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.

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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!

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Over-stylized hard-to-read logo anyone?

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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!

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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.

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Enter the Tricycle

Maker unknown. Sellers, long forgotten. Year — probably sometime in the 1980s.

Logic… a mystery.

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Another fantastic, crap-tastic, relic from the days of blanket vendors outside subway stops, swapmeet junk toy booth and Chinatown gift shops.

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This head is actually somewhat familiar, I’ve seen it at various sizes for key rings, clip-on figurines, puppets, etc.

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There’s an excellent tradition of putting rather inappropriate properties on silly wind-up tricycles, from vintage superheroes to modern day collectible companies doing it for the sheer irony. So why not a black clad martial assassinon a bright orange bell-laden kid’s bike?

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Mego-like red ninja

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A recent score, this 7-inch generic from the 80s is a rare knock-off the famed action figure body from Mego — the company that defined the 8-inch scale in the 70s, giving us The World’s Greatest Superheroes, Planet of the Apes and myriad other properties. (read more at The Mego Museum)

This slightly shrunken version has the same articulation and construction of the originals, but with zero markings, no production year, nothing… we’re just guessing at who produced this and when.

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Nice weapons though.

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And I really love these molded tabi with ‘putee’ straps. This sort of detail is not common in no-name knock-offs like this.

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I know there’s some Mego collectors out there that’ll be able to ID this head in a heartbeat. Chime in friends…

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LADY NINJA from ABC Toys

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I’ve said repeatedly here that the wild and unknown territory that is generic and bootleg figure collecting affords a lot more joy of discovery and amazing mutated finds than tracking down better known and licensed collectibles from the past. The stuff sold on blankets outside of southwest swap meets, tables in midwest flea markets and dirt malls, shady Chinatown junk shops and even shadier ‘vendors’ hawking crap outside of subway terminals may be plentiful at the time of any boom, but decades later that cheap crap is nigh-impossible to find.

This astoundingly rare 8″ kunoichi was produced by ABC Toys at some point in the mid-80s, and came in black and white variants, at least from what I’ve found. Wouldn’t be surprised if a red version existed, too…

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The most peculiar thing about Lady Ninja is she’s in packaging more consistent with boys’ toys. There’s no “pink aisle” Barbie look here. But what boy would have wanted what was clearly a girl’s doll, regardless of how it was garbed or how well-armed she was? Weird choices on top of weird choices…

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AMERICAN NINJA rack toys

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.

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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.

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This rubber stamp set shows more of the above art, influenced by both Enter the Ninja and GI Joe‘s Storm Shadow I imagine.

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

Dragon Force Ninja

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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.

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I would give my left nut for that female figure…

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.

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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.

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Norris ninja knock-off

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?

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…

Back-to-school shinobi

More vintage 80s toy crap! These were 5″ solid plastic pencil toppers, made of some truly toxic low-grade junk with paint jobs to match. Awesome!

Best/worst thing about these are they’re SOLID and heavy, and there’s no way in hell a kid could do any writing with one in place. It’s like they’re waging a shadowy war on education…

And hey, there’s a knock-off of one of these bootlegs (or a bootleg of one of these knock-offs, or maybe these are the bootlegged knock-offs???) on eBay right now!

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