Friday, July 9, 2010

Forget Post-Apoc...Let's Talk Ninjas!

Seriously, I don't know if it's because I've been sick this week or what, but I've been feeling...well, kind of low-brow. Like the shit I'm writing is all just drivel compared to the high-falutin' concepts I'm reading around the blog-o-sphere. I try to be intellectual and suave but I can only take the theory-stuff so far...and even though I like to consider myself an elitist pig, it feels like I may not have the goods to back it up.

Case in point: ninjas.

For some odd reason, I've been all about the ninjas this week. Seriously. I'm certain that everyone who reads this blog already knows a thousand-and-one things about these stealthy practitioners of martial arts...the ninja is fairly ubiquitous in gaming these days. Hell, the word "ninja" doesn't even trigger my spellcheck. EVERYONE knows what a ninja is.

But do any of you remember a time BEFORE ninjas?

I do. That is to say, I remember a time before I knew what the F a ninja was.

All those poor shmuck 3rd generation gamers (the ones that came after me) probably can't remember a time before ninjas. TMNT helped flood the world with pizza-eating masters-o-stealth. But TMNT was 1985, and by the time they came around ninjas were already a pretty familiar archetype.

Trying to remember that far back is tough, but I think I've narrowed it down to circa 1982 or '83. By the time Revenge of the Ninja hits the theater, I have a good idea what a ninja is. But in 1981 when I got my first copy of Daredevil (issue I don't still have it, it took a lot of internet searching to find the familiar illustrations), I made no connection between The Hand, Elektra, shuriken, and ninja. Hell, they might have used the term "ninja" in the comic, and I skimmed right over it (in my defense I was a month shy of my 8th birthday when the comic was published, so the pictures and ass-kicking was much more important than the story).

Also in 1981 I watched much of the television mini-series Shogun (though I may have fallen asleep at some points), and it wasn't until years later that, re-watching it, I said, "shit! there are ninjas in this thing?!"

As an average American kid, I collected action figures, specifically Star Wars, Micronauts, and GI Joe (well, and Strawberry Shortcake, but dammit that's it!)...and my brother had the Snake-Eyes figure long before the character ever was revealed to be a "ninja." Snake-Eyes was first issued in 1982, and at the time was issued as an all black figure to save on paint costs! By 1984 and the Storm Shadow ninja GI Joe (incidentally, probably the last action figure I ever owned), I already knew all about ninja.

I remember the trailers for the 1981 Enter the Ninja only vaguely; I remember the previews for the 1983 Revenge of the Ninja much more (that little kid kicking ass). Being Rated R, I was never allowed to see these films as a youngster...and having watched both, plus American Ninja (1985) all this week, I can fearlessly say I didn't miss much.

[as I said, I've had ninjas on the brain]

If I had to guess, I would say it was probably the trailers for Revenge of the Ninja, later re-readings of that old Daredevil comic, and the 1984 TV series The Master (with Lee Van Cleef!) that provided the bulk of my ninja education. In 1985 I was introduced to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles through the Palladium RPG, and I may well have had my own 1st copy of the game that year, too. I'm pretty sure my buddy Scott was the one who picked up AD&D Oriental Adventures (also 1985), a book I never bothered to purchase and one we never used in any our D&D games. Ever.

And so, we come to my confession: I was never a ninja fan.

Never went out for ninja toys or action figures (the Storm Shadow was a birthday gift from someone), never wanted to play one in an RPG, never created "ninja-like" characters. I only got into martial arts in high school after being cut from the soccer team, and I never studied any oriental weapons...hell, when I went to Japan with a bunch of other 17 year olds, I was one of the few that didn't come back with some katana or nunchuck souvenir.

Not that I didn't have the potential to get my ninja-freak-on. But really, the TMNT game was nigh un-playable (the comics were much more fun to read than the game)...and the ninja-class in Oriental Adventures was just so damn lame. Besides AD&D already has a ninja's called the assassin, right?

Secret society? Stealthy masters of infiltration, spying, disguise, and assassination? Proficient with the manufacture and use of poisons?

The assassin class is the ninja of AD&D...just as the fighter was the samurai and the monk was the...well, the monk. Who needed Oriental Adventures?

Okay, that's enough for tonight. I'm only still up 'cause it's like 90 degrees. But I do have things to do tomorrow.


  1. Ninjas, like bacon, make everything better...

  2. The Octagon (1980) with Chuck Norris. I think that might have been my introduction to

  3. @ Louis: Sheesh man! Not EVERYthing!
    ; )

    @ Saxon: I was always a big martial arts fan...I can't remember a time when I did NOT know who Bruce Lee was, for example. I can recall watching old 60s and 70s hong kong films even as a young kid which may or may not have had "colorful" ninja in them (one entitled "The Golden Sword" comes to mind). But ninjas as "super badass stealthy assassins" i.e. ninja as archetype? That came much later for me than 1980.