World-Wide Ninja Olympics?

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If you’re a big enough toy geek, the 1988 Japanese tokusatsu series Worldwide Ninja War Jiraiya (Sekai ninja sen Jiraiya) will look somewhat familiar. The action-packed “Metal Hero” show was never exported to the States, but some of the toys were — the absolutely awful line of floppy rubber figures in hard plastic armor known as “Tacky Stretchoid Warriors.”

While these gummy figures positively sucked, the source series is a pretty damned good example of 80’s superhero television, packed with tons of colorful characters, high-flying stuntwork, explosive action, and some historically significant cast members.

Takumi Tsutsui stars as the young hero Jiraiya, as shinobi as he is Red Ranger.
Modern Iga grandmaster Tetsuzan Yamaji was, appropriately, played by ninjutsu legend Masaaki Hatsumi! The godfather of modern ninjutsu, Hatsumi was also tech advisor on the SHINOBI-NO-MONO films, showing the range of media projects he influenced with genuine shadow arts.
Arch-villain Oninin Dokusai is one of the best deigned TV villains ever.

Jiraiya’s plot unfolded over 50 episodes; a ninja family entrusted for centuries to guard the secret of an alien treasure races against an ancient demon to unlock its considerable powers. Complicating matters is a colorful cast of international ninja with mixed allegiances — a superb plot device said to be inspired by the Seoul Olympics.

In-dojo training sequences with Togakure-Ryu grandmaster Hatsumi and appearances by several of his ninjutsu students give this show a unique quality. Mixed in with the genre-requisite explosions and decorated vehicles are some genuine martial arts. This kids’ show may have been the most Hatsumi and the Togakure were involved in a media property since their genre-defining technical advisory role in the Shinobi-no-Mono films.

Starting tomorrow, we’ll have a pile of pages from a nice photo book of the series, showing both some timeless tokusatsu designs and some hopelessly 80’s fashions.

Meanwhile, there’s a nice show gallery at the French-language Space Sheriff blog and a brief write-up on the American toys at the PrimeTime Toystore.

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