I have often talked about the final retail days of the Joe line. I just started collecting again in 1995, right as the Joe line was disappearing from retail. Every trip to a store included a jaunt to the toy aisle to see what I could find. Often, there would be random Battle Corps figures that were either leftovers from 1994 shipments or backstock cases that were cleared out of the local retailer's distribution center. But, there were also other, common figures that lingered at various retailers. Some of the subsets that Hasbro introduced into the Joe line in 1993 and 1994 were not popular. As such, they hung around retail through 1995, well into 1996 and, in one case, were still there at the end of 1997. These subsets tend to be figures that even now, two decades later, are not popular with collectors. The four main culprits were the Star Brigade Armor Tech figures, the 1993 Ninja Force figures (though some figures from the series did tend to sell out), the Street Fighter Figures and the series that contains the subject of this profile: the Shadow Ninjas.
The Shadow Ninjas were one of Hasbro's last ditch attempts to throw something at the wall and see if it would stick with kids of the day. They were translucent, color changing figures who included action features. All three of these selling points diverged them from traditional Joe figures and, likely, lead to the substantially decreased popularity. Hasbro was desperate to revive sluggish G.I. Joe sales and wanted something that could compete against Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers while not deviating too far from the standard Joe fare. But, as the line wound down, the Hasbro designers became less and less attached to the legacy figures in their desperate hope they could spare the line from the post Kenner acquisition chopping block.
During the summer of 1995 and 1996, I would go to the local Toys R Us store three or four nights a week. I was home from school for the summer, working a full time day job and didn't have anything to do on most nights. So, I went toy hunting. Ostensibly, I was after the new Star Wars figures that Hasbro/Kenner had debuted in 1995. If you were collecting the POTFII line in 1995 and 1996, you know how incredibly frustrating it was. Hasbro wouldn't ship cases for months and months. When they did, the popular figures were shortpacked and impossible to find. Lame figures pegwarmed in epic numbers. You could go months without finding anything, skip two weeks and discover that the only shipment for that quarter in your area came in and sold out in that time. To offset the Star Wars frustration, I also went looking for Joes. The Toys R Us near me had a pretty solid selection of Battle Corps figures left over and was still putting out new cases of figures on a semi-regular basis through 1995. In 1996, the new shipments were sparser as the overstock was mostly sold through.But, you could still find stuff that was decent. What was constant, though, was peg after peg of Shadow Ninja figures. They simply didn't sell.
Each day, I would go and search through the pegs. On the nights there was something new, I'd buy it. On the many nights there was not, I went home empty-handed. After a few weeks of buying nothing, though, I'd get desperate. In those times, I'd end up buying a figure or two that I didn't really want. But, I wanted something new and would lower my standards for figures just to get something new. This is how I ended up with the 1993 Ninja Force Night Creeper, Col. Courage, Snow Storm and other, less than stellar figures in my collection. But, despite looking at them several times thinking that maybe I should give in and buy one, I simply never pulled the trigger on the Shadow Ninja figures. They were too far gone from my idea of Joe for me to purchase. As 1996 wound down, the traditional Joes at the store finally sold out with no more to come. The Armor Tech, Street Fighter and Shadow Ninjas remained. Slowly, the Street Fighter and Armor Tech figures disappeared. As 1997 dawned, the Shadow Ninjas remained the last bastion of the vintage Joe line that was on retail shelves. As I had no interest in them, I stopped looking for Joes on my TRU runs and solely focused on Star Wars figures. At some point, they simply disappeared: likely clearanced out. I didn't even notice they were gone and it wasn't until I found a cache of Armor Tech figures at a mall toy store in late 1997 that I even realized that I hadn't seen any Joes on the shelves in quite a while.
I am torn over this figure. I had a carded version lying in a box for years, never thinking about him at all. When I pulled him out for this profile, I was strangely drawn to the oddball face and eerie eyes. In fairly short order, I convinced myself that this figure was actually somewhat cool and I should immediately open it up. As I was about to cut open the bubble, I stopped myself. While I have an idea for a photo I'd like to try with this figure, I've often found that my ideas of photos and the actuality of them differ greatly. That lead me to rethink my decision to open the figure. Maybe I should keep it around? I think the packaged version is likely cooler than any loose version I would have. Especially when I considered that if I opened the figure up and took the photos, he would then disappear into a drawer, box or bag: likely never to be seen again. So, was there really a reason to open him for this one time use?
I considered buying a loose figure. They are insanely cheap. But, again, spending my sparse collecting dollars on a figure who would be used one time, in one photo just didn't make a lot of sense. Especially when I had the carded version sitting there. I've profiled figures of whom I only owned carded version before. In those cases, though, the figure was pretty standard: just a different configuration than other figures I already owned. Shadow Ninja Snake Eyes was slightly different. The plastic quality, different construction, action features and oddball accessories are an integral part of the figure's existence and are the parts that most make him worth reviewing. What to do? What to do?
In the end, I opened the figure. I figure I may regret it one day. But, I sincerely doubt that any Shadow Ninja figure will ever become super expensive. So, it's something easy to get in the future. For now, I have a loose figure for the purpose of this profile. Whether he is ever used again will remain to be seen. For now, though, I find myself liking the figure. There is something about the blank face, oddball coloring and overall design that is appealing. It's likely just new figure afterglow. But, I find myself thinking that this figure isn't all that bad.
This Shadow Ninja figure is a straight repaint of the 1993 Ninja Force Snake Eyes mold. The mold is fairly solid and the head is the selling point with the blank face and hollow eyes. The dark colors of the Shadow Ninja figure really sell this aspect of the mold and do add an element of creepiness to the overall ensemble. The light purple base color is interesting and something that reappeared on the 2002 Snake Eyes figure. It hints at a traditional Snake Eyes, but gives more flexibility within the concept of Shadow Ninjas. The figure also changes color in cold temperatures to an almost all white version you can see in the photos below.
The figure's construction is different. There is no O-ring. So, there is no waist articulation. The figure's arms move when you squeeze his legs together to create a "ninja chopping motion". This means that the legs are fairly rigid: making the figure hard to stand or pose. This also means that the position of the arms is determined by locking mechanisms inside the figure. So, they will not hold specific positions and will always default back to the lowest "lock" that's available. (This is why, in the photos, the arms of the full color figures are in the same position: there's no way to alter it slightly, you must do a massive move to change them at all.) Due to to the action figures, the figure feels loose in your hands. So, even straight out of the package figures don't seem to be gem mint: even if they are. Also note that the figure's elbows always remain white. This is due to the colors not changing on those sections: likely due to decreased plastic strength that would not work on these high stress areas. Other Shadow Ninjas feature the same white elbows and it's likely the designers determined it was better to have always white sections on the colored figures than dark sections on the all white figures: even if the figure's natural state is full color.
To change the figure's color, you simply dip him in hot water. Nearly boiling water turned mine the brilliant white you see below. Within about ten minutes, the figure reverted to his normal color. Through the years, figures stored in different conditions have different reactions. It's possible to find carded figures that are in the all white state, or the full color state. How the ones that are full white in the package would react to water are unknown. But, if you see dealers selling all white "variants" of the Shadow Ninjas, it's just the color change feature.
The figure includes the standard weapons tree that was common in the final two years of the line. On it are three swords, a knife, a battle stand, a set of nunchuks and two hand claws that are derived from the 1988 Stormshadow figure. There are two major issues with the accessories. First, the nunchuks. They are molded in a straight line. For other uses of this mold, the molding on the tree isn't an issue. But, the brittle plastic used for the Shadow Ninja accessories does not allow for the nunchuks to flex on the rope that separates the handles. So, the effect is more of a stick than actual nunchuks. The second is the set of hand claws. These are basically awesome accessories on every figure with which they were ever included. However, the Shadow Ninja Snake Eyes versions are missing an essential element: anything with which to connect them to the figure! There are neither grips nor plugs that will affix the claws to the figure's wrists or hands. Instead, there is a simple rectangular peg that does not attach to the figure not really fits into the figure's hand. So, you have these solid accessories, but no real way to use them with the figure. These are minor points, especially since the grey, translucent plastic used for the swords and knife is actually pretty cool.
Shadow Ninja figures were not popular, are not popular and will never be popular. Unlike the Series II Star Brigade figures where lower production runs drive up prices on obscure figures, it seems the Shadow Ninjas got a full production and were produced in more than ample numbers. (The fact that the cards were marked with a 1993 date indicates they were early releases and likely not subject to the truncated production runs that were ordered once the line's cancellation was imminent.) You don't often find Shadow Ninjas in the wild. But, tons of dealers bought up the overstock on the shelves in the mid 1990's and those figures are largely still out there. MOC, this figure can be had for under $12 shipped. A loose, mint and complete with filecard figure can be had at any time for around $5 and, if you are patient, even cheaper when someone tries to sell one on its own. From time to time, you see a figure spike in price. But, those are anomalies and do not denote the true value of the figure. Despite these low prices, I find it hard to recommend a Shadow Ninja figure. They are odd and quirky and that makes them somewhat fun. But, the action features, non standard construction and generally bizarre plastic make for a set of figures that really only have a place in the hearts of completists. If you don't have any Shadow Ninjas, $5 is a paltry price to get one. It's fun for about 8 seconds. After that, you wonder why you spent $5 on this figure when there were so many other things that money could have done.As a relic of its time, this figure is interesting. As anything else, though, it's a tough item to integrate into any collection.