Superbly sculpted and detailed 6-9″ figures from Toy Crowd (2001) of Shiranui and Shouki from the 1988 effects-romp we know as Cyber Ninja. I dig these toys as much as I do the film, an indie that spends its modest budget it all the right places – costuming and character design. The ambitious effects come off more like Tokusatsu TV than epic cinema, but you can’t fault visionary creator/director Keita Amemiya for flying too close to the sun.
Little known fact – American Ninja is the only 80s boom film to have properly licensed mass-produced merchandise.
These grocery store / pharmacy register tchotchkes were obviously for kids, despite being branded with the an R-rated film’s imagery. A “two-penny-toy” manufacturer called Fleetwood produced these in 1985, along with a blowgun target set and a Masters of the Universe-scale generic ninja figure with similar card art.
Interesting that they carry the logo of the decidedly non-kid-friendly film studio Cannon, meaning Fleetwood actually paid to use the American Ninja monicker. Can’t think that they sold any more of the these than they would have by saving those fees and going with simple generic ninja art.
I dig the sketchy brush art used on the decals of the rubber suction shuriken. The hollow cheap plastic knife was molded off a popular piece of training equipment common to dojos in heavy rubber form.
This rubber stamp set shows more of the above art, influenced by both Enter the Ninja and GI Joe‘s Storm Shadow I imagine.
Think they paid Michael Dudikoff anything for his name and likeness?
For the past 15 years or more, Chinese toy company Chap Mei have been the absolute masters at cashing-in on current hot trends — from soldiers to pirates to dinosaurs, depending on what’s been in theaters. More than merely knock-offs, Chap Mei’s take on toys is EXTREME to the max. They take a normal idea (SWAT vs bank robbers, knights vs wizards) and redesign it while on acid and meth, with 80s exploitation movies and GWAR playing for inspiration. Two-headed zombie pirates, dwarven safari hunters with bionic stilts, cannibal cave-men, giant mummies, giant-er squids, war elephants with missiles and laser-laden pterodactyls — these guys have got serious balls when it comes to boys action toys.
Chap Mei’s two recent ninja lines — Ninja: Hero of the Dark and Ninja Curse — are extreme to say the least. Hero of the Dark has an assortment of figures that look like a post-apocalyptic street gang crossed with the Seven Samurai, but riding rocket skateboards, flying wings and helicopter mech suits. Ninja Curse has Mortal Kombat-esque ninja with snap-on parts that transform them into lizard monsters and werewolves.
And all those bat-shit crazy lines hold these un-assuming little Ninja Warrior guys as their origin.
Forget all that chrome armor, colorful capes and giant weapons, it’s the core figure I just adore. This 3.75″ hybrid as much to traditional 60’s Japanese shinobi costuming as it does to the 90s Power Ranger school of design. And with a Wolverine claw, can’t forget that.
The figure came in black and a much less desirable milky-white and gold design that hasn’t aged well color-wise.
Now, what I love more than the mix of traditional and futuristic elements is the subtle pose, and resulting attitude, the figure has. That slight head dip, the tense shoulders and curled arms — this guy’s at rest, but he’s a coiled spring ready to jump. One can almost imagine him breathing heavy, trying to check his rage at the presence of a rival or catching his breath having just killed an enemy.
Chap Mei’s sculptors and character designers are absolutely brilliant, part of why these cheap quasi-knock-offs have such a fervent fan base in the collector realm. This early figure was the first hint at the brilliance to come.
I’ll do a feature on Hero of the Dark at some point, but Ninja Curse figures are impossible to get in North America. Any overseas fans who can score these, I’m a buyer!
Meanwhile, JoMi Toys has nice features on all these lines.
One small… small… step above the generic 80’s rack figure would be this line of Remco and Norris Kommando compatible figures from the Lanard company. Dragon Force Ninja Dragonmaster figures came in at least three colors — black, white and red — and there was even a female version of at least the red scheme. Besides the ninja, Dragon Force also included Karate and Kung-Fu heroes.
In the realm of bargain and generic figures, the Lanard’s were actually pretty well put together, although lean on accessories. A single sword is all they had, no oversized shuriken or outre chain weapons here.
The ninja had two headsculpts with varying hair paint. The Norris-knock-offs just looked like bear-porn stars. Note the bare feet hastily painted over in place of properly sculpted tabi.
Did you get cash or coal in your stocking Tuesday morning? Well, if it was cash, and it’s burning a hole in your pocket, then here’s some choice items on eBay right now:
…or if you want something closer to the source…
I have one of these, and it’s one of the best NHK toys ever. Four pieces form an 8-character scene, with the hero in kite-flying mode gliding above. Well done, Furuta!
The biggest ninja figure ever made, this overside articulated monster is actually the villain figure for a matching figure of Arnold Schwarzenegger as John Matrix from Commando. This one’s missing his sword and a belt, but it’s dirt cheap compared to what they’ve gone for previously.
These semi-rigid rubber shuriken are available from myriad shops in Japan, with soft foam target boards, too. If these were around in the 80s I’d have a few less scars from ill-advised teenage ninja missions in the woods of Massachusetts.
Of course, there’s a ton more great stuff out there, but I’m not going to enable my competition in an auction environment, so happy post-holiday hunting!
This 5″ generic figure, re-cast from something in the Chuck Norris Karate Kommandos scale, is nothing to write home about, however the card it came on…
…is absolutely off the chain! Love this illo and the savagely 80’s green star glow left in the assassin’s path.
Clearly an unauthorized re-purposing of a manga illo from somewhere, or maybe from an old Hatsumi book?
They line the fronts of department stores, supermarkets and pharmacies to this day. Capsule-dispensing machines can cost upward of $2.00 nowadays for their near-worthless plastic junk, illustrated hologram stickers and granite-like gobstoppers half the size of a kid’s head, but during the 80s ninja craze, they plinked-out quality crap-ola like the above for a mere quarter.
Produced under the universal cheap generic merchandise law that anything with a loop attached or hole drilled into it qualifies as “jewelry,” such fine inch-high figurines and miniature plastic shuriken placated many a screaming kid back in the day.
I miss the all-ninja-themed machines from the 80s (which in some areas lasted into the 90s). All we really have left at this point is the immortal cockroach of cheap ninja toys – these super-deformed SOMA knock-offs you can still find in various colors of transparent gel vinyl (with and without parachutes).
But give me the 80s style of this stuff all day…
Felt obligated to get a quick Halloween post in this year in the midst of all the book stuff going down at FPU.
This Collegeville kids vinyl costume is from 1986, with art based on the classic ninja dart board.
A few things bother me here:
1.) You just had to market your “Glow in the Dark” feature on the costume itself? Really?
2.) And does it make sense for the shadow master of the night to glow in the dark in the first place?
3.) Is it a good idea to put a shuriken target board on a kid’s torso???
The mask is half generic action figure, half Joseph Lai/Godfrey Ho costuming.
$3.99… worth every penny!
Have a safe, sugary and scary Halloween everybody, and much love and hope going out to all the waterlogged of the East Coast.
For the past few months, I’ve been saving the pennies for a new book project coming in late October over in From Parts Unknown land, so of course a ton of ultra rare and cool shit shows up on eBay.
I want to say congratulations — and BITE ME! — to the lucky S.O.B.’s who scored this stuff in my absence:
Complete Ninja Assassins werewolf? DAMMIT!!!
I guess this awesome 3-4″ pewter figurine was a premium with a rare variant of the already rare Jason Ng “Tao” sixth-scale ninja figures from the mid-2000s. Who knew this even existed. DOUBLE DAMMIT!!!
But this… THIS is just not fair. Perfect and complete Karate Kid II Attack and Training Center! Never liked this movie, but this Remco masterpiece was the perfect dojo for myriad He-Man-scale ninja figures. Would have looked soooooo good on my shelf.
Oh, AND some rare-ass figures thrown into the lot? Nice… thanks.
Look at those black and white ninja kicking dummies. Man are those sweet. This hurts my toy hoarding soul.
TRIPLE DOG DAMMIT!!!
Little toy soldiers. 54mm-scale figurines. Plastic army men. Whatever the formal term of the ubiquitous two-inch-high static soldiers that companies like Marx belched out by the millions, we always called them “army guys” (Actually, being in central Massachusetts as a kid, I called them “aaahmee guyz”).
And man would these ninja-themed army guys have made a great addition to my childhood war games! Alas, they’re a product of the 80’s boom (well after my army guys retired to the attic), although I scored this set in a mom-n-pop grocery store in Santa Monica in 2001, and it was fresh stock, too. Long live the little plastic ninja!
These dudes, about 24 or so cast in black, white and grey, came in a vinyl bag with this cardboard header. I think the only thing cooler than this artwork is the Hing Fat Chinese warlord logo!
I think I have to dig out my old Guns of Navarrone mountain playset and put these saboteurs to work! Although maybe the Fort Apache set would make a bit more sense historically. Better than the cavemen and dinosaurs deal for sure…