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REVIEW:
G.I. JOE 25th ANNIVERSARY RED NINJA
By Thomas Wheeler


I found it rather unusual that a Cobra Red Ninja was added to the 25th Anniversary G.I. Joe lineup. Although essentially introduced in the same "Silent Issue" where we first met Storm Shadow, where they functioned as his minions against Snake-Eyes, we didn't really get to know much about the Red Ninjas until quite some time later, and there wasn't any official Red Ninja figure until the 1990's, and that one was a vehicle driver in Ninja Force, recolored from another figure, and bore little resemblance to the characters as they had appeared in the comics.

The 25th Anniversary line has, for the most part, been reproducing characters from the early years of G.I. Joe, in the new figure format. We've seen the likes of Duke, Cobra Commander, Destro, Snake-Eyes, Storm Shadow, Beach-Head, Firefly, Zartan, more or less in their original and/ or best-known character designs, implemented on the new body construction.

The Red Ninja figure caught my attention. Maybe it was because this was a character that SHOULD have probably been done around the time when they were first introduced in the comics, and weren't. There have been Red Ninjas since that time. But there is something to be said here for the fact that, figure format notwithstanding, here is a Red Ninja on an individual card that is designed to be extremely similar to the package design for the earliest G.I. Joe figures from the early-to-mid 1980's, and that's never happened before.

Let's discuss the packaging, something I realize I don't usually do, but in this instance it is significant. In the 1980's, G.I. Joe figures were sold on an individual card. The main background color for that card was black. There was a bold, white G.I. Joe logo near the top of that card. There was, and I feel that this was one of the top selling points of the line from the "direct encounter" perspective, a superb painting of the figure taking up most of the left side of the card. The backdrop behind that figure was designed to look like an explosion, with a large white center, tapering to yellow, orange, red, and than to the black of the card.

This explosion in later years would be transformed into a sort of random straight line pattern. The paintings still looked cool, and the backdrops would continue to change over the years. But there was something about that original explosion that was especially impressive.

As for the character paintings themselves, they were true works of art. As someone with an artistic background myself, as well as someone who was already in his early 20's when G.I. Joe first came on the scene in 1982, I really appreciated this. Consider the toy package designs of the time. Mego had used comic book illustrations for their super-heroes. Kenner had used screen shots from the movies for their Star Wars toys. Here was original artwork, and extremely well done. It wasn't a line drawing. It wasn't comic art or some sort of almost-manga thing. It wasn't designed to look like an animation cel. It certainly wasn't computer art. It was a painting.

The remainder of the typical G.I. Joe package card, the lower right, was reserved for the figure and his accessories. The back of the card featured rows of smaller illustrations across the top half of the card, showing who else was available, while the lower half of the back of the card was a "file card" outlining the character's real name, and quite a bit about his personal and professional background.

This, too, was something that had never been done before. It would late become quite commonplace, but at the time, no one did it. Star Wars didn't. Mego didn't. Granted, it was assumed that the purchaser already knew who Luke Skywalker or Batman was. Snake-Eyes and Stalker were new on the scene.

So, how has Hasbro done with the 25th Anniversary packaging for their single-carded figures? Very well, I have to say. In many cases, they've either used the original artwork, or somebody has done one heck of a job duplicating it. The card even has the Hasbro logo of the time period on it, the blue "H" with the house inside of it. Hasbro's modern logo has the word "Hasbro" in a slightly tilted square with a smile under it. It's a nice touch, and it's to Hasbro's credit in duplicating the look of the original cards that I almost didn't catch it.

The outside border of the front of the card, and the G.I. Joe logo itself, have been done in a bright metallic silver, as part of the 25th Anniversary, obviously, and the 25th Anniversary logo also appears in the upper right of the card front. The figure and his accessories are placed in the lower right.

The back of the card does a good job of honoring the original, as well. There are rows of several currently available assortments, although the next one upcoming after the one that the Red Ninja is part of is shaded in grey. There are a few differences. In 1982, there obviously wasn't a www.gijoe.com Web Site, nor did the G.I. Joe Collectors' Club yet exist. Both are referenced.

The file card, however, is present and accounted for. There is a subtle difference, but it's a welcome one. While I don't know how many people will be buying these figures, and taking them off the card and actually cutting out the file card, they'll find one part of doing so slightly easier. The raised "tab" on the card has a more tapered angle on it. In 1982, this was a curved right angle, and was always the part of the card that was always a real hassle to get around even with the best caution and a good pair of scissors. This should be a little easier, and it's appreciated.

I do have to compliment whoever did the painting for the Red Ninja. Obviously, this wasn't something that could be called up from existing files. There never was a single-carded Red Ninja, nor any illustration from the Red Ninja figures that DID exist later on that could have been readily used on this package card. Nor is it just a recoloration of the 1984 Storm Shadow illustration as one might expect could have been done. It's an all-new painting. The artist had to create an illustration in a style that is sadly seldom seen these days, and had to more or less match a style that hasn't really been used for even G.I. Joe figures in a great many years, so it would look good alongside those that did use the original artwork. In this, the artist suceeded magnificently.

Now, as to the Red Ninja himself. A comparison with the original G.I. Joe figures is inevitable, but is also surprisingly difficult. There really aren't very many common points, which, to be blunt, is one of the big reasons a lot of long-time collectors aren't all that favorable in their opinion of the 25th Anniversary line. The Red Ninja has screws in his upper legs, and that seems to be about the only common point.

Structurally, the Red Ninja, as a fairly typical example of a 25th Anniversary G.I. Joe, is taller and thinner than his traditional-style ancestors. Hes just about 4" in height, and distinctly skinnier in general build. However, on a decidedly positive note, the Red Ninja most definitely does NOT have the weird, pseudo-anime proportions of many of the "newsculpt" G.I. Joe figures which were part of the line from 2000-2006. The Red Ninja is a much more evenly-proportioned figure than them.

Structurally, the Red Ninja seems to owe more of his design to modern Star Wars figures than to earlier G.I.Joe figures. The overall arm design is especially similar, as is the way the head and ankles are assembled and articulated. The legs evoke more of a nod to Marvel Legends, especially with the double-jointed knees. In an additional comparison to G.I. Joe apart from the leg screws, the legs do appear to be attached to a metal "T-hook" located in the lower torso of the figure, but what this might be attached to I am not certain.

The only articulation on the Red Ninja that I have a problem with, and it's honestly my main articulation/appearance gripe with the whole line, is the lack of articulation at the waist, and the strange mid-torso point. This is definitely carried over from Star Wars, but there are characters within Star Wars where you can get away with this more easily. One of the reasons I like Clone Troopers as much as I do is because the armor design allows most of the articulation points to be concealed by the armor design. This includes the mid-torso point.

This is NOT the case with the Red Ninja, or any other figure with this articulation design whose costume or uniform has to be sculpted to look like cloth. The end result, inevitably, is a less than perfect flush fit that just doesn't look that good, and tends to look like someone -- maybe another ninja -- took a sword around the circumference of the character and this is the result. Unfortunately, this is one design element that should have been seriously reconsidered for this line.

I cannot, however, find fault with the LEVEL of articulation, certainly. The Red Ninja is poseable at the head, arms, elbows, wrists, mid torso, legs, knees, and ankles. Most of these articulation points either have multiple points of movement, such as the legs, or have swivels as well as back and forth movement, such as the elbows and ankles.

Detailing on the Red Ninja is excellent, both in sculpting and painting. The headsculpt reminds me considerably of the headsculpt used for the ninjas from Hasbro's original-G.I. Joe-based Mortal Kombat line from the mid-90's. Although only the eyes and eyebrows show on the figure's head, there is still a look of determination and nastiness to be seen. There is a black border around the tunic that is nicely sculpted and neatly painted. The wristbands and boots have been given a wash of watered down black paint, but it looks less like weathering and more like they're made from a different sort of material than the rest of the uniform, that is a slightly darker red. The Red Ninja is also wearing little sandals on his feet, that even have sculpted treads in the bottom. Curiously, these sandals may be the most intricately detailed part of the figure. A black Cobra insignia has been very well applied to the left side of the chest on the shirt.

Let's discuss the accessories. One item I'm not sure if I should consider an accessory or not. A number of the figures in the 25th Anniversary line have parts to their uniforms that, while sculpted to the bodies of the originals, have been assembled as separate parts on these figures. In the Red Ninja's case (and assuming he is largely derived in basic design from the original Storm Shadow), that separate part is the shoulder belt. And for this edition, a quiver and two sword sheaths have been attached to it. Now, it's very nicely done. The quiver is highly detailed and has the symbol of the Arashikage Ninja clan sculpted into it. The tips of four arrows can be seen at the top.

Of course, the Red Ninja also comes with separate accessories. The largest of these is a nice display base with a Cobra logo sculpted into the top, along with a foot peg, and the words "Code Name: Red Ninja" on the front. And the base has a 2007 Copyright date underneath.

He also has a bow. Now, bows are tricky things to make at this size. Make the bowstring too thin, and it'll break. Ask the original Storm Shadow. An intact 1984 Storm Shadow bow can go for some serious bucks. Make the bowstring too thick, and it'll look ridiculous. The Red Ninja comes with a pretty decent-looking bow.

He also comes with a large weapon on a long pole. I'm honestly not sure what this thing is. It's a large silver weapon, rather ornate, with a semi-circle at one end with spikes around it. It almost looks as though it's designed to grab an opponent at a distance, and force them to keep their distance while it also inflicts a fair amount of damage on them with the spikes. Nasty piece of work, whatever it is.

And there are two swords and a small knife. All have black hilts and silver blades. Very nicely made, detailed, and painted. The two swords, of different lengths, also have gold around their hilts. They are designed to fit into the backpack. The small knife is designed to fit into a small loop on the waist belt. I have to say that Hasbro has done a really excellent job with these accessories.

Allow me to relate the file card for the Red Ninja.

COBRA RED NINJA

File Name: Identities Unknown

Primary Military Specialty: Vehicle Operations

Secondary Military Specialty: Ninja

Red Ninjas are ruthless mercenaries who work mainly for Cobra Commander. They earn top dollar in battle because they are one of the most feared ninja warrior clans of all time. When Red Ninjas enter a fight, they're in it until the bitter end (or until they get paid more money to fight someone else). G.I. Joe is the only force that has ever defeated them, but they had to call upon every tactic and weapon in their arsenal before they were able to subdue them. Red Ninjas possess advanced ninjitsu skills that are hard to find, and they fight like razor-toothed sharks in a feeding frenzy.

"We spin and chop with sword and battle axe so quickly that you never see the blades coming."

That "Vehicle Operations" reference made me raise an eyebrow, as did the lack of reference to the Arashikage clan, so I did a little research. The first official "Red Ninja" figure was sold as part of the Ninja Force line in 1993, with a rather peculiar vehicle called a Battle Ax. Sure enough, the file cards are almost identical. This makes sense, since the 25th Anniversary line is intended as a tribute to the early days of G.I. Joe, and that's as early a file card for a Red Ninja as exists.

So what's my final take on this? In and of itself, the Red Ninja is not a bad figure. I have to say that he's not especially compatible with the traditional-style line that certainly represents the vast bulk of the history of the Real American Hero. But he does represent a character that didn't receive a figure in the early years that are represented by the bulk of the 25th Anniversary collection, so he's an interesting addition to that 25th Anniversary collection from that standpoint.

The Red Ninja is a nicely-done figure, and I'm pleased to have him. I hope you have enjoyed this review.