Newest Review: ... within the timelimit set. The time seems to vary from series to series as there are some minor changes in the obstacles in each tou... more
Member Name: yabbadabbadoo
Date: 03/11/09, updated on 18/02/11 (292 review reads)
Advantages: inspirational source of educational play (great for Saturday morning loafing!)
Disadvantages: A dream for many, a reality for few....
~~~~It's another knockout!~~~~
For me, when the weekend finally comes around after yet another endlessly miserable week on the road in "la-la I'm not listening" IT land, there's really nothing I like better than to spend some "quality" time with my little lad indulging our shared passion for madcap TV action game shows.
Over the last year or so, we've certainly roadtested a few varieties, ranging from the unfathomable and utterly unwinnable Japanese 80's classic that is Takeshi's Castle, the big red ball bouncing bravado of Total Wipeout through to the lycra suited splashtastrophy that is Hole in the Wall.
But now we've discovered an all new Saturday morning treat courtesy of Virgin 1 and Challenge TV re-runs. Finally there is a show where the best of the best blend seamlessly in with the whack jobs and the TV wannabees, where the brave few that manage to progress through a seemingly impossible set of extreme physical obstacles really earn their right to be called - Ninja warriors. (Ok technically the original Japanese program is called Sasuke, but let's not split hairs, it's marketed to 18 countries as Ninja Warrior)
I can't think of anyone better to provide the commentary for the UK version than the magnificently theatrical persona of the mighty Stuart Hall. The moment he lets loose one of those trademark belly bursting chuckles it take me right back to the heddy days of the immortal 70's and early 80's classic that was It's a knockout.
~~~~X factor auditions Japanese style!~~~~
A hundred brave souls start out at the beginning of each "tournament", ready to tackle the first of four stages. Usually the first half hour episode in any particular tournament concentrates solely on the Stage 1 attempts. This is really the nearest Japanese equivalent to the X factor early auditions stage.
Basically well before we get to the select handful of genuinely super fit and serious contenders, we get all of the nutjobs throwing their hat into the ring. They come from all walks of life, obscure Japanese TV celebrities, carnival dancers, supermodels, bin men, a sexagenarian Octopus man, Cheerleaders, ex Olympians, and even a few International competitors.
Watching these fancy dress bedecked numpties, spinning out, splashing in and all round failing spectacularly to make even a slight in road into the course is always a joy to behold, especially with Mr Hall on hand to guide us on our merry way.
~~~~~The path to pain~~~~
Stage 1 consists of around 8 separate obstacles, and each competitor has to try and reach the final platform within the timelimit set. The time seems to vary from series to series as there are some minor changes in the obstacles in each tournament but it's round about a minute and a half.
Here's an example from one of the earlier shows - First they have to jump clear of some water over either some mounds / revolving cones or tilting type mechanisms - easy enough for most. Next it's the down hill Rolling log, which is typically one of the main stumbling blocks for the unwary.
The plucky Ninja wannabees have to cling on for dear life as it spins them around. Somehow they then have to make their way across the menacingly designed "bridge of blades" and then for Jump Hang launch themselves via a mini trampoline into a set of ropes. Without a second to spare they have to plough on up two daunting ultra steep 5 metre curved walls, then desperately scramble up a rope to get to the magic red button.
In Stage 2 time is further reduced to just over a minute, and every single facet is tested to the max with speed, strength, and balance challenges. Typical challenges include, death sliding around with a heavy set of chains, Spiderman walking up through a building, then standing atop a high speed rolling log, scrabbling up a reverse escalator before lifting and scrambling under three guillotine style progressively heavier weights.
At least for stage 3 there's no time limit, but there's certainly no let up in the difficulty. Suspended high up in the air on a giant metal frame, the remaining few have to some how summon the arm and body strength and muscle endurance to get through any number of socket-renching challenges. Even if they make it through rumble dice, globe grasp, cliff hang, pipe slider, they still have to be able to summon the dismount of a world class gymnast to even have the faintest chance of landing on the final platform.
Stage 4 is just ridiculous quite frankly. Rarely do more than 2 contenders make it to this point, and if they do it's enough to make them want to chuck in the towel there and then. There's at least 25 metres to ascend vertically in just 30 seconds using nothing but extreme physical effort. In the versions I've seen, they get 15 seconds to use their vertical spider climb technique before the walls pull apart, then just 15 seconds to get up the remaining 20metres to the top. My hands are burning just thinking about it!
~~~~Dedication, that's what they need!~~~~
So in 24 series to date over the last 12 years, with 100 competitors in each event, have a guess how many have actually been able to complete all 4 stages?
That's right - 2 , once by Kazuhiko Akiyama in 1999 and once by Makoto Nagano in 2006 - curiously enough both are fishermen which given that Olympic and internationally renowned athletes from a multitude of sports have all failed to make it just goes to show what a tough breed they are!
Basically every time some one has the temerity to conquer the challenges the organisers go and make the courses even tougher for the next tournament.
For the handful of serious contenders, the goal of going all the way and conquering the final stage has become little short of an obsession. Although many of them are ordinary guys in full-time occupations, there are several examples where they have taken 6 month sabbaticals to dedicate themselves for training.
One or two have even set up Ninja warrior training camps, with home made replicas of the obstacles they need. There are no second chances and not even practice runs are allowed. So the pressure on them is immense.
One poor fellow having spent 6 months of mind and body training in isolation at a special camp, managed to forget to remove his gloves after the chain swing, got all the way to the finish line only to find that he was disqualified because they had given him an unfair advantage over the remaining obstacles. Harsh is not the word - this is brutal!
These all-star competitors get invited back time and time again and by all accounts have quite a following within Japan. My favourite character is Makoto Nagano, not just because he was able to all the way (and came very close on at least 2 other occasions I saw) but simply because even in the thick of these gruelling challenges, he remains the very personification of calm. The way he seems to breeze through the rounds, it's really quite amazing to watch.
~~~~Arts and Crafty~~~~
But when I say home-made Ninja's in the title of this piece, I'm not talking about the competitors dedicating their personal lives to the challenge.
So where exactly does the homemade bit apply then I hear you cry? Don't worry I'm not proposing constructing some kind of death trap style mishmash of danger filled nonsense in the back garden. Believe me you definitely won't want to try any of this at home, let alone letting your kids get
But when the time for interactive play is upon us, and we've exhausted all the indoor sport related opportunities, sometimes I have to face my arts and crafts demons. Whether it be scrabbling about with moonsand trying desperately to make something have resembling the models stand up for more than a nano-second, or getting out the paint brushes, I'm afraid the fact that I have the all the artistic talent of a three toed sloth with a limp does kind of make it a little tortuous.
Staring at the kitchen table covered in assorted buckets and containers filled with some plastic tools, playdo and squishy squashy type stuff, the inspiration finally came to be. Let's try and build our very own version of the Ninja course - how hard could it be!
Now in true Blue Peter traditional style I'm going to run through the basics of what you'll need. Don't know about you but I could never get hold of those Pipe cleaners or double-sided sticky back plastic that seemed to be the staple of every obstacle. Well fear not, all you need is a half a dozen pots of squishing stuff, a little bit of plasticine to build an assortment of plucky mini ninja's and one or two shape cutter type objects like a mini-rolling pin and the like and you are up and running.
Starting out with stage one, the main regular staples are the rolling log (which is a couple of squishy rails in an inverted V stretched out with the aforementioned plastic rolling pin plonked on top) , jump hang - just need 4 pillars of squishy and a flat bit across the top, and then the warped wall - easy peasy just curve it upwards at one end.
Throw in the final rope climb, a few other cones and slopes, plenty of make shift water ways and before you know it you've got the best bit of modelling since Take Hart's Morph first burst onto the scene
When it comes to stage 2 and 3, again there's one or two favourites like pipe slider (actually if you do happen to be able to get hold of those pipe cleaners..) spider walk and the rolling barrels, but again its just a case of going with the flow.
The final stage, the mighty tower and 30 second rope climb just means merging all the squidgy you can get your hands on, and trying desperately not to make the two mighty towers look too much like something you'd find at an Ann Summers party.
Guaranteed hours of entertainment on a rainy day, to fire the imagination of you're budding Ninja juniors without remotely risking their health - well unless they decide to start chomping on the squishy stuff while you're not looking!
So there you have it the perfect TV formula. Knockabout high jinks to enjoy, incredible feats of human endurance and athleticism to admire, and best of all an opportunity for creative play to inspire the future generations - really does it get better than that?!
Summary: High drama on Mount Midoriyama!