?The mysterious Ninja have been covert mercenaries since the 14th century but the one place they have been easily found for the past 30 years is the toy aisle. Their dark arts, unique weapons and stealthily murderous ways have always appealed to children and man-children alike. While it’s a staple of toylines to include a “Ninja Somebody,” it’s rare that these figures live up to the awesome potential of their namesakes; many times these figures are the crappiest of the lot. But sometimes, just sometimes, these ninja figures defy the odds and are totally badass, even though they’re basically children’s toys based on a historical league of merciless assassins. I mean, it’s no wonder why kids love ninjas; it’s weird that adults let kids have them.
So here’s a quick look at both kinds of ninja figures — the awesome and the not so awesome. It has to be a quick look because, you know. Ninjas. They’re stealthy like that.
6) Science Ninja Team Gatchaman
Most children of the ’80s would recognize these as G Force from Battle of the Planets
but in Japan, they are “science ninjas”, I’m not sure what that means
but it involves a bird costume, fighting she-males and being awesome.
Although Medicom made these 12-inch figures early in their career,
they’re still the best versions of Gatchaman kids. Note: even
though they dress like birds and occasionally carry yo-yos, they’re
still much more ninja-like than those Naruto goofballs.
5) Ninja Stretch Armstrong
?Originally introduced in the 1970s, Stretch Armstrong is one of those toys that refuse to erase itself from pop culture’s consciousness. Essentially a bag of corn syrup, Cap Toys dressed him up in different guises to make you forget that his shtick can get kind of old quick. “Ninja” Stretch can’t hold his weapons (he ain’t got no fingers!) but at least that mask covers up that unsettling death mask grin he’s got going on…
4) Ninja Shadow
?1995’s The Shadow movie wasn’t the blockbuster that Hollywood had hoped mostly because the character himself had almost been invisible to the public since Hitler died.
Kenner almost seemed to sense the impending apathy with a series of lazily made action figures culled mostly from other toylines. This figure is fun only if you pretend it’s a weird version of Jack Donaghy from a line of 30 Rock action figures created by star Tracy Jordan.
?When Galoob dusted off the King Features characters for a new generation in the 1980s and created the Defenders of the Universe line, the only one with strong recognition was Flash Gordon. Characters like Mandrake the Magician hadn’t really been cool since, well, ever (did we mention this was his first action figure?). In order to hep up Mandrake’s crime-fighting partner Lothar, they unwisely dubbed him the “Ninja from the Caribbean” which sounds like the coolest DJ name ever, but it’s simply a tacked on title the character had no business with. They should have spent that precious time working on his partner Mandrake, who still looked like he’s on his way to a kid’s birthday party.
2) James Bond Jr. Ninja Gear
?Toymakers have been especially skittish in marketing James Bond action figures for kids, most likely due to Bond’s booze-fueled, casual sex-filled, happily misogynistic existence. Hasbro sought to remedy this with the kiddified atrocity James Bond Jr. that centered around Bond’s “nephew” (i.e., illegitimate kid). Here, Bond Jr. is dressed like a generic Mortal Kombat character, the accepted ninja style of the ’90s.
1) Ninja Gumby
?If anything symbolizes the death knell of the ninja concept to toymakers, it’s when fucking Art Clokey’s Gumby grabbed a throwing star. How we were all spared a “Bob the Builder” in all black, I’ll never know.
The list ain’t over; the best ninja figures are on the nest page.
6) Power Rangers Ninja Storm
?If anything is keeping strip mall karate schools in business in North America, it’s the Power Rangers. It’s no surprise that they would logically strip mine the ninja word more than a few times in their long history. Obviously, the most ninja-y of the Power Rangers toylines was the Ninja Storm set, and other than their colors, their uniforms were actually pretty ninja-like.
5) Ninja Bruce to Batman
?In the last twenty years Hasbro and Mattel have farted out every possible Batman variant save for “Indian Chief” and “House Sitter.” One of the few that actually makes sense is Ninja, since Bruce Wayne actually trained with ninjas for a bit — or at least ninja-like warriors controlled by Ra’s al Ghul, as shown in Batman Begins.
4) Lego Ninjas
?Putting Lego in front of anything improves it; hell even “Lego Insurance Seminar” sounds like a Sunday well spent. Whoever dreamed up Lego ninjas deserves his own parking spot. These super terrific sets combined those crazy Danish blocks with Japanese architecture and everybody was better off as a result.
3) Ninja Warrior
When your figure doesn’t have a name but merely a title, you’re cannon
fodder or in the case “foot up ass” fodder. Especially when the toyline
has another guy’s name on it, and especially when that name is Chuck
Norris. If you’re a figure from Chuck Norris Karate Commandoes,
at least you know who is going to beat the holy living hell out of you
on a regular basis. If children had a group of these, they will come
one at a time, in single file taking their Chuck Norris-style whuppin’
like it’s a gift.
2) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turles
?There is no denying that Ninja Turtles is one of the most enduring “Ninja Toy” concepts on the planet, merely by the shear volume of output under that banner. They are the sole reason Playmates is still in business.
1) Storm Shadow/Snake Eyes
?If there is one duo that could be equated as “Ninja Toy Zero” it would be Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes, the yin and yang, the alpha and the omega, the “Spy Vs Spy” of the ninja action figure world. This duo truly was the one that put “ninja” into the hearts and minds of a generation and had many of us ordering shoddy grappling hooks and plastic throwing stars out of the back of terribly written magazines.