Review & pics by: Fred Meyer
G.I. Joe Retaliation Wave 4
The concept of the sightless warrior is a classic trope. From comic characters like Daredevil and Stick to film characters like Sheldon Sands and the eponymous Master of the Flying Guillotine, the notion of a peerless fighter that has lost his vision is immensely captivating. Larry Hama first introduced his interpretation of this concept when the Blind Master made his debut in G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #59. This former G.I. was an honorary member of the Arashikage clan who proved to be one of the major influences on Cobra Commander’s son Billy. In 2013, the Blind Master was one of the characters who made the transition from the comic page to the big screen in G.I. Joe: Retaliation. Portrayed by the RZA, this version of the character was released in plastic form in the hard-to-find final wave of Retaliation action figures. Did Hasbro do the characterjustice? Read on and find out one Joe fan’s opinion!
The Blind Master is a great example of how a different color scheme can lend new life to an existing parts combination. At first glance, this figure appears to be a man clad in darker martial arts robes with a long jacket over the top. However, more careful examination reveals that the body, arms, and legs of this figure are all from the same source body: the 30th Anniversary/Renegades version of Storm Shadow! (Someday I’ll get around to reviewing that figure instead of all of the other times it’s been reused!) Personally, I think this body works pretty effectively for the Blind Master. After all, how much variation can you really have in a classic martial arts gei? This body worked extremely well for both the Retaliation Red Ninja as well as the Dark Ninja. This parts use also affords the Blind Master a fantastic range of motion, save for one small detail.
In order to replicate the figure’s appearance in the film the design team added in the rubber skirt from the Rise of Cobra Storm Shadow figure. From a visual standpoint, this really helps to set the character apart from the others that share this body. However, it also SEVERELY restricts his movement below the waist, rendering both the hips and knees near useless. The material in the skirt simply doesn’t have any flexibility to allow for more dynamic poses. In the past, Hasbro has experimented with soft goods cloth skirts on figures (most notably in the Star Wars line) and that really would have helped here. It seems to me that a choice was made to opt more for form over function and so the rubber skirt was used. After all, the Blind Master’s role in the film was more sensei than soldier-- how many people going to be putting this figure in “high kick” poses?
If there's one thing that can make or break a movie action figure it is the accuracy of the head sculpt in capturing the likeness of the actor. Over the years I've seen excellent plastic recreations of Hollywood's finest and I've seen renderings that would make the actor's mother run screaming from the room. Thankfully, the Blind Master falls more in the first category than he does the second. The overall resemblance to the RZA is fantastic-- from the cross hatched scar to the actor's beard the folks at Hasbro did their job well. The only minor difference that I notice between the two images above is found in the character's eyebrows. Seriously-- if that's all I can point out then this figure's head sculpt is doing its job. One interesting detail that I should point out is is found in the figure's pupils. If you look carefully, they're not black but rather a gray, which further reinforces the Blind Master's condition. It's a small detail but one that shows a real attention to detail.
In both the theatrical and extended action cuts of Retaliation the Blind Master is carrying a simple wooden staff which serves as a baton versus a fighting weapon. The action figure’s kit, however, is a martial arts movie aficionado's dream come true. Included with the Blind Master are the following:
There’s been a rumor floating around that the RZA had a hand in choosing the accessories for his action figure which might explain this assortment of pieces. For his few scenes in the film, the Blind Master was shown carrying a wooden staff that he used to get the attention of his pupils. This assortment of gear, however, is a almost a “greatest hits” of Kung-Fu movie gear. The Flying Guillotine weapon is pretty close to what was used in the film “Master of the Flying Guillotine” which is coincidentally about a blind martial arts master. The “nine ring sword” or modified Dao is considered to be a sword primarily used by street performers. The ridges on the top of the blade are intended to replicate nine metal rings that are set into the blade of the action weapon. The purpose of these seems murky and explanations for their purpose range from the addition of weight to provide a stronger “chop” to distracting an opponent by generating additional noise. The naginata staff is a classic weapon from more Kung-Fu movies than I can remember and it also doubles nicely for the Blind Master’s staff in the film. However, not to be forgotten is the dizi flute. It seems that you can’t be regarded as a “master” in the genre without playing this type of flute, alternating between offering proverbs and playing short sequences. (Remember “Kill Bill, Part 2” and the explanation of the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Trick? David Carradine also made great use of this prop in the Kung-Fu tv series.)
The only accessory that seems a bit odd to me is the face mask and that’s only because the design seems to be more African in nature. However, a friend pointed out that it is very similar to a series of masks worn in the Naruto anime series so who knows-- maybe someone at Hasbro is a fan. Regardless, this assortment does a nice job of helping to flesh out a character that had limited screen time in the film and helps to transform him into a master of weapons and deception. It’s a solid assortment of pieces that ranges from the practical to the fantastic. Now if only he could hold that flute properly!
As soon as he was announced, I knew that the Blind Master was a figure I was going have to acquire. I’m a sucker for the introduction of new characters into my collection as well as a fan of the more realistic head sculpts used on the film figures. The Blind Master is an excellent example of recreating a screen presence with minimal new tooling. While his uniform design isn’t 100% screen accurate it’s close enough and the use of the Renegades Storm Shadow body is an excellent choice-- even with the motion restrictions placed upon it by the rubber skirt. The head sculpt of this figure is a spot-on likeness for the Blind Master and the accessories provide enough “wushu gear” to equipment several figures. Does all of this justify the purchase of the Blind Master? I’d have to say “yes”. While the very nature of his role limits his use in most dioramas, the Blind Master makes for a different “background character” for an Arashikage display. He’s not Snake Eyes, Jinx, or even Kamakura who are up in the front of the action. Instead, he’s more akin to Yoda as seen in the classic original Star Wars trilogy. He functions well as the mentor/trainer who stands in the back, whacking the inattentive student with his staff and imparting cryptic proverbs between stanzas played on his dizi. He’s old school Kung-Fu fun at its best!
The Bottom Line: While not as poseable as he could be due to the rubber skirt, the Blind Master has a great actor likeness head sculpt, a solid design deco, and a dojo’s worth of interesting and unique wushu accessories. A solid addition to any Arashikage display.
Questions? Comments? Wonder why I didn't use Snakes Eyes in any of these photos?
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