In the year 1580, a man named Lord Nobunaga Oda sends hoards of unholy armies across Japan, slaying all who stand in their way. A young ninja escapes her villages' destruction with a short sword, one of the three mystical weapons that can end Oda's rule. During her quest, she is joined by two other ninjas who wield the other two weapons of legend, the sacred sword and spear.
Age hasn't effected Wrath of the Ninja in a negative way all that much. For an anime feature made through 1987-1988, visually it's good and doesn't feel too dated. Some people like to point out the similarities to Ninja Scroll and there's a few, but Wrath of the Ninja quickly becomes its own entity and the truth is that it does pre-date Ninja Scroll by 5 years anyway.
Where Ninja Scroll boasts fantastic visuals and over the top excessive violence, with intentions to cover its weak story and lack of character development. Wrath of the Ninja is more story driven but lacks the excessive violence.
However, don't take this statement the wrong way because the OVA is no slouch in the violence department.
The anime moves at a good pace with some good action scenes. The scenes could have been a lot better had some of them not been reused, which brings me to the animation. There's quite a bit of reused cels, stills during battle, and sword swipes simulating action. This type of combat has grown to annoy me over time, but I tend to give a small break to very early titles. In other cases, the action scenes can be pretty brutal with some vicious and disturbing killings. Some may have a problem with a few of the battles consisting of magic attacks that puts on a light show. I don't have much of a problem with it, but I would have preferred only weapon to weapon ninja combat.
The artwork is good with some decent character designs which have a small bit of variety. The backgrounds are pretty well detailed with pretty mountain designs. The soundtrack is good at times with additional songs being added as the series continues, and most of them fit with the style and setting of the OVA. One song does come off very annoying to me, and just really didn't seem to fit with the action at all. Thankfully, this lousy instrumental is actually used sparingly. I also did enjoy the use of the sound effects in the very beginning, because it helped develop the first action scene. The OVA is only in Japanese, which is a plus because the English voice acting for the movie is terrible.
Character development has its moments here, and the main cast for the most part are well developed. The villains are interesting skill wise. However, their personalities are too much alike, and the lead villain didn't feel like too much of a threat to me. I also didn't like the use of any of the secondary characters. They weren't really developed and I didn't find much of a reason to care for these people. As a result, the overly dramatic death scenes for them had absolutely no effect on me. Although very straightforward, the story at times does feel hard to follow later on, due to many characters being introduced. If one isn't paying close attention to clans uniforms at the very least, then it's difficult to tell who's who.
I also liked the setting, which was combined with historical events, people, and the combination of fantasy and horror. There's a good deal of monsters and demons that are used in some freakish scenes. The fan service is kept relatively low, and there's no form of hentai to be found.
There are some good and unexpected plot twist. Plus, the ending was good with loose ends tied up. This is a very good title to pick up if you love older anime. Also, the two disk set is the one to get. It contains two versions of the same movie, but there is a world of difference. Yotoden: Chronicles of the Warlord Period is the OVA set, which is broken into three chapters with a 138 minute run time and is unedited. Wrath of the Ninja is the heavily edited and shorter version with an 87 minute run time. The story can still be understood but there are key points omitted.
There's also a good amount of extras consisting of historical & cultural notes, art gallery, and previews. The total run time for both film and OVA is 225 minutes.
Highs: Nice Japanese cast, good action, OVA is the best
Lows: Sometimes hard to follow, animation issues, secondary characters