1994 GI Joe Shadow Ninjas Bushido Review

1994 GI Joe Shadow Ninjas Bushido

Motto: “Like a pointed, crystal icicle, I can also be found in the Williams Sonoma holiday catalog for the unbelievable price of $399.99. ”

BUSHIDO was born in Queens, where he decided to become a samurai, like his father before him. Unfortunately, his father wasn’t actually a samurai, and a samurai isn’t really a thing you can still be. Just ask BUDO. Met his “blood brother” BANZAI at a bar in the Bronx, where they used a pocket knife to complete the unhygienic ritual that bonds them to this day. Using his parents’ money, he “studied abroad” in Iceland, where he learned everything he knows about being a Snow Ninja– which is “basically being a samurai, just ask anyone.” Watched SNAKE EYES and STORM SHADOW slap-box in the commissary once, so is one of GI Joe’s foremost martial arts experts. Wears high-top sneakers. 

Equipment:

  • Family Heirloom Samurai Hat (also from Williams Sonoma catalog) 
  • High Top Sneakers (no, seriously, this is on his actual file card)
  • Gun

My Childhood Experience with 1994 GI Joe Shadow Ninjas Bushido 

1994 GI Joe Shadow Ninjas Bushido

In 1994, GI Joe was winding down. The line hadn’t officially been canceled, but I think most kids could just feel it in the wind. It was harder to find new toys, there was no cartoon, and the comic was crossing over with Transformers. 

I was still into GI Joe in 1994, though, albeit at a decreased capacity. I only bought a few figures that year, but I liked them all. My friend and neighbor across the street, Mark, was also into GI Joe. He was a couple years older than me, but he must have had every figure and vehicle released from 1992-1993, along with plenty of mail away items (including the Killer WHALE) and toys from previous years. 

For his birthday in the summer of 1994, I saved up and bought him a Shadow Ninjas Bushido. I just thought the figure looked very cool with his samurai helmet and clear blue weapons. I also really liked my Ninja Force figures, as well as the few Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat figures I owned at the time (I honestly bought more MK figures than GI Joe figures in 1994). 

1994 GI Joe Shadow Ninjas Bushido

We played with Joes often in previous years, but it was becoming less common in 1994. When I gave him Bushido, I proposed a way for us to revive our GI Joe stories– we’d hold a martial arts tournament for our figures!

He enthusiastically agreed to the idea, but it never happened. Once he got Breath of Fire 2 for the SNES, I don’t think he ever touched his action figures again. In fact, he mostly locked himself away and played single player 16 bit RPGs on the Super Nintendo, so we really didn’t hang out too much after that. 

For me, Shadow Ninjas Bushido marks the end of an era. 

1994 GI Joe Shadow Ninjas Bushido

Still, I always liked the look of the Bushido figure. As I entered junior high and high school, I got more into samurai fiction and films. Lego’s Ninja theme was a favorite of mine. I saved up money from my shitty data entry job to buy a fancy version of Seven Samurai from Suncoast video. I bought The Book of Five Rings from Barnes and Noble. 

I was, of course, just a shallow dabbler in all things samurai. I still am. I’m not a historian and I’m not an expert. But I’ve always been drawn to samurai-themed fiction and toys, which is probably a natural outgrowth of every 90s kid’s ninja obsession. 

Whenever I think of samurai toys, I think of the cute-but-deadly Lego samurai and GI Joe’s own Bushido. I didn’t know about Budo as a younger kid, but of course I think about him, as well. 

1994 GI Joe Shadow Ninjas Bushido

I’ve always liked Ninja Force. I enjoyed the toys as a kid and still like them today. Ninja Force still isn’t super popular with GI Joe fans, due to the way its action features got in the way of the figures’ articulation. Some fans do like the 1992 Ninja Force releases, especially Slice and Dice, but the 1993 Ninja Force figures are largely ignored and disliked. 

And, if there’s anything more disliked than 1993’s Ninja Force figures, it’s the Shadow Ninjas from 1994. These figures were just re-releases of existing toys, made with a brittle “color change” plastic. 

I love 1990s GI Joe, but I really can’t blame anyone for dismissing the Shadow Ninjas line. 

1994 GI Joe Shadow Ninjas Bushido

Recently, I came across a carded Shadow Ninjas Bushido for a pretty good price. Because of that nostalgic connection, I purchased it immediately. This gave me the opportunity to look at a Shadow Ninja that isn’t already broken, and comes with all of its accessories. 

I’m open minded and predisposed to liking GI Joe ninja figures, so I thought it would be interesting to take a look at a pristine example of our favorite sci-fi military toy line’s last gasp of ninja fury.

Here’s the 1994 GI Joe Shadow Ninjas Bushido figure, fresh off the card!

1994 GI Joe Shadow Ninjas Bushido Review

1994 GI Joe Shadow Ninjas Bushido

It’s not often I get a carded GI Joe figure, so let’s start with the packaging. I love the neon pink and black speckled card. As others, including HCC788, have noted, it does make the text on the filecard hard to read. But it’s visually striking and just fills me with glee whenever I look at it. All of the Shadow Ninjas used the same card art, which is lazy on Hasbro’s part, and sadly wasn’t anything new by 1994. 

1994 GI Joe Shadow Ninjas Bushido

The filecard itself is an even worse version of 1993 Bushido’s. I still can’t get over the fact that this is a snow ninja who trained in Iceland. I looked it up– and while Iceland seems pretty brisk (and actually downright comfortable and temperate), the lowest temperatures I saw were around -16F. In contrast, Queens seemed to hit -11F at least once a year since 2010. I guess “Iceland” just sounds like a cold place on a file card. We probably all know that Iceland is mild compared to a place like Greenland at this point, so using Iceland as a snow ninja’s training ground just seems lazy on the part of the filecard writers. 

1994 GI Joe Shadow Ninjas Bushido

Moving onto the figure itself, it’s a straight up recolor of 1993’s Bushido, cast in a “color changing” milky white plastic. Bushido reuses 1992 Nunchuk’s body mold with a new head. I am very fond of 1993 Bushido (we’ll take a look at a comparison here in a second) and Nunchuk, so I like the mold for this figure. 

Here he is:

1994 GI Joe Shadow Ninjas Bushido

As you can see in the photos I took for this review, he actually blends in very well when he’s a snowy setting. If Shadow Ninjas Bushido is in his “all white” mold, he’s probably got some of the best cold weather camouflage in the entire GI Joe line. Even when he turns icy blue, it still works pretty well. 

Ninjas wearing white in GI Joe is nothing new, of course, and I think this figure looks very good with other characters from across the ARAH years. He actually looks downright traditional, as far as Joe ninjas go. 

His colors aren’t nearly as striking as 1993 Bushido’s. That figure’s mixture of white, light blue, and a little bit of orange is stunning. He’s not bright or neon, but he is more colorful than most of the pre-1992 Joe roster. Still, I find 1993 Bushido works well with a lot of other cold weather Joes in the vintage line.

1994 GI Joe Shadow Ninjas Bushido

Here’s a comparison between the two figures:

1994 GI Joe Shadow Ninjas Bushido

For some reason, the crest/horns/antlers on Shadow Ninjas Bushido’s helmet are shaped differently than the 1993 original. I don’t know if my 93 figure’s antlers have warped over time, or if there was actually a mold difference, but it’s worth noting. 

The figure’s white body and smoky grey highlights look great, and his clear blue weapons really pop against his color scheme. 

Here are the accessories, still on their tree:

1994 GI Joe Shadow Ninjas Bushido

And here is all geared up:

1994 GI Joe Shadow Ninjas Bushido

I’m not gonna lie, the translucent blue weapons are one of the main reasons I bought the figure– nostalgia only goes so far. The clear Shadow Ninjas weapons are beautiful and very different from anything else in the vintage Joe line. 

They have many uses beyond just being held by their associated figures. For example, you can use them as energy weapons for science fiction oriented characters. 

1994 GI Joe Shadow Ninjas Bushido

Or, they make fantastic ice weapons for your Mortal Kombat Sub-Zero. 

1994 GI Joe Shadow Ninjas Bushido

The weapons do bring out one of the Shadow Ninjas’ biggest flaws, though– they are fragile as fuck. When you see them on eBay or at toy shows, they very often have broken thumbs. They sometimes have broken crotches, as well. The “color change” plastic is brittle, and forcing the weapons the figure comes with into its hands can prove fatal. 

For this toy, I only felt safe using the long, thin sword, the short sword, and the kama/sickle. I recommend sliding the weapons into the figure’s hands from the top, instead of pushing them in from the side. And still, I had to be very careful when taking these photos. 

1994 GI Joe Shadow Ninjas Bushido

That fragility means I wasn’t super comfortable “resetting” his action feature arm (which springs back down when you push it up) by clicking it into a different position. I gave it one click, decided that was too scary, and left it alone after that. 

The figure’s fragile nature makes for a GI Joe toy you can’t really play with as intended. 1994 GI Joe Shadow Ninjas Bushido is a cool display piece and looks nice in photos, but it will never function as an action figure you can actually play with. It had brittle plastic back in 1994, and age has only made the problem worse. 

1994 GI Joe Shadow Ninjas Bushido

Speaking of age, it probably made the color change function a lot less reliable, too. Right out of the package, Bushido kept his blue hue for about an hour before he turned pure white. You can see that blue in some of the photos in this section, as I took his picture right after I opened him. 

Yesterday, I placed the figure in the fridge for about an hour, and the blue returned. It faded after about 15 minutes, but I was able to take a comparison photo between the toy’s two “color change” modes. 

1994 GI Joe Shadow Ninjas Bushido

Like Eco Warriors before them, Shadow Ninjas’ color change gimmick just isn’t something you can count on to work correctly. As the toys age, the color change becomes more shaky and unstable. You can try to apply heat or cold, but I’d hesitate to put any Shadow Ninja in the freezer or put them in water for too long. They’re fragile, and neither cheap nor easy to find. 

I do like this figure, though. I like his looks and I like his weapons. I love the concept of a “snow ninja,” and I think it fits in very well with GI Joe. Why wouldn’t you need a stealthy snow guy to sneak up on various Ice Vipers and Snow Serpents? Plus, I actually enjoy the muddled confusion of a samurai who’s actually a snow ninja who’s actually a guy from Queens who trained in Iceland. 

1994 GI Joe Shadow Ninjas Bushido

For most people, though, the 1993 version of Bushido should be more than good enough. It’s a sturdier toy with more striking colors, and it’s much more affordable and easy to find. That toy is better than this one, and a kid could actually play with it. 

Verdict: This is only an essential figure for completists, people who love Ninja Force, and people with a nostalgic attachment to the character. It’s a nice looking piece that works very well in photographs. But its fragile nature and relative scarcity usually means it’s not worth the price you’ll pay if you do find one in good condition. I can only give this figure a mildly recommended rating. 

Additional Resources: 

Closing Thoughts on 1994 GI Joe Shadow Ninjas Bushido

1994 GI Joe Shadow Ninjas Bushido

Polygon recently published an excellent piece on the Bushido code, its revisionist interpretations, and the way both Japan and Western cultures romanticize the samurai. It also talks about that new video game, Ghost of Tsushima, as well. I haven’t played the game, but the article is a great read. Check it out here

Back to army toys: I like to equip my GI Joe ninja figures with uzis. I figure they’ve all had military training, so it makes sense. If it works for Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow, it should work for the rest of Ninja Force, right?

Do your GI Joe ninja figures use guns? Let me know in the comments! 

13 thoughts on “1994 GI Joe Shadow Ninjas Bushido Review

  1. Dracula

    I read that polygon article! I was thinking about it while reading this, lol. Anyway your Breath of Fire 2 anecdote really took me back. I remember when my best friend deserted me for weeks in favor of Harvest Moon. He and I played with toys some, but since I met him in junior high, it was mostly in service of setting stuff on fire in his backyard (I have asked the gods for forgiveness).

    I didn’t have this figure, but I did have a lot of the last gasp ARAH figures, and I admit I sorta wished they were the older ones, even at the time (less so now). As I kid I could see that some of the life had left the line. But at least it had colors. Oh man, those colors.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment! I’ve really been enjoying your Transformers live action series of photos and writeups on Instagram.

      In 93 and 94, I definitely wished some of the newer Joes were more like the older ones. I had stuff from 89-92 and I sure noticed the difference in accessories and paint between those and the 93-94 toys. I did like a lot of the 93-94 figures as a kid (and I like even more of them now) and had a ton of fun with them, but there was a difference in overall quality in some regards. Though I think I can appreciate almost every ARAH Joe figure for one reason or another, these days.

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  2. A-Man

    I was trying to be a completist back in the day and still could not make myself pay $5 each for the Shadow Ninjas. I think I got two at full price, Snake Eyes and Night Creeper. Maybe 2 others on clearance, Bushido and Nunchuk? I don’t even remember, but I don’t think I ever owned Shadow Ninja Storm Shadow at all.

    It’s a real shame about the fragility and yes they were back in the day. Nothing like seeing the stress marks form on the thumbs. I don’t see why the weapons had to be hard plastic, Crystar and other toys had soft transluscent weapons.

    I think we’d be better off if the NINJA COMMANDOS got released instead. But it’s not like that was an option, however they were sooo close to being made (rumors say a small run existed, but they must be in deep hoarder secretive JOE collector hands).

    Bushido gets killed off in some IDW comic, I think, not looking like his figure. Weird.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for stopping by and reading. It’s always appreciated.

      I think they made a lot of iffy choices on Shadow Ninjas, and the hard plastic weapons and color change plastic for the hands was the worst one. It’s totally possible that, at that point in the line, they didn’t even really care enough to test how the figures’ hands would do with those weapons. They were definitely cutting some corners for the last two years of the line, as much as I love all those toys.

      I would have LOVED the Ninja Commandos line in 94, and even in 95. Star Wars was taking over for me, but I would have been drawn towards those Ninja Commandos and some of the other canceled stuff I’ve seen. Maybe a company like Super 7 or something will eventually do a version of those, or at least do something with retro ARAH stuff. A guy can hope!

      I remember Budo being in one of the IDW books I read. I haven’t read everything they’ve done, and I haven’t read all of Hama’s new run, either. So I did not know that but it does not surprise me!

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  3. I was on a mission to buy every Joe I could at retail in 1995 and 1996. But, I left these guys behind. A higher price point, weird colors and non standard construction all bothered me. So, these, Street Fighter and Armor Tech were all left to rot on the pegs. I never really noticed that they all disappeared by the end of ’96.

    If these figures were standard Joe construction, they’d have been a lot of fun, though. The sculpts are actually really well done. (Snake Eyes is one his coolest designs.) But, the action gimmick ruined not only the aesthetic, but also the function of the toys. In an alternate world, these are like Night Force figures where they are highly desired, hard to find repaints of awesome figures. But, that’s not the world we live in.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mike, your comments went in the spam folder for some reason. I apologize! Hopefully I made it so that won’t happen again, but sometimes WordPress has a mind of its own. Thank you so much for stopping by and leaving a comment.

      I love the Ninja Force Snake Eyes sculpt and design. Same goes for Scarlett. Those toys were pretty much completely destroyed by the gimmicks. Thankfully, everyone else fared better.

      How much more were Shadow Ninjas at the time? I didn’t know that was a thing! I know that about Sonic Fighters and DEF, but not about Shadow Ninjas. I assume Mega Marines were more expensive, too. I didn’t really have much of my own money or notice price differences back in 93-94, so I’m always curious about that.

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  4. The Shadow Ninjas are figures I am somewhat strangely nostalgic for. I remember being in a Sears in 1995, and seeing them (and Crystal Ball!). I had Nunchuck, Snake Eyes and Slice, so those are the three I’m after the most.

    Shadow Ninjas are a thing that probably could’ve been done a lot better. I can’t remember who suggested it (Nekoman?) but I recall someone saying that if they had done the figures up the way they that they did the accessories (translucent coloured plastic), they would’ve been way cooler. I agree with that theory.

    The thing that disappoints me the most about the Shadow Ninjas, is how cool some of the colour schemes used were, that got overlooked by the INVISO-ACTION.

    Ninjas should use guns, they’re sneaky!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for leaving a comment! Always appreciated.

      I agree that the color change gimmick snuffs out a lot of these figures’ coolness. I think Bushido, Slice, and Snake Eyes all look pretty good no matter what color mode they’re in, but not being able to consistently keep them in whatever mode is frustrating. I think clear plastic would have been great for them– it looks really nice on that movie Sub-Zero figure!

      I still need to get Shadow Nunchuk, but of course prices and availability are ridiculous. For an unbroken one, anyway. One of my Snake Eyes’ thumbs is broken but I can’t make myself care enough to finder a nicer replacement. Haha.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. generalliederkranz

        I am in exactly the same boat! I have an SN Snake-Eyes with a broken thumb and normally I’d make a priority of upgrading but not in this case.

        I had completely forgotten how much more blue Bushido is supposed to be. Ive had the same one since I was a kid and I’ve just taken for granted that he’s very pale blue, but I guess he’s been fading. I will have to try the refrigerator trick!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you for stopping by.

        You’ll have to let me know how it goes. I think maybe my photography lights rendered Bushido permanently white, even though they are not that hot. He was at least slightly blue right out of the package, but now he just defaults to ‘skim milk’ color. Which isn’t a huge deal! Just a really odd and sometimes aggravating quirk of these old gimmick army ninja toys.

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    2. There are early protos of the Ninja Commandos in clear plastic. They were likely test shots to see how the internal mechanisms worked. Since you can see all the internal parts, the figs wouldn’t have been as interesting.

      These figures have solid sculpting. If not for the alternate construction type, they would be among the final year greats. But, the action gimmicks did them in. I left all these guys on the shelves back in ’95 and ’96. Just couldn’t bring myself to buy one. I never really noticed when they disappeared. I’d like to get a Slice, now. As, I think he’s the best after Snake Eyes. But, he’s not easy to find.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Slice is REALLY HARD TO FIND. No joke. I love Slice and have been trying to get every version of the mold for a couple years now. I finally found a Shadow Ninja Slice for an okay price around when I got this Bushido. But he’s missing all accessories (I had most of them anyway) and his joints could be a lot better. Still, it’s one of those “settle for what you can get if you want to pay under $50” kind of things. I love GI Joe, but I just can’t rationalize paying that much for almost any figure. Even carded.

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  5. I have a love/hate relationship with the Shadow Ninjas. On one hand, the figures look good and bring something relatively unique to the brand. On the other hand, they were probably the most absurdly fragile 1/18 scale figures I’ve ever handled, more so than Slaughter’s Marauders and the Corps!.

    The best thing about them by far is the weapons. As a kid, I pulled these out of the parts bin and used them with different figures way more than I ever did the actual Shadow Ninjas. It was always a lot of fun giving them to the standard Ninja Force guys, as well as other childhood favorites like Vapor, the Frag Viper, and probably a few Destros.

    If they could’ve just skipped over using the color-change plastic for the lower-arms, it would’ve salvaged this line IMO. As it stands, you really can’t call them good toys just for the fact that they’re so bad for playing with. :/

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