Female Villains in Ninjago

This is a guest post done by Jared, one of our biggest fans. The piece is exquisite and hopefully just the first one of many to come.

Villainesses of Ninjago

Ninjago: a land of mystery, magic, advanced technology and high adventure. A world of comedy, character, and-admittedly-inconsistent/contradictory canon, particularly when it comes to the “ancient” history of the place. And sadly, a series in which the term “bad guy” has been all too often applicable in referring the various antagonists, as there are were no “bad girls” to be found. In the past couple of years that situation looks to be improving, but we’d be kidding ourselves if we didn’t acknowledge that evil-doing has been largely a man’s game for this LEGO theme.

Now, female characters as a whole tend to suffer when it comes to adventure series like Ninjago. Nya was our lonely leading lady for the first couple of years, and even though Misako arrived to help pick up the slack in 2013, it took another three years before she got her own minifigure. But the sad fact is that it took five years for a true female villain to show up in the franchise-not as long as it took for Smurfs: The Lost Village to correct that series’ gender imbalance issue, but still a disappointingly long time. The question is, why? Why were the Ninjago creatives, both in terms of set design and creating characters for the series, so tardy in allowing some lethal ladies to don the mantle of villainess?

Perhaps we’ll never know the answer-I don’t have any connections at the LEGO group and I’m not acquainted with anyone who does, at least that I know of. But perhaps we can take a look at female villainy throughout the series and see what we can discover. Now, since more recent years have included two groups of villains per year, I’m going to simplify things by considering the villainous factions in sets of two.

2011-2012: The Years of the Skulkin and the Serpentine

Ninjago in 2011-2012

Ninjago’s first year was eight years ago now-hard to believe how long it’s been. That year we started off with a small cast of characters, as is to be expected: the four original ninja, Sensei Wu, Nya, Lord Garmadon, and eight named Skulkin-at least in the toyline. Now, admittedly most of the Skulkin are hard to classify as characters based on the pilot special(s), as they did little more than provide the Ninja with somebody to hit. But when you consider that at least four of the Skulkin were apparently designed as Elemental counterparts to the ninja, it’s a little sad that they didn’t think of giving Nya a female Skulkin to cross blades with.

2012 didn’t improve the situation much-if anything, things got worse. The Serpentine, villains for this season, consisted-at least in the toyline-of seventeen new characters, all of them identified as male. Now, the animated series seemed to include more, but for the most part these were mass-produced grunts based on the toyline figures. And while the show did bring in new villains in the form of Captain Soto’s crew, those were all guys too. The big threat of the wave, the Great Devourer, was never referred to by gender, though later storyline (2017) seems to indicate that it may have been female-that, or it was genderless and could produce offspring on its own.

From an in-universe perspective, it’s hard to say why this is. The Serpentine were later shown to have female members-well, one anyway-but this was only revealed AFTER they stopped being bad guys. The fact that said female also seems to have come out of nowhere is a bit odd-did she change color, or were the female Serpentine off doing their own thing? As for the Skulkin, they have even less of a backstory: the show really only tells us that they “live” in the Underworld. Tommy Andreason’s “Way of the Departed” paints them as the cursed members of a former living army; maybe any ladies affiliated with them just weren’t quite as boneheaded?

2013-2014: The Years of the Stone Army and the Nindroids

Ninjago in 2013-2014

At first glance, 2013 seemed like a dark year for Ninjago: it was at the end of it’s token three year run allotted to all but the most unsuccessful Lego themes. The bad guys this year were the Stone Army, a largely mass-produced force of male-sounding grunts. Not a one of them was ever painted-figuratively or literally-as being female. Of course, as Robert has mentioned in discussions with me, being stone they are essentially genderless. Still, it was sad to see not one female minifigure this year, despite the animated series featuring Misako and a corrupted version of Nya; fortunately, this is the only year to date in which no Nya or female minifigure of any kind has been released in the theme.

Luckily for us, Ninjago did so well that Lego decided to keep it going, and in year four gave us the Nindroids. As with the Stone Army, this faction consisted largely of mass-produced, genderless inorganic beings, so the omission of a female villain is almost understandable. Of course, there’s also the fact that P.I.X.A.L. was introduced this year and briefly served as an antagonist in the animated series before being freed by Zane. Given that her Ninjago.com bio mentioned that she had fifteen “sisters” before her (or at least I assume they were all female), however, it seems like the idea of female automatons beyond P.I.X.A.L. herself was at least on somebody’s mind.

2015: The Year of the Anacondrai Cult and the Cursed Realm Ghosts

Ninjago in 2015

2015 was the first year to feature not one, but TWO villainous factions between it’s two waves, the first being the Anacondrai Cult. However, despite the introduction of twelve new characters-though admittedly one of them was a robot-we didn’t get a single female villain. Admittedly, we did see another new female character in the form of Skylor, whom some might consider at least a temporary villain given her relation to Chen. However, her depiction in the toyline and her portrayal in subsequent season of the animated series definitely lean towards the heroic. Personally, I didn’t care much for the Tournament of Elements season anyway.

The second 2015 wave and it’s set of villains was historic, for here at last we got a true, full-blown female antagonist in the form of Blade Master Bansha. Even bigger, the final threat for the animated season based on the wave was the Preeminent, a Lovecraftian monstrosity very explicitly identified as a female. Sadly, the Preeminent has yet to appear in set form, and Bansha’s debut was accompanied by the introduction of EIGHTEEN new male villains, nineteen if you include Ronin. Now, admittedly several of those eighteen were pretty cookie cutter-the same minifigure given four or five different names with minor, if any, physical changes. Still, it’s a bit depressing that with all those named characters they couldn’t throw in a few more girls.

2016: The Year of the Sky Pirates and Sensei Yang’s Departed Villains

Ninjago in 2016

Ninjago’s first wave of its sixth year did a little bit better: out of nine named Sky Pirates and a couple unnamed grunts released physically, two of them were female characters. Granted, you have look to pretty close to spot Dogshank’s eyelashes, but at least she got a physical release. Sadly, another prominent Sky Pirate exclusive to the animated series, Dilara, has not yet received a physical minifigure. Of course, she was dead by the time of the events of the series, and a custom version seems to be as simple as popping Nya’s head onto a Cyren body.

Sadly, the year’s second wave-the Day of the Departed theme-was entirely devoid of new female villain characters. Granted, the wave was mainly about bringing back old villains to pal around with Sensei Yang, and as they had just done Skybound it would have been a bit much to bring the Sky Pirates into it. Of course, the Day of the Departed special identified three of Yang’s students as women, but they weren’t technically villains as they were acting under a curse. At any rate, the only students of Yang’s we got as minifigures were Martin and Chris-has anyone else wondered if the people naming figures that year were Kratt Bros. fans?

2017: The Year of the Vermillion and the Shark Army

Ninjago in 2017

2017’s first wave got us back to female representation, though the ratios could still have used work; out of nine named minifigures released physically only General Machia brought a woman’s touch to evil. Of course, four of those characters ended up not showing up in the animated series at all, or else merely served as inspiration for an army of mass-produced but apparently male foot soldiers. But really, would one or two more Vermillion ladies have been such an issue? For that matter, why did both of the Time Twins have to be guys?

Now, regardless of your feelings on The LEGO Ninjago Movie, you can’t deny that the Shark Army’s diversity isn’t just a matter of aquatic creature-themed headgear. Trailers for the film reveal quite a few female members of Garmadon’s curious confederacy, notably including at least two “IT Nerds.” Now sadly, only a couple of these ladies have made it into physical minifigure form: General Olivia and the GPL Tech. Even more disappointingly, it seems as though there could have been at least one more: Crusty, the lobster soldier, is depicted as a man in the sets, but in The LEGO Ninjago Movie Videogame the character appears as a woman!

Hopefully Lego’s not quite finished releasing TLNM products just yet, and we can get a few more Shark Army members down the road. There’s a few more techs, several generals and soldiers-maybe Lego could justify finally making the Narwhal head by creating both a male and female soldier to wear it?

2018: The Year of the Sons of Garmadon and the Dragon Keepers

Ninjago in 2018

Now we come to the current year, where the trend of more ladies on the side of evil seems to have continued at least for the first wave and its corresponding season. Though the reborn Lord Garmadon is definitely the big bad once again, he couldn’t have come about without the help of Harumi. Sadly, she and Ultra Violet are the only Daughters of Garmadon to be released as minifigures so far, but it’s clearly not for lack of their appearance in the animated series. Maybe a couple magazine releases along the lines of Sawyer and Buffer can help even things out for the group-and maybe change their name to “Children of Garmadon”, while they’re at it?

Now, sadly, while Harumi continues to be a presence in the second wave of 2018 sets, the trend of male villains greatly outnumbering the ladies seems likely to continue. The “Dragon Keepers”-yet to determine whether that’s their official name or not-seem to be made up of all male characters like many a group of Ninjago villains before them. The only one that seems to cast some doubt on this idea is Arkade, since we don’t know what’s under the welding mask yet, but even if that character turns out to be a girl she’d be one among eight.
The TV series will actually include some female Dragon Keepers/Oni by the looks of things, but whether we’ll get any of them as physical minifigures is another matter.

In conclusion

We don’t yet know where Ninjago’s future will lead or how much longer the series will last. But hopefully we can look forward to a more even representation between male and female villains in the future. Things have slowly been improving, and hopefully they will continue to-and at a faster pace-as the theme continues. It’s often hard to know what’s next for Ninjago, and new foes could come in any shape, size, or gender division.

Were the theme to revisit old villain groups or motifs, there’s certainly room to balance out the scales a bit. Perhaps Skales Jr. will emulate his dad’s ambitious streak and recruit some young lady Serpentine to his cause. Maybe Mr. E will prove to be the first of a new group of Nindroids, some of whom could be robots more along the lines of P.I.X.A.L. Or the Time Twins could always return with some new Vermillion gal pals for Machia. Whatever happens, hopefully it will only add to what we already love about Ninjago.

Posted by Jared Boyd

12 comments

MonkeyTimYT

Very interesting article, although in season 9 Jet Jack is a female villain. 🙂

Well, now that I look at the Jet Jack image, I can’t really tell; that grimace is making it difficult. The name didn’t strike me as particularly feminine.

I’ve seen images of a female Oni visually similar to Jet Jack, but that character clearly had lipstick while the promotional image of Jet Jack has none.

Well, I just discovered that I missed a female villain: the green-headed Shark Army Angler from the Collectible Minifigure Series is a woman! Granted, that head piece obscures quite a bit of detail, but that is yet another female villain in Ninjago.

That’s a good catch! And she looks so evil 😡

Never thought about that. Very interesting article! But generaly, in a lot of themes, there is not a lot of female villains.

MonkeyTim was quite correct-Jet Jack is a female character, albeit with a misleading name. Indeed Sphynxie-it seems fairly common across action-adventure series for most if not all of the villains to be guys. Minions also have tended towards being men, genderless constructs with a lean towards the masculine, or with a generic uniform that makes telling who or what is wearing it impossible.

It’s not misleading, it’s a male name 😀 And looking at her pictures she doesn’t look feminine…

That’s what I meant about misleading-it’s a guy name applied to the girl. Yeah, her sneer makes it hard, but she is wearing lipstick. If you can find the right image, you can also see the “negative space” printed on the torso showing that she’s supposed to have a feminine body type.

Agreed, most armies in the past consisted of entirely men, with maybe one woman forced in so they can say they did it. But in s8 and 9, the s.o.g and dragon hunters are entirely mixed! They’re are boys and girls, almost evenly too. Ultra violet, harumi, jet jack, and lots of other women intermixed in their groups. And in the ninjago movie, crusty’s female version was there she just didn’t get a minifig, sadly. She had about 40 seconds of screen time (in the background). there were male and female variants of just about every single rank of soldier, but giving her a minifig is as easy as changing the hat to a female soldier.

…and now come to find out that that Heavy Metal is a woman too. Of course, I think that may have been a liberty taken by the show writers; the minifigure itself certainly shows no signs of being female.

And in the tv show she looks badass without the mask on! I hope we get her as Faith in minifigure form.

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