Recently there have been a number of sets depicting Japanese samurai, and all are mostly filled with warriors in the traditional full armour that is so well recognised throughout the world. However it was not always the case that samurai wore this complicated costume. To begin with, not all samurai were wealthy enough for such an expensive item, and consequently wore less or even no armour, ensuring only that their swords remained to show their rank. Naturally such a bulky armour would not be worn at all times even when on campaign, so if taken by surprise a samurai would have to fight in his everyday clothes. Finally, as in Europe the habit of wearing these constricting armours became less popular as the centuries progressed, eventually becoming the preserve of parades, or worn by leaders and an 'old guard' of traditionalists. It is these more lightly equipped samurai that Caesar have chosen to depict in this set.
The second row shows these men, all of whom are in normal dress apart from the guard, who wears full armour. They appear to have armoured sleeves, and perhaps breast protection under their clothing. All wear trousers and keep their sleeves neatly out of the way with a tasuki. Naturally there is no uniform appearance for such a costume, but all look authentic, as are the hair styles on display.
The third row begins with a samurai wearing a kamishimo, again everyday garb, though naturally he retains his two swords, which are quite short in this case. Next to him is a fine lady in a kimono, who has been nicely done but is missing the edge of the garment below the waist. Finally there is a mounted officer, resplendent in his full armour and directing operations from his highly decorated horse. The horse is particularly well animated, standing in a natural way with legs parallel to each other, which has been achieved thanks to a multi-part mould. Although the horse has no base, it stands perfectly well by itself, and the rider fits in the saddle perfectly.
Which brings us to the other aspect of the set - the ninja. The top row shows the ninja figures, a character from history that is as recognisable as a samurai yet is very different to them. The ninja's usual role was to spy on an enemy's position or cause havoc behind his lines, yet it is their role as assassins that is best known today. They were much feared and therefore often used, yet they were also despised by samurai, even those that employed them, for their 'underhand' and ignoble activities.
The four ninjas in this set make an interesting selection. When ninja were spying they would wear whatever helped them blend in with the crowd - perhaps dressed as civilians, monks or even enemy soldiers - but all these figures suggest the stealthy art of infiltration and perhaps assassination. They wear clothing covering all of the body, with one in particular being very tight-fitting to prevent snagging. A cowl completely covers their head apart from the eyes. Again with no absolute uniform, all these are reasonably dressed.
We thought the poses of the ninja were extremely well done, with the baseless figure being a highlight. He will sit perfectly successfully on the floor, but is also reminiscent of the images often seen of ninjas jumping down from a roof or wall, which gave rise to the rumour that they could fly. The samurai poses are much more staid, almost to the point of being dull.
Technically these figures are beyond reproach. Good proportions and realistic animation combine with natural folds in the loose clothing to make some excellent models. Without the slightest trace of any flash or excess plastic, these figures are ready to go straight out of the box. Detail is excellent, making them a lot easier to paint.
All the ninja have long katana swords, although for this kind of activity they would have chosen much shorter versions, and would have carried them on their back rather than through their belt as the last figure on the top row is doing. One figure also has a 'ninja throwing star' or shuriken, a ninja trademark. The samurai weapons are OK apart from the bow, which is much too small and in no way resembles the usual Japanese bow. However the quiver has been correctly done. The standing guard is suffering from one sword passing through his thigh, but the main problem with all these figures is their height. They average 25 mm (1.8 metres) when their subject would have been about 1.65 metres tall or even less. The man with the kamishimo stands at a gigantic 26 mm (1.87 metres), a height that would be considered tall in modern Europe, and virtually unheard of in medieval Japan.
Overall we thought the ninja were the pick of the crop, with the samurai being less impressive and suffering from a small number of poses. Several of the poses seem to be inspired by old Tamiya figures produced in a larger scale, but it is the excessive size that really spoils this set. Perhaps more samurai and fewer ninjas would have been a better idea, particularly as no one needs large numbers of ninjas for wargames.