|The Ninja Handbook|
|author||Douglas Sarine and Kent Nichols|
|publisher||Three Rivers Press|
|summary||An old media incarnation of the popular Ask a Ninja website|
The Ninja Handbook, however, is entirely about ninja. Branded as an "Official Product of the International Order of Ninjas," it's an exploration of the lessons a non-ninja, or nonja, needs to learn in order to become a ninja. Of course, the book is subtitled "This Book Looks Forward To Killing You Soon," so one might expect that the lessons to be taught aren't quite so easy, or ordinary.
The book is nominally broken up into seven sections, although the content is random enough, and the humor fluid enough, that any attempt at organization seems futile at best. In many ways the book's sense of humor drifts about in the same general area as the Real Ultimate Power Book. However, that book's focus on what might best be called "12-year-old humor" (i.e.,guitar-wailing, excrement jokes, and Hippos) is decidedly different from the Ask a Ninja book which never breaks character. Ninjas are not "sweet" and "totally cool" in this book; they are savage killers with a made-up ancient history of the sort likely to send Wikipedia editors into reversion-driven nervous breakdowns.
Section 1 offers introductory advice and information about ninja, including how to form a ninja clan and make a clan flag. Section 2 teaches the Path to nearly ninja-hood, broken up into subsections that cover (in turn) the Nonja (non-ninja), those who are Ninjaish, the Ninjalike, the "Whooooooooo," (the sound of a gentle breeze) and then the I.T.A.N. ("Is That A Ninja?"). Along the way The Ninja teaches (or at least briefly mentions) the ninja basics: the ninja code, requirements to being a ninja, safe sword use, shuriken, pirates, mythical beasts, invisible scrolls, and smoke bombs, among many other topics. There are also plenty of sidewise pokes at Google Maps, Vampire Pumpkins, Fox News, A-Ha, Billy Joel, Woody Allen, and the like, the pop culture references sometimes plain to see, and at other times buried beneath in the subtext.
After a very short Section 3 (almost entirely comprised of Ninja Merit Badges, which as one might expect are all solid black), Section 4 teaches Ninja Skills, including Jumping, Spinning, Punching, Stabbing and Kicking, the latter illustrated via a list of 100 different kicks including "10 Piggies of Pain," "Driving Miss Daisy" and "Palace of Endless Toes." The book then dives headlong into the realm of the bizarre, with Section 5 covering "The Worlds" as in other dimensions and realms of existence, as well as magic and myth. The latter section does manage to clamber back out of the primordial stew onto solid ground when it looks at ninja movies, with a particularly hard look at Batman (not a ninja, as it turns out).
Since the reader has survived this far, Section 6 welcomes him or her to the International Order of Ninja, covering the top brass of the organization, ninja internships, and a bit of ninja rap music. Section 7 then introduces the new ninja to their Mission, an endless quest wherein they follow in the footsteps of the many ninja who have come before them. How many? There is an illustration of a ninja riding a pterodactyl, if that's any help. A lengthy timeline and a one page non-glossary close out the book on an abrupt note.
Obviously, this is a book designed for people who like ninja, but more than that it's a book for those who enjoy a mix of intelligent humor and surreal, near-stream-of-consciousness nonsense. The book is not for everyone; it does have a very scattershot feel in places, particularly if you're not prepared to read it all the way through. While there are jokes on every page, this is not a Mystery Science Theater 3000 sort of book where you can turn it on in the middle of an episode and immediately fall into synch with the humor. But while any individual joke (or page) on its own might be somewhat hard to swallow, taken as a whole the entire piece allows you to immerse yourself in an imaginary world somewhere next door to the Big Rock Candy Mountain.
In that regard, the general tone of the book is best compared with the likes of a John Hodgman, whose book The Areas of My Expertise included a list of 700 Hobo names which he dutifully recited in the audio book version (N.B., The Ninja Handbook is also being released in audio book format). On its own, out of context, such a list is merely awkward and possibly irritating to read (or listen to). But in context, as a part of an entire book full of similar ludicrousness, it's the sort of thing you can just immerse yourself in, and appreciate on a ninja Zen level. The same might be said of the Ask a Ninja video series as well: watch one episode, and you probably won't "get it," but give yourself time to watch them all, and it all suddenly makes sense.
Unless you're a pirate, of course, since pirates and ninja don't get along. As I write this, it's the eve of International Talk Like a Pirate Day (September 19), and I'm beginning preparations for the opposing Day of the Ninja (December 5), entering its 6th year. What is it about pirates and ninja that attracts fans and sells books? Whatever it is, there's obviously something to the whole "ninja vs pirate" thing, and The Ninja Handbook represents a strong argument for the continuation of the funny fad. Obviously Three Rivers Press agrees; according to Publishers Marketplace, the book was sold to Crown Publishing (a division of Random House) for "six figures." That'll buy a lot of shuriken.
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