Thursday, March 21, 2013

Fear of Offending Asians...

I don’t really know what it is that makes me gravitate towards the more obscure characters in a toyline. For some reason I just find them infinitely more interesting than the more popular ones. Or maybe it’s because we hardly know anything about them that it leaves more to the imagination, making them more your character to do as you would. When it comes to Masters of the Universe main vintage line (I don’t count the last minute characters thrown in towards the end of the line), no one comes more obscure than Jitsu.

Jitsu, the Evil Master of Martial Arts was part of the third series of Masters of The Universe introduced in 1984. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that with his oversized metallic chopping hand, he was made to be the counter part of the heroic warrior Fisto. Unlike Fisto however, Jitsu sorta fizzled out from the gate. He only had ONE appearance in the original Filmation cartoon, one speaking line and was never even mentioned by name. In fact, in the original animation bible he was referred to not as Jitsu, but with the generic name “Chopper”. After that he was never shown again.

ME? Offensive???
In the 2002 series reboot he fared even worse as he did not appear at all in that one. And because of this he didn’t have any representation in the accompanying toyline, which kinda sucked because that series & toyline is best known for all the interesting redesigns done to all the characters by the very talented toy designers, The Four Horsemen. So initially it seemed we would be deprived of seeing what an updated version of Jitsu would look like.

The popular belief is that The Jitsu character was avoided like the plague in both cartoon series and other media because Mattel was afraid he would be seen as an offensive Asian stereotype. Well as far as I was concerned all I cared about was that his toy had this cool spring loaded chopping gimmick. I could care less about him possibly being offensive…and I’m Asian. If anything I was glad that we were getting some sort of representation in the Masters line!

Anyway, lucky for us Jitsu fans, after the 2002 toyline got cancelled, the Four Horsemen decided to “continue” the line on their own. Although they were not allowed legally to make actual action figures, they were given clearance by Mattel to make a line of statues that would be compatible in size with existing toys. So with this new “staction” (static action figure) line, they set out to do redesigns of characters they weren’t able to do for the toyline, including Jitsu.

And boy! Did they go to town on this guy. Unhampered by the usual restrictions and safety regulations that go with toy manufacturing, they produced an amazing modernized rendition of Jitsu that to this day sells for a high price on eBay if you can ever find one. I for one was lucky enough to find a decently priced one and he remains one of my most prized items in my collection. But aside from being a simply awesome interpretation of Jitsu, the station gave us more. For the first time we got an “official” back story to Jitsu and it’s a good one.

“If there is one thing the dreaded Skeletor relishes more than defeating his enemies, it is enslaving them. No one of his warriors knows this better than the man known as Jitsu! Once a ruler of a peaceful society in the far east, Skeletor's armies decimated his people after he would not craft weapons for the dark armies. Anxious to demean his peaceful legacy, Skeletor fused the man with an ancient artifact called the Dragon's Claw, a massive gauntlet that possesses its wearer and is capable of splitting stone. As Eternians flee in terror from his bloody campaign, little do they know a lost soul watches in terror and sadness through the general's blood red eyes!”

How’s that for adding depth to a rather obscure character? His tragic fate endeared me even more to Jitsu and makes him stand out even more amongst Skeletor’s evil warriors.

Finally when the Classics line started in debuted in 2008, I never imagined that they would release a Jitsu figure. Again, it took quite some time, but 5 years later we finally have a Classics version of Jitsu. While this version lacks most of the hyper designed details of the staction that made it so great, it still does a commendable job modernizing the original vintage figure and again was worth the wait. Last year, Fisto stood out as one of the BEST Classics figures ever released to date. This year in order to give Fisto a fitting counterpart, Jitsu stands out as well as one of the better sculpted Classics figures. I wish they included an alternate head though, one with a longer pony tail and possessed demonic red eyes…unfortunately, in the Classics universe, Jitsu is no longer the tragically enslaved character established in the staction bio, instead we get this….

“Real Name: Chopper 
An intergalactic bandit, Jitsu was broken out of Prison Starr by Keldor during the Great Unrest. In gratitude, he agreed to serve the Evil Lord of Destruction and stayed with him even after Keldor's transformation into Skeletor. As a master of several forms of martial arts, Jitsu was often on the frontline in battle against Randor and his Masters. During the Battle for Gretori Bridge, he was wounded by his archenemy Fisto and had his hand replaced with a golden robotic implant by Tri-Klops. After Skeletor left Eternia for the stars, Jitsu took over Snake Mountain, ruling it with an iron fist. As deadly as he is silent, Jitsu uses his chopping power to get his evil way!”

While not as good as the staction bio, they do manage to do a couple cool things. First they pay homage to his roots by bringing back the name “Chopper”…although I would’ve preferred a more Asian name, I do appreciate the nod to his history. And second, they made him the new ruler of Snake Mountain after Skeletor leaves “for the stars” or in other words goes off to star in that disastrous attempt at a cartoon reboot in the early 90’s called “New” Adventures of He-Man.

So whether he is the unfortunate peaceful warrior magically forced to wage an evil war, or the future ruler of Snake Mountain, Jitsu has certainly gone a long way from the feared racial stereotype he was originally perceived as. And it’s good to know that Mattel eventually got over their fear of offending us Asians cuz a few years later…they gave us Ninjor….the Evil Ninja Warrior!