This is the story of a small company, that by the year 1985 acquired the rights to make toys based on a few ninja characters. The company name was Child’s Play, and it was based in New York, although the toys were manufactured in Hong Kong. At the time, ninjas and martial artist in general were extremely popular among children, not only because of movies, but also because of the many toylines with martial artists in them or videogames.
As said before, Child’s Play was a small company (it was founded in 1984), but they managed to start producing and selling their Ninja Warriors around 1986. The first line of toys included 9 figures, 1 horse and one playset:
- Castle Keep – The Master of Strength
- Dragon Mark – The Apprentice
- Jonin – The Ninja Master
- Night-Wing – The Master of Fight
- Scorpia – The Evil Lord of War
- Shadow San – The Master of Invisibility
- Star Caster – The Apprentice Student of the Shadows
- Swift-Strike – The Master of Archery
- Whirl-Wind – The Master of Fright
- Topi Ken (Horse) – The Leaping Blade
- The Dragon Castle – The Ninja Hideaway that transforms into Ninja Fortress
NOTE: There is no evidence that every reference was actually made, because there is no known carded figures by Child’s Play, nor boxed playsets or horses.
The figures are very similar in size to the Masters of the Universe, but slightly better articulated, since they can move their wrists. They’re even made of a similar plastic and included plastic weapons/accessories. Like some masters of the universe, these figures came with a piece of cloth simulating a kimono or some kind other of exotic dress.
The story of the Ninja Warriors, as written in the cardback is:
“On the Island of Japan, over ten centuries ago, long before Columbus discovered America, before the Magna Carta was signed in England, there were an elite group of warriors. These warriors used the martial arts of all the countries of the orient and perfected weapons of silent destruction.Some served no masters, save greed and evil. Other were bound by honor, loyalty, kindness and dedicated their lives to the preservation of good. Both factions were skilled at the art of Ninjutso. Both factions were known as Ninja.Today one thousand years later, the art of Ninjutsu still exists, having been handed down through the generations. Now, as then, there are those who serve only evil and those who strive to stop them. They have come to be known as the NINJA WARRIORS”
Back to the story of the figures, Child’s Play thought these figures had so much potential, it would be better to ally with a bigger toy company with more resources and and experience. We don’t know if they contacted Mattel (who might not have been interested, since they already had their Masters of the Universe), or any other toy companies. At the end, they reached an agreement with Hasbro. In 1986, Hasbro had already included some ninjas/martial artists in their “star-“toyline G.I. Joe, and had no line in this size or with this theme, so it was a chance for them.
Up to this point everything was great, Hasbro released the same figures, with a few differences. First one is that the line was shortened to 6 figures, without the horse or the castle. These figures were renamed, maybe they thought they had better (more commercial) names for them, or maybe it was a matter of copyrights…
The third difference, is that the evil ninjas described in Child’s Play’s cardback turned all good guys. Hasbro’s toyline would be: “Ninja Warriors, Enemies of Evil”.
The six characters by Hasbro are:
- Dojo Kan
- Lord Taka
- Dragon Master
- Nunchuka San
- Star Caster
They can be seen at a TV-ad in which actors are disguised as ninjas, and some scenes of a cartoon series are shown. That cartoon series, although planned, was never made. The names used by Hasbro should correspond to the same figures from Child’s Play, but just with the pictures in the backcard above, it is difficult to say which one is which. For example, Jonin could be Lord Taka, while Swift Strike could be Dragon Master.
Some sources say there were a few more characters planned, although I have found no evidence of this anywhere.
The line was cancelled after one a few months. Hasbro argued that the ninja figures were not selling well, because a disinterest of children. Hasbro abandoned its plan to launch a TV advertising campaign that had been anticipated in the agreement between the two companies. After this denial, Child’s Play sued Hasbro, as they thought Hasbro hadn’t done enough to promote the line, or even suspected, that Hasbro just wanted to get rid of a small competitor. The Federal Court failed for Hasbro, as (the contract) “would not have required Hasbro slavishly to devote its efforts to marketing the Line”.
No matter what, these figures were also sold in Europe, where ninjas were still popular. As a matter of fact, there were two more characters released in Spain (we could say some “Spanish Exclusive” or “European Exclusive” Ninja Warriors’ figures):
- Hara Kiri (repainted Dragon Master)
- Kamikaze Kid (repainted Dojo Kan)
The popularity in Spain was probably higher than in other countries, and local toy manufacturers launched bootleg or similar figures. Most notable are the “Guerreros Minyas” by Juyba Toys and from the same company, smaller plastic figures.
Apart from these, other Chinese companies also bootlegged Ninja Warriors. I have one of these, I hope I can show it some time in the future.
One last curiosity, is that there are two types of blister cards: the first one has a nice backcard with some illustrations and texts, while the second one has nothing on it. My cards are the second type, that’s why I am not showing the backcard. To see the first type, visit my next article on "Ninja Warriors": #386 NINJA WARRIORS – KAMIKAZE KID and HARA-KIRI (1986)
This article will be continued sometime… stay tuned.
Information for this article was retrieved from the very curious blog: Ninja Law: “Ninja inthe Federal Courts.
- Name: NUNCHUKA-SAN, LORD TAKA and DRAGON MASTER
- Toy Line: Ninja Warriors (English, Int’l) / Ninja I Guerrieri delle Arti Marziali (Italian) / Guerreros Yakse (Spanish)
- Year: 1985 (Child's Play) / 1986 (Hasbro)
- Company: Child’s Play (U.S.A.) / Hasbro (U.S.A.)
- Size of the figure: 12 cm