‘Japanese Spider-Man’ Episode 4: ‘The Terrifying Half Mer-Man! Calling the Miracle Silver Thread!’ [Review]
Chris: Welcome back to Spider-Man Japan: ComicsAlliance’s in-depth review of Toei’s 1978 live-action Spider-Man series! Last week, I said that Episode 3 was far and away my favorite of the series so far, so I figured that this week’s episode would be a little bit of a letdown. Folks… Not only is this my favorite Japanese Spider-Man episode, it may in fact be my favorite Spider-Man story ever.
Caleb: Stan Lee, eat your heart out!
Watch Along With Chris and Caleb:
Chris: Seriously, you guys. It has more dirtbike stunts than “Kraven’s Last Hunt” and “The Final Chapter” combined, and that’s not even getting into the fact that there’s an honest-to-God STEEL CAGE GRUDGE MATCH.
Caleb: There’s also the matter of a villain who is basically an amalgam of Masters of the Universe‘s Mer-Man and G.I. Joe‘s Deep Six — several years before they were even created!
Chris: Truly, it is the greatest story ever told. So join us now, as we make our way through Japanese Spider-Man Episode 04: The Terrifying Half Mer-Man! Calling the Miracle Silver Thread!
Chris: Okay, here’s how awesome this episode is: The opening shot is Professor Monster telling Amazoness to “create a program designed to assassinate Spider-Man.” They are not f***ing around.
Caleb: To demonstrate how serious they are, the Ninders have even been outfitted in labcoats as they operate an 804 square foot computer and the several miles of printouts and punch cards it generates. When was the last time you saw Doc Ock make this kind of effort?
Chris: In any other show, duckie soldiers in lab coats organizing punch-cards would be the highlight, but here, it’s just the first of many things about this episode accurately described as “delightful.” It does, however, raise the question of why they waited this long to break out their computer if it had the ability to formulate assassination plans. I guess they just needed to wait until they had all the stock footage of Spider-Man climbing buildings?
Caleb: I guess when it takes you hundreds of years to build an army of Machine Bems, you want to at least give them each a shot before cutting straight to the best ones.
Chris: I think it might be a sign of Professor Monster wanting to delegate his responsibilities. I mean, he’s not 300 anymore, he needs to start thinking about retirement. Which is probably why, when everyone else is doing the complex computer work, he starts working on his pimp lean in his throne.
Caleb: Satisfied as he is with the plan, Prof. Monster still has some doubts, though. He qualifies his exposition with phrases like, “he will most certainly die” and “I will most definitely kill him.” It’s like he needs the audience to agree to feel 100% whole.
Chris: “I am definitely not going to screw this up and get in another shouting match with Amazoness.”
Caleb: It’s too bad about Spider-Man’s psychic powers, right?
Chris: That’s right, everybody: We said “Spider-Man’s psychic powers.” As Professor Monster’s computer is printing out its assassination plan — which comes in the form of an actual hardcover book, because the Iron Cross army is ballin’ as hell — the events within are already being foretold in a prophetic dream by Takuya (Spider-Man) Yamashiro.
Caleb: Being killed by a Mer-Man is a terrible nightmare for Takuya, but you have to wonder how truly awful it is for him, a guy who is routinely awakened by psychic alien bugs, flashbacks to his father’s murder and so on.
Chris: In this case, he’s awakened by his little brother, who is wearing one of the greatest shirts of all time. It just says AMERICA, and while I can’t quite make out what the graphic is, I’m pretty sure there might be an explosion and an electric guitar involved.
Caleb: It’s like John Mellencamp picked up a blank sweat shirt after a concert and wiped his sweaty brow with it.
Chris: You and I clearly have different ideas about what sort of music is quintessentially American, Caleb.
Caleb: Skynard? Toby Keith? What is it you Southerners like?
Chris: Well, personally I like the Wu-Tang Clan and ’60s girl groups, but I don’t think that’s typical of South Carolina. But we’re getting away from what’s really important here, which is that when Takuya sits down to read his morning newspaper, he finds that someone has announced the death of Spider-Man and set a date for his funeral!
Caleb: In case you’re hoping to figure out how funerals are booked, or how Japanese newspapers are run, you may not want to get too excited. It turns out people just say stuff and do things.
Chris: Takuya and his girlfriend Hitomi, the intrepid photo-journalist, head over to St. Paul’s Church to figure out who announced the funeral, but the priest only knows that it was “a beautiful woman.” For some reason, Takuya does not immediately realize that this means Amazoness, the foxy space-dominatrix that’s been trying to kill him for a month, but to be fair, it has been established that Takuya is not really all that bright.
Caleb: Takuya has clearly been to “Bad Boy University,” though, as he speeds away on his motorbike without saying so much as “goodbye” to his girlfriend who he leaves completely stranded at a strange church.
Chris: It is basically the most hilarious dick move we have seen in the show thus far, especially with Hitomi’s reaction being “How rude!” This leads to one of the major differences between Peter Parker and his Japanese counterpart. When Peter gets frustrated, he often goes swinging around as Spider-Man to clear his head. When Takuya gets frustrated, he ditches his girlfriend on the side of the road and runs off to do some sweet dirtbike jumps.
Caleb: In the midst of tearing through the construction site, or wherever he always is, Takuya uses the power of Spider-Affirmations to psych himself up for what’s sure to be a difficult battle.
Chris: We then switch to a romantic scene, and the way this show is cut, it makes it seem like Takuya’s out there doing jumps in the mud for HOURS, which actually only makes him seem more awesome. The date we’re spying on, however, is a little less so, mainly because it involves a girl who looks a little like Ziggy Stardust telling her boyfriend that he’s super-good at rowing a boat.
Caleb: As proven by Disney’s The Little Mermaid, however, such an outing can only end in failure — or in this particular instance — DEATH!
Chris: For real: This week’s Machine BEM monster shows up and straight up murders these two lovebirds. Like, it happens on-screen, even!
Caleb: The Creature from the Black Lagoon kills like four people in his movie. This dude is already halfway there, and it’s not even 1/3 into the episode.
Chris: These Mer-Man Murders are such big news that they’re even covered by the Weekly Woman, which, in addition to being a reasonably awful name for a publication, is also where Hitomi works.
Caleb: Let’s not forget, the EiC is the evil Amazoness in disguise!
Caleb: We’d ponder the strange message that having a duplicitous alien warrior running a women’s publication might send to young audiences, but in the context of Supaidaman it seems to be a mere matter of convenience.
Chris: Hey, you don’t think that “Amazoness” is their transliteration of “Jameson,” do you? Jamazon? Ess?
Caleb: She’s like a mashup of him and Norman Osborn
Chris: I admit that it’s a long shot, but it’s not like it’d be any crazier than anything else on this show. Either way, J. Jonah Jamazoness tells Hitomi to go out and get a picture of this murdering sea-monster, because the Weekly Woman is pretty hardcore about getting the scoop.
Caleb: Lois Lane would be proud.
Chris: She heads over to Takuya’s house for what would surely be the worst date ever, but since he’s already staking out the marina looking for the Mer-Man himself, she has to go it alone. There’s a brief encounter with a pair of comic relief cops that I genuinely hope return to become this show’s Bulk and Skull, but just after they leave, the monster strikes. Hitomi ends up fainting, and she’s carted off for sinister purposes!
Caleb: It should be noted, she’s only taken because of Takuya’s almost poetic indifference coupled with his naive faith in local law enforcement. Of course, I guess when you’ve got night vision and an omni-spectrum tracking device, you get excited about chasing down killer monsters and forget basic compassion.
Chris: Aw, come on! As soon as he hears her screaming, he turns into Spider-Man and rushes off to save her, at which time the handy narrator pops in to basically say “Oh hey, I forgot to mention that Spider-Man can see in the dark.” This happens like four times this episode. It is marvelous.
Caleb: Yeah, to his credit, he’s been given no real reason to doubt the cops’ ability to do their jobs. Working with them turned out pretty okay in last week’s episode.
Chris: In addition to his night-vision, Spider-Man also gets another new power in this episode: the “Spider-Detector,” which can “emit ultrasonic waves” so that he can find… well, pretty much whatever, I guess. It’s pretty close to the Spider-Tracers that he has in the American comics, but without even the tiny amount of logic that those things work on.
Caleb: He’s got a bracelet from a space man. That’s good enough for me.
Chris: Fair enough. Either way, it detects him right into a trap, as he explores a building and falls into an actual Steel Cage wrestling match against the Mer-Man.
Chris: And I’m not just calling it a steel cage match as a metaphor — Professor Monster and Amazoness are literally sitting outside a cage at a timekeeper’s table with a bell that they ring when they want the fighting to start.
Caleb: I haven’t watched professional wrestling very much over the past decade, so this reference may be dated, but I can confirm that what goes down in this scene is fairly akin to Mankind taking on the Undertaker circa 1998. With slightly less broken glass and fewer ladders.
Chris: It’s a pretty great fight scene by Supaidaman standards, too. Lots of posing, lots of actual punches thrown and dodged, and Spider-Man even gets cut and has to think his way out of the fight instead of just brawling like he does with the Ninders.
Caleb: Given that wrestling is not a factor in this Spidey’s origin (probably the only omission I really mind), I really appreciate this scene.
Chris: After he escapes, Spider-Man changes back to Takuya and heads home, where he stumbles in, barely able to stand, holding his chest and gasping for air, and promptly tells his concerned girlfriend to not make such a big deal about everything.
Chris: Seriously, he is a dick to a hilarious extreme in this episode.
Caleb: As he rests in bed, suffering perhaps his worst wounds since he was first transformed into Spider-Man, Takayu acknowledges that maybe this Prof. Monster guy isn’t just messing around.
Chris: Yeah, because sending down gigantic monsters who set him on fire is nothing to be concerned about. Everyone else in the house runs off to get a doctor, but by the time he gets there, Takuya’s back in tip top shape. This once again prompts the narrator to pop in to inform us that “having received the blood of an alien from the Planet Spider, Takuya possesses an unimaginable supernatural healing power!”
Caleb: It’s unimaginable because, well, they just showed us exactly how it works. So there you go.
Chris: Unfortunately, Takuya’s fantastic recovery doesn’t stop him from having another disturbing prophecy of his own death, this time of his lifeless body plunging down a waterfall….
Chris: …which actually looks like a pretty fun waterpark ride.
Caleb: It’s no Splash Mountain, but then again, what is?
Chris: Takuji (the little brother) wakes him up again, still wearing the same amazing AMERICA sweatshirt and all but confirming my theory that these shows were shot in about an hour. He tells Takuya that it’s June 7th, the day of Spider-Man’s funeral, and Takuya, realizing that he has to somehow avoid being killed by the Iron Cross gang, decides to take the heroic action of staying in bed for the next 24 hours.
Caleb: I wonder what kind of mattress he has? Were there Sleep Number beds in ’78?
Chris: It’s definitely in keeping with the character of Spider-Man, assuming that we’re talking about the Spider-Man newspaper strip.
Caleb: Like every good boyfriend, though, he totally wakes up in time to hear his imperiled girlfriend cry out for help, many miles away.
Chris: “Oh hey,” says the narrator, “Did I mention he has long-range telepathy?”
Caleb: He does!
Caleb: Just as every Marvel villain ever has at one time or another trapped Peter Parker in an effort to draw out his perceived pal Spider-Man, so does Amazoness kidnap Hitomi to summon Supaidaman. This almost makes you wonder if Amazoness thinks Hitomi might actually BE Spider-Man!
Chris: Which would be pretty great.
Caleb: From now on, I am going to watch every episode with that (imagined) subplot in mind.
Chris: But of course, she isn’t, and thanks to his previously unknown Supaidalepathy, Spider-Man busts in and starts kicking the living crap out of Ninders to the tune of his own theme song. But now, with no cage and no ring bell, the fight against Mer-Man begins in earnest, and that means that it’s time once again for the Monster Breakdown!
Primary Weapon: Bladed fins on his arms.
Secondary Weapon: A cloud of “Machine Gas” shot out of his eyes, which is actually super gross.
Tertiary Weapon: Straight up drowning your ass.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Chris: Spider-Man sends Hitomi off in Spider-Machine GP7 and literally slaps a Ninder in the face so hard that it falls down, but then the tide of the battle turns. Mer-Man shows up and they start duking it out in a river, and at one point Mer-Man starts cold waterboarding Spider-Man.
Caleb: You’ll note, however, that Spider-Man doesn’t give up any useful information in the war on Machine Bems. Was it worth it, Prof. Monster?
Chris: Fortunately, Spidey’s able to break free, but then he ends up slipping and falling off of the waterfall, mere seconds after the guy playing Spider-Man legitimately slips and almost falls off, a shot that somehow managed to be left in the final cut of the show.
Caleb: The pink tread on the bottom of that costume is no match for flowing water.
Chris: Spidey clings desperately to the rocks — because he can’t just stick to things, I guess — and calls out for help to avenge his father and Garia, at which time he hallucinates the skies opening up and a single strand of spider-web dropping from the heavens to rescue him.
Caleb: The waterboarding has clearly caught up with him.
Chris: But! Cut back to reality, and Spider-Man realizes that that strand of silk was actually a vine. Oh, and he also remembers that he has a gigantic robot that shoots missiles and has a monster-killing sword. So he calls that.
Caleb: I love how anticlimactic the vine scene works out to be. Is it some kind of argument for secular humanism?
Chris: So Mer-Man gets a face-full of Sword Vigor, and the Narrator wanders back in to tell us that it wasn’t actually a spider-web from the hand of God, it was just Spider-Man’s courage and tenacity that allowed him to win. The End!
Caleb: Do you feel better about the chaos that is existence now kids? I do. You too can delay oblivion, if only you grasp the vine of self reliance!
Chris: I think that’s actually a great moral! Although it doesn’t really address the fact that Supaidaman was having crazy hallucinations and completely forgetting he had super-powers. But whatever, still a great episode.
Caleb: That’s what makes it a great episode.
Chris: So what’s your pick for The Craziest Damn Thing We Saw This Week?
Caleb: For this ep, that’s a bit like asking me which bite of pizza was my favorite, but I’ll settle on Spider-Man letting Hitomi drive his car. The dude won’t let her ride along on his motorbike, but all of the sudden he’s cool with putting her behind the wheel of his space car? Or maybe it’s like the Batmobile and drives itself? Either way, I find this change of heart suspect!
Chris: I do like the idea that Spider-Machine GP7, a flying car from space, is just something anyone can hop into and drive. Like, he doesn’t even ask her if she can drive stick.
Caleb: “It’s a wheel and two pedals. You’re a photographer, figure it out!”
Chris: My pick has got to be the narrator showing up to explain Spider-Man’s new powers. He gets like four new super-powers in this episode, and each time, the guy shows up and he’s like “Oh hey, Spider-Man has telepathy. And he can see in the dark. Oh, and a healing factor.”
Chris: When we were watching the episode before we started writing, you compared it to Axe Cop, and that’s pretty much exactly what it is.
Caleb: And that’s why it’s perfect.
Chris: I gotta say, after this one,it will be an absolute miracle if next week’s episode isn’t a disappointment. But I guess we’ll find out in seven days, when we watch “Crash Machine GP-7! The Oath Siblings!”