‘Japanese Spider-Man’ Episode 2: Mysterious World! The Man Who Follows His Fate! [Review]
Chris: Hello everyone, and welcome back to Spider-Man Japan, ComicsAlliance's in-depth examination of the 1978 live-action Spider-Man TV series from Toei. Today, we're taking a look at the second episode, and if you think you know the origin of Spider-Man, I can assure you that you do not. Unless you know the part that involves a space-centurion driving a hot rod around medieval Japan.
Caleb: As origins go, the original Spider-Man's is pretty iconic. Some might even argue that it's more relatable than, say, Batman's.
Chris: Is it too late to get Uzumeri back?
Caleb: Hey man, you've seen the statistics. More uncles are murdered, per capita, than mothers and fathers at once.
Chris: You're really starting off this column on the wrong foot, buster. But you're right about Spider-Man's origin being iconic, and while Toei has kept some things, like the motivating death of a parental figure, they've ditched a lot of what makes his American counterpart special. As we saw last week, Takuya has none of Peter Parker's motivating guilt. Also, he has a giant lion robot and got his powers from a spaceman.
Caleb: Personally, I prefer a hero who operates without the guilt. This Spider-Man does the right thing without hesitation. Imagine if Peter Parker had just chilled out and said, "I've had a pretty decent upbringing? Maybe I can just not be a sh**head?"
Chris: I see the point, but it still feels like a weird change to make for a version of Spider-Man. Of course, that's hardly the weirdest, as we're about to see. So what do you say, Caleb? Time for Episode 2?
Caleb: Heyyyy yayyyyy yayyyyy, Yeah!
Caleb: This week's episode kicks off with Takuya Yamashiro (this series' version of Peter Parker) stirred from his otherwise restful slumber by a sudden wind storm (plus a psychic nudge from his old Spiderpower-providing alien mentor bud Garia). Wasting no time, he leaps into action as Spider-Man to investigate this mysterious storm. This Spider craves the nightlife!
Chris: The whole thing where they use footage of an actual spider dangling over Takyua while he sleeps, and then yelling at him to wake up in a super-deep voice is basically every nightmare that I've ever had that didn't involve Laura Hudson or my teeth falling out.
Caleb: Should we have Jeff Daniels and John Goodman stop by your house for a visit, Chris? Are spiders that bad in the South? Do they steal people's BBQ?
Chris: No, but -- wait, was that an Arachnophobia reference? That's a little obscure even for me.
Caleb: I stopped watching movies after 1990. Surely they've done a remake by now?
Chris: I'm sure they'll get around to it. Point is, you never really get much actual spider stuff in American Spider-Man comics, and when you do -- like that scene in Kraven's Last Hunt where Kraven is naked in a room full of spiders -- it's generally played as really creepy. This show, on the other hand, has no problem just zooming in and filling your TV screen with the most horrific looking spider they can, right at the top of the episode.
Caleb: A quick search on Japanese symbology seems to indicate that spiders aren't as loathed in the East as they are here. Many cultures believe them to be a symbol of industry, or even good luck!
Chris: But in the very next scene, we find out that Takuya's sister hates those awful spiders!
Chris: So basically, she is this show's version of Aunt May.
Caleb: She even confronts their little brother Takuji, suspecting a prank, but the household's sudden outbreak of arachnids is, naturally, no mere coincidence.
Chris: It's all Spider-Man's fault. He really is a menace!
Caleb: Clearly this girl has not read the same Wikipedia entires I have. That house is industrious and lucky!
Chris: Takyua's sleeping 'til noon and their dad died last week. I don't think these spiders mean what you think they do.
Caleb: Though his rest may be deserved for (aimlessly?) crawling around Tokyo's surrounding area the night before, at least he wakes up to something nice -- his cute girlfriend who is eager to use him to help advance her career with a predatory shot of a horrible train wreck. Being married to a former photojournalist myself, I can sympathize with his plight.
Chris: It's worth noting that when Hitomi, Takyua's girlfriend, shows up, his sister lets her in through this hilariously tiny door in a stone wall that she has to stoop down to get through. It's like they're living in a hobbit house.
Caleb: What I'm most disappointed in is Hitomi's failure to use a spider pun in this scene. "The early bird catches the worm?" Totes should've winked at the camera and exclaimed "The early spider catches the evil alien monsters with his indestructible robot!"
Chris: Especially since she apparently knows he's Spider-Man! We talked last week about how he wasn't really trying to hide his identity, but in a few minutes, he just straight up starts talking about Garia from Planet Spider with her. So either she knows, or she's willing to accept that her boyfriend is completely insane.
Caleb: Maybe she thinks he's just grieving in his... own special way? Unlike Peter Parker, who takes up entire nine-panel grids with internal exposition, Takuya is a bit more external with his pain. It's difficult to blame him, however, as he certainly must be wrestling with his spirituality after being involuntarily thrust into a terrible war between ancient aliens who can build monsters and turn into psychic bugs. Is his father in a Christian heaven? Or are we all just space dust in the wind, brother?
Chris: It's weird, because there doesn't seem to be any sort of secret identity involved. I mean, he all but tells the Iron Cross Army guys exactly who he is, and now he's chit-chatting about Garia. Is that a common thing in tokusatsu shows? I know it was in Power Rangers.
Caleb: It's kind of a storytelling element that writers can take or leave. In the earliest sentai shows, the teams consisted of secret soldiers. They were kind of like G.I. Joes with slick team uniforms. In the case of Spider-Man and some other series, I think the secret identity issue has more to do with what's interesting to young kids. The latest Batman: The Brave and the Bold animated series had almost nothing to do with Bruce Wayne and focused on heroic action and superhero relationships, for example. In narrative terms, they're "character vs. character" rather than "character vs. society" personified by "character vs. character."
Chris: The reason he's talking about Garia in the first place is that Hitomi has taken him to see a train wreck that everyone thinks was caused by a sudden gust of wind.
Caleb: There's a reason you didn't see any Amtrak ads streaming before this episode, guys. Fortunately no one died in the wreck and this scene will not inspire M. Night Shyamalan to make Unbreakable.
Chris: Takyua doesn't buy that it was the wind. He thinks it was the Iron Cross Army, so in order to formulate some theories, he goes to his dad's grave and then walks into a church where he stares at a statue of Jesus on the cross and gives us Garia's origin in the form of the craziest flashback of all time. So crazy, in fact, that it has crazy flashbacks within the crazy flashback.
Caleb: As tragic as Takuya's origin is, Garia's takes the cake. It turns out that Professor Monster and his crew killed the entire population of his native planet Spider -- all of his friends and family -- while he was out tooling around in Leopardon (adorned in a costume perhaps more befitting of Samurai Batman from the Legends of Batman action figure line than Spidey as we know him). Prof. Monster and company don't even seem to have a reason. It's like they're just killing time by unloading some ammo on their way to Earth.
Chris: Apparently the Leopardon could have defeated Professor Monster & Co., but apparently it's the only giant robot they had, and no one on Planet Spider was smart enough to realize they should probably keep that sort of thing handy. Garia feels responsible, so basically, Garia has Peter Parker's origin, but in space, and with a giant robot instead of a radioactive spider.
Caleb: Part of me really hopes Garia was wearing that costume as part of his secret cosmic professional wrestling gig, causing him to get home later than expected.
Chris: All of me hopes that.
Caleb: With his planet in ruins, Garia chases after Prof. Monster, leading him to Earth. For some reason Prof. Monster doesn't have the juice to destroy Earth the way he did planet Spider and is chillin' in feudal Japan.
Chris: Nobody seems to be bothered by, or even notice the fact that a giant space robot just flew overhead and landed and a dude dressed as a Roman centurion with a giant metal bat helmet got out of it and started yelling about how he wanted to kill this other guy with a half Dr. Doom face, but to be fair, they are in the middle of a war.
Caleb: Using his spider powers (including projecting and swinging from what appears to be hemp-spun rope), Garia basically hands Prof. Monster his behind. Unfortunately, the bad guy is capable of causing a massive earthquake, which traps Garia underground for 400 years. For some reason, Garia commands Marveller/Leopardon (and the Spider Machine GP-7, which looks less like a bull to me after reading your comments last week) into space instead of asking it to save him.
Chris: Professor Monster doesn't just cause an earthquake, he throws a grenade that blows up a mountain! Why exactly was he not able to conquer Earth 400 years ago?
Caleb: Prof. Monster wanted to do things right, man. Had to build his Machine BEMs. I've been doing some thinking, and decided "BEM" is an acronym for "Bionic Enemy Monsters" or something.
Chris: Yeah, but Garia tells Takuya that Monster used the Japanese civil war as "a testing ground for his BEMs." So he had them back then, and he's got his major enemy buried under a mountain. What is he doing for the 400 years before Takyua becomes Spider-Man? Just getting his girlfriend a job at a newspaper?
Caleb: At this point, it's explained that Garia's 400 years really only felt like 20 -- what a relief! -- while he presumably used his psychic powers to search the planet for a proper heir. I'm guessing Prof. Monster had some interesting side adventures during this time period, including a few lost years backpacking in Europe and really finding himself between hostel romances.
Chris: I love how it's like "Oh, for him it was only 20 years trapped in a cave, no big deal."
Caleb: As Spidey's sister and girlfriend pal around talking to victims of the train accident, they reveal to Takyua that one of the hospitalized passengers saw a g-g-g-ghost! The group heads back to speak with the survivor, only to find that he's been forever silenced by Amazoness (in her clandestine hipster EiC persona). It's a cover up!
Chris: Just to clarify: By "Ghost," they mean "floating brain with Twizzlers on it."
Caleb: That's right, Spider-Man is going to fight a Metroid. As foul play is realized, Prof. Monster's duck dudes attack. Naturally, Spidey destroys them with a combination of his Spider-Net and Spider String. Oh, and tons of climbing around.
Chris: The way that the Iron Cross henchmen move in this episode is actually really creepy, but in a fun way. They run towards you, then the shot cuts to them being a lot closer, then they do a backflip, then it cuts to them being far away again, but closer than they were. It's so weird!
Caleb: You're in for a treat, because it's a trait that will endure for dozens of episodes via recycled footage.
Chris: I'll bask in it now, while it's fresh and exciting.
Caleb: Following the fight, Spidey's family and girlfriend revel in their naiveté. They accuse poor Takuya of leaving his girlfriend to die. He claims to hate violence. It's one of relatively few scenes that play up any sort of secret identity drama in the series, really.
Chris: It is tough to comprehend this show sometimes.
Caleb: The episode then reminds viewers that Garia is now a psychic spider, and that Takuya has his own version of a spider-sense that allows him to see the future and, I guess, locate enemies without the use of a spider-tracer.
Chris: And then, Psychic Spider Garia dies, and it's very... I'm not sure "sad" is really the word here, Caleb.
Caleb: Spider-Man actually seems kind of relieved as he clutches his lost Creepy Crawler. I'd be relieved too. A Spider-Man needs his sleep.
Chris: I'd definitely be more comfortable not having the talking psychic spider from space hanging out in my bedroom yelling at me in the middle of the night, that's for sure.
Caleb: Garia's legacy will never be forgotten, as Spidey uses his new psychic powers to hone in on a destroyed railroad track. He arrives in time to apply the train's breaks and confront Machine BEM Metroid.
Chris: And that means that it's time for this week's Monster Breakdown!
Appearance: A metroid that turns into a multicolored, butt-faced version of Pokemon's Scyther
Primary Weapon: Generating powerful blasts of wind/squalls
Secondary Weapon: Tendrils, then blade arms
Tertiary Weapon: Being super ugly.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Chris: As though a giant floating laser-shooting brain wasn't enough, Soutoukin turns into its second form (!) after Spider-Man beats up a bunch of sword-wielding IC henchmen, then grows to giant size and starts shooting at the Spider-Machine GP-7, causing it to Tokyo drift through mid-air.
Caleb: Spider-Man is a quick study, and shoots missiles from his dope flying car before zipping around his opponent to disorient them.
Chris: Then it's Sword Vigor -- the move where he just straight up chucks a gigantic broadsword at the bad guy, and that is the end. Seriously, no resolution to the rest of the plot, just kill the monster, cut to credits. It is the tokusatsu equivalent of "yeah, baby, I gotta get to work but I'll totally call you."
Caleb: Leave the train stuff to the cops. Spider-Man has a grudge to carry and a father to avenge. It's not like web-slinging pays the bills. He doesn't have to be everybody's "fall guy."
Chris: And now, our picks for The Craziest Thing About This Episode, and brother, there are a ton of contenders. What are you going with, Caleb?
Caleb: I'm going to go with Garia's stubbron refusal to allow his space ship/robot to save him. This is a robot that literally erupts from beneath the Earth's surface every episode. And it could hear his master's voice/psychic commands from space. I'm willing to overlook insanity in the name of entertainment, but this is confounding.
Chris: That whole origin story is full of stuff that just flat out does not make sense. They talk about Professor Monster sleeping for 400 years, too, but they don't show why. He just kind of leaves Garia for dead and then decides he'll get around to conquering later, I guess?
Caleb: Maybe he just wanted to give Earth a sporting chance? Make things interesting, or something.
Chris: For my pick: the completely ridiculous religious symbolism! Not only does Takuya have his crazy Garia origin flashback while standing in a church staring at a statue of Jesus, and not only does he do this while referring to Garia as his savior, but there are two shots in this episode that dissolve from Jesus's face to Garia's! It's insane!
Caleb: Yeah, it's even goofier than that time Wolverine prayed in the '90s X-Men animated series.
Chris: They do everything short of saying "Hey, Garia is a lot like Jesus," but... I mean, that dude does not hold up as a Christ figure. I'm no expert, but I think I'd remember a part of the bible where Jesus told people to use his giant robot to get revenge on the villains that destroyed his home planet and then turned into a psychic spider.
Caleb: Yeah, as comparisons go, this one is...flimsy.
Chris: And that brings us to the end of Episode 2. Next week: A very special Christmas surprise!
Caleb: You'll want to tune in. Mark our words.