REVIEW: MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS JITSU
Some Masters of the Universe characters leave a bigger impression on some people than others, even if they weren't major players in the concept. For whatever reason, and I'm not even sure of it myself, one of these for me has always been JITSU, who was recently added to the Masters of the Universe Classics collection.
This, despite the fact that I never owned the original figure of Jitsu, and he never made it into the 2002 concept. I think in some respects, Jitsu, along with a handful of others, represented something about the Masters of the Universe concept that no other popular toy line of the day could claim -- that anything was possible.
G.I. Joe, however fanciful it occasionally got as far as the uniform code and certain hardware and vehicles was concerned, was based more or less on a real-world, Earth-based, largely military conflict between G.I. Joe, a team of specialists derived from all of the branches of the United States armed forces, and the fictional but not implausible threat of Cobra, a ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world. In later years, it strayed away from this somewhat, but not during the tenure of the Masters sharing shelf space with them in the toy stores.
Transformers, the other major player of the 1980's, was based entirely on a robotic concept. The heroic Autobots and the evil Decepticons hailed from a mechanical world known as Cybertron. One of their epic battles brought the major players to Earth and placed them in stasis for millions of years, until their ship's computer awakened, studied Earth forms of vehicles and other machinery, and adapted the transforming forms of the robots to fit in better. Nevertheless, whatever alternate forms the Transformers may have been capable of assuming, it was still all about the robots.
But Masters of the Universe? An epic struggle on the far-off world of Eternia, where it seemed anything was possible. Although the dominant forms of life were humanoid, there seemed to be no end to their variety. Humanoid versions of reptiles, insects, arachnids, crustaceans, skunks, porcupines, and a few things that defied easy classification were all the order of the day and, even if they fought one another in pitched battles across Eternia, none of them were considered especially unusual on the basis of their existence, at least. I mean, we're talking about a planet capable of producing a green tiger with orange stripes that had human-level intelligence and spoke English. And, as we would learn in later years, in the 2002 series, there was a race of humanoid felines living on Eternia, as well!
Sort of like the Eternian version of the frequently asked Disney question, "If Pluto is a dog, then what the heck is Goofy!?"
There was even a robot in the mix, name of Roboto. He didn't transform, but he did have that cool transparent torso with the turning gears. Certainly no great threat to Optimus Prime or Megatron, but definitely an acknowledgment that robots were a popular toy at the time.
But apart from this dizzying variety of life forms, were more typically human types that had some very interesting and unusual specialties. There was never a soldier, as we understand the term, in the Masters of the Universe line. Now, it could be argued that the Eternian Guard, led by Man-At-Arms, were soldiers, and this would not be an inaccurate statement. But there wasn't ever a Masters of the Universe figure that, for example, was a human-looking sort dressed in camouflage fatigues and a beret, toting a rifle and ammo belts around. The Masters seemed content to leave that sort of thing to G.I. Joe.
But there were some other interesting human-types, that did have analogues on Earth. There was a character named Ninjor, who was a ninja. G.I. Joe's Storm Shadow had established the popularity of these guys. A certain foursome of turtles was still a few years off at the time. There was Rio Blast, a Western type -- which tends to make one wonder how a Western-type environment could have cropped up on Eternia. And there was JITSU, a martial arts expert with admittedly a somewhat derivative Asian appearance to him.
All of these characters were proof that as far as the Masters of the Universe were concerned, and unlike other toy-based concepts that were more focused thematically, anything was possible on Eternia.
And now, Jitsu has joined the Classics collection. He was never a major player in the original line, coming along fairly late on, and background information on him was decidedly sparse. Here's what I was able to track down.
Jitsu appeared only once as a supporting character in "The Dragon Invasion" episode in 1983, meaning, oddly, that he appeared before his figure was released. The character's name in the script is Chopper, although he is not named on-screen. He is never referred to as "Jitsu", "Chopper" or anything else.
His role in this episode was to accompany Skeletor in an invasion of Castle Grayskull, largely as a background character. He has only one line and aside from a brief display of his karate-chopping abilities -- and his right hand, which has the ability to smash through things, is flesh rather than the metallic gold of the figure, has no character development at all.
He is not used in the series again, even when the toy figure was released in 1984, possibly because the producers might have regarded his appearance as too stereotypical in some respects.
Jitsu appeared in the mini-comic stories "Hordak: The Ruthless Leader's Revenge!", and "Mantenna and the Menace of the Evil Horde!" The character was not used in the 2002 relaunch, though was included in Series 6 of NECA's Masters of the Universe "staction" line of statues, sculpted by the Four Horsemen, and designed to be compatible with the 2002 action figure line, although they were statues rather than figures, although the series did give fans the chance to see what some of the other characters would've looked like in the 2002 style.
One variation between Jitsu from his animated and figure counterparts - the figure has a full goatee beard but, in the cartoon, he only has a mustache.
Jitsu also apparently had some connection with the robotic horse Night Stalker, although this appears only in original mini-books. Some versions depict it as Jitsu's evil robotic steed; others as the "reincarnation" of the heroic Stridor.
Now, to date, there's only been one horse in the Classics line, and that was Swift Wind, belonging to She-Ra, and Swift Wind is definitely not robotic, so I don't think we need to settle the Stridor/Night Stalker debate at this time. But it's an interesting tidbit, I believe.
So, how's the figure? Extremely impressive, as one would expect. I've long felt that these Masters of the Universe Classics figures are the ultimate incarnation of the characters. The level of detail put into the designs by the Four Horsemen, coupled with the long-overdue level of articulation put into them by Mattel, has resulted in a truly magnificent toy line, and I'm very pleased that Jitsu has become a part of it.
The headsculpt is interesting. I can almost see how some might see it as a tad stereotypical. There is a definite Asian look to the design of the face, the coloration, as well as the hair, which is pulled back (not counting a distinctly receding hairline -- don't they have Rogaine on Eternia!?) into a topknot on the back of the head, and rather bushy eyebrows, as well as a mustache and goatee. It's sort of an Asian look with a little bit of Ming the Merciless from Flash Gordon tossed in for good measure.
The facial features themselves are extremely well detailed. While age really isn't a factor with these characters, and with some of the less human ones would probably be impossible to determine, Jitsu's decidedly human features have been given just enough lines and creases to give him a little more character. He's also got a distinct scowl on his face, which probably adds to the lines. It really is a remarkably well-detailed headsculpt, superbly well done.
Let me address the racial issue for a moment, if I may, and I know it's a touchy subject. But within the realm of fiction here, is it even accurate to describe Jitsu as "Asian" or "Asian-American"? I hear we've got Clamp Champ coming up, and he's black, but could he legitimately be called "African-American"? These characters are both native to Eternia. Eternia doesn't HAVE an Africa, an Asia, or even an America! Nor does there seem to be any particular racial discrimination on Eternia. Good thing, too, given the astonishing variety of sentient life-forms on the planet. The only instance of discrimination that I've seen any evidence of is towards the Gar, the blue-skinned people from which Keldor, later Skeletor, and Sy-Klone can trace their ancestry. But until we discover blue-skinned people on Earth, that one really remains in the realm of fiction.
So I think the best way I can describe Jitsu is to say that some of his features have an Asian look to them, but it would not be accurate to say that the character is Asian. He's Eternian -- just like He-Man, Teela, Skeletor, and the rest of the crowd.
Jitsu is wearing a very ornate, red and gold armored chestplate and backplate. The sculpting is very detailed, and the paintwork is excellent. What's especially clever about it is the way this armored harness is secured to the figure. Most of the time, when a Masters figure has this sort of torso armor, the clasps that hold it in place are concealed in the design of the armor somehow. As one would expect, depending on the design of the armor, some of these work better than others in this respect.
Jitsu's works astoundingly well. Part of the design of his armor is these circular red gemstones, which have been painted a glossy red, unlike the more matte red of the rest of the armor. Two of the gemstones that are part of the design on Jitsu's back are actually the clasps to the armor. They're almost indistinguishable unless you specifically look for them. Definite credit to the designers for this one!
Jitsu is wearing the standard fur loincloth that a large percentage of Masters of the Universe figures possess. It seems to me that it's been a little while since we've seen it. I've been impressed with the variety of trunks and trousers and armor that have made their way into this line, but there's something a little iconic about the furry-looking loincloth. Jitsu's is the same bright red as the rest of his armor, making one wonder just a bit what species of animal he bagged in order to make it. Either that, or he knows a good tailor that did an impressive dye job.
Jitsu's belt is black, with a red gemstone in the center, giving it a nice tie-in with the armor, and it is encircled in gold. The wristband on his left wrist is red,with gold details.
Jitsu's boots are also the standard, sort of primitive-medieval-looking boots worn by many of the Masters, with furry tops and a series of straps holding them in place. Jitsu's boots are black, with very dark gray straps, and metallic gold fur across the top. Gold fur -- there's a good trick...
Overall, Jitsu's outfit works amazingly well. The color scheme is, on the whole, unified without compromising any of its various aspects, or being uninteresting. Certainly the ornate detail work on the armor is especially impressive.
Of course, Jitsu's most prominent feature is his immense right hand. It's bright metallic gold, brighter even than the gold on his torso armor, with substantial sculpted detail, and turquoise details on the four knuckles of the fingers. The hand is positioned in such a way as to give a karate chop -- and pretty well looks like the last hand in the universe that you'd want to be on the receiving end of such a move.
It's interesting that the background story made reference to the fact that Stridor was Fisto's horse, whereas Night Stalker is Jitsu's -- because there's a definite structural connection between Fisto and Jitsu.
Fisto, one of the Heroic Masters, had a right hand that was an immense, artificial fist. This was an interesting add, given the spring-action waists that most Masters figures tended to have in the original line. If getting slugged by a roundhouse punch from a standard fist was bad news, imagine seeing that immense metallic mitt coming in your direction.
Similarly, the original packaging for Jitsu read, "Twist his waist! Make him do a karate chop up, down, sideways!" And with a hand this big, any of those directions would be trouble.
I'll admit I never had the original Fisto or Jitsu, but a friend of mine who is more familiar with the original line has confirmed that both the original Fisto and the original Jitsu had spring-action features in their arms as well as their waists. And certainly the 2002 Fisto, known officially as "General Fist", had a spring-action fist.
Now, the modern Masters of the Universe Classics figures don't have those spring-action waists, or other such features in them. Fisto's fist does not spring out. Jitsu's arm does not deliver a metal-gloved karate chop. No big loss as far as I'm concerned. I've generally found such features to be a hindrance to the articulation of the figure, and as such, rather annoying.
That said, Jitsu's right hand is nevertheless extremely impressive in appearance, very large, and certainly very menacing-looking.
And just in case that's not enough, Jitsu also comes with several accessories, molded in orange. These include a long, slightly curved sword, and a pair of narrow, sharp axe-like weapons with long handles. If there's a proper name for these weapons within the martial arts world, I don't know what it might be. Apologies as such. These weapons can be clipped to the back of Jitsu's armor for easy transport and ready use.
Of course, Jitsu is superbly articulated. He is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivels, elbows, wrists (top of the glove-like mechanical hand on the right arm), mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, boot tops, and ankles.
Any complaints? Not really. There's a strange, very light overspray of black paint on Jitsu's had, and I'm not really sure what it's there for. I could've done without it, myself, assuming it was intentional, and somebody's aim was just a tad off, because it almost looks like Jitsu is sporting a blackened left eye. Maybe he came off the worse for wear in a confrontation with Fisto...?
The backstory on the back of Jitsu's package is an interesting one. It reads as follows:
JITSU - Evil Master of Martial Arts.
An intergalactic bandit, Jitsu, was broken out of Prison Starr by Keldor during the Great Unrest. In gratitude, he agreed to serve the Evil Lord of Destruction, and stayed with him even after Keldor's transformation into Skeletor. As a master of several forms of martial arts, Jitsu was often on the front line in battle against Randor and his Masters. During the Battle for Gretori Bridge, he was wounded by his arch-enemy Fisto, and had his hand replaced with a golden robotic implant by Tri-Klops. After Skeletor left Eternia for the stars, Jitsu took over Snake Mountain, ruling it with an iron fist. As deadly as he is silent, Jitsu uses his chopping power to get his evil way!
Okay, a few interesting notes here. Referencing Jitsu's original name as "Chopper" -- not the most imaginative-sounding name in the world, but if you look up further information on him and realize that this was the name used for him on the Filmation script, it's a nice little nod to that bit of history.
Tri-Klops being the one to construct his new hand makes sense, as Tri-Klops has shown above-average engineering skills before. And we also get a reference to Fisto being Jitsu's arch-enemy, also no great surprise.
But what's especially interesting on the card is the reference to Skeletor leaving for space, and Jitsu taking charge of Snake Mountain. This is the first reference in any character's backstory to events AFTER the three-issue mini-comic series that was prepared by Dark Horse Comics and packaged with a number of figures in late 2012. At the conclusion of that story, regarded as the "Second Ultimate Battleground", Hordak and the Snake-Men were defeated, Skeletor had been gravely injured but rebuilt himself technologically, and headed off to space, more powerful than ever.
Eternia, relatively at peace -- and one also assumes that Etheria was as well -- left He-Man and She-Ra with little to do, until a spaceship from Primus showed up, with Icarius and Hydron requesting He-Man and She-Ra's help against a new threat to their world -- Skeletor. He-Man comments, "Ready for some new adventures...?" in an obvious reference to the New Adventures of He-Man series that was based on the post-Masters toy line, elements of which have been worked into the Masters of the Universe Classics series.
Still -- Jitsu taking over Snake Mountain? Not exactly a major player. Why him? It might well be that he was the only one who had the brains to do it. Let's face it, more prominent bad guys like Beast-Man and Mer-Man weren't exactly known for their intelligence. While this is speculation, it wouldn't surprise me to learn that, in the absence of Skeletor, some of these guys just went back to their native parts of Eternia and decided to mind their own business, and arguably Skeletor's greatest rival, Evil-Lyn, was left powerless at the end of the battle as shown in the comics. So why not Jitsu? It's an odd choice, but not an implausible one.
So, what's my final word? I'm sincerely pleased that Jitsu has joined the modern line. He's an interesting character, and is one of those that proved beyond any doubt that on Eternia, anything is possible. The figure is superbly crafted, astoundingly well detailed, especially the head and the torso armor, and the robotic hand is a standout piece of work, as well.
If you're a Masters of the Universe fan, you'll definitely want to add this fine figure to your collection!
The MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of JITSU most certainly has my highest recommendation!