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Samurai Baker

Saturday Night Live
by yo go re

Ten years ago, the toy industry was booming. New companies were forming left and right, and it seemed just about everything could be turned into a toy (whether it should be or not). For instance, the long-forgotten X-Toys created a line in honor of the 25th anniversary of Saturday Night Live.

Three of the figures in the line were just straight-up terrible choices. Goat Boy? Mary Katherine Gallagher? Nat X? Seriously, Nat X? Does anybody even remember that character? Hell, does anybody even remember Chris Rock? There was only one figure in the series worth even a second glance, and that was Mikaraki Futaba - aka the Samurai Baker.

The Samurai character was one John Belushi had been working on before SNL began - in fact, it was what he used to audition for the show, winning over Lorne Michaels (who was reluctant to hire the reputedly loud, brash and self-centered Belushi). The Samurai was also SNL's first recurring character, showing up 17 times in just about three and a half years. This figure is apparently based on his last appearance, on May 26, 1979.

Most of the Samurai skits were called "Samurai _______": "Samurai Tailor"; "Samurai Hotel"; "Samurai Stockbroker"; and perhaps the most famous of them all, "Samurai Delicatessen." The gag was always the same: straight man goes into some innocuous business, finds it's run by a full-on Japanese samurai. The guy doesn't speak any English (not that the gibberish he mumbles is actually Japanese, either), though the two still manage to carry on a conversation anyway. The samurai gets offended, tries to commit Harry Caray hara kiri and is stopped, eventually using his mad sword skills to deliver whatever it was the customer needed. Repetitive, but a crowd-pleaser.

John Belushi put as much effort into his Samurai costume as he did into learning Japanese - that is, none. His "kimono" is nothing more than an old bathrobe, and all he did to his pair was pull it up into a ponytail. Hardly authentic, but then, that's part of the charm. The figure's done in a 6" scale, so he actually reaches 6½" thanks to the topknot. All his joints are swivels: neck, shoulders, biceps, forearms, waist, hips and shins. Yeah, not a great selection, especially since this was coming out at just the same time as Spider-Man Classics. I don't know if we ever saw the Samurai's feet on the show, but the toy is wearing geta sandals. His apron is softgoods, tied in the back - if you don't want this to be the Samurai Baker and instead Samurai TV Repairman, just take it off.

The figure's likeness is... lacking. It's one of those like we would have seen from N2/Mirage, where the face is almost right, but not quite there. It looks more like Jim Belushi than John Belushi. Hell, it looks more like Bob Hope than John Belushi. He has a decent expression on his face, but he needs more beard scruff: he should look like a cross between Wolverine and Toshiro Mifune, but here all he has is a painted-on five o'clock shadow.

Samurai Baker gets a decent bunch of accessories, including his katana and wakizashi, which fit in the scabbards tied around his waist. We already mentioned the apron, but he also gets a floppy baker's hat, molded with a hole to fit over his hair, He gets a large cake on a table, both of which can be chopped in half by the figure's action feature: lift his arms above his head, push the button on his back and he swings his arms down. Give him the big sword, and he'll chop the cake; give him the small one, and he can stab himself. The set also includes, of all things, a cardboard standee of a guy in a suit.

See, in many of the Samurai sketches, Futaba was serving the same customer: Mr. Dantley, as played by host Buck Henry. He was the one going to the deli, to the tailor, to the psychiatrist, whatever. Always the same guy, with no hint that he'd met a workaday samurai before. A host playing a recurring character isn't a common thing, but Buck Henry is the champ: Christopher Walken hasn't played "The Continental" as many times as Henry met Belushi; there have been less appearances of Steve Martin as the Wild and Crazy Guy than there have been Mr. Dantleys. This cutout must be meant to represent Mr. Dantley, even if they couldn't give it a real likeness.

The Samurai Baker didn't actually cut a cake in half in his sketch - though he did throw a cake up in the air, separate it into its component layers and box them individually before it hit the ground. All with his sword. Yeah. This figure isn't great, but it's certainly the best one in Series 1 (and Series 2 would have been even worse). Plus, here's a fun bit of trivia: you might want to get the Samurai to add to your Marvel Legends collection. In 1978, Marvel Team-Up #74 featured Spider-Man going to Studio 8H at Rockefeller Plaza to fight Wolverine's old foe, the Silver Samurai. See, a teleporting ring had been delivered to John Belushi by accident, and the Silver Samurai was trying to retrieve it. Yes, this story is canon. It also features Stan Lee and Statler and Waldorf. Once again, that's canon. It really happened. So thanks to flash-in-the-pan company X-Toys, you can re-create the Samurai Baker's brief teamup with Spidey.

-- 02/11/10

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