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By Thomas Wheeler

As much as I'm not especially fond of newsculpt G.I.Joe figures, I DO like interesting concepts. I also like bargains. So when the NINJA BATTLES set came out, offering five figures, two of which were newcomers, an assortment of weapons, a battle arena, a comic book, and a DVD for about fifteen bucks in most places, I wasn't about to pass it up.

But there was one additional factor. The storyline featured a couple of characters that weren't in the set. One of them was KAMAKURA.

Kamakura is one of that small handful of characters introduced in the newsculpt line that has managed to take his place alongside the established legends of G.I.Joe and pretty well fit in. His first appearance was actually in the first issue of the Devil's Due G.I.Joe comic book. Much like the Baroness in the first issue of the Marvel comic, there was no existing figure of this character, and if Hasbro had any plans to make such a figure, they weren't saying.

It took over two years, a regular appearance in the comic book, turning up in the first animated mini-series, and a distinct wardrobe change for Hasbro to present the world with a Baroness action figure. She remains one of the most popular characters in the line to this day.

It didn't take quite as long for Hasbro to give us Kamakura. Even though General Hawk seemed reluctant to put any ninja other than Snake-Eyes back on the team, initially referring to the "mistake" of Ninja Force (which I always considered a nice little jab at those annoying spring-action figures) and calling Kamakura the "Green Power Ranger" (ouch!), the mysterious young ninja found his place on the G.I.Joe Team.

He also found his way into the Ninja Battles concept, even if he wasn't included with the actual toy set. I'd already picked up the 12" Kamakura. I sort of figured that, newsculpt or not, maybe I'd better try to get Kamakura.

However, there had been several Kamakura figures, and not all Kamakuras were equal. I didn't want one with spring action. Nor did I really want the one with the bright yellow ski-mask. Finally, I managed to track down an appropriate Kamakura, who came in a two-pack with Storm Shadow. Let's give them both a review.

KAMAKURA - Newsculpt notwithstanding, this is really an excellent figure. The design is simple without being boring. Kamakura has a grey "ski mask" covering his face, a simple martial arts garb, and protective armor over his lower arms and legs. The only thing setting him apart as a member of the G.I.Joe Team and as such a member of the American military is the presence of the G.I.Joe insignia on his shoulder strap, and dog tags around his neck. His outfit is mostly green, with black trim, and the protective armor is silver.

Kamakura's file card reads as follows:


G.I.Joe Ninja Apprentice

File Name: Classified

Primary Military Specialty: Infantry

Secondary Military Specialty: Intelligence

Birthplace: Classified

Living under the shadow of Snake-Eyes isn't an easy thing to do, but it sure keeps Kamakura on his toes. As the pupil of the famous G.I.Joe ninja master, Kamakura always strives to do his best, because he knows what a huge responsibility he has as the sole heir to the Arashikage ninja secrets. Well on his way to mastering 12 forms of unarmd combat, he is also highly skilled with the sword, sai, chain, and sickle, as well as with the standard issue M-16A2 battle rifle. Kamakura doesn't like to be the center of attention, preferring to remain in the background until the time is right to strike. He's the same way with conversation, too; he usually keeps quiet, but hanging around Snake-Eyes doesn't offer much to say, so once you get him started, Kamakura has a lot to catch up on.

"Kamakurs reminds us of Snake-Eyes in his early days. He gets in, gets the job done, and gets out before the Cobra forces even realize what hit them, and that's just the way we like it."

It's worth noting that in the comic book mini-series MASTER AND APPRENTICE, Kamakura's identity was revealed to be that of Sean Collins, the adopted son of Wade Collins, an old army buddy of Snake-Eyes, Storm Shadow, and Stalker. Whether this fact will be revealed on future file cards of Kamakura -- if there are in fact any future editions of the figure -- remains unknown.

Kamakura's accessories include a sword, scabbard, backpack, and interestingly, an UZI, very much like the one the original Snake-Eyes came with. Nice touch.

STORM SHADOW - There's nothing worse than an overdressed ninja. I'm not sure who designed this get-up, but I don't think it'd work even as a traditional-style figure. And the one that came in this particular two- pack is actually a toned-down version, colorwise, of an earlier release that was so splattered with color over Storm Shadow's traditional white that he looked like he'd been sprayed by a carful of circus clowns. I mean, there's detail and then there's excess.

I can't really imagine Storm Shadow going into battle in what looks, at best, like an outfit reserved for special ceremonies -- and it's still tacky. Between the Cobra logo emblazoned squarely over the face, the serpentine dragon image running across both legs and his posterior, the embossed dragon on his back, and the flowing drapery hanging from his belt, I don't know how Stormy can even move in this thing, let alone fight. I think someone here was trying to design the ultimate Storm Shadow, but the result is overkill. It'd be like hanging a necklace of spotlights around Galactus' neck. He doesn't need it to be impressive. And Storm Shadow doesn't need to look anywhere near this fanciful.

But, if I wanted Kamakura, I had to get Storm Shadow. Fortunately, his file card is an interesting read:


Cobra Ninja

File Name: Arashikage, Thomas M.

Primary Military Specialty: Unknown

Secondary Military Specialty: Unknown

Birthplace: Unknown

One of the two most dangerous men on the face of the planet, Storm Shadow was once a master of the Arashikage ninja clan. Now, he sells his arcane skills to the evil forces of Cobra in order to pursue his twisted plan for revenge against his former sword brother Snake-Eyes. Ninjas are mystic warriors, spies, master swordsmen, acrobats, conjurors and tricksters. They can do all sorts of amazing things - or at least seem to do them, because the ninja's prime directive is embodied in a major precept of the ancient warrior sage Sun Tsu, who said, "All warfare is based on deception." This should give Cobra pause to consider the loyalty of Storm Shadow and ponder the question, "What does he really want?"

"A sword hidden away in its scabbard does not lose its edge. The same can be said for my loyalty and honor."

Regardless of the appearance of this particular version of him, there's certainly no question that Storm Shadow is one of the true legends of the G.I.Joe world. He's been a Cobra, a Joe, a brainwashed Cobra again, and
-- rather confused at times despite his ninja training. In the comic book these days, he's working with the Joes once again, although they're not sure just how far they can trust him. There haven't been any Storm Shadow action figures lately to reflect his present alliance. As far as the toys are concerned, he's still a Cobra. Personally, I always liked him better as a good guy, although I can understand the logic of putting one "super- ninja" on each team.

Would I recommend this set? Well, if you can find it these days, and if you bought and have enjoyed the Ninja Battles set, then yes, I would, since it at least brings in the prominent character of Kamakura. And whatever I may think about some of the figures produced in recent years, I'd never deny the fact that the G.I.Joe concept has introduced some of the most impressive characters in pop culture.