It is certain that many of the subjects depicted by figures on this site will be known only to students of military history, but thanks to inclusion in books, films and even stories of crime-fighting reptiles the ninja are more widely known today than ever before. Most people will confidently tell you that ninja went around in black pyjamas assassinating people, but that is only part of the truth. The ninja were expert in the same martial arts that any Samurai would expect to master, but were often employed in espionage and intelligence gathering, or simply setting fire to enemy buildings and creating havoc 'behind the lines', as well as assassination. Their skills were often in concealment and surprise - useful additions to the activities of an army but contrary to the high ideals of the Samurai code. Nevertheless their value was recognised and therefore they were widely employed in medieval Japan, even by those that officially condemned their 'dishonourable' methods.
Our first picture shows the figures that we most recognise. These three are dressed in black suits with a cowl around the head and face and are clearly intent on not being seen. While there is no direct evidence for this costume from the medieval period the obvious advantages that it has make it readily acceptable as authentic, and these three figures are fine. The first has a nunchaku, a weapon of uncertain origin which is commonly but erroneously associated with ninja today thanks mainly to modern culture, particularly films. The second has a blowpipe, which certainly could have been used for assassination, while the third has a shinobi-gama, a chain with a sickle on one end which was a popular type of weapon for ninja. Two of these figures have their most important weapon, their sword, strapped to their back as was normal when crawling or scaling walls was likely.
As we have said the ninja did much more than attempt to murder important people. They were often used to infiltrate enemy camps and areas, and report back useful information. As a result disguise was an important element in the armoury of a ninja, so ninja could safely be depicted as peasants, soldiers, priests or any other member of ordinary society. One particularly useful group were the Komuso, who were Zen Buddhist priests that travelled the country playing bamboo flutes to dispel evil spirits and attract alms (as they lived purely by begging). Traditionally they wore a tengai over their head, which much resembled a basket, to hide their features and demonstrate their lack of individual ego, but this was also an excellent way of travelling without fear of being recognised, hence the ninja so disguised in this set.
The second and third rows show ninja in much more ordinary armour as might be worn by any samurai or ashigaru. For the most part then these are not particularly identifiable as specifically ninja, although the third figure in the second row could perhaps be throwing the shuriken ('ninja throwing stars') and the first man in the bottom row has another sickle-and-chain weapon. However there are no accuracy problems with any of these.
RedBox sculpting has historically been no more than average and these are much the same, although the poses are less flat than in some previous sets. Detail is quite reasonable given the complex nature of Samurai armour, although some of the poses are not particularly convincing and it is not always possible to tell what the figure is supposed to be doing. The level of flash on our sample was surprisingly low for the most part, but we did find a few had the gap between their legs completely filled in with plastic and there is still definitely some trimming required there.
Since the whole set was intended to be ninja we would have liked to have seen more figures that fitted the image of black-clad men scaling castle walls, leaping from roofs and setting fire to buildings, and rather more of the specialised weapons and equipment these men used. While there is nothing wrong with these figures we felt this was an opportunity only partly grasped and the set could have had more interesting content and been more useful for staging certain Japanese battles - particularly sieges.