Chuck Norris Karate Kommandos: The Complete Series (2011, Warner Archives)
Originally Aired on TV: September 15-19, 1986
Run time: 110 minutes
1. “Deadly Dolphin”
2. “Target: Chuck Norris”
3. “Terror Train”
4. “Menace from Space
5. “Island of the Walking Dead”
Time to scratch off another cartoon from my list of shows that should be on DVD! FINALLY! Chuck Norris Karate Kommandos is on DVD! When it was announced by Warner that starting on April 1st they’d be taking orders for Karate Kommandos, I quickly ordered my copy. If you’re not familiar with the Warner Archive Collection site, every DVD you order there is produced on demand just for you! There’s a growing library of movies, shows and animation over there. Stuff that is so low-key it wouldn’t do well if shipped to the big box stores but given that the DVDs are only produced when an order comes in, I think this is a great way for Warner to make use of their huge library of films and TV shows. From the few times I’ve ordered from them, I’ve found them to be pretty quick with making my order and then shipping it. Usually takes 5-7 business days from the time I ordered it.
In the 1980s, everybody was all about ninjas and all types of martial arts. You had movies like American Ninja, Best of the Best, The Octagon (starring Chuck Norris!), Enter the Ninja, Revenge of the Ninja, etc. Heck, even G.I. Joe had Storm Shadow & Snake-Eyes, He-Man had Ninjor, the Rambo cartoon had White Dragon & Black Dragon, then there was TMNT (in the comics and on TV) and Marvel Comics was using ninjas all over the place. Ninja video games were all the rage too: Shinobi, Ninja Gaiden, Bad Dudes vs. Dragon Ninja, The Last Ninja (not to mention games like Double Dragon that took great advantage of martial arts).
Plain and simple, ninjas were the pirates of the 1980s. I even had my own little ninja costume set. You know, the cheap kind you could get at Kaybee Toys that came with some cheap throwing stars, a sword, wristbands and maybe a black or red headband that would proudly display the word “NINJA” in the color of neon green. What am I talking about? Oh yeah, Chuck Norris Karate Kommandos!
So anyway, some of the younger folks may not realize this but there was a time when Chuck was cool and popular with absolutely no traces of irony. The mid ’80s were really his peak in popularity, so why not give him a show? Karate Kommandos is set up just like the Mister T show (both produced by Ruby-Spears) was — with a live-action video featuring the show’s star talking to the viewers at the beginning and end of each episode.
Here’s another interesting note: Rambo: The Force of Freedom was also produced by Ruby-Spear and debuted the exact same week at Karate Kommandos! Can you imagine getting to see Rambo, Chuck Norris, G.I. Joe and probably He-Man (maybe even Thundercats!) all in the same afternoon? Even if was only for 5 days?
Apparently the show was intended to be only a mini-series (each episode is self-contained though). Perhaps Mr. Norris didn’t want to take time out of his then steady movie gigs to voice a cartoon. Like most action cartoons of the ’80s, the show was basically a marketing tool for toys, comics and other merchandise. As popular as Chuck was though at this time, the Karate Kommandos brand never really caught on to any great extent.
As for what the animated series itself was about — it was the standard “let’s try to be like G.I. Joe” fare, except with a karate twist. Chuck works for the U.S. government and has a squad called the Karate Kommandos (members: Pepper, Reed, Too Much, Kimo and Tabe) and they battle The Claw and his organization. Supposedly his evil empire is called VULTURE (according to Wiki) but I’ve never heard it referred to as such on the show. Claw’s main henchman is Super Ninja (who is portrayed hilariously over the top and has some death grudge with Norris that’s never explained that doesn’t seem to be reciprocated by Chuck). Super Ninja also looks like a cross between a slasher killer and a masked Japanese wrestler.
There are a few other villains though that make one-time appearances working for Claw like Angelfish, The Leader, Impostor, Croc, Tanaka and in the last episode, a voodoo priest that they never even bothered naming. And then there’s another recurring henchman who I believe was referred to as Ninja Master. He’s basically in charge of all the ninja foot soldiers.
While I don’t remember any specific episodes, I do remember having seen the show when I was little. What surprised me watching it now is how brutal the show can be at times. In G.I. Joe, they shot red and blue lasers and always missed. In The Force of Freedom, Rambo had been reduced to basically being a pacifist in order not to offend parents. But for some reason… they kill people on this show. In the very first episode Chuck is battling two ninjas on a metal beam that is suspended in the air and both end up falling and screaming to what I can only imagine was their death. Now maybe you could say “well, they weren’t really up that high so it’s possible they didn’t die”. And I would agree but in the second episode The Claw kills The Leader for failing to capture Chuck Norris. He sets the poor guy down in a chair with a trap door. The guy pleads for a second chance but The Claw is not in a forgiving mood so bye-bye, bad guy. He threatens to do the same to Impostor if Impostor fails him.
Overall, I would say the show is about on par with the Rambo cartoon, which is to say it’s a fun nostalgic ride but it isn’t like it’s some wonderful lost gem or anything. There’s very little replay value and it just doesn’t hold up compared to a show like G.I. Joe. Actually, the show is probably just a bit lower on the totem pole than Rambo considering Chuck is doing his own voice so the acting is even more wooden than usual for a show like this!
Being a DVD-on-demand, obviously there are no special features here. And for those that care, the clean up on the intro for each episode is very poor. It’s like they took the intro straight off a VHS copy but the shows themselves look pretty good all things considered. Still, for a kid that lived in the ’80s and had the toys and remembers watching the show? I think $14.95 is money well spent to a trip down Memory Lane.