The Magic Serpent (1966)

The Magic Serpent AKA Battle of the Dragons AKA Ninja Apocalypse AKA Froggo and Droggo combines two mainstays of Japanese cinema I’d always hoped to see mishmashed together: giant Godzilla-esque monsters and ninja wizards in feudal Japan. Some kids dream of becoming professional athletes, others dream of walking on the Moon. I dreamed of one day seeing a ninja wizard fight a giant city-crushing dragon. And the kids at school said I was crazy! But guess whose dream actually came true? It’s all about setting realistic goals, kids.

The film begins as a band of ninjas attack the fortress of the peaceful Lord Ogata. A confused Ogata seeks out General Yukidaijo, his second-in-command, to explain the situation. What follows is the greatest dialogue in the history of screenwriting. Ever:

 What’s happening, Yukidaijo?
 My lord, you are betrayed by one 
 of your own men...And only I can 
tell you what his name is.
 (dramatic pause)
 It’s I – YUKIDAIJO!!!!
 (stabs Ogata with sword, 
laughs maniacally)

David Mamet, eat your heart out!

Yukidaijo then orders his ninja wizard second-in-command, Orochimaru (who just finished murdering Ogata’s wife), to seek out and kill Ogata’s young son, Prince Ikazuchi-Maru. In most movies you’d expect this murder mission to involve one or perhaps many ninjas, a whole lot of crazy ninja acrobatics, and maybe a ninja star or two, with the prince making an eventual safe escape.

But oh no! Instead of sending out a band of inept ninjas, Orochimaru uses his ninja magic to summon a MOTHERFUCKING SEA SERPENT DRAGON! That would be like if the Power Rangers, instead of waiting for the monster-of-the-week to become gigantic in order to defeat it with the MegaZord, just used the MegaZord from the get-go to easily crush it while it was still human-sized! In other words, Orochimaru isn’t your typical hapless movie villain. This fucker doesn’t fuck around.

But just seconds before the dragon can kill the young prince, Lord Ogata’s personal ninja wizard, Dojin Hiki, (who vowed to look after young Ikazuki-Maru) summons a giant Rodan-like eagle to scoop up the boy and fly him to safety! The giant eagle slashes the dragon with its talons, resulting in a Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky-level fountain of blood! And that’s only the first four minutes of the film!

The Magic Serpent – Great Film? Or Greatest?

Ikazuchi-Maru grows up to be an exceptional ninja wizard. We know this because Dojin Hiki explicitly states it: “In ten years I taught you all I know. Now there is nothing left to teach you.” I guess that means the old man’s going to be killed off since he serves no further purpose to the story. Hiki, the master of ninja magic and plot exposition further informs his student (and the audience), “You will do good things. Not like my first student…” It’s blatantly obvious that George Lucas watched this movie.

While prancing through the forest, Ikazuchi-Maru is attacked by a band of ninjas. But they’re no match for him, even after one of the ninjas decapitates him with a boomerang sword! After defeating all the ninjas, Ikazuchi-Maru’s dismembered head floats back to his body all thanks to ninja magic and some of the worst special effects I’ve ever seen.

Our hero can’t be killed, so there’s really no point in putting any further emotional investment into this film.

Meanwhile at Master Hiki’s hovel, a magic snake (or rather a Magic Serpent) makes a failed attempt on the old man’s life. The snake turns into Orochimaru, who also happens to be Hiki’s former student. Which is a surprise to no one.

Hiki comments on the scar on Orochimaru’s forehead, which he got while fighting a giant eagle! Woah, woah, woah! So that means that Orochimaru was the dragon that tried to kill Ikazuchi-Maru! He’s like Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty combined with Dark Heart from Care Bears Movie II: A New Generation.

Thankfully he doesn’t shout, “ I care!” at the end of the film and turn into a real boy.

Evil former student and wise old master engage in a lackluster duel. Despite being a master ninja wizard, Dojin Hiki is no match for Orochimaru. The evil ninja wizard easily kills his former master by throwing a poisonous asp at him. So decapitation won’t kill a ninja wizard, but a measly little snakebite will? Is a little consistency too much to ask?

Ikazuchi-Maru returns to find his master dying, and like a certain character in a certain film that would later be made by a certain George Lucas, sets out to avenge the deaths of his master and his parents.

The rest of the movie is fairly typical of low budget wire-assisted ninja film: ninjas flying through the air and fighting each other, various Jedi-like powers on display, and did I mention really bad special effects?

I will never ever get tired of watching this GIF!

As you probably expected, the film’s climax involves Ikazuchi-Maru in a duel-to-the-death against Orochimaru. But it’s carried out in the most unexpectedly awesome fashion ever: Ikazuchi-Maru uses his ninja magic to transform into a giant horned frog! And Orochimaru transforms back into the giant sea serpent dragon! The two foes battle it out Godzilla-style, totally demolishing a city. I’ve been waiting my entire life to see this scene!

Surprisingly enough, the giant frog breathes fire and the dragon “breathes” water. I’m not kiddin’, kiddies – a water-breathing dragon! I guess they wanted to reinforce the fact that these two mortal enemies are polar opposites. But seriously, guys, a water-breathing dragon?! What’s the worst he can do, make the frog wet? Frogs are amphibious for frak’s sake! Why don’t you just attack him with oxygen while you’re at it?

Ninja wizards who can fly, survive decapitation, and turn into various forms of reptiles: that I can believe. But a water-breathing dragon? Now you’re just being unrealistic!

Despite the immense lameness of his “special attack,” Orochimaru’s dragon still manages to pound the crap out of Ikazuchi-Maru’s frog. But fortunately Ikazuchi-Maru’s girlfriend shows up with a “magic spider hairpin” and more or less yells out “Giant Flying Spider, I CHOOSE YOU!” Now the film has turned into “Pokémon”. Awesome!

By the way, that’s web that the spider is shooting at the dragon. But of course you knew that, right? Riiiight?

And that’s really just the tip of this insanity iceberg of a movie.

While this genre mishmash may be a mixed bag, with its clichéd revenge plot and poorly choreographed swordplay, it has more than enough audacity and lo-fi charm to win over the most cynical viewer. Sure, the monster suits and effects are nowhere near as good as those found in the Godzilla films. But, they’re still vastly superior to those of the Gamera series. Although that might not be saying much. For sheer ridiculousness alone, this one comes highly recommended.

After finally achieving dream of seeing ninja wizards battle giant dragons, I gotta level with you folks: I feel kinda hollow. My dream finally came true, now what? It’s not like fictional dragon-battling ninja wizards are gonna put food on the table. Maybe I should reconsider my life goals. Does anyone know if Best Buy is still hiring? I hear their Geek Squad has an employee ninja wizard training program…

My Score

3 ½ Water-Breathing Dragons out of 5

Originally posted on Fun Time Internet on April 6, 2010

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