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.
- Family Heirloom Samurai Hat (also from Williams Sonoma catalog)
- High Top Sneakers (no, seriously, this is on his actual file card)
My Childhood Experience with 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).
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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:
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.
Here’s a comparison between the two figures:
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:
And here is all geared up:
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.
Or, they make fantastic ice weapons for your Mortal Kombat Sub-Zero.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Closing Thoughts on 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!