Review by Fred Meyer & Chris Chung
Pics by Fred Meyer
If there was one team in G.I. Joe that espoused the popular culture of the early 1990’s it’s Ninja Force. Thanks to the pop culture phenomenon that was the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, ninjas were EVERYWHERE. From movies to comic books to television, the once-secretive martial arts warriors were now as common in the public eye as Air Jordans and Sony Walkmans. In an attempt to keep up with times, the ten year old G.I. Joe brand introduced a brightly-colored group of martial arts specialists of their own. Led by Storm Shadow, this motley crew of warriors was discontinued just two years later with the cancellation of the ARAH line. With just a quick appearance in the DiC cartoon they might have faded into obscurity entirely if not for the efforts of the G.I. Joe Collector’s Club who resurrected a lone team member to confront the menace of Compound Z in the 2014 Collector’s Convention set. Ladies and Joe fans, meet T’Jbang-- the silent ninja commando and second cousin to Storm Shadow.
Ah yes, another character straight from left field that was a “WTF?!” moment for many fans when he was announced. I have a sneaking suspicion that we're either getting as many of the doable Ninja Force characters as we can because either a Ninja Force con set would not go over to well with the fans, or because a Ninja Force con set is coming, and they don't have room for everyone, so the easy ones are tossed out a head of time. I guess time will tell.
For me personally, I never liked him. Absolutely nothing about his monochromatic blue jeans and yellow construction worker safety vest indicated “ninja” to me. Sure, he had some throwing stars and some melee weapons, but so what, so do a lot of other characters. To further draw me away, I felt his characterization of being “a ninja who took an oath of silence and never speaks” was so, so, so, dumb. Golly shucks, I wonder what other ‘Joe ninja is silent and doesn't speak? So, what, is that he new Ninja Club pledge week requirement; not to speak? It was almost as if Larry Hama wrote him as a “mute” on his filecard because he knew the guy was bland and was too stupid looking to take seriously in the comic, so he minimized his presence by not allowing him to speak. I don't know about you, but if there was a zombie outbreak, I'd want a teammate to tell me if something was coming instead of staying silent just "because".
(Oh, and for those who wonder how the heck you say his name, it’s pronounced phonetically as “Sha-Bang”.)
To borrow a phrase: “to build a ninja, you have to have ninjas.” In the case of T’Jbang, it’s easier to build a new ninja commando when a library of appropriate parts already exists. Like many figures produced by the G.I. Joe Collector’s Club, T’Jbang is composed of a combination of already-existing parts. Used in his construction are the following:
Does this parts combination work to recreate the 1992 Ninja Commando? From a visual standpoint, it’s pretty good. The original T’Jbang had a padded chest plate as part of his sculpt whereas this version uses the removable torso armor from the Resolute comic pack Storm Shadow. (v28 for those of you keeping score at home.) Otherwise, the rest of the body is merely a shirtless guy in a pair of blue pants and there’s a plethora of parts out there to produce that design.
We should probably mention that T'Jbang also suffers from "scale creep", as he is very tall compared to many of the other figures. I really wish Hasbro and the Club would go back to a standard buck in size, then adjust accordingly for tall characters like Roadblock, or shorter figures like the females. But the scale overall has been a jumbled mess. He;s also another one of these guys with a hunched vulture neck. It's not bad in a frontal view, but noticeable from the side. Why exactly can't 'Joes stand up straight?
Within the fiction and without, I don't think he was a smart idea to go against zombies, seeing how he has bare arms and potentially a bare chest without his padding.* Not cool when MOPP 4 and BSI (Body Substance Isolation) protocols are mission mandated.
*Speaking of his chest padding, it doesn't stay on and there's nothing to keep in on. It doesn't have any straps to tighten it, so you just set it over his head and let it flop around. If his backpack would stay on that could help anchor it in place, but my backpack's peg was so rubbery, it would only bend and not slide into his back. In lieu of the clear rubber bands we usually get with figures, I ended up gluing his vest on---which is something I hated to do, but it was the only permanent solution. Besides, he looks dumb with a bare chest, so why would I need it to come off again?
I do like the paint apps used on the shin guards which replicate the paint apps of the vintage figure quick nicely. Overall, I can’t complain about the body design which is replicating a ninja whose color palette of choice is bright blue and yellow. Of course, in the 90’s that made perfect sense and this figure really is a throwback to that era.
I concur. Even though I still don’t like the colors, the Club did a great job here making a very successful homage to the original---both in form, and deco. Granted I’m not so keen on that in principle, but for nostalgia fans who demand every vintage figure to be remade, this is right up their alley.
My only gripe with the paint, is the seemingly now corporate I Ching hexagram on his chest padding. The original didn’t have that, and this new incarnation didn’t need it either. It was just a needless showpiece meant to enhance some otherwise empty space, but that empty space was fine as is, and by adding the insignia, it actually takes away a bit of the ties to the vintage figure that so many people appreciate. And really, are these ninjas so vain that they have to advertised their schools like it was a popularity contest? Since his chest pad would have been fine without it, I think that black paint would have been better used elsewhere; on someone else’s chest gear. Like… mmm, maybe the Steel Brigade Commander’s vest?
If the figure design has any detractors they’re found on the forearms. First, the hands used are from the “Ultimate” Storm Shadow figure released in Retaliation wave 3.5. These hands feature some very stylized fingers which have trouble gripping the included accessories. The hands have trouble with the Kusarigama but do a decent job of holding the shuang gou swords. As far as the crossbow, well, that’s another story entirely. My second issue is with the forearm guards that are borrowed from the Storm Shadow v34 figure. From a visual standpoint they are an excellent parts choice to recreate the design of the sculpted guards on the original vintage figure. However, they’re just a bit too long and, once the figure’s elbows are bent, they end up covering part of the hands. If they were just a millimeter or two shorter this wouldn’t present a problem but it is worth noting for those individuals who actually pose their figures from time-to-time.
Yup. I had to trim the pads a tad and glue them into place as they kept twisting.
One of the high points of recent G.I. Joe Collector’s Club offerings has been the use of brand new head sculpts from the talented designers at Boss Fight Studio and T’Jbang is a fine example of their work. At first glance, this is a pretty simple design-- a clean shaven man in a bandanna.
The head is great, but I can’t help think a Lucha libre mask over a ninja’s. The colors just scream wrestling.
What can be so hard about that, right? Well, take a closer look and you’ll see a head that oozes character. With his asymmetrical smirk, T’Jbang has an amused expression as if he’s found something amusing and yet cannot share it with anyone due to his vow of silence. In addition there are some truly sharp paint applications on the front of the mask that really help add some distinction to the design. Had this figure just featured a reuse of an existing head I might have passed on him but this newly tooled piece was a definite selling point for this Joe fan.
In terms of equipment, T’Jbang’s kit is a combination of faithful nods to his vintage gear with some zombie-killing items thrown in as well. Included with the Ninja Commando are the following:
The vintage T’Jbang was packaged with a bizarre weapon that was identified as a “battle axe”. In reality, this weapon was a pair of the shuang gou “tiger hook” swords merged into a single piece. The Kusarigama makes sense to help keep the zombies at bay although the swords would seem to be a more practical choice. In a move that may have been inspired by the character of Darryl from “The Walking Dead”, T’Jbang is given a crossbow for greater range. I’ll be honest-- it’s not what I would have expected to see included with this particular character and the weapon isn’t a great fit in the Ultimate Storm Shadow hands. (Personally, I think this would have been a better fit for Outback but c’est la vie.) Still, from a silent weapons standpoint the crossbow makes logical sense and I’ve got no complaint here.
His weapons do nothing for me. But then again, either does his inclusion into this set.
I’ve never had a strong attachment to Ninja Force. These figure debuted the year after I graduated high school at the tail end of the original G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero era and, quite honestly, my interests were elsewhere at the time.
Either did I. Now, some of them looked cool on paper, but most of them were ruined by action attack gimmicks that destroyed the line of the figure---Scarlett being the worst. T’Jbang wasn’t ruined by his action gimmick, he was just boring.
Yet, when this figure was previewed I knew that I’d have to snag one down the road simply because of the novelty of the character. T’Jbang is a silent ninja running around in bright blue and yellow. From a visual standpoint he couldn’t stand out any more from the rest of the Zombie Hunters if he tried-- but I don’t think that zombies are really all that color sensitive. Plus, the new Boss Fight Studio head sculpt is pretty terrific-- with just enough character found in the details to make him truly interesting. He’s one of those characters that will appeal to all “neon 90’s” Joe fans as well as ninja aficionados.
The Bottom Line: A great update to an obscure late Gen 1 character. He’s worth snagging for a decent price for the new head sculpt alone!
For me, despite the colors, the parts that don't stay on, and his size, he's still a good looking figure and one of the better figures in the core boxed set. He probably isn't a must have for a casual collector with no prior appreciation for Ninja Fore, but if someone is keen on his design, persona, or for other reasons and are on the fence, then yeah, he's a worthwhile purchase.
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