Does whatever a spider can
Can he fly? Can he heck!
If he tried he'd break his fuckin' neck
Hey there, there goes the Spider-Man
Seeing that in print now makes me belatedly realise that I hung out with some horrible kids when I was ten years old. Still, it just goes to show that it was as true back then as it is now: everyone knows the story of the Spider-Man. Teenager Peter Parker, bitten by a radioactive spider, develops super powers as a result and uses them to fight crime under a secret identity.
That's all well and good for most people. But what are you supposed to do if the origin of Spider-Man isn't nearly ridiculous enough for you? Well, happily, Japanese Spider-Man is here for those people, and now it's available absolutely free.
Spidey's been on telly in a number of different forms in the past, most notably the 1960s TV cartoon so ruthlessly satirised by 1970s Mancunian children. In 1978, the Japanese film company Toei decided to have a go themselves, having acquired the rights for their country from Marvel Comics. They kept a couple of key elements of the character: the costume, the spider-related powers of climbing and web-spinning, the ability to avoid complex exposition with the use of the phrase "my spider-sense tells me that...". They threw away everything else, though: and what they replaced it with could only really have come from Japan.
Your hero is now Takuya Yamashiro (played by Shinji Todo), the layabout son of scientist Professor Yamashiro: when we first meet him, he doesn't seem to have any interests other than riding his motorcycle or fixing it in the living room. But that all changes when some aliens from outer space come to Earth and kill his dad. They are the Iron Cross Army, a platoon of duck-faced anonymous henchmen led by Professor Monster and his nameless trollop of an assistant. Luckily, while on the run from the Iron Cross Army, Takuya falls into a spider-infested underground cave and meets up with the last surviving inhabitant of the Spider Planet, who passes on to him the only means by which Monster can be defeated. Which sort of involves spiders.
If someone sat down today and made a parody of what a Japanese kids programme looked like, it'd probably be almost indistinguishable from this. The editing is totally frantic, with every major action m0ment repeated at least three times from the same angle in case you missed it the first time. The writing doesn't have anything like the same agility, unfortunately: lines of dialogue as clunky as "Professor Yamashiro? That astro-archeologist?", and the irritating use of a narrator who recaps the plot every five minutes for the hard of thinking.
But why be picky? It's a show whose sole purpose is to delight children, and it happens to be charming enough in its wild enthusiasm to also delight adults of a certain frame of mind. Particularly when you discover just what the English phrase "change Leopardon!" is doing in the middle of the opening title song. Without wishing to give too much away, the climax of each episode - or at least the three I've seen so far - is a very Japanese solution to the problems that Spidey encounters in his adventures. It's so far removed from the American version that you find yourself wondering just how much control Marvel Comics had over the show. But apparently Stan Lee himself once said he enjoyed it, so that's all right.
Up until recently, the only way you could see Japanese Spider-Man was to fork out thirty thousand yen for an unsubtitled DVD box set (still an option, of course: see link below). But in recent weeks, the show has received a contemporary seal of approval from Marvel - it's currently being streamed on their website, and with English subtitles too. The pilot episode can be seen at the top of this very page (expand the video widget to full screen mode for maximum impact), and a new episode is being added to the Marvel site every Thursday. After watching about three of them you may start to see a formula at work, but it's a fun formula for all that, and certainly useful for any of my readers who might be learning Japanese.
And if Japanese Spider-Man isn't quite ridiculous enough a variation on the original theme for you, don't worry: there's always Italian Spider-Man...