Strange little Russian ninja

(Originally Published December, 2009)

Russian stuff! I picked up this set of 2″ tall plastic shinobi a few years ago, they’re from one of several Russian manufacturers of property-derivative (but not property-based) toy soldiers. These sit somewhere between the lead miniature gaming realm and the Marx-type plastic ‘army guys’, but larger in scale than both.






The sculpts are all unique, and the box art mirrors the rather nice poses. I love the oversized weapons, especially the rotary saw-blades that guy’s about to hurl! This company, and others similar, produce these little 6, 8, and 10-piece boxed sets knocking-off whatever’s hot – pirates, cyborgs, skeletal barbarians, you name it…  Search “Russian” under ‘Toy Soldiers’ on eBay and you’re bound to find something equally off-kilter.



We’re still looking for more KOSUGI KICKS


Vintage Ninja still has an open call out for what we call “Kosugi Kicks” — images of ninja in movie posters, VHS sleeves, toy packaging, advertising, whatever, that are cribbed from the iconic two-sword jump kick publicity shot Sho Kosugi posed for back in the early 80s. This image has gone on to be the most iconic, and most ripped-off, image of a ninja from the Western world’s craze of the 80s.

Read our original article on the subject here.

And a follow up here.

Just discovered this vintage gem from the derivative genre literary world:


And here’s another from a proposed film that never happened, at least not in this form:


A better look at the Kosugi-Kick-inspired packaging of the M.U.S.C.L.E-knock-off toy line N.I.N.J.A Mites:


And outright piracy of the image on some old tabi packaging:


See any we missed in these three articles? Send them our way!


Rare 1986 trash fetches big money 30 years later


The collectors market for failed lines, knock-offs and forgotten oddities from 1980s toy shelves never seems to grow cold. These super rare offshoots of the Mel Appel “Weird Ball” mutations recently erupted on eBay.

If that slanty, cross-eyed, buck-toothed head-shakingly offensive visage above looks familiar to regulars of this site, yes, it’s none other than the Mel Appel Weird Ball Collectums “None Chuck” …or at least his toy-line-inbred cousin.

We’ve posted on the vinyl statuette type figure here before — a misguided attempt at humor inspired by the Marx “Nutty-Mad” toys of the 1960s. Read our original post, updated a while back with card art, here.


This later offshoot — “The “G.R.U.N.T Team” line — re-purposed tooling and molds of existing He-Man-ish / Remco-ish bodies, but still adapted the already established array of offensive racial stereotypes and Garbage Pail Kid juvenile gross-out humor the company used in previous lines.

Appel-Collectums_1 Appel-Collectums_2Appel-Collectums_4

Note the vestigial body hair molded into the torso and shoulders from whatever original toy this was — troll, monster, barbarian, cave-man, professional wrestler? All of the above? This posable, articulated version of None Chuck came with a weapon of some sort that I can’t track down, but I’m guessing it was a sword to hurt himself with.

The same seller had the articulated version of the sumo character Humungasaki as well:

Appel-Collectums_5 Appel-Collectums_6 Appel-Collectums_8 Appel-Collectums_7

This version of the Oriental over-eater discarded the head-scratching “Eat At Chans” graffiti that adorned the statuette version.


Also, note the cloth belt. The ninja originally had a red sash according to the card art.


These variants of the Appels are ludicrously scarce, and truthfully I can’t even remember them from back in the day. The examples above showed up on eBay last month, and the ninja went for over $75 despite being loose, incomplete and in so-so-shape at best. Dealers are asking as much as $250-300 for carded examples of other figures from the line. I’m consigning myself to never owning one of these…

I am, however, super curious about who does own them and who’s hunting them so voraciously that these prices are out there. There’s a segment of 35-50 year-olds re-buying their childhoods (guilty as charged myself at times!), plus a new wave of nostalgia for Mad Balls and the Appel version “Weird Balls” and the like, but there’s also a much younger crowd really into mini-figures, knock-offs and bootlegs, and the ancestors of modern day ‘urban vinyl’ collectors items. Would love to hear from some of you who have collections like this, how old you are and what got you started.

Also, what do you do for a living, cuz if you can afford these I’ll change careers, like tomorrow.


More crappy (aka GREAT) 80s package art!

I just cannot get enough of illustrated and painted ninja art from 80s no-name ninja merch. Sometimes, well, lets be real… OFTEN… more time was spent on the package art than was on designing the crap under the blister card therein.


Ja-Ru was (and still is) a company specializing in “rack toys” — the junk near the register in supermarkets or that sad little half office supply/half toy aisle in chain drug stores. To this day, they still make “Fun Erasers” of whatever’s hot in popular culture. In the 80s, it was pro wrestlers not-so-vaguely reminiscent of Hulk Hogan and ilk, break dancers, knock-offs of girly stuff like Strawberry Shortcake, any old science fiction molds re-purposed for Star Wars and Transformers love, GI Joe/Rambo-esque soldiers and yes… NINJA!

I got this less-than-pristine backer card from Ja-Ru’s ninja erasers for my birthday last month, and while I can’t put my hands on the actual erasers it would have once contained at the moment, I’m near certain I owned them back in the day. And like most any figural erasers, they were utter crap as action figures and even worse crap as functional erasers.

But man, this package art!

Ja-Ru_eraser_3 Ja-Ru_eraser_4

Over-stylized hard-to-read logo anyone?


These illos are like many others of this type — derived from martial arts manuals, movie posters or magazine covers that were circulating at the time. While the top most image in this post looks very manga-ish in source, the one directly above looks traced from an Inside Kung-Fu article or supply ad for ninja suits.

I’m not big on mint-condition collectibles or things being in pristine shape to rate my shelves, but man I’m absolutely TORMENTED at where a select area of this card was torn off!


I would kill to know what sort of crazy smack Ja-Ru was talking here, both in terms of ninja history and lore, and the educational value of their poopie erasers! Dammit…

If anyone out there has these erasers or a more complete card with the above text intact, drop us a line!


REMCO “Secret of the Ninja” box art


One of my favorite long-gone toy manufacturers was Remco, who in 1984 gave us one of the craze’s most well-rounded figure lines — Secret of the Ninja.


Remco of the 60’s was an aggressive licensor with all sorts of A-list properties adapted for toy shelves — Star Trek, Beatles, Lost in Space, Batman and more. The Remco of the 80s, post bankruptcy and sale to competitor AHI/Azrak, was one of those companies producing the weird B-and-C-grade lines you’d find in weird indie toy stores and back corners of hardware shops and pharmacies. When G.I. Joe hit, they made Sgt. Rock, it was Hercules and Conan against Masters of the Universe, AWA and WCCW wrestling instead of WWF, Mighty Crusaders in the midst of Marvel Secret Wars and DC’s Super Powers.

These licenses cost less, but also sold less, so once in a while they’d try to create an original line that, lacking licensing fees, didn’t start them in the hole. Secret of the Ninja was the best of these, and done at just the perfect time.


(This nice collection is currently on eBay)

While called “Secret of the Ninja” the line was hardly confined to the shadow soldiers. Myriad martial arts disciplines and historical warrior classifications were represented — kung-fu monks, samurai, modern karate and tae-kwon-do masters and more. This made the line almost fad-proof — if ninja toys started falling flat, there were enough vaguely barbarian-like and mystical fantasy-looking figures to appeal to multiple tastes.

The multi-martial-disciplines allowed more creative kids to have gladiatorial contests for supremacy of style — very much suggested by the back of this playset box:


We’ve previously posted on the VHS tapes Remco included with multi-figure boxed sets (READ HERE). Between the half-hour adventures of Lion Maru, Kamui and Watari and the notion of Ninja vs. Thai Kick Boxer duels, a kid was in plastic combat heaven.

Remco_Ninjabox_13 Remco_Ninjabox_12


Note, the pose for the ninja figure is drawn right off the press photo of Sho Kosugi in Revenge of the Ninja:


The Remco ninja are easily found on eBay and many are dirt cheap. However, there is a dedicated fan base for these, and rare color variants, the even rarer second series and international editions command high prices and auction frenzies. I have a few of these figures, but with space around the ninja cave at a premium I tend to bow out of such contests. So happy hunting…

Carded wrongness of NONE CHUCK

One of our first toy posts back in 2009 was of an artifact from my own craze-era collection, and a reader just sent me pics of one still on its card, so here’s an update for those of you who missed this back in the day:


SEP 3, 2009

Here’s the all-time heavy-weight champeen of politically incorrect – hell outright racist and offensive – 80’s ninja toys: “None Chuck” from CrayArt / Mel Appel’s Weird Ball line. These 5″ vinyl statuettes were a throwback to Marx’s Nutty-Mads from the 60’s, but were actually cashing in on more contemporary merch lines like Garbage Pail Kids, Wacky Packs and Madballs.


A seriously 40’s war-era buck-toothed “nip” sculpture in the 80’s… amazing.

I actually bought this piece as a gag gift to VN’s ninjutsu soul brother Tim March back in the day. He lent it back to me a few years ago to shoot for an eventual article, and has hopefully forgotten about it, cuz I like where it sits on my shelf. –winge–

Read all about the line and the figure at the absolutely awesome “Weirdo Toys” blog!




More than six years later, NC is even more offensive, as my copy has yellow paint for the skin tones that’s been getting more and more yellow with age.

The one below, still on its heavily illustrated card (sadly not in too good a shape here) has more natural (read: caucasian) flesh color.


Weird thing I had long forgotten about with this line was how they phased in and out of parody, producing some genuine confusion. “Made of 99.4% Bendable Plastic” — so is that a real stat, are they bragging about it, or is it an attempt at humor or what? WHY IS THAT LINE THERE?!?!?


This is really making me want to hunt down a “Karate Sid” and “Humangasaki” to complete the triumvirate of martial arts cultural wrongness.

Or maybe not…


I understand where this company was coming from with this line, but man… keep the character design at the comical gore and booger gag level, don’t go after the cheap ethnicity/culture dig. I’m no stalwart of ‘political correctness’ but man, did they really need to go “Paco Taco?”

Another thing — and anyone old enough to remember the early to mid-80s will concur — it was a time of pretty strong cultural exchange with Japan, with some of that nation’s best films, cartoons and comics becoming available in English for the first time, graphical art motifs and kanji showing up in fashions, music videos, even school supplies… just all over the place. We WANTED anything Japanese, we weren’t into laughing at them like sailors on shore leave during WWII. Just from a business perspective, NC and ilk were a bad idea.


Ninja-ize the head!

Here’s some prime examples of 80s ninja craze merch lingering into the 1990s.

Extreme sports were on the rise, the X-Games were on the horizon, but 80s-style ninja crap still sold in discount stores and blanket vendors outside subway terminals, so why not cash grab with some crossover exploitation?

What it came down to for manufacturers of cheap skateboard, BMX bike and motorcycle toys was if you could take an existing product, paint it black with some red highlights, and disguise or change the HEAD enough to “ninja-ize” the piece, you had a whole new revenue stream.

ninjerize-head_1 ninjerize-head_2 ninjerize-head_3



Stumbled across this image on another site and recognized it right away!


Devotees of the Toys & Statues category of VN might remember the below post from a few years ago.

I’ve had this piece for decades now but this is the first time I’ve found packaging reference.


From October 11, 2010 _______________________________________________________________

About fifteen years ago now, I purchased a small collection of Bullmark Tiger Mask vinyl figures (like these) at a toy show in Ohio. Erroneously in that batch was this 13″ Kaiketsu Lion Maru figure, vintage early 70’s. It has no manufacturer’s markings or date, and I’ve been told it is likely a Chinese knock-off or unlicensed piece, which makes it even cooler.

I’m assuming this piece is indeed contemporary with the show’s original run, as it was in a collection of early 70’s vinyl that has never been reissued. It’s in amazing shape for its age, too. The rooted hair is still silky, no splits on the vinyl cape or cuffs, rubber boots still soft. I’m lucky I guess. Over the years I’ve entertained some offers from other collectors on this, but you’d have to be swinging some heavy yen…

The Dokuro ninja jobber is a modern piece in the same vein, released late 2009.



Last year we put out an open call for images knocked-off from the iconic “Kosugi Kick” dual sword jump kick pose.

Read the original post here.


We got some nice entries, from comics to cheap merch to costume catalog photos. Much of it is contemporary to the original pose’s proliferation during the 80s ninja craze, but some of these are newer — the pose is that eternal…


Now, a true KK is one where the jump-kick pose, originally made famous by Bruce Lee, adds both the ninja suit and two short swords of some type to become the icon of the 80s ninja boom. The Shadowmasters cover left is a pure example of that (much of that figure looks root-scoped off the original photo!), whereas the items on right are more shinobi-fied kung-fu fare.


The back of a Panosh “NINJA Mites” toy package featured a nice variation with… well, what are those? Cudgels? Light saber handles?


Thanks for the up-close-and-personal shot of your likely stinky foot mister costume catalog model…


This vintage VHS has a nice twist — a rare KK with an impact on a victim. Points off for only having one weapon though.


And I had totally blanked out these late entires into the GI Joe line. The “Ninja Force” figures came late in the craze, and too late to save the Hasbro toy line, as well. Day-glow ninja with idiotic vehicles that were clearly molded for some other purpose just didn’t cut it.

Good stuff peeps, keep ’em coming!


Swordgirl promo cards from THREE TIDES

Birthday gift to myself at the beginning of the month — this astounding 8″ sofubi statue done in the style of wooden Netsuke charms, called “Sushi Dokuro.”


I know… right!?!?!?



“Sushi Dokuro” was designed/sculpted by Osaka tattoo artist Mitomo Horihiro.


I’m assuming this little dinner plate is natto (codfish roe). I don’t know the story behind this piece, but I do know that natto is smelly and gross…


I saw this on a vinyl toy blog and had to have it, but the bonuses in the package were almost cooler than the loot itself. Check out Horihiro’s promo cards!


These fantastic ninja gals are based on traditional imagery with a modern infusion of tattoos, urban footwear and safe sex messages. The measure about 5-6″, and three of them were included with in my package.


Shuriken and fishnets? This is my future wife! Check out the rubber on the sheath. Classic…


And you have to love the artist’s self portrait, with chain & sickle.


 See more at the Three Tides Tattoo site.

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