Hey, Marvel.com lets you post videos in WordPress! So you can see tonight’s offering in all it’s Amazing Fullscreeny goodness! That’s awesome! And tonight we have a use for it! For tonight I bring you Spider-Man, or rather “Spiderman” from Japan!
I first learned about the Japanese version of our favorite wall-crawling webslinger from Antarctic Press’s Sentai magazine issue 5, reprinting an article from Gadget #25. And now, Marvel brings you official fansubs of the 1979 television series from the land of the rising son. If you thought the Nicholas Hammond-starred series missed a few marks, just take a look at this!
[UPDATE: 3/9/2021: I can’t find an embeddable copy of the episode so this trailer is currently all I have for you.]
In ’78, Toei (mostly known here in the states for their animated vehicles, made a deal with Marvel Comics to bring the hero to Japan, although they did do things a bit differently. Gone is the radioactive spider. Instead, Takuya’s powers come from alien blood by the last survivor of planet Spider. (We learn in the next episode that Garia was off flying around in his homemade starship when the bad guys blew up the one building that housed everyone on the planet.) Peter’s lesson of “with great power comes great responsibility” is dropped in favor of an apathetic guy (except when it comes to racing) who takes up the responsibility of revenge, not only for his father but the whole race of Planet Spider (and anyone else Professor Monster and his “Iron Cross Army” have conquered). Instead of the usual rouges gallery, we get an army of space aliens and their soon-to-be giant monsters.
Spidey gets his own giant robot, long before Tony Stark created the MegaMorphs and a car that can fly as well as launch missiles. Instead of a photojournalist, he’s a dirt bike racer dating a photojournalist. (Not that you can tell. In the three episodes I saw she mostly just bums rides off of him or eats his food.) There’s very little besides the costumes and most of the powers that match Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s original character.
As far as the powers, compare this series with the American series, as seen in this trailer.
(Say what you will about the old show, but the second series theme song is grooveable. The TV movie one here was passable, and the first series theme…kind of bland. I won’t even link to it.)
I’ll get to the costumes in a moment, but what you can’t see in the trailer is the bad green screen work for some of the rooftop climbing sequences, or the rather obvious wall crawling. In that one scene with Spidey on the wall kicking the not-quite-ninja in the face was good. However, the wall crawling itself occasionally didn’t get the stuntman (I’m assuming it wasn’t Hammond himself) close enough to the wall, so you knew he was being lifted by pullies, not climbing himself. For the most part, the Japanese crew got that right, but the Japanese seem to get super powers a lot better than our super heroes at the time. Thanks to Adventures of Superman, we had mastered green screen flying (Shazam! and Isis from Filmation did a fair job, and there was also the manequin of the Captain Marvel serial many years earlier), but when it comes to jumping and hanging off of stuff, Japan’s SFX people have more experience.
Takuya’s “Spider-Sense” differs from Peter’s, though. While Peter (and future Japanese Spidey Yu Komori) can only detect when he’s about to get shot or hit with a Buick, Takuya can detect when the Iron Cross Army is on the move. Then there’s the webbing. The later US series would have Peter wearing the web-shooters and the often forgotten utility belt (which mostly holds spare web cartridges and tracers) were worn outside his costume (not sure why) while they’re usually underneath his costume. Takuya, however, has no tracers, and shoots his “spider string” and “spider net” out of the gauntlet that first injected him and holds his costume when in his secret identity. (Rather rare, from what I can tell, for a Japanese super hero to keep a secret id from his enemies and some of the recent Sentai heroes don’t seem to keep it from potential friends, either.) Here I have to give the US the win. The US webline may not look like the comic version (this is before McFarline came along and added the secondary web wrappings), but the “spider-string” looks more like spider-rope, and the US web net looks more like a spider-web, not counting the Japanese opening credits. (At least the sound seems to be sampled from the 70’s US cartoon, which sounds closer to a “thwiip”.)
I’m not sure who wins in the costume department, however. The US suit was not always properly maintained, and whoever thought making it a pull-over one piece was a good idea shouldn’t make super hero costumes. On the other hand, the Japanese costume (aka the “Spider Protector”), apparently uses a zipper. A zipper? Seriously, Toei? Also, I’m not sure what it protects, besides a secret identity. It doesn’t look any stronger than a high-end Halloween costume, which is odd for Japanese super costumes, even if they were trying to match the comics. Perhaps a better name?
Not used in the US show (for reasons any Spider-Fan can go into at length) was the Spider-Mobile, a rather pathetic vehicle they gave Peter for a while. More bonus points for Spider Machine GP-7. Marveler (an homage to Marvel, of course) and it’s battle mode, Leopardon, however lose points. Leopardon carries nothing for a Spidey motif, and budget cuts force the use of stock footage in later episodes during the giant robot/monster battles, which is the only reason for the ship. I don’t know why this would be the case, since they already have the suit and the set, but I’m not up on the behind the scenes of Japanese tv series. (One site reported hearing that the Leopardon suit was stolen, but I cannot confirm this.) It doesn’t matter, as I’m not a fan of Leopardon, which is odd for a mecha lover such as myself.
So what did Marvel get out of all this? Aside from the licensing income, they were able to use three of the robots Mattel was using for the comics version of Shogun Warriors. Like Toei did with Spidey, the Warrior story was changed, as three pilots from different nations were given the robots to battle the forces of evil. I’ll get more into that in a future article, as I have a few issues. Toei supposedly also used other Marvel properties to create other shows. The one I hear most about is Captain America being heavily retooled into Battle Fever J. Personally, I can’t see it. The Sentai/Gadget article also mentions a failed attempt at Moon Knight (which would have been interesting to see) and some others that may have had Marvel influence. Years later, another attempt at a Japanese Spider-Man was made in the form of a comic/manga series. Yu Komori’s origin is closer to the Nicholas Hammond series, as Yu is working in a lab when he’s bit by a radioactive spider. It also featured some of Peter’s foes in a new format, such as Electro and the Lizard. An attempt by Marvel to bring this to the US as the manga craze began met with failure.
As this article goes online, the first three episodes are also available at Marvel.Com. In episode two, Garia reveals the full story of how he came to Earth. In the third, a wussy catburglar is hypnotised by Professor Monster’s latest monster to frame Spiderman for the thefts in hopes of luring him out and learning his identity. At the very least, it’s worth checking out.