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!


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



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.

AmericanNinja-RackToy_2 AmericanNinja-RackToy_3 AmericanNinja-RackToy_4

Think they paid Michael Dudikoff anything for his name and likeness?

80s capsule vending machine trinkets

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…

No safer place to hide yer pennies.

Ninja could be found via myriad big-name properties in the 80’s, but it is the generic, no-brand ninja merch I love most from that era. This 15″ plastic kids’ bank is a personal fave.

Intrigued by the TM placed beside the NINJA logo. Were they trying to protect that typography? Might be from a whole line of generic merch. Manufacturer seems to be “Child’s Play,” with a 1986 release date, and a model “No. 25” designation.

No one kept cheap crap like this, no one geekily followed their manufacture, distribution patterns or variants. So while supposedly “rare” action figures turn up perfectly preserved on unopened cards all the time on eBay, it is these at one time ubiquitous but now all but forgotten pieces that are truly the hardest to find stuff out there.

Generic Ninja

We’ll wrap-up a month of toys and merch with a look at some nameless, non-property-based ninja toys from the 80’s. Wind-up toys sold in subway stops or off swap-meet blankets, supermarket tchotchkes, vending capsule minatures, even cake-toppers – these are the sorts of cheap plastic ninja we all had dozens of back in day.

Well, they may have been positively verminous during the ninja craze, but much fewer people took the time to collect such non-licensed toys, and they are actually a lot harder to come by today than their counterpart from GI Joe, Chuck Norris or Rambo action figure lines.

This 3-4" rubber figurine in the classic 'Kosugi Flying Kick Pose' is somewhat of a mystery. I keep thinking he's supposed to be mounted on some sort of stand, or attached to some other accessory, however there are no holes or sockets of any sort.
I'm rather shocked there's actually a manufacturer, production date and supposed 'line' cited on the back.
This wind-up bouncing horse has neither a manufacturer or date, certainly from the 80's although you still see these things in Chinatown - once tooled up, these generics tend to be prolific for decades. I can just see this same sculpt redone in primary colors during the Power Ranger boom.

I bought these both in the 80's and last month! The 5" friction-powered bike clearly has a conventional helmeted racer that has been 'shinobi-fied' with a quick hooded cloth tunic and sword.

This 2" figurine with vinyl kimono has a spring clip torso that when squeezed opens the arms and lets the figure 'hug' an antenna or cubicle divider or whatever. No date or company again, but certainly 80's.