So it’s also the 50th anniversary of my favorite super hero, Spider-Man. But rather than dig into my old Essential volumes of that Amazing wall-crawler, I think I’ll start with that awesome tv show from Toei. No, I was not inspired by that insipid book Ready Player One. I’ve been watching the show on and off for a year, but never could find the time to sit down and watch the damn thing, since I was distracted by so many other shows. It’s also the same reason I haven’t been able to finish many other classic shows like the Cosby Show or Married with Children.
A little backgrounder on the program. Back in the 1970s, Marvel was interested in licensing its properties abroad, and eventually they signed a deal with Toei to create a few television series. Spider-Man and Battle Fever J were the products of that deal. Wikipedia claims that in the planning stages, Spider-Man was going to be a supporting character to the real hero, Yamato Takeru, the most famous Japanese Prince, who in this “series” fell into a time warp into the present day to combat aliens. It was eventually decided that Spider-Man would become the protagonist, and the Prince would be changed to a different character, and would aid the web-slinger.
Spider-Man aired on TV Channel 12(which is now TV Tokyo) from 17 May 1978 to 14 March 1979 for 41 episodes and a movie.
You can watch the first episode here, courtesy of Marvel.com.
Let’s get started.
We are introduced to a rather creepy scene inside a dark and damp cave, where an old man calls out to a brother from another mother, a comrade. He also calls for Marveller, and then Leopardon. It is made clear that Marveller/Leopardon is a robot traveling through the void of space, now headed for Earth.
This captures the attention of quite a few people, including the show’s villains, all clad in costume from a cyborg leader to an adult woman dressed in something like a loose-fitting swimsuit. Even normal Earthlings take notice of Marveller. At the Yamashiro Astro-Archaeological Laboratory, a professor and his daughter also pay attention to the coming of this giant spaceship.
Meanwhile a young man does the typical 1970s thing of riding around in a motorcycle while his kid brother cheers on and a photo-journalist snaps pics of him. He suddenly hears the call of the old man from the beginning of the episode. And suddenly the robot actually appears in the sky, and crashes into some mountain. Apparently nobody is going to investigate for quite some time, even if the blasted thing did come from space.
Comparing a transparent slide to another, the baddies confirm it is the robot Marveller. The man with the cyborg implants is surprised that after 400 years, it returns. The female responds that Garia, the old man, is still alive after all this time. Toei sure didn’t make that much of an effort to change the Yamato Takeru story if the time span between a robot flying into space until the present was four centuries, all the way back into a time when Europeans began trading with the Asian continent. Doesn’t this mean there was a Spider-Man in the 16th Century, 100 years before that Neil Gaiman story? Somebody write it!
More depressing is that Professor Monster the Cyborg spent those four centuries building a robot, which will now be used to kill Professor Yamashiro. Anybody who watches these shows know that the robot won’t even last until the end of the episode.
The Amazoness changes clothes, and brings along the Machine Bem which is basically in action figure form. She suddenly appears at some office, where it is revealed that she’s the Editor-in-Chief at a newspaper! Not surprisingly, the photo- journalist from earlier works for the paper. Editor Amazoness quickly puts her to task on researching Marveller, even though the young woman wants to write about the biker “burning with passion.”
At home, Takuya and his little brother are fixing the bike in the middle of the living room, exhaust be damned. Professor Yamashiro tells his children to work hard on winning whatever race is coming up, and leaves to prepare for his expedition in the mountains. Later that evening, Takuya sees a spider and hears the cry of Garia once again.
The next day Professor Yamashiro, his daughter, the journalist, and his assistants go on the trip. Amazoness is close being, making the toy Bem grow to person-size. She changes into her villainess outfit, and does the odd thing of looking around for perverts, as it this matters.
Takuya hears the call of Garia once again, and suddenly is possessed to go find him because “the time for revenge is here.” This seriously reeks of the first episode of Raideen, as Akira is also told to find the eponymous robot the exact same way, through a psychic call. Not to mention they’re practically wearing the same style of helmet!.
Conveniently, Takuya is headed in the same direction as his father and sister. But he arrives too late, as the Professor is killed by Bem in typical toku fashion. Yamashiro Sr. tells his son that he knew about the alien invaders for quite some time, but now it is up to Takuya to get revenge on these bad guys, and protect the Earth.
Following Bem’s dinosaur footsteps, he is quickly attacked by the show’s minions. Amazoness takes some joy knowing that she leaves the poor guy to die in a hole, but Garia appears to help him. Garia tells him that the Iron Cross Army, led by the despicable Professor Monster is behind Yamashiro’s death. Takuya demands more answers, but the sword wound and the fall is enough to make him collapse to the ground. Garia remarks if something isn’t done, this relatively healthy young man could die pretty soon. So he decides to do the right thing and slap a giant bracelet on him which sticks a needle injecting Takuya with a black substance. And cue end of part one!
The bracelet contained Spider-Extract which gave Takuya new life. Garia tells the now-recovered young man that he must avenge the countless lives that the Iron Cross Army has ended, especially those of the Planet Spider, where he comes from. It also turns out, Garia managed to survive these past 400 years, despite being stung by a variety of poisonous spiders, waiting for the day that a man like Takuya would come and wreck vengeance on those cyborg bastards. After his lengthy explanation, Garia transforms into a spider, leaving his humanoid coil.
Days later? Takuya lies in bed wondering what to do now that father’s dead. Garia Spider tells him to find the Iron Cross Army and fight them by transforming into Spider-Man. So some terminology is thrown out. The costume is actually called the Spider-Protector, even though it is the same thickness as the regular Spider-Man suit. The bracelet is not a heart monitor but is called the Spider-Bracelet. So Takyya presses the button and the Spider-Protector pops out like a balloon, allowing him to put on the costume in a manner of seconds.
Spider-Man decides to test out his newfound powers, by hopping and jumping around. He climbs up to the ceiling, and despite the low height, his sister and brother don’t even bother to look up, allowing Takuya to evade detection. Spider-Man leaves his room and swings around hears that the nuclear physicist, Fujita, has been kidnapped by Bem the Dinosaur. So Spider-Man decides to use his psychic powers to find the Iron Cross army, conveniently located exactly 50 km southeast at the dam. So begins a few minutes of partly special effects of Spidey climbing walls, and swinging around like Tarzan. The bracelet is his only webshooter, and it shoots out a nice solid rope. You gotta love the soundtrack being played here.
The Emissary from Hell, Spider-Man, arrives just before Amazoness really tortures Fujita. He outright tells her he will get revenge for his father and Garia, but apparently from that nobody will deduce that he’s Takuya Yamashiro. Then again, Iron Cross has killed a lot of people over 400 years, eh. Spider-Man climbs around for a bit and starts fighting the Iron Cross Grunts with his Spider-String and Spider-Net. And somehow Fujita gets away unharmed despite all these goons around.
Up on the dam’s crosswalk the grunts do their wicked cool choreograph of flipping around, while Spidey punches them.
Tired of this, Amazoness decides to summon the Machine Bem again, making him grow to Super Robot size. Turns out this one is actually called Bokunryu. Spider-Man tries to get away, but Bem smashes the rock wall, making him fall to the ground. Takuya Spider-Strings him, but that is futile, as he is quickly slammed into the mountain. Now we see why the suit is called the Spider-Protector. Spider-Man quickly gets up relatively unharmed. There is no way in hell Puny Parker could’ve survived that attack.
With a giant monster, it’s definitely Marveller time! It shoots out a flying car, which Spidey promptly gets in. And unsurprisingly the car looks a lot like the Bluegar from Raideen. After reaching Marveller, Spider-Man transforms it into Leopardon and begins Giant on Giant combat. Two signature moves are shown, Arc Turn and Sword Vigor, and instantly kill Machine Bem with their projectile ferocity.
The episode abruptly ends, with Spider-Man’s mission in mind. The greatest enemies of the Iron Cross Army has emerged! And for the rest of the year, Takuya will have his hands full fighting these menaces.
This was quite a typical episode for 70s toku, as the hero is thrust into his role for reasons of revenge. It also shares a lot in common with the other shows of the era, as Spider-Man has been made more than human, like the cyborg Masked Riders, and the Android Kikaider. Spider-Man has been injected with the Spider Extract and now Takuya is a superhuman determined to fight for the cause of justice.
The theme songs, “Run Spider-Man!” and “The Oath’s Ballade” are typical songs of the era, stressing the need to keep fighting against all odds. After listening the songs for quite a while, you can’t help but feel for Spidey’s pain, American or Japanese. If Toei made an animated series, these would have been perfectly find anyway.
Marvel is pretty cool for translating the complete series and putting it up on the web, though they could do the super awesome thing of releasing the DVD boxset, which includes an interview with Stan Lee!
My main gripe with the subtitles is the biggest oversight of all. It’s Spider-hyphen-Man, not one word. Stan Lee says it himself all the time. I don’t understand how the subtitlers could have gotten that wrong. I don’t care if the subtitles are set in image, but that is a pretty big error that doesn’t seem to be corrected throughout the whole series.
Anyway, if you’re a fan of Spider-Man and Japanese superhero shows, give this one a shot. You might like it for its eclectic soundtrack, if not the story.