Tuesday, July 24, 2018

2004 Vypra (Version 2) - Ninja Strike

In the early 2000's, army building was all the rage.  Collectors army built any figure with "Viper" in the name and pretty much everything else that had a Cobra logo, too.  By 2004, though, Hasbro had finally started to catch up with army building demands of the collecting community.  By the 2nd half of the year, collectors had seen cheap Bats, a nice Python Patrol set, retail army building two pack, a Crimson Guard body mail away, the long awaited and insanely popular Cobra Infantry and a nice pack of Urban army builders and characters.  There were also ridiculous amount of army building figures, two packs and single carded figures for those who preferred the Joe vs. Cobra sculpts, too.  The calvacade of troopers didn't end as Hasbro ended the year with a Cobra themed ninja pack.  In the set were 5 army builders: 3 repaints of the V1 Stormshadow and 2 repaints of Jinx, named Vypra.

In 1998, Hasbro released the first Vypra figure.  She was a radically different repaint of Jinx and wasn't hated by the collecting world.  (The notion of Jinx as a Cobra had been inserted into the Joe mythos with an early 90's DeSimone Convention figure, too.)  She collected dust at Toys R Us stores into 2000.  By 2001, though, Vypra had taken on a new life through fan fiction, dio-stories and other medium.  The 1998 figure had gotten stupidly expensive and hard to find.  For many collectors, Vypra was annoying since they had passed her by dozens of times at retail, only to now see the figure selling for insane amounts.  No doubt, Hasbro saw this too and took advantage of a chance to get a similar character back out to retail.

As a character, though, this Vypra has no relevance to the original figure.  This character is one of a set of twins who guard the Arashikage mystic sword forge.  All but the last line of the filecard is about the swordmaster and his amazing swords.  Vypra and her sister guard the forge.  There is no mention of why they work for Cobra and wear Cobra sigils on their uniforms.  The entirety of the figure's filecard rehashes a comic book arc from about 15 years prior to the figure's release and doesn't bother to explain why these sisters share a name with another Cobra nor why Cobra owns the swordsmithery.  The sisters are also not, technically, army builders.  They are unique characters who have an army of two.  But, with as horrible as the 2000's era filecards were, there was little chance that collectors were going to head them and be content with just the two figures.

Really, the who thing is kind of silly.  But, the explanation is that it was 2004 and Hasbro was starting to give up on G.I. Joe.  The brand managers of the time hated vintage style figures and wished they would go away.  Meanwhile, the new sculpts for 2004 had backed up at retail and pretty much everyone knew the line's second coming was nearing its end.  You can see the lack of effort the team put into the products as you follow the chronology.  The 2003 Toys R Us offerings were pretty great.  The first four 6 figure pack exclusives for 2004 had great figures, but relatively poor weapon choices.  By the time these Ninjas and the Desert Strike set were released, the figures were getting as lazy as the accessories.  In 2005, the sets turned into an embarrassing mess that not even Hasbro would admit to.  So, we're left with these figures without a decent explanation of who they are or why they affiliate with Cobra.

As for the Vypra figure...I'm of mixed opinions.  At her core, seeing the mold in colors so similar to Jinx seems highly derivative and unimaginative.  Both figures could have been done in Cobra blue, all black or even white to make them more distinctive than the original character for which the mold was created.  The artistic prints on the figures, though, are fairly well done.  The masks are intricate, voluminous and in line with the character.  But, we know that paint masks comprised a huge part of every set's expense during the 2000's.  (It was actually second behind packaging costs.)  So, all of the Ninja Strike's budget went into these paint masks.  This meant that there was less money to improve Stormshadow or even include some more interesting accessories like a new set of 1984 Stormshadow gear with any of the three V1 Stormshadow molded figures in the set.

While I can appreciate the paints masks on this figure, I feel that the money could have been better spent making the whole set more appealing and enduring.  15 years later, the Stormshadow figures are all but forgotten: replaced by better factory custom figures that were free of Hasbro's limitations.  The 1988 Stormshadow isn't a release most collectors would even recall.  It was a terrible design for Stormshadow and the colors fell flat.  Had the set made a few key improvements in paint applications and included better gear, it could be held in regard with things like the Anti-Venom set where collectors still appreciate the entire effort since it was mostly done right.

One big issue with the Ninja Strike set in general is the figure quality.  For some reason, the quality slipped a bit with this set.  The figures feature tight joints, easily rubbed paint and will have frozen rivets hindering movement.  It's very noticable when you compare a figure from this set with a figure from the Urban Strike, Desert Patrol or Anti-Venom sets which produced around the same time.  Collectors of the day noticed right away.  And, more than one collector stopped buying their army since they had no desire to acquire tons of poor quality figures.  At the time, you could accomplish that far better figure releases from Funskool.

Vypra's accessories are somewhat lame.  Her weapons are a black version of the 1989 Snake Eyes sword and a pair of nunchuks from the Ninja Force era of figures.  While you can't disparage the fact that she includes ninja type weapons, the complement of gear seems haphazard and lazy.  Despite two Jinx molds in the mix, the set did not include any of Jinx's original gear.  And, since they had used her gear in 2003, we know it was available to Hasbro.  She also includes a long skirt.  Here, the paint masks really come out.  The visual of the figure wearing it helps differentiate her from Jinx.  But, the skirt is very rigid plastic and greatly hinders the figure's movement.  It's a situation where appearance reigns over function.

In the early 2000's, female figures were still seen as collector bait.  As the Joe line was short on overall female figure options, all the females that Hasbro had available saw re-release after re-release.  The Jinx mold was no different.  After the 1998 Vypra release, Jinx returned as a member of Tiger Force in 2003.  In the summer of 2004, Jinx's body was used for the Comic Pack Scarlett.  These two Vypra releases finished off the mold and Jinx never appeared again.  (For Jinx fans, though, there is also the vintage version from 1987 and two variants of Sonya Blade that use Jinx's body, but a new head and different feet on the movie version.)  While there was always more that could have been done with a vintage figure mold, Hasbro got their money from Jinx and fans of the mold have far more to collect than exists with other characters of Jinx's release year.

It's hard to get a gauge on this Vypra's pricing.  It seems you can get loose, mint and complete Ninja Strike sets sell in the $40 range.  Yet, the 2 Vypras alone will often set you back $30.  This version, alone, seems to sell in the $13-$15 range if she is complete and has the filecard.  Since the Red Ninja Vipers aren't bad and the Black Dragon Ninja has some uses, too, it seems that its far more economical to just buy a full, loose set.  Hasbro made around 20,000 of these sets.  And, while they sold out at retail during the 2004 holiday season, they were never hard to find and any collector who wanted a set or six could easily find them both in stores and online.

For me, this figure is rather insignificant.  Jinx has never really resonated with me.  And, this figure just looks like Jinx with a paint job that ate up all the development money from this set and cost me decent Stormshadow gear for the better figures.  If I want to use a Vypra, I'll use the 1998 figure since it's something different.  But, lots of collectors love this figure.  That's why they still sell for a decent premium today.  The paint masks are intricate and show what Hasbro was capable of doing when they actually tried.  But, Joe interest was dying off as 2004 turned to 2005 and sets like this Ninja Strike were part of the reason why.  The set seemed so great and then delivered so little when it actually was released to collectors.

2004 Vypra Version 1 Version 2, 1997 Scarlett, 1998, Toys R Us Exclusive

2004 Vypra Version 1 Version 2, 1997 Scarlett, 1998, Toys R Us Exclusive

2004 Vypra Version 1 Version 2, 1997 Scarlett, 1998, Toys R Us Exclusive


  1. More Cobra females...great idea....making them Jinx with curtain patterns on one side...odd way to go.

    I returned a Cobra Ninja Clan six pack to TRU because a Red Ninja's shoulder broke, not a little crack, it straight up tore apart. I only got two of the pack, the least of any of the Cobra 6-packs.

    I found a 2004 Vypra at a yard sale. It was the other one, though, missing the skirt. It may have been the only 2000's TRU exclusive I've come across like that (and never any 1997-1998 stuff). It's strange but the early 2000's Joe stuff isn't out there on the garage sale "circuit" much. It's not because people sell it on ebay instead, I don't think. I find Star Wars stuff fairly regularly (as regularly as I can find action figure stuff...maybe 1 out 20 sales at best). I'm more likely to find the Valor vs Venom fast food Joe toys than anything.

  2. this set was the last joe product i ever bought at retail, two of the storm shadows had frozen joints and hard plastic hands that made them feel like corps! figures and the V2 had some bizarre plastic bubble on his hand that when removed, rendered the hand more or less useless. i had reached a point where my collection was much larger than it needed to be and i essentially went "fuck this" and liquidated everything but a handful of vintage figures. looking back i didn't really miss anything worthwhile in 2005 or 2006 and never cared about the modern style figures at all. this set kind of just reminds me of getting frustrated with a hobby.

  3. The soft plastic skirt can get in the way and has more black wash than I'd like, but it also works with other figures and looks decent on Ninja Force Scarlett.