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GI Joe: Retaliation
by yo go re

The bio text on the back of this package is pretty useless. "Budo is a martial arts masters and a gifted sword fighter. He wears armor used by his samurai ancestors. When Cobra ninjas attack, Budo is ready to strike with speed and skill." Yeah. So instead, here's the text that was on the character's original 1988 filecard:

Budo's father was an orthodontist on Oakland, his grandfather was a farmer in Fresno, his great-grandfather was a track-worker on the Rocky Mountain Line, and his great-great-grandfather was a fencing master in one of the last great samurai warrior families of Japan. On his eighteenth birthday he was given the family swords and a haiku written by his ancestor:

The great sword sheathed
Glitters brightly in the dark
Unseen and at rest.

"The man has a fifth-degree black belt in Iaido, (the art of the live blade) and similar rank in three other martial arts. He could have even higher rankings if he didn't spend so much time working on his chopped, pan-head Harley and listening to heavy metal."

Isn't that better? Who else but Larry Hama could make sense of a dude in samurai armor serving alongside normal soldiers?

This version of Budo is more traditionally "samurai-ish" than his vintage counterpart. In fact, it's obvious at a glance that someone put a whole lot of love into this sculpt. This is tosei-gusoku, or modern armor - "modern" in this case meaning "16th century," so it's kind of relative. They were made from iron plates instead of individual leather scales, and the weight of the armor rested on the wearer's thighs rather than their shoulders (which made it easier to wear for long periods of time). Budo's (chest armor) is yokohagi okegawa style, meaning it's assembled from horizontal laminar bands. The sode (shoulder plates) and han kote (gauntlets) are highly detailed, and appear to be strapped to his arms. He's got a thick uwa-obi (belt) with lamellar kusazuri (faulds) and haidate (thigh armor) hanging from it, and his tabi boots are topped by suneate (shin guards). It's all covered by a removable jimbaori jacket. Because of the way the armor is constructed, the chest plate gets pushed off toward one side, and having the jacket on him helps hide that flaw. You can get the off if you really try, but the rest of the armor is going nowhere. The body beneath is reused, too, so there's really no point in bothering. Save your fingers, and leave the armor on.

There's one problem with all that armor, though: you've got the toy's shoulders, then the plastic of the chestplate, then the plastic of the jacket; by the time you add all that up, it makes his neck too short and his head seems to be sunken into his body a bit. It's a new head, with a real Toshiro Mifune look, but he's got a perma-shrug.

That's less of a problem when you've got his fancy kabuto helmet in place. The inside is molded to match his topknot, which is nice: the chonmage hairdo was originally created to help hold the samurai's helmet on. The hachi (bowl) and shikoro (neck guard) are molded as a single piece for this toy, while the mabizashi (brim) and fukegaeshi (curled flaps) are a separate piece that's glued into the front. This piece also has the black mengu mask with its yodare-kake throat guard hanging beneath. His maedate (front crest) is just a golden dot, but his wakidate (side crests) are large black antlers - not the stylized antlers known as kuwagata, legit spiny antlers. What's really impressive is that when you have the helmet in place, Budo's eyes perfectly peer out through the eye holes. Love it!

Since the body is a reused piece of engineering, the articulation is mostly the same as it used to be: hinged/rocker ankles, double-hinged knees, balljointed hips, swivel/hinge torso, balljointed head, swivel/hinge shoulders and elbows, and swivel wrists. On previous uses of this mold, the wrists were swivel/hinge as well, but since the arms required so much new tooling, they must have cut into the joint budget. [No, the wrists are swivel/hinge; yours must just be stuck. --ed.] The chunky armor limits the range of the joints somewhat, but nothing is fully blocked.

Beyond the removable helmet and the removable jacket, Budo's only accessories are his daishō swords: a katana and a wakizashi. They have dark blades, and can be worn in his belt buke-zukuri style (with the edge up). The popular claim is that swords were worn that way so the samurai could draw and stroke in one fluid motion, but that's bunk: drawing a blade-up sword is incredibly awkward and slow; in fact, in a fight, the first step in drawing the sword would be to use the left hand to flip the saya (scabbard) to a better position, then to flip it back after the sword was drawn. No, the real reason swords were worn edge-up was so the weight of the blade wasn't resting on the sharpened edge all day, dulling it.

We already reviewed this mold once, when it was released as Bludgeon in the SDCC set. But thanks to his darker paintscheme and his drastically different helmet crest, he manages to look unique. This is technically a movie figure, but since it was designed to be a Real American Hero release, you can use it in whatever collection you like. Heck, given the level of detail, you could buy this even if you're just a fan of Japanese history and don't care about GI Joe at all. Of course, that would require you to be able to find him in stores, which seems remarkably unlikely.

-- 10/11/13

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