The globetrotting Scooby gang are no strangers to the Far East; they’ve faced the Dragon Beast in the episode “The Demon of the Dugout,” from the Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo run, and poor Shaggy became a 30-Foot Shaggy during an episode of What’s New, Scooby-Doo? titled, “Big Appetite in Little Tokyo.” But their best Japanese adventure was in Scooby-Doo! and the Samurai Sword — their 13th direct-to-video movie — and like the previous movie, Scooby-Doo and the Goblin King, our heroes would face actual supernatural threats.
Mystery Inc. has come to Tokyo so that Daphne (Grey Griffin) can participate in a martial arts tournament at a prestigious school run by Miss Mirimoto (Kelly Hu). Upon arrival, they are greeted by Daphne’s friend Miyumi (Kelly Hu) who explains to them the difficulty of winning the tournament and entering the school as a student — don’t ask me what would have happened to Mystery Inc. if Daphne had won and stayed in Japan — and while flying our heroes to the island school, via a robotic plane, Miyumi comments, “Here in Japan, technology is taking over everything while many of the old traditions are fading away.” This would be the first of many tip-offs to the threat du jour and should have had the gang discussing the idea of picking up tickets for a quick flight home.
When they arrive at the tournament, Daphne gets to judo flip Miss Mirimoto’s immense bodyguard Sojo (Kevin Michael Richardson), which impresses Sensei Mirimoto, who then pits Daphne against Miyumi in an early combat demonstration. This leads us to tip-off number two, as Miyumi wins by pulling off Daphne’s hairband, briefly blinding her by her own long red locks, when Daphne comments, “That was a dirty trick,” Miyumi responds with the school’s motto “The first rule of Mirimoto Academy: if you want to win, you must be willing to do that which others are not willing to do.”
So by this point, my suspicions were duly aroused — as if a secluded martial arts training camp wasn’t enough to arise suspicions — but before my thoughts had a chance to percolate, we get a ninja attack led by the Black Samurai (Kevin Michael Richardson), the ghost of an ancient warrior who, centuries ago, was tricked into drawing a cursed sword, which turned him evil and forever doomed his spirit. Only the Sword of Fate, wielded by the Green Dragon, was able to defeat the Black Samurai and imprison him in the “Sword of Doom.” The Black Samurai needs the “Destiny Scroll” to lead him to the location of the lost Sword of Doom and free his spirit. Wait a tick, if he’s a ghost running around with an army of ninjas, isn’t his spirit technically already free? This would be tip-off number three.
The first 30 minutes of Scooby-Doo! and the Samurai Sword look to be your standard Scooby-Doo Mystery, as we’ve got plenty of suspects to look at. Along with Miss Mirimoto, Sojo, and Miyumi, there is also Mr. Takagawa, the curator of cultural history at a Tokyo Museum who came to warn Miss Mirimoto of the Black Samurai threat, but all that is put on the back burner when the movie takes a left turn away from mystery-solving and into Indiana Jones adventuring. Velma (Mindy Cohn) is put on point to solve the riddle of the “Destiny Scroll,” and with the help of Shaggy (Casey Kasem) and Scooby’s (Frank Welker) origami skills, she is able to do so, and our gang soon finds themselves, along with Miyumi and Mr. Takagawa, on their way to the South Seas. What follows is a series of mini-adventures through fog-shrouded islands and towering waterfalls, all the while dodging booby traps and evading South Sea cannibals.
The gang manages to retrieve the sword, though while doing so, Miyumi sets off a cataclysmic booby-trap; yet, all ends well with the capture of the Black Samurai, who when unmasked, is revealed to be none other than Miss Mirimoto’s bodyguard Sojo. But once the gang brings Sojo and the Sword of Doom back to Miss Mirimoto, she and Miyumi capture the Scooby gang. Jinkies! Turns out everyone but Mr. Takagawa was a bad guy and the Scooby gang had been lured to Japan for their mystery-solving skills in finding the Sword of Doom. In an interesting twist, we learn that Miss Mirimoto isn’t some two-bit treasure hunter, but that she actually plans to resurrect the Black Samurai from the Sword of Doom and to have him lead her robot ninjas — oh yeah, turns out the ninja army was a bunch of robots — “Against the ignorant forces of this modern age. Then the ancient world of the samurai and a new world of technology shall exist in perfect harmony!”
I found Scooby-Doo! and the Samurai Sword’s sharp left turn into Japanese mythology rather delightful; we don’t get enough Eastern mythology in our movies over here, and the sequence of Shaggy and Scooby being trained to be a samurai — by a sushi chef/samurai warrior (Keone Young), no less — was especially fun, as was their eventual meeting with the Green Dragon (Brian Cox) and the final fight with the Black Samurai.
• While watching Daphne and Miyumi spar, Shaggy comments, “Like meow, talk about a Kung Fu catfight.” Not only is this incredibly sexist, but Kung Fu is a Chinese martial art, not a Japanese one, so Shaggy is a real asshat here in every way, shape and form.
• Fred (Frank Welker) doesn’t get to do much in this movie, other than complain that he doesn’t have a cool catchphrase like “Jinkies,” “Jeepers,” or “Zoinks,” and Velma creates an EMP pulse to take out the robot ninjas, stealing Fred’s trap thunder.
• The ninjas being revealed to be robots allowed this movie to have some nice sword fights without worrying about violating “Standards and Practices,” and is very reminiscent of the same thing done with the Foot Clan in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle cartoon.
• Daphne’s martial arts skills are finally displayed in full; not quite The Bride from Kill Bill level, but still cool, but after her initial sparring match with Miyumi, she doesn’t really use them again.
• The plot of Scooby-Doo! and the Samurai Sword is very akin to the one by Ben Ravencroft in Scooby-Doo and the Witch’s Ghost, where the gang was tricked into finding the Witch’s journal.
• During their earlier run-in with the Black Samurai and his ninjas, Shaggy and Scooby disguise themselves as geisha girls. Surprisingly enough this doesn’t work.
Scooby-Doo! and the Samurai Sword was the last Scooby-Doo film to use the bright animation style of What’s New, Scooby-Doo? and though I’ve been fairly critical of this flat and often saturated look, this movie at least has some quite amazing background designs and locations — a plethora of ancient lost temples, gorgeous South Sea Islands, and massive cave systems — all looked rather spectacular. It was nice to see this run of movies end on a somewhat high note.
You can find all my reviews of the various Scooby-Doo shows and movies collected here: The Wonderful World of Scooby-Doo.
Scooby-Doo! and the Samurai Sword (2009)
Movie Rank - 6.5/10
Scooby-Doo! and the Samurai Sword may not be on par with the likes of Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island but seeing a Scooby-Doo adventure with not only real supernatural creatures but some kick-ass fight sequences as well, now that is something one can’t help but enjoy.