Does the phrase "number one, knuckle-headed, ninja" mean anything to you? If not, they you probably haven't gotten hooked on Naruto. The story of Naruto Uzumaki's developement from a awkward orphan child to a powerful ninja has proven to be a hit both in print and as an animated series. But that success hasn't carried over to Mattel's toy line. The first series met with mixed results. The basic figures sold reasonably well. But the deluxe figures hit deep clearance at many stores and can still be found languishing on pegs in some stores. With almost a year between releases and many stores dropping the line entirely, the future did not look good for the line. But ninjas are notoriously hard to kill. And so too apparently is this toy line because the new year has seen the release of new series of basic and deluxe figures. Consisting of ten figures, the new series adds three more of the Leaf Village Genin to the line (Shikamaru, Choji and Kiba) as well as another of the Sand Village Genin (Kankuro) and one of the Sound Ninja who serve Orochimaru (Kimimaro). There are also newer versions of several characters including Naruto, Sasuke, Gaara, Neji and Rock Lee added to the mix. The new additions still leave some glaring ommissions in the form of a complete lack of any of the female characters. But for now we will have to take what we can get and hope that Mattel sees the error of their character selection ways with future series.
Packaging - 6/10The new series of figures gives the packaging a significant overhaul by replacing the logo at the top with a large image of each character while the logo is moved to the insert at the bottom of the bubble. Even the shape of the bubble has been altered to be shaped like a four point throwing star. I like the changes in theory. But the new design can be awfully dark, especially with characters such as Sasuke or Kankuro who don't stand out well against the black backgrounds. The backs of the cards show off the figures and their features as well as including smaller images of the other figures which are available. But they are sorely lacking in text. There is no character info or story backgrounds. They don't even bother to include the names of the characters that are pictured on the bottom. The design looks nice, but without some text I get a sense that something is missing.
Sculpting - Kimimaro 3/10, Sasuke, Kankuro & Kiba 6/10, others 7/10I was pleased with Mattel's previous offerings in the Naruto line. And for the most part, that trend continues if not improves with these figures. Choji, Shikamaru and Gaara are all excellent sculpts. I was particularly pleased to see that they put some effort into these new version of Gaara to make him match his post-Chunin exam costume. They even went to the trouble of sculpting a new, better head. Kankuro and Kiba are almost on par with the other three if not for a couple of questionable choices in the sculpts. Kankuro is sculpted with the straps to carry his puppet molded over his shoulders. That's fine while you have his accessory attached but less than ideal should you want to pose him without the puppet. My issue with Kiba stems from the fact that they sculpted his hands so that they are posed with the wrists bent back and the fingers curled up like claws. It's a pose that makes sense for the character. But with so many of the other figures being sculpted in neutral poses, it looks a bit strange if you don't have the figure in a fighting pose. (It looks like he is getting ready to grope someone.) Sasuke is the same figure as was released originally for the Naruto line, but with a new head sculpt. It was a decent figure. But after seeing the effort they put into Gaara, not doing the same for Sasuke just seems lazy. Finally there is Kimimaru. In basic terms, his is a nice sculpt. The likeness is good and there is a considerable amount of detail for his outfit. But by sculpting the figure with all of his bone spikes permanently exposed, display options for him become rather limited.
Paint - 7/10
Articulation - Choji 4/10, Sasuke & Kimimaru 6/10, Kiba 7/10, others 8/10The previous Naruto figures had fourteen points of articulation:
Accessories - Kimimaru 0/10, Shikamaro 3/10, Kiba 6/10, others 5/10The accessories for the basic Naruto figures are not terribly impressive. The best of the lastest figures is Kiba who comes with only a single accessory: his dog Akamaru. While a single, small pvc puppy would not ordinarily be enough to rate well in this area, Mattel deserve credit for going the extra mile and embedding a magnets into the figures so that Akamaru can stick to the top of Kiba's head without needing a peg hole in the figure. Sasuke comes with the sealed coffin in which he was smuggled away from the Leaf Village in the anime. It looks nice, but that is all that it does. Kankuro has a pair of wrapped up puppets which attach to the figure's back. One half of that pack is a projectile launcher from which you can fire a puppet head projectile. They also included a cap of hair which can be used to cover the launcher's hole when not in use. The lack of a true Crow puppet for the figure is very disappointing. I would much rather have seen Kankuro made as a deluxe figure with a full crow puppet included. Choji includes a spare right arm representing his expansion jutsu. It's a nice idea. But Mattel missed and obvious opportunity by not making the expanded hand as a bendable, Gumby style piece. Gaara comes with the gorde which he always carries on his back as well as three pieces of sand which can form a vortex of sand around the figure. It is a nice piece, but of limited use compared to the accessories included with previous Gaara figures. Shikamaru has a black base to replicate his shadow possession jutsu. When the large button on the top is pressed down, a pair of black "claws" extend out to ensnare another figure. It is big and clunky and destined to go straight to the useless accessory bin. But at least they included something with Shikamaru. The same can't be said of Kimimaru who has nothing. Ideally they should have included removeable bone spikes for him. But at the very least they could have included his bone sword.
Features - Kimimaru 1/10, Shikamaru & Kankuro 3/10, others NAOf the seven figures I peicked up, only three of them included action features this time: Kimimaru, Shikamaru and Kankaru. Kankaro's feature is the launching puppet head projectile. Unfortunately the puppet's head is far too heavy to be launched very far. Shikamaru's action feature is his shadow snare base. It is an interesting, if somewhat bulky way to represent Shikamaru's signature technique. But its range is very limited. Kimimaru's feature is two series of bone spikes on his chest which come together when the spikes on his back are pressed down. Not a bad idea, but it isn't worth designing an entire figure around it, particularly since the bone spikes barely move.
Value - Sasuke 2/10, Kimimaru & Gaara 5/10, Choji 6/10, others 7/10All of these figures are part of the basic line of Naruto figures and carry a price of $7 to $8 apiece. That is a hefty price to pay for another version of Sasuke just for a new head sculpt and the coffin accessory. Gaara is a nice figure, but it is questionable if it is worth buying another figure just to get a newer version of Gaara. Kimimaru adds another character to your roster, but isn't that great of a figure. The others were an easy sale to me and should be well worth picking up for Naruto fans.
Happy Hunting:The most disappointing thing about the new Naruto figures is that after waiting so long for them to be released, they were still quite difficult to find. Not many stores carried the new figures. And those that did carry them didn't order many. Then to further complicate the matter, all ten figures didn't ship together. So even if you do find a store that stocks them, you are not likely to find them all in one location. I bought half of my figures locally at either Walmart or Toys R Us as they were the only stores to stock them. The rest of them I had to order from Big Bad Toy Store.com. There are other web sites that stock them, but not many. And most of them charge quite a bit more than normal retail for them.