The first question that many will ask is who or what were the Ikko-ikki? Warrior monks were nothing new in Japan and had fought battles either on their own account or in the cause of an ally for centuries. However in the latter part of the 15th century Japan was plunged into yet another long civil war, and this quickly became a struggle between numerous local families for control of their particular region. Out of this chaos known as the Sengoku period a new type of fanatical Buddhist warrior-monk emerged. In fact many had no particular religious function and could more accurately be termed lay fanatics and fundamentalists, but when properly led they were very effective fighters. Many belonged to the Shinshu sect and formed communities known as Ikko-ikki, and with a populist agenda recruited many peasants to their ranks. Their anti-samurai philosophy saw them hated by the ruling class, and while they were initially successful and even took over an entire province, they were ultimately all but destroyed and as a fighting force lasted little more than a century.
As a popular movement the Ikko-ikki contained all but the higher elements of society, and never achieved the uniformity that was being applied to many Daimyo armies at the time. Indeed when in battle they wore whatever clothing and armour they could obtain, and were therefore difficult to distinguish from any other peasant soldiers of the time. One feature that was common to many monks was the cowl, wrapped around the head to reveal only the face, and two of the figures in this set have this, while several others have shaved heads and a headband – another common sign of the monk. Other than that there is nothing here to specifically identify the Ikko-ikki, but since that was the historical reality this is not a criticism, and all the clothing and armour on these figures is quite appropriate for the period.
With regard to weapons once again the Ikki-ikki were no different to other armies of the day. As these figures demonstrate they have swords and bows as well as the by now old-fashioned naginata. The straight spear is also to be seen here, as is the recently introduced arquebus musket, a particularly important weapon for the Ikko-ikki.
The poses in this set are OK but not inspiring. They tend to be fairly flat and there is not a lot of action going on, but there is nothing actually wrong with any of them.
As usual the sculpting of these figures leaves something to be desired. Detail is not bad for these potentially very complicated subjects, but it is not particularly clear and at times it is hard to even make out what an object is meant to be. The sculpting on some of the firearms in particular is not good, with little detail and poor proportions. While we have cleaned these figures up to some extent it is still evident that flash is a problem. In places this fills large gaps and is present along most of the seams, making these figures hard work to clean up.
One feature of Ikki-ikki armies that was often commented on was the carrying of many banners, often with religious slogans. Of course this was not limited to such armies, but we felt it would have been worthwhile having at least one such figure in this set given the subject. On the whole however the lack of distinctive features for this subject allows their use as general warrior monks and often general peasant infantry, so these figures can be seen as merely another addition to the already impressive range of medieval Japanese figures from RedBox. This equally allows some figures from other sets to be brought in to expand this one, so the unimpressive poses is not so much of a problem.
RedBox may not be able to match the quality of most other manufacturers, but their dedication to cover their chosen subject in such depth certainly counts for something, and students of Japan’s turbulent past will doubtless appreciate this latest addition to the available range of figures.