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Oroku Saki and Hamato Yoshi

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)
by yo go re

In their quarter-scale line, NECA did a set of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when they were still just newly mutated babies. We haven't gotten a 1:10 scale version of those yet, but we do have something just as unexpected: a two-pack of Hamato Yoshi and Oroku Saki.

Long before becoming the proud patriarch of his own mutant ninja family, Splinter was once the devoted pet of Japan's finest Shadow Warrior - Hamato Yoshi. Mimicking Yoshi's movements from his cage, Splinter learned the mysterious art of ninjitsu. Yoshi's fiercest and most dangerous rival was Oroku Saki, whom [sic] became obsessed with winning the affection of Yoshi's beloved Tang Shen. Fearing Saki's vengeful jealousy, Shen, Yoshi and Splinter sought refuge in America. But soon the sadistic Saki viciously struck down the star-crossed lovers, orphaning the wounded Splinter. Saki then vanished, his face scarred by Splinter's desperate defense counteratack.

Back in the day, when McFarlane's Movie Maniacs line was still a thing, we suggested they do a Fight Club box set, showing the two main characters brawling in a dirty basement. The twist would have been that the toys would have swappable heads, creating some display variety even though McToys didn't do articulation then. I guess that was a pretty good idea, because this set may feature two rivals, but they have the same body with different heads. Right out of the box, Saki is wearing full gi while Yoshi is shirtless, but the set includes a second top (and alternate "sleeve" arms) if you want to dress him up. And also alternate bare arms if you want to strip Shredder down.

So here's a weird thing: none of the actors who appeared in Splinter's flashback origin are credited, and no one (publicly) knows who played them. Like, we know that James Saito played "modern day" Shredder - the toy even includes his face - but the Oroku Saki seen in the stylized, dimly lit flashbacks was emphatically not Saito: he was much younger, and his face was an entirely different shape. Neither the men nor Tang Shen were identified in the credits, so whatever info was known about them has for now been lost to history.

That may be why we're getting this set: while the named actors all would have required likeness licensing rights, NECA doesn't have to pay for made-up faces. With nobody knowing who those guys are, and no way to get in touch with them for permission, sculptor Trevor Grove was just charged with creating characters from scratch. Each of the portraits has basically the same nose, and both of young Oroku Saki's faces bear a loose resemblence to the future Shredder, with a fairly thick jawline. Yes, "both": NECA has given us one pristine face, and one with the bloody rat-wounds on the cheek.

The bodies move at the head, shoulders, elbows, wrists, abdomen, waist, hips, thighs, knees, shins, and ankles. The elbows are the double-swivel/hinge type, on both the bare and covered arms, and both the chest and stomach are balljoints. Each of the figures comes with the same sets of alternate hands: closed fists, flat choppers, or ones to hold the included weapons. Many of the joints were rather stiff, so I had to be careful to get everything moving. The hips are the old swivel/hinge style, not the balljoints NECA's been using for other things lately - were these figures in the works for that long, or was the choice made for aesthetic reasons, to tie them in with all the other movie toys?

Logically, the two Foot Clan ninja masters come with many of the same weapons as the Foot Soldiers: katana, axe, nunchucks, tonfa, and bo staff. There are two of each, so you can have them face off evenly. The nunchucks are the only ones that aren't identical: you get two, but one of them has a chain and the other has a cord. Diversity! And that's all nice, but it's not what's really special.

The point of Splinter's story was how he learned the ninja arts by observing his master from inside his cage. In honor of that, this set includes not one but two pre-mutagen Splinter figures, and his cage! The cage is just as it was seen in the movie, a round body with a conical top, hanging from a curved stand. Some releases might have considered just the cage itself inclusion enough, but this time NECA went all the way with the stand as well. The pole is metal, so we don't have to worry about the plastic being thin and breaking, and the bottom of the cage detatches so you can put Splinter inside, and there's a small peg so he won't be in danger of falling over.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would not have been even half the movie it was without Jim Henson doing the puppetry. I mean, who else is not only going to make you believe a pet rat is doing ninja moves, but even make you feel empathy for that rat's sadness just a few seconds later? Can anybody else swing from comedy to tragedy so fast, and with a creature most people consider vermin? I don't think so! The ones included in this set are a version doing his little kicks, and the other version curled up to attack Oroku Saki's face. Great stuff!

This set is, like all the live-action movie releases, a Walmart exclusive. I knew it was coming, but wasn't overly interested in it; I only picked up on a whim when it showed up right before Giftsmas, and even then I wasn't sure if I was going to keep it or not. Getting two identical bodies as separate characters (and with mystery likenesses) may seem like a bit of a cop-out, but the fact these human toys exist at all is some sort of triumph. Plus, the rats are so cute!

-- 01/27/22

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