HELPERS

There are a number of items and helpers the heroes come across during their adventure:



Lucky Cats













Two sorts of cat statues appear in the game. A plain "lucky cat" upgrades your weapon while a golden one extends your life meter.

These statues are known as Maneki Neko, or "beckoning cats" in Japan. Business owners often place them inside their shops for good luck, as it is believed the cat will help "beckon in the business." The one raised paw is supposed to symbolize the cat waving in customers (the Japanese wave differently).

A traditional Maneki Neko statue

Raccoon Dog













The "Raccoon Dog" statue appears at the beginning of every action sequence and gives you a little warning about the dangers that lie ahead.

In Japan, this raccoon-dog hybrid beast is known as tanuki, and is an actual animal that lives in Japan. There are a lot of fables that ascribe tanuki with magical powers, and statutes of them are a common good luck charm, particularly for bar-owners. They are also regarded as a symbol of fertility, and are usually depicted with gigantic... er, testicles.

The tanuki statue seen in Mystical Ninja is done in the typical style. He wears the traditional large straw hat, and carries a fishing pole and bottle of sake rice wine in one hand and a tablet with a good luck message in the other. He even has the traditional tiny penis and giant testicles, which somehow managed to slip by the Nintendo of America censors.

A traditional Tanuki statue at the entrance to someone's house.

Elephant statue

 

 

 









Halfway through most of the action stages you reveal an elephant statue that serves as your midway save point. In Japanese, his name is just "zou-kun" or, basically "little elephant" (kun is a prefix used mainly for little kids).

I have so far been unable to determine what, if any, cultural significance this elephant has. Please help me out!





SHOPS

Mystical Ninja world is home to a wide variety of shops and stores which Ying and Yang can visit. Most are highly anachronistic —  travel agencies, burger joints, arcades and so forth. But a few offer a glimpses of classical Japanese culture:

 


The hotel features a large painting of an ocean wave. This is supposed to be a rendition of "Stormy Sea off Kanagawa" a famous woodblock print created by the famed 18th Century Japanese artist Hokusai (1760-1849).

You can also see the Konami logo in the background in one of its many, many cameo appearances in this game.


The maze / concentration / trivia huts feature a weird-looking guy wearing a winged hat as part of the decor. The fellow's name is Konami Man, and he was the official Konami mascot at the time.

Image on the right is from the title screen of Wai Wai World, a Japan-only NES game which he starred in.

 


One of the games you can play in the mini-game hut is this thing where you have to try and throw balls into a "Goblin's" head. The beast is a traditional Japanese devil-creature known as an Oni, who are usually depicted as red-faced shirtless guys of the sort we see here.


If you look closely, you can see that the cards in the concentration mini-game have the wavy Konami logo on the back.

 

 


FOOD

Throughout the game the characters can shop at restaurants and purchase a variety of food items to replenish health. As you might expect, they're all traditional Japanese dishes.

Here are the 20 distinct meals available to Ying and Yang:

Unagi Kabayaki, slices of fried eel on kabob sticks.
Two pieces of nigiri-style sushi. The yellow one is rice topped with fried egg with a seaweed band (tamago) while the red is raw tuna (maguro).

Sakuramochi, a pink cake made of sweet rice, wrapped in a cherry blossom leaf.

A pot of Nabe stew on a heating stand.
Udon rice noodles in broth topped with sliced chicken
Ramen wheat noodles in broth, topped with onions, chili pepper and pink kamaboko fish cake slices.
Okonomiyaki, the "Japanese pizza." A fried pancake topped with onions, meat, cheese, and various other fix'ems.
A traditionally bland Japanese desert; coconut tofu pudding with bits of cherry and peach.

Three differently flavored Dango rice dumplings on a skewer.

Nikujaga beef stew with a bottle of Sake rice wine.

Japanese Cheese Cake.

A traditional Japanese tea set with pot, cup, and tea container.

I have no clue what this is. It's most likely a desert of some form or another.

In the interests of completeness, I'll note that in the American version you can also purchase a slice of pizza...

Oyako Donburi, a hearty bowl of rice, with chopped onions, eggs, and pork.

...and a whole pizza...

Tonkatsu, deep fried pork cutlets.

In the carnival level you can buy a burger. Western-style fast food is very popular in Japan these days.

Miso soup, a broth made of fermented soybeans, topped with diced onions.

Riceball
In the Japanese version, the pizza is replaced with onigiri, a triangular blob of rice with a filled center of some sort, usually diced fish.

ENEMIES

Mystical Ninja has a lot of enemies, many of which only appear in one level and will therefore be analyzed on the levels page. However, the game also features a bunch of "generic" enemies who reappear in multiple levels:

The guys with the buckets on their heads are known as Komuso monks. The Komuso were famous nomadic priests who would wander all over Japan playing music on their Shakuhachi flutes. To keep themselves protected from the rain they wore wicker baskets on their heads.

If you feel bad for beating up monks, keep in mind that a lot of  supposed Komuso in ancient Japan were just criminals in disguise.

The little guys with their hands together in prayer are supposed to be Japanese pilgrims. The give-away is their giant straw hats, called gasa. As they journeyed to visit important shrines, pilgrims trekked for many days in the blazing sun, so hats like these were a must. Pilgrims still exist in modern-day Japan and so do these hats.

This fellow is a Buddhist monk. You can tell because he carries a staff known as the shakujo, which is a metal poll with dangling rings on it. The rings jingle as he walks, which helps inform the common people that a monk is near. Judging from his costume, this guy is from the Yamabushi sect, which were a gang of monks who were also warriors.

 

This guy is a sort of stereotypical Japanese "thief" archetype. In other video games and Anime and so on you often see very similar-looking thief characters, with purple costumes and big green bags. You'll notice he wears the same towel-mask as Dr. Yang.

 

This guy is likely supposed to be a caricature of one of Japan's northern indigenous people, known as the Ainu. The giveaway is the savage clothing and facial hair. They're generally stereotyped as an uncivilized, barbaric people.

 

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