REVIEW: G.I. JOE RETALIATION RED NINJA
As of this writing, the long-anticipated live-action movie "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" is going to have to be anticipated a little longer. The premiere of the movie was bumped at the last minute from June 2012 to March 2013. The reasons for this are quite varied, including a conversion to allow for 3D showings, and I won't get into them to any extent here.
The announcement of the delay, however, came too late to stop the toys from hitting the stores, and Hasbro's official position was pretty much along the lines of, "Whatever we've already shipped to the retailers will be put out for sale, so go ahead, buy and enjoy them."
Thanks, I think I will. Despite a decent 30th Anniversary line with a partial tie-in to the Renegades animated series, it's honestly been quite a while since I've seen any decent supplies of G.I. Joe action figures and vehicles in the stores. The Retaliation figures have shown up in reasonable supply, and that includes a number of so-called "army-builders", including, appearing for the first time on the big screen, the RED NINJAS!
G.I. Joe: Retaliation stars Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Bruce Willis, with Channing Tatum, Arnold Vosloo, Ray Park, Jonathan Pryce and Lee Byung-hun reprising their roles from the first film.
The film will feature the G.I. Joe team coming into a conflict with Zartan, Storm Shadow and Firefly, all serving under the newly released Cobra Commander. Zartan (who is last seen in the last movie in disguise as the President of the United States) controls the U.S. Government and frames all G.I. Joe operatives as traitors to the United States, exterminating most of them and leaving a small group of survivors.
Zartan and the Commander now have all the world leaders under Cobra's control, with their advanced warheads aimed at innocent populaces around the world.
Badly beaten, outnumbered and outgunned, the G.I. Joe team makes a desperate plan to overthrow Cobra Commander and take back the world, with their secret black operation called the "Second American Revolution", which involves the original G.I. Joe General Joseph Colton.
And what about the Red Ninjas? They first appeared in the same legendary "Silent Issue" of G.I. Joe, #21, that introduced us to Storm Shadow. In this story, Storm Shadow has captured Scarlett, and takes her to Cobra's hideaway, Destro's castle in the Carpathian mountains. Snake-Eyes, of course, follows to effect a rescue, which he eventually does, but not before Storm Shadow unleashes a trio of Red Ninjas on him, which quite frankly, Snake-Eyes makes pretty short work of.
Over the years, we would continue to encounter the Red Ninjas from time to time. They never really appeared in the animated series, but they would turn up in the comic book, and almost always unexpectedly. A bunch of them seemed to be working for Zartan at one point, and another group was seen in the employ of Firefly, both of whom were revealed to have connections to the same Arashikage Ninja Clan that brought forth Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow.
The general impression was that following the assassination of the Hard Master, the clan pretty much fell apart, its members likely taking whatever mercenary work they could find, utilizing their ninja skills for the highest bidder, which more often than not were the bad guys.
The Devil's Due comics, which have since been officially "Disavowed", also referenced a branch of the Red Ninjas that existed in South America, under the leadership of a ninja who went by the name of "Sei Tin". This story as much as anything addressed a particular figure from the South American line, a recolored Storm Shadow given a red uniform, arguably the first "Red Ninja" anywhere in the G.I. Joe universe, but in the South American toy line, the figure was given the rather dubious name of "Satan". This was changed to the more agreeable "Sei Tin" for the comics storyline.
Despite multiple if only occasional appearances in the comic book, there wasn't a Red Ninja figure in the original G.I. Joe line, until 1993, when a recolored version of Dice, one of two ninja brothers employed by Cobra (the other one was named Slice) was officially named "Red Ninja", and was packaged with a vehicle known as the Battle Ax.
Sadly, this was an inauspicious debut for the Red Ninjas in the toy line. Dice didn't look anything like the Red Ninjas, the figure was given a neon red-pink uniform with garish blue trim, the Battle Ax vehicle was -- not exactly a high point of the line, and the file card for the figure contained some of the most atrocious puns imaginable.
Fortunately, subsequent figure versions of the Red Ninja have fared much better. A comic-based three-pack of figures that focused on the aforementioned "Silent Issue" included excellent figures of Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow, along with a Red Ninja based on the 1988 incarnation of Storm Shadow. Although not precisely accurate to the original look of the Red Ninjas, it was more than agreeable, and certainly better than the 1993 attempt.
There were two Red Ninjas, recolored versions of the original Storm Shadow this time, in a Cobra Ninja six-pack that was a Toys "R" Us exclusive, which also included a black-uniformed recoloration of this figure, listed as a "Black Dragon Ninja", a recolored version of the 1988 Storm Shadow, listed as Storm Shadow, and two recolorations of Jinx, now listed as the Vypra sisters.
There was even a Red Ninja in the Signa Six line. He was a special exclusive figure to the Official G.I. Joe Collectors' Convention, the only such Sigma Six figure, and he was that year's official "Parachute Drop" figure. One hopes that most of these Red Ninjas made gentle landings and found good homes.
The Red Ninja had also turned up in the modern G.I. Joe line, prior to his release in the Retaliation series. There was an individually carded figure, which largely used Storm Shadow body molds, but with a different head. It's a very impressive figure that looks very much like the Red Ninjas from the comics.
There was also a special boxed set of figures, that put Snake-Eyes up against four-count-em-four Red Ninjas, all slightly recolored from the individually-carded version. Four Red Ninjas against Snake-Eyes. Flip a coin and place your bets.
A thought crossed my mind while preparing this review. Did ninjas actually exist at some point in history? Okay, I'm not a historian. My first encounter with a ninja was Storm Shadow, in 1984. And, of course, there was a certain foursome of turtles that popularized ninjas even more. Since that time, there have been countless action figures, video games, comic books -- ninjas have remained a popular part of pop culture for decades. Heck, one of the latest incarnations of ninjas is a Lego concept called Ninjago.
But historically speaking? I've been curious about this, and decided to find out, and it seems to me that a review of a relatively realistic ninja, who's also an "army-builder", is as good a place as any to present it.
A ninja or shinobi was a covert agent or mercenary in feudal Japan who specialized in unorthodox warfare. The functions of the ninja included espionage, sabotage, infiltration, and assassination, and open combat in certain situations.
Their covert methods of waging war contrasted the ninja with the samurai, who observed strict rules about honor and combat -- which probably explains the popular modern thought that ninjas and samurai don't like each other very much. The shinobi proper, a specially trained group of spies and mercenaries, appeared in the Sengoku or "warring states" period, in the 15th century, but antecedents may have existed in the 14th century, and possibly even in the 12th century (Heian or early Kamakura era).
In the unrest of the Sengoku period (15th–17th centuries), mercenaries and spies for hire became active in the Iga Province and the adjacent area around the village of Koga, and it is from their ninja clans that much of our knowledge of the ninja is drawn. Following the unification of Japan under the Tokugawa shogunate (17th century), the ninja faded into obscurity, being replaced by the Oniwabanshu body of secret agents. A number of shinobi manuals, often centered around Chinese military philosophy, were written in the 17th and 18th centuries, most notably the Bansenshukai (1676).
By the time of the Meiji Restoration (1868), the tradition of the shinobi had become a topic of popular imagination and mystery in Japan. Ninja figured prominently in folklore and legend, and as a result it is often difficult to separate historical fact from myth. Some legendary abilities purported to be in the province of ninja training include invisibility, walking on water, and control over the natural elements. As a consequence, their perception in western popular culture in the 20th century was based more on such legend and folklore than on the historical spies of the Sengoku period.
The word shinobi appears in the written record as far back as the late 8th century in poems in the Man'yoshu. The underlying connotation of shinobi means "to steal away" and — by extension — "to forbear", hence its association with stealth and invisibility. Mono means "a person".
The ninja were stealth soldiers and mercenaries hired mostly by daimyos. Their primary roles were those of espionage and sabotage, although assassinations were also attributed to ninja. In battle, the ninja could also be used to cause confusion amongst the enemy.
The skills required of the ninja has come to be known in modern times as ninjutsu, but it is unlikely they were previously named under a single discipline, but were rather distributed among a variety of covered espionage and survival skills.
Historically, the word ninja was not in common use, and a variety of regional colloquialisms evolved to describe what would later be dubbed ninja. Along with shinobi, some examples include monomi ("one who sees"), nokizaru ("macaque on the roof"), rappa ("ruffian"), kusa ("grass") and Iga-mono ("one from Iga"). In historical documents, shinobi is almost always used. In the West, the word ninja became more prevalent than shinobi in the post-World War II culture, possibly because it was more comfortable for Western speakers.
Interestingly, the article I retrieved this from made mention of both G.I. Joe, and the Turtles. It also cited two schools that claim to teach ninjutsu, originating in the 1970's. I could find no other references to the modern existence of ninjas. But, they might just be hiding...
So, how's the figure? Extremely impressive. The Red Ninja is one of three "army-builder" figures available in the initial assortments of the Retaliation line which are available now well in advance of the movie's release. The other two are a Cobra Trooper, and a G.I. Joe Trooper. And of the three, I think the Red Ninja is the best of the lot. I'm probably not the only person who thinks that, given that he's been a good bit scarcer than the other two.
The Red Ninja is not derived from the Storm Shadow molds. Storm Shadow, in the Retaliation line, has a number of high-tech components to his costume. The Red Ninjas are a lot more traditional-looking.
The Red Ninja is wearing a somewhat loose-fitting hood and face mask, that only leaves the area around his eyes exposed. His eyes are extremely well detailed and very neatly painted. His eyebrows are also visible, and a tiny fraction of his face around the eyes, but this is all that is exposed. While it's tough to read any sort of expression with just the eyes, I'd have to say that he looks rather determined, and not especially friendly.
The Red Ninja is wearing a loose-fitting red tunic over what looks like a black undershirt. The garment underneath this tunic is black, leading all the way up the neck, even though not much of it shows on the figure, of course. The tunic has an ornamental border, and is tucked off to the right into a black belt designed to look like fabric.
The Red Ninja has loose-fitting red trousers, secured only by armored-looking knee pads, one of the few advanced-looking uniform components on the figure, and by armored-looking protective shin guards secured around the lower legs.
The Red Ninja appears to be wearing black sandals, but the bottoms of his feet look more like he's running around in his socks, which are also red, and distinctly separate the big toe from the rest of the group. I'm not entirely sure what to make of that.
The sleeves of the Red Ninja's uniform are also rather loose-fitting, but much like the trousers, they are brought in near the wrist by armored-looking protective guards on the lower arm and the backs of the hands.
The hands themselves are remarkable sculpts. Both are posed in martial arts positions, and both have several distinctively separate fingers. This cannot have been an easy sculpt to create, and I doubt that it was an easy mold to make, either. We're talking very small hands that aren't even a half inch in length, with individual fingers that aren't even a quarter of an inch long. Their diameter isn't even a sixteenth of an inch. I'm impressed that you could even create molds to get that out of plastic.
There's one separate piece that is attached to the figure during assembly that is part of the Red Ninja's uniform. It's the black belt around the waist, and it also includes a shoulder strap that goes over the right shoulder. The belt itself has two lengthy ends that taper down almost to the knee. It's a nicely made piece that really looks good on the figure.
There isn't a lot of painted detail on the Red Ninja. The most complex painting is the eyes, which as I indicated has been superbly done. The rest is mostly black trim on the otherwise completely red figure, and includes the undershirt, decorative border on the tunic, and the various protective guards at the knees, lower legs, and arms.
Perhaps a little surprisingly, there is no Cobra emblem on the figure's uniform, despite the fact that the brief detail on the package card indicates that the Red Ninjas do work for Cobra. However, it also states that they carry out secret missions for Cobra, so maybe we have a situation here where Cobra doesn't want the Red Ninjas advertising their allegiance. One can assume they were recruited by Storm Shadow.
The articulation of the figure is excellent. There have been some complaints about how some of the Retaliation figures have more limited articulation than one has come to expect from the modern G.I. Joe line. There's a degree to which these criticisms are valid, especially on the vehicle driver figures. There are other instances where this criticism is less valid. I'm not going to gripe about a lack of ankle articulation as long as the figure can stand up on his own two feet well.
However, it does appear that the ninjas in the Retaliation line, and that would include the Red Ninja, as well as Storm Shadow and Snake-Eyes, definitely caught a break in the articulation department. There's nothing for anybody to complain about here. The Red Ninja is fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows, including a swivel, wrists, very extensively, mid-torso, legs, knees, and ankles.
The ankles are particularly interesting, as the feet not only move "up and down", but have a certain "side to side rotation", which allows for better balance in more action based stances. It's a little difficult to explain, and it's not an articulation point that I see very often. If you can imagine the axis of rotation being along the toes and heel, you've about got it. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time a G.I. Joe figure has had this particular motion, and the Red Ninja also shares it with the Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow figures. And it does indeed help him keep his balance in some rather extreme poses.
Te Red Ninja comes with a nice supply of accessories, including a pair of very impressive swords, molded in black with silver-painted blades, as well as a missile-firing device that also acts as a zip-line, which comes with seven feet of string. That's almost as long as the G.I. Joe Aircraft Carrier, the USS Flagg, and it's two feet longer than what was supplied to the Storm Shadow and Snake-Eyes figures.
And the Red Ninjas might just need it. The brief text on the package -- and yes, I miss the file cards -- reads: "From their mountain top dojo, these masters of mid-air battles use their zip lines and ninja swords to attack anyone who dares to enter."
Based on a few of the trailers that I've seen for the movie, there's no shortage of not just mountain top, but mountain SIDE action, with Snake-Eyes going up against a number of Red Ninjas along a very high, steep, sheer mountain. That alone will keep me from seeing this movie in IMAX. I don't do so well with sheer drops. But, hey, if you're a ninja, whatever, right?
So, what's my final word? I was immensely pleased when I learned that there would be a Red Ninja figure in the Retaliation line. These guys have been a part of the G.I. Joe universe ever since Storm Shadow first came on the scene, and from a figure standpoint, it did take a while for them to get any respect, especially after that first rather ridiculous outing. But they recovered their dignity, and have since put in a number of impressive appearances since then, and certainly, this one may be the best yet.
This is an extremely cool, highly impressive figure, well designed, certainly well-detailed, neatly painted, and with a level of articulation that any ninja would be pleased with. He comes with a couple of nicely made swords, and -- okay, the zip line may be a little "toyetic" for the average collector, but the line has to appeal to kids, as well, and the gimmick certainly fits with the previews that I've seen, and it's not hard to imagine a ninja using something like this should the need arise.
I sincerely believe that any G.I. Joe collector will be pleased with this figure, and will want to add at least one or more (if they can be found) Red Ninjas to their collection.
The RED NINJA from the G.I. JOE: RETALIATION line definitely has my highest recommendation!