In the mid-90s, "bad girls" ruled the comic shelves. Over-inflated characters like Lady Death, Vampirella and their low-rent cousins were the queens in a world where cup size = sales. So when creator Billy Tucci had a story he wanted to tell, he schemed with beauties.
Or maybe he borrowed a corpse to bing back a spirit. Really, if you look hard enough, you can find lots of examples of the 36 Strategems in the creation of the underdressed assassin Shi.
Young Ana Ishikawa is the last in the long line of Kyoto Sohei, a group of warrior monks who can trace their history back to Japan's greatest samurai lords. At age 10, she witnessed the brutal slaying of her entire family, but was spirited away by her grandfather to learn the way of the warrior. Donning her grandfather's kabuki makeup and taking up the Sohei's traditional weapons, Ana became Shi, death incarnate.
Now, on the surface, Shi looked much like the other bad girl books that were on the shelf in 1994 - not much in the way of a costume, violent and bloody adventures - but as soon as you started reading it, the difference was obvious. Instead of an exploitative story designed mainly to let the artist draw the titular (heh) character in provacative poses, Shi had a surprisingly deep and complex story about revenge, racial identity and personal convictions. By taking on the outer appearance of the then-current hot trend, Tucci drew in casual readers and introduced them to something better.
Though there have been a pretty steady stream of miniseries and spin-offs, none of them really had the same spark as the original. Now, a decade after her debut, Shi is back in a new adventure from Dark Horse Comics, the company behind other indie hits like Sin City and Hellboy. Even better than that, Dark Horse has given us Ana in action figure form.
Yes, Blue Box Toys made a Shi in their 12" Cy Girls line, but that doesn't count. Why not? Because we said so, that's why.
Dark Horse isn't exactly known for their high-quality action figures (or any action figures, for that matter), but Shi's looking pretty darn good. Steve Kiwus, one of the Marvel Legends go-to guys, is the artist behind this piece, and he's done his usual professional job.
Shi may not wear much clothing, but what she does have requires some careful detailing. Her costume has a quilted look to it, so the lines criss-crossing her need to be even and smooth. Her black loincloth is wrinkled realistically, and the small bits of armor on her forearms and hands really look like they were tied in place. Check out the shi kanji carved on there.
Her body is a bit of a mixed bag -
her legs are smooth and shapely, but then her stomach is insanely toned. Killer abs, Ana, but I think you should really start working on some other areas. Her hair is very good - mostly flowing free, it's also tied in a small bun at the back - but none of it ever looks cartoony. Her face, however, looks much older and much less Asian than you might expect.
Articulation is very good. A lot of small companies take it easy at first, but Dark Horse really went all out. Shi moves at the ankles, knees, thighs, hips, shoulders, elbows and neck. Her head is designed to be looking to the left, so her neck looks a little awkward in other positions. It's not quite Marvel Legends-level, but it's still good that this ninja assassin can move.
The figure includes three accessories: a 3 7/8" sword, a 7 1/8" naganata and 5 1/2" wide logo base. The base is really very good, a thin three-dimensional piece with some great shading in the colors. Yellow, red and grey, the base features two pegs for the figure's feet. She stands fine on her own, but good display bases are always welcome.
The two weapons are detailed accurately -
wrapped leather on the sword's hilt, cloth grips on the spear - and can be held in Shi's right hand. She can only hold one at a time, and there's no storage for the weapons, sadly.
Oh, and if we can just go back to the colors for a minute, the paint apps on this figure are very good. The red of her costume has some nice shading and doesn't spill onto the body at all. Her face is stark white, and her eyes are crisp and clear. The paint on her armor doesn't spill onto the red cloth and her hair, instead of being plain black, is actually a dark brown. Very nice.
Overall, this is a very good figure, one that we've been waiting years to get. The only real weak spot is above the neck, but that's no reason not to buy her. Impressive range of motion, great paint, killer sculpt... where did Dark Horse go to learn how to make figures this good this fast?
Who's your favorite female ninja? Tell us on our message board, The Loafing Lounge.