Japanese Spider-Man Episode 1: The Time of Revenge Has Come! Beat Down Iron Cross Group!! [Review]
Chris: After 64 weekly columns where David Uzumeri and I took on the best and worst super-hero stories that American movies and TV had to offer, I wanted to do something different. That's why this week, we're kicking off a brand new series examining a super-heroic epic from across the sea: Supaidaman, the live-action Japanese Spider-Man show from 1978! And before we even get started, I want you guys to know: It is the craziest damn thing I have ever seen.
Caleb: If I have my way and we watch more tokusatsu, you're going to think of these as "The Good Old Days."
Chris: That's right, everyone: As my brand new partner in reviewing, I'm joined by CA Editor Caleb Goellner, whom I believe got the job by telling Laura Hudson, and I quote, "that sh** is my favorite of all time." [Editor's Note: This is true.]
Caleb: I can't tell a lie. What began as an ironic hobby has evolved into a genuine passion over the years. I like Japanese Spider-Man as much as his American counterpart, possibly more.
Chris: Meanwhile, I have never watched this show in my life. Fortunately for me -- and for you, if you want to watch along with us as we go through it -- Marvel has the entire series streaming on their website. But before we get into that, how about a little background?
Caleb: Japanese Spider-Man is essentially this perfect storm of marketing shoehorned with storytelling -- a kind of spiritual predecessor to what would eventually happen with comic events like Secret Wars.
Chris: It was conceived as part of a three-year deal between Marvel and the Japanese film company Toei, where they got to use each other's characters as they saw fit. Marvel ended up making the pretty awesome Bronze Age Shogun Warriors comics, while Toei got to make stuff like Supaidaman. And if you were familiar with the originals, both of them probably seemed like the sort of thing where they just got a six year-old to describe the high points of the story and then filled in the gaps on their own.
Caleb: What's kind of interesting is that Toei already had its own Spider-Man, after a fashion, in its Kamen Rider franchise. Though most American audiences who grew up in the '90s would rather forget "Masked Rider," Kamen Rider was basically a super bug helping humanity. Japanese Spider-Man would echo a lot of Kamen Rider's aesthetic, while pushing the entire tokusatsu genre forward with new ways to sell toys -- totally awesome toys -- to kids.
Chris: Japanese Spider-Man even has a dirtbike like Kamen Rider's!
Caleb: Indeed. Some might scoff at the similarities, but it's important to remember the zeitgeist here. Also, Kamen Rider is awesome and should be copied as much as possible as far as I'm concerned.
Chris: It's also interesting that what we're about to see was actually less crazy than their original plan, which involved Spider-Man becoming the sidekick to Yamato Takeru, essentially the Japanese King Arthur, after a time warp brought him to the 20th century.
Caleb: ...although I'm sure Doctor Who fans would've loved it.
Chris: One more thing before we get started: Japanese Spider-Man has what are quite possibly the greatest episode titles of all time. If the funniest dude on Earth was trying to make fun of anime and tokusatsu titles, these are exactly what he would come up with.
Caleb: Personally, I find them a mirror of what can only be the divine. The inspired words of those who tap into the sum of mankind's universal potential. But to each their own.
Chris: I can already tell it's going to be a pleasure working with you. So with that, watch along with us as we jump right into Supaidaman Episode 1: The Time of Revenge Has Come! Beat Down Iron Cross Group!!
Caleb: Everything you need to know about Supaidaman can be summed up in the show's title sequence. Hey yay yayyyyyyy WOW!
Chris: I think it's worth pointing out that this is one of the few times that a show has started with someone trying to get revenge. This and G.I.Joe are really the only things I can think of that were that balls-to-the-wall from the beginning.
Caleb: This is not the Peter Parker you know. Indeed, he's not even Peter Parker. This is a badass kid inspired to be an even bigger badass. You may want to find someone to high-five for the next 25 minutes.
Chris: Our story begins with a psychic message about the "Marveller" and "Leopardon" being sent from a dude in a cave, and then we cut to what appears to be a throne room, a spaceship, or a throne room in a spaceship with life-size designs for monsters decorating the walls. Welcome, everyone, to Japanese Spider-Man.
Caleb: Like most tokusatsu shows, you are about to set foot into a world populated by live-action toys. I hope you enjoy your visit. You may exit through the gift shop.
Chris: There is so much to love about this one shot. I mean, the crazy villains are obvious, but just the fact that they have a skull on a shelf behind them, which is the only decoration in the room other than the monster drawing. Also, I am pretty sure that their henchmen are ducks.
Caleb: Now's as good a time as any to point out the the main villains on this show are Professor Monster and the lovely Amazoness. Are you not jealous of these names? I am jealous.
Chris: The first thing I thought while I was watching this episode was that if I ever got the chance to write Spider-Man, the first thing I would do is bring everyone in this show back immediately. Most of that is because of the name "Professor Monster."
Caleb: Throughout the '90s when Marvel would publish various Spider-Man manga or manga-style Spider-Man stories, I just shook my head. Solid gold was sitting there the whole time.
Chris: From Professor Monster's Swingin' Pad, we cut to the laboratory for Astro-Archeology, which... I'll be honest with you: I'm not sure that's an actual science. I am willing to concede, however, that it should be.
Caleb: I'm too distracted by donation pleas on Wikipedia to discern the truth of the matter. Let's carry on.
Chris: A Personal Appeal From Professor Monster. Anyway, a scientist and his daughter are fretting about a meteor (which is in fact a giant robot because of course it is), but before we have time to worry about that, Japanese Spider-Man shows us why it's an awesome television show by cutting immediately to KICKASS DIRTBIKES!
Caleb: For anyone who has ever had a pulse, this is definitive dopeness. This is also a clear demarcation between Peter "Wallflower" Parker and Takuya "F*cking Awesome" Yamashiro.
Chris: Spoiler Warning: Takuya's going to become Spider-Man in about ten minutes. But what's amazing is that he's already got a dirtbike that kinda looks like Spidey's face.
Caleb: It's just meant to be.
Chris: In my head, this isn't, like, an alternate universe or something. This is the actual Marvel Universe, and Takyua's just really into the American Spider-Man he's been hearing so much about.
Caleb: In my head, this show is a chapter in the true life history of our own reality. Ooop, there's the timer for my meds. BRB. Okay, back. What were we talking about? Ultraman or something, right?
Chris: In another interesting twist on the formula, Takuya's girlfriend appears to be a Peter Parker-esque photojournalist, but her assignment to snap some pics of the raddest dirtbiking Tokyo had to offer is cut a bit short when Takuya starts hearing the psychic call to the Marveller, which crashes into the mountains outside Angel Grove. It goes without saying, but this is clearly a bit of a departure from "let's go to the science exhibition."
Caleb: The show's J. Jonah Jameson analogue -- or what passes for one briefly -- is also a beautiful monster from another world, who manipulates the media in an effort to... not drive a car to an excavation herself?
Caleb: Whatever it is, the glasses she wears are totally back in style.
Chris: That was my favorite thing about this show: Japanese J. Jonah Jameson is actually the bad guy. As in, Takyua's girlfriend's editor is secretly a monster from space, which is why she will come to hate Spider-Man. That. Is. Genius.
Caleb: Just to be clear, this is not a thinly-veiled commentary on the motivations of Editors-in-Chief.
Chris: It is for me.
Caleb: Laura does like to switch it up with the glasses...
Chris: While dispatching Amazoness / J. Joann Jameson to go deal with the Marveller, Professor Monster reveals that it's the only thing that can stop his "Machine BEMs." These are the monsters that he's been buidling for 400 years because when your name is "Professor Monster," your options are sort of limited. He also commands her to kill the scientist who spotted it from his Astro-Archaeology lab, which seems a bit excessive since everyone saw it, and they all have pictures. Either way, she pulls an action figure off the shelf and she's good to go.
Caleb: So far the bad guys got me by my logos, pathos and ethos. Fortunately, the show will soon show you why rooting for its hero is more fulfilling.
Chris: Did I miss Takuya's girlfriend's name, or has it just not been revealed at this point?
Caleb: It's a little hard to tell with the translation, but the Internet says it's "Hitomi Sakuma."
Chris: Okay then: Hitomi goes to get Takyua's help in investigating the Marveller, only to find that he's working on his dirtbike in preparation for the big race tomorrow. Inside. With the engine on. Spitting exhaust fumes everywhere. While telling everyone that the only thing he cares about is "the sound that vibrates through you." In other words, Takuya is kind of a dick.
Caleb: Aw, he's just playin'! Like a lot of teens, he rejects his father's interests and considers them boring. That doesn't mean he doesn't love his dad, though, as his father's support for his son's crazy hobby shines through in their exchange. Can you imagine if Uncle Ben had been like, "Hey Peter, go beat up Randy Savage kiddo!"
Chris: Right: In case you missed it, Takuya is the scientist's son.
Caleb: It's worth noting too, that his mother is presumably dead. This helps explain his closeness with his siblings through the series, and why he cares about taking care of other people despite his deadly hobby and dangerous superhero gig.
Chris: He's also the only one who can hear a spider talking to him, which we learn when he goes from this hilarious fake laughter to a dramatic super-zoom, as he hears about the Marveller yet again. So, with three other people presumably still in the room, he starts shouting at a voice only he can hear and runs outside in the middle of the night. I guess everyone else was just like "Oh well! Takuya sure is weird!"
Caleb: In contrast to Peter Parker, who would lock himself in his room with his chemistry set, thinking of new and creative ways to escape Flash Thompson's wedgies.
Chris: The next day, Yamashiro, Hitomi, Takyua's sister and a couple of other dudes head out into the mountains to look for the crashed Marveller. Amazoness shows up in her disguise as JJJJ, and then takes off her shirt, which immediately transformers her back into her usual form. Why? Because she has enacted the most complex, ludicrous, and unnecessary murder plot of all time, by putting her action figure on the ground and causing it to grow into a six-foot tall monster. And that means that it's time for this week's Monster Breakdown!
Appearance: Some kind of boxy green dinosaur in papier-mache armor.
Primary Weapon: A pickaxe hand that is also a missile launcher.
Secondary Weapon: A claw hand that does not appear very practical.
Tertiary Weapon: Headbanging.
Rating: 3 out of 5
Caleb: This week's monster in two words: Battle Beast. For an assassin, this guy is none too subtle.
Chris: While watching this, I got the distinct impression that this was Japanese Spider-Man's version of The Lizard.
Caleb: It's not a far-fetched notion, but as the series progresses, you have to abandon the idea of analogues almost completely.
Chris: Takyua's heading off to do some dirtbiking when he hears the mysterious voice once again, except that this time it's telling him things like "Come, my brother, the time for revenge is here," which is generally a sign that he should be seeking psychiatric help rather than just following hallucinatory webs to caves. And yet, that is exactly what he does.
Caleb: Interestingly, this contrasts with his actual little brother shouting "bro" at him constantly. I'd run toward the more respectful "brother" too.
Chris: Boukunryu attacks and kills Takuya's father, who, with his last words, tells Takuya that aliens are invading and that he needs to fight them off. Not quite as universal as "with great power comes great responsibility," but it'll do in a pinch, I guess.
Caleb: What I like about this, is that his father isn't directly asking for revenge for himself, but rather for his son to protect Earth on his behalf. Meanwhile an alien spider is asking for personal revenge in his mind.
Chris: Yeah, but he totally goes after revenge anyway. Starting by following "Dinosaur Footprints" to a bunch of Professor Monster's knife-wielding henchmen, who slash his neck but good. OG Putties don't f*** around.
Caleb: For a little context here, Toei's other series at the time pretty much always involved a hero (or a team of heroes) facing an evil organization. For the first Super Sentai / Power Rangers series, Himitsu Sentai Gorenger, it was the similarly-named Black Cross Army. Spider-Man won't be facing diluted versions of himself gone wrong like many American superheroes did at the time. He is fighting Cosmic Cobra.
Chris: I grew up watching Power Rangers, so I was a little surprised that these dudes straight up slash his neck with a knife, too. It's pretty surprisingly violent, considering what the genre would eventually become, and even considering the goofy fight scenes that we're going to get to later in this episode.
Caleb: As goofy as the means can be on this show, the ends are clear -- kill your enemy. This show has no jails.
Chris: I do like that it sets them up as a legitimate threat, though. Like, Takuya's a tough dude, he's a badass dirtbike racing champion, and he just gets jobbed out to these guys. It's at least making an effort to establish why you'd need super-powers to fight them. Anyway, Takuya ends up running away into a cave and and falling through the floor, and he finally meets the guy who's been telepathically stalking him this entire time:
Chris: GARIA, FROM THE PLANET SPIDER.
Caleb: Japanese Thor, anyone? Aliens chase you into a random cave and BAM! superpowers. The dude who gives him his powers even has a walking stick.
Chris: Garia tells him that he's one of the good aliens and that the people who killed his dad were the Iron Cross Army, as led by Professor Monster. Then Takyua collapses from his neck-slashing, leading Garia to save his life with a gigantic metal bracelet that turns him into Spider-Man. It even has "SPIDERMAN" written on it. In English.
Caleb: This is a complete and utter improvement to Spider-Man's traditional costume as far as I'm concerned.
Chris: Just one giant chunk of metal on his wrist?
Caleb: It's all he needs. We've seen what two giant chunks of metal look like on two wrists. You ever see a cool person wearing two watches?
Chris: After a transformation sequence that involves superimposing stock footage from a nature show over Takuya's face to make it sort of look like he has a giant spider in his mouth -- The Grossest Thing Ever -- Takuya gets up and finds that he's been suddenly healed. Garia tells him that he's been injected with the "Spider-Extract," and that he's the only person in the entire universe that can hear his telepathy and who is capable of using the phenomenal powers he has to offer in order to get revenge against Professor Monster.
Caleb: He's like Captain Marvel with strange erotic overtones.
Chris: He really is! Garia gives him his name and his mission statement, and then Takyua heads home to check out his new powers, which are awesome. First of all, he shoots the entire costume out of his big metal bracelet. Second, he can now do backflips.
Caleb: His bracelet does everything. It's like a Flash Ring only cool. And is it just me, or does Spider-Man totally get a videogame tutorial here? "Press X + O + square for a 5-hit combo!"
Chris: From a talking spider, no less. Because Garia transformed into a spider. So Takyua transforms and we get a nice little sequence of him climbing up walls and swinging around, although it's worth noting that when he shoots his web line, it is totally just a giant white rope, like the kind you'd buy at a bait shop.
Caleb: The webs in the series are wildly inconsistent, which is enjoyable to watch. Sometimes they're laser-like special effects, other times they're straight up fishing nets. In any case, they're awesome.
Chris: Spider-Man tracks Professor Monster's henchmen to a dam, and takes them out with a nice combination of wal-crawling, Arkham City stealth attacks and the goofiest fight scenes I've ever seen before making the single greatest entrance ever. He busts up into Professor Monster's lair and introduces himself as:
Chris: "AN EMISSARY FROM HELL. SPIDER-MAN!"
Caleb: He's not kidding either, as far as we know, "Planet Spider" is Hell.
Chris: The fact that Peter Parker has never used this line makes American comics look like the bullsh** that they are.
Caleb: This version of Spider-Man could give two and a half f*cks about a secret identity, too
He flat out tells the bad guys why he's going to murder them.
Chris: Spider-Man frees the scientist that Professor Monster kidnapped and then soundly trounces the duck-billed henchmen to the tune of some truly ridiculous sound effects, but then Amazoness summons Boukunryu back to give him a much harder time. They scrap for a second, and then, in a move that you'll recognize from virtually every other sentai show, Boukunryu suddenly grows to 100 feet tall.
Caleb: The transformation is pretty flattering though, as it renders a pile of colorful modeling clay into an intimidating foe.
Chris: One thing I noticed: They don't really give a reason for the sudden second growth spurt. There's no Rita throwing her magic wand or anything, it's just "this is how it is now." But I'm willing to forgive that completely, as it comes with a shot where Spider-Man tries to snag Boukunryu with a webline, so the actor playing Boukunryu gets to swing around a little Spider-man action figure on a string. It's great.
Caleb: This sequence is a template for others to come, and establishes why this version of Spider-Man is so successful. No internal monologue. No jokes. Just smart decisions.
Chris: Realizing that he's punching above his weight class, Spider-Man summons the Marveller, which rockets out of a mountain and picks him up by ejecting a f***ing rocket car.
Caleb: The car is modeled after a bull, while his giant robot is modeled after a lion. It's a cool Zodiac thing... or something.
Chris: Is it? because nothing he owns is modeled after, you know, a spider.
Caleb: As far as I know, Leopardon and the rest of Spider-Mans vehicles here were kind of just dropped into the narrative. I'm not sure it's ever explained or justified as part of the show's storyline. And I'm perfectly fine with that. His car doesn't have an animal name, though, it's got a more military-like "Spider Machine GP-7" moniker. But again, it looks like a bull. And it's pretty much on an even playing field with the Spider-buggy.
Chris: Spider-Man flies the rocket car into the Marveller, which then transforms into the giant robot Leopardon, which then starts walking through this series of explosions. It's actually pretty awesome and totally badass -- at one point there's this huge explosion that Leopardon is walking through, and it definitely catches on fire. Like, actual flames on this thing that some poor actor is wearing, and it just stomps forward.
Caleb: This is both the robot Spider-Man needs and deserves.
Chris: So the Leopardon pulls out a sword -- because of course it's got a sword -- and throws it right through the monster. Thus, the day is saved.
Caleb: Sword-throwing is an important trope in tokusatsu. I'm not sure who did it first, but Leopardon's approach is among the best. I'd like to think The Legend of Zelda modeled Link's sword's ability after Leopardon.
Chris: And that's where our first episode pretty much ends. Spider-Man drives around in his crazy bull car, Professor Monster vows to kill him, and I am left utterly confused and stoked about the whole thing.
Caleb: At this point it's worth pointing out how much this version of Spider-Man has in common with Batman.
Chris: You mean "he owns a car?"
Caleb: An awesome car.
Chris: Fair enough.
Caleb: But yeah, that's pretty much where it ends.
Chris: Clearly, our traditional ideas of "High Points" and "Low Points" just do not apply to Japanese Spider-Man. So instead, how about we just each pick the thing we thought was The Craziest Damn Thing About This Episode?
Caleb: I'm down.
Chris: For my pick, I'm going to go with the very existence of the Marveller, and considering the other weird stuff in this episode, that's saying something. But it's just so bizarre: I mean, I'll even give you Spider-Man needing a giant robot, but a giant robot from the planet Spider that is also another robot that is a giant lion with a sword and also it has a bull-shaped rocket car inside it? That's a little much to take.
Caleb: My confusion stems from a similar line of illogical logic. Why does Spider-Man have a luchador style costume? It would make perfect sense if his predecessor had been shown wearing it, or maybe mentioned that he was once Spider-Man. In this context, though, it seems that the only truly costumed individual in this universe is him. He clearly doesn't seem interested in hiding his identity and the mask isn't explained to offer any protection. In fact, as evidenced by his healed neck, his physical powers seem completely internal. We're left to assume that he wears the costume because it's just plain awesome. I accept this notion, wholeheartedly.
Chris: And with that, we bring our first episode to a close! Join us next week as we continue the epic of Japanese Spider-Man with Episode 2: "Mysterious World! The Man Who Follows His Fate!!"
Caleb: Keep fighting Spider-Man!