I'm just old enough to remember the “real” G.I. Joe: a 12-inch hunk of manly vinyl complete with facial hair and kung-fu grip. In the early '80s, G.I. Joe endured a radical makeover and was transformed into a cheap, 3-inch hunk of hard plastic to coincide with a new cartoon series. Unlike much of Reagan's America, Joe not only survived his downsizing, but thrived. In the toyetic world of the '80s, G.I. Joe became a phenomenon, alongside other TV/action figure crossovers like Transformers and He-Man. To this day, I know grown men who are rabid collectors of '80s-era G.I. Joe toys and all but wept when “G.I. Joe” season one hit DVD. ... Of course, I'm one to talk. (I still have all my Micronauts--plus every issue of the Marvel comic book.)
Recently, G.I. Joe underwent another radical change. Now, the toy has returned in a squat 8-inch version, far more detailed than the 3-inch and slightly easier to cram in a toy chest than the 12-inch. Naturally, these figures presaged the arrival of a new TV series: “G.I. Joe: Sigma 6.”
For better or worse, “Sigma 6” takes G.I. Joe into the 21st century. Fans of the original “G.I. Joe” cartoon might be excited to learn that many of the characters from the '80s have been retained. Duke, Scarlett, Heavy Duty, Snake Eyes, Destro, Baroness and Cobra Commander are all here.
Produced in Japan, “G.I. Joe: Sigma 6” has a decidedly anime feel to it. The art style is significantly more detailed than your average “Pokémon” rip-off, and really does come alive in the action sequences. On the down side, the script adaptations are done by John Touhey, who performed the same duty on the aforementioned “Pokémon.” Needless to say, most of the dialogue--delivered by assorted squeaky voiced anime vets--is pretty juvenile.
Also off-putting is the Joe team's reliance on some “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers”-style super suits, which are fueled by a mysterious energy source called “Power Stones.” Much of the show's first season has involved Joe's battle with COBRA over these Power Stones. (Why not just call them “Dragon Balls” and fully cement the anime connection?) Longtime fans will also notice the absence of Joe's trademark “A Real American Hero” catchphrase. Joe and his group are no longer proud Americans, no doubt reflecting parent corporation Hasbro's wish to sell the toys in a volatile, American-hating overseas market.
I'm certain that “G.I. Joe: Sigma 6” will introduce the characters to a whole new generation of toy-collecting kids. Since I was never a huge fan of the original series, I can't really enter into the “better or worse” debate--though I'm relatively confident that '80s Joe fans won't cotton to all the changes. Me, I'll just amuse myself by reading the now-raging Internet arguments between grown men over weather or not Zartan could actually defeat Snake Eyes--knowing full well that my 12-inch Joe could stomp a mudhole in both their asses.