Evil Warriors

Ninjor – Evil Ninja Warrior (1987)

Ninjor is perhaps the most G.I. Joe-like figure in the Masters of the Universe series. He certainly feels like He-Man’s answer to Snake Eyes or Storm Shadow. He doesn’t exactly fit with the general science/sword and sorcery motif of MOTU, but then of course by the last couple of years of the line it had become a something of a kitchen sink of ideas.

Design & Development

Ninjor was designed by David Wolfram. In my interview with him, David had this to say regarding Ninjor:

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Early on in my Mattel career , I was given the task to do four figures using minimal new tooling. They were Scareglow Skeletor, King Randor, Ninjor, and Clamp Champ. The four characters had already been conceived of and the concepts sold in, so all I had to do was to make it happen.

Part of that was going through the tooling banks to find parts to add to the appearance of the figures. I did get new tooling for Clamp Champ’s weapon, and for four heads. Hal Faulkner, one of our good outside sculpting vendors, sculpted the heads.

Ninjor was a dead ringer for Lee Van Cleef, who had done some karate or kung fu based show around that time, so we had to change that.

Production Toy

Ninjor cross sell art. Image courtesy of Axel Giménez

Ninjor came with three weapons – a sword (borrowed from Jitsu), a bow and arrow (borrowed from the Eternia playset) and nunchucks. He also came with a cloth costume that obscured most of his face. He borrows the spring arm action feature from Fisto and Jitsu, which allows him to attack with his sword or nunchucks with his right hand. Jitsu was of course also a martial arts themed figure, although he looked more heavily armored rather than stealthy.

1984 Jitsu figure

The one piece of his design that separates Ninjor from a typical terrestrial ninja is his three-toed feet, borrowed from Dragon Blaster Skeletor.

Packaging Art

The illustration on the front of Ninjor’s card was done by Bruce Timm, while the scene on the back of the card was done by Errol McCarthy:

Original Errol McCarthy line art. Image source: www.he-man.org

At one point Mattel was planning to reuse the Ninjor concept to create a white-costumed ninja warrior, making the Snake Eyes/Storm Shadow comparison all the more apt. However, these plans never came to fruition.

As in the card art and in the commercial at the beginning of this article, Ninjor was often portrayed as the nemesis of Clamp Champ. That is also evident in the comic that came packed with Ninjor, The Search For Keldor. In the story, Skeletor summons the “most evil beings from time and space” from another dimension to do his bidding:

In the comic, you can see Ninjor with the arms and legs of He-Man (all in black) rather than Skeletor. That may represent an earlier concept design for him.

Characterization and Other Stories

The 1987 Style Guide (above, illustrated by Errol McCarthy) characterized Ninjor this way:

Power: Mastery of many martial arts weapons.

Character profile: This awful assassin has come from another world to serve Skeletor. His mission is to eliminate Heroic Warriors one by one, until He-Man no longer has any help in defending Eternia. Ninjor always moves with great speed, skill and silence.

In Masters of the Universe Adventure Magazine issue 9, Skeletor summons Scare Glow and Ninjor. As described in the style guide, Ninjor excels at stealthy attacks. In this issue he is depicted with a purple, green and white costume:

In Star Comics Masters of the Universe issue 7, Skeletor again summons Ninjor, along with Blast Attak. The two don’t immediately hit it off:

In the 1987 winter issue of the US MOTU Magazine, Ninjor makes another prominent appearance, where he manages to elude both Clamp Champ and Rio Blast:

Artwork & Advertisements

Coming so late in the Masters of the Universe line, Ninjor didn’t show up in a lot of artwork, but he was a background character in posters illustrated by William George, Earl Norem and Esteban Maroto:

Artwork by William George
Artwork by William George
Artwork by Earl Norem
Artwork by Earl Norem
Artwork by Esteban Maroto

Errol McCarthy went on to illustrate the character again, this time battling He-Man with his live-action movie costume:

Image source: He-Man.org

Ninjor also showed up in a few catalogs and advertisements:

Ninjor isn’t the most distinctive-looking figure in the world, but he does look rather smart and has some fun features and accessories.

Ninjor in Action

Øyvind Meisfjord has generously shared the following image and video of Ninjor in action:

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10 thoughts on “Ninjor – Evil Ninja Warrior (1987)

  1. Ninjor also has a brief appearance in the ‘dark future’ of Star Masters of the Universe Comic #13, where he ambushes Prince Adam (the one from the present) and destroys the homing beacon that would allow him to return to the present. Fortunately, Duncan left a spare in his lab. 🙂

  2. Ninjor for me has always felt like a rather shoehorned-in character to the franchise, with relatively little MOTU-esque about him. In fact, to anyone unfamiliar, they could even be forgiving for thinking he was a knock-off, using a bootleg MOTU body and other weapons. He really feels like a half-hearted, last minute, “Okay, what ELSE can we stick in to complete this final wave” effort, presumably seen as an easy cash in on both the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and various other ninja-related franchises of the latter half of the 1980s. He also really sums up to me the rather unfocused “anything goes” direction of the line in it’s final couple of years (which I personally believe was much of the line’s eventual downfall), although he’s far from the most “anything goes, just stick it in the line” character we’d see from later waves!

    I don’t hate the character as such, and I suppose it’s understandable that he might feel a little uninspired and shoe-horned in, as he was so late in the line and had to be produced on a tight budget and not much tooling. I just wish they could have done a little more with him somehow to give him a little extra ‘spin’ to work as a MOTU character; instead he just feels like a regular ‘Earth ninja’ with only the Evil Warrior legs (and arguably his claw hands) to suggest he’s anything other than that. At least with Jitsu, whilst based on an Earth concept, they have him the giant golden hand and armor to distinguish him as more than a typical Samurai (or whatever) warrior. I dunno, they could have at least painted his face alien green or something, ANYTHING, to distinguish him from “a regular ninja”, at least! 😀

    Speaking of Jitsu, I never really saw Ninjor first-hand as a boy as the line was really winding down, and many UK toyshops by that point didn’t even really carry much (if any) MOTU toys any more*; so for some reason in the meantime I had always assumed that he had a mildly re-painted (or slightly modified) Jitsu head – and there certainly are some similarities. It’s maybe curious, though, that Jitsu generally seemed to be dropped into the background of the franchise over concerns of him being seen as an Asian stereotype (this was certainly why he only ever appeared in one episode of the Filmation series), but they didn’t seem too concerned about any such possible issues with Ninjor. Maybe the line was so late in the day and as a result less high profile by the time Ninjor was released, that they decided they could let it slip by.
    * – Back in my earliest internet days in the late 1990s, I actually did ask if Ninjor had been released here in the UK. My curiosity because for a few years, all things ‘ninja’ were effectively banned in the UK if it was aimed at children due to concerns over the level of violence associated with it, with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles infamously being re-named Teenage Mutant HERO Turtles for some years here; so I was curious if ol’ Ninjor had even been released to UK shelves. I was assured he had been; I presumably never saw him (that I can recall) simply due to the line really winding down by then.

    It’s also interesting to hear about the planned but ultimately unrealised white version of Ninjor. Although I have been familiar with those potential “dying breaths of the line” characters made entirely of pre-existing parts from the line art, I never actually realised this was intended to be a “white Ninjor”, I think I just assumed it WAS Ninjor.

    So all-in-all… Ninjor’s okay as a curiosity, as a very rare end-of-line figure (he was one of my hardest to get complete when I collected the entire line about 15 years ago now), but beyond that not really a favourite and not all that much to do with MOTU in all honesty. Out of the sixth wave’s slightly tired “easy to make on a cheap budget” characters, I kinda like Scareglow for his coolness and his often-debated background (which has been contradicted long before the Classics tried to give a solid bio), but in terms of Ninjor… little of any real interest to me, I’m afraid.

    1. …By the way, regarding Ninjor’s different colouring in #9 of the MOTU Adventure Magazine, I wouldn’t pay too much attention to that – as in the same panels as mis-coloured Ninjor, Tri-Klops’ armour and head-unit are also shown to be way off colour (purple!), and Beast Man is a dark brown (although in fairness in his case this might be excused as a nod to his colouring in The Movie)! But off-colour (and way off model) design was something that did plague the comic series particularly in it’s later days; in fact in some of those late comics the artwork is, to be honest, rather hideous! 🙂

    2. Yes, Ninjor is a bit too earth-bound to fit in well – Rio Blast even more so. Mostly I like having him on my shelf to stand next to Scare Glow. I really like the Search For Keldor comic, and I feel like I’m recreating it a little by having the two together, with Randor, Sorceress and Clamp Champ near by of course 🙂

  3. Ah, Ninjor.. never had the figure, never really liked it too much.. kinda plain and seamed to be in the part of ‘We are running out of ideas’.. but that said, it’s not totally out of place when looking over the range as a whole.. I knew it but it’s still a surprise they didn’t just reuse Jitsu’s head.. with the skin tone change, there isn’t a whole lot of difference.. sure, it’s a different sculpt, but apart from thinning out the beard/mustace, there isn’t a whole lot of difference. I would say that maybe they decided to give him a new head so that there was SOMETHING new more then just a couple of bits of accessories, but then….. Faker, Mossman, Stinkor,

    I wonder if it’s an artist/inker (probably the same person) mistake that his kinda non-ninja like chonmage was removed from the backing instructions for the ‘recolour’… (Top knot.. originally used for samurai to keep on there helmets, later used as a status symbol.. both kinda anti-ninja).. but that might be kinda a rough trace of the original ninjor art too (they look a lot like slightly edited, non-cropped versions).. which then is even more odd..

    Also.. while back on Ninjor’s head… erm.. yeah.. Ninjor! Japan! yay.. so.. lets give him… erm.. clearly American stereotype Chinese man look? even more so in the comics? yeah… nothing new there.. and I just found out that the ‘oriental’ stereotype that America seams to love (doesn’t seam as popular in the uk.. not sure why but we aren’t as much interested in ninja’s and kung-fu etc.. it seems) is seen as an racist term by some.. Americans.. okay.. a lot of local shops might need a rename.. And how come there was such a fuss backstage about Arnold in happy days sounding ‘Chinese’ despite being of Japanese descent when they STILL use Hawaiians and Americans as Japanese, Koreans and Chinese on American tv shows? sigh.. (Pat Morita, by the way, was American, with Japanese parents who had been in America about 10 years by that point.. he has Japanese Ancestry but wasn’t Japanese.. and would have needed to apply for citizen ship to live there.. Speaking of which.. I’m much more removed, but if people who had a distance ancestor from a different country have to call themselves ‘African American’ or ‘Italian American’ etc.. despite never coming from there and in some cases, havening no know relations from there, I probably would have to call myself French-Germanic English if I went to America.. ah.. that would be hell… having to classify myself via racial background….), sorry for that bit of a rant ^_^;

    Oh and.. Okay.. I’ve seen it tons of times before.. but the writer of the secret of Keldor (one of the worse misnamed comics of the lot) had scare glow, a character with a Skull for a head.. call Skeletor, a character with a skull-like face (always too meatly for a full skull.. apart from the cartoons ¬_¬) ‘Skull-face’… the only way that line works is if Scare glow is kinda insulting Skeletor for the fact that ONLY his face (not his head) is a skull where he is PURE breed Skull headed! else it’s a skulled faced guy calling a skull faced guy ‘Skull-face’ in angry for no reason what so ever… pretty bad.. though that said.. I do feel it was a pretty badly written comic as it was trying to put too much into too little panel space.. So they are shocked and angry at skeletor, he just claims he is master and shows his staff glow, and the two just bow down and lick his boots… yeah.. needed a bit more there.. but again, too limited space, too much story..

    1. I think the Asian stereotype thing in America was a holdover from WWII propaganda against Japan. I remember seeing some of that stuff in the old Bugs Bunny cartoons as well. Took quite a while for it to disappear, unfortunately.

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