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Sep 25, 2023

Why web-swing when you can drive a giant robot?

Are you a fan of tokusatsu? If you appreciate the old classic Godzilla films, where Godzilla is played by a dude in a rubber lizard suit, or Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, then you, friend, are all over tokusatsu. The phrase itself means "special effects," and refers primarily to live-action Japanese film and television productions that use them. Actually, keep the quotes around "special effects" — there's often very little that's special about them, which makes them all the more endearingly cheesy. Quick camera cuts, odd monsters that turn into giant kaiju, giant heroic robots that stop them, merchandise opportunities, and power-up scenes with their own theme music are just some of the tropes attributed to the genre. One wouldn't necessarily equate Spider-Man with tokusatsu in most regards, which makes the 1978 Japanese Spider-Man film — which only barely registers as one, coming in at 24 minutes — so entirely off the wall. It hits all the tropes, including a giant robot, bringing a totally bats**t crazy element to the hero's history that is unrivaled.

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Spider-Man comes by its lunacy honestly, springing from the bats**t crazy Japanese TV series of the same name. The series consisted of 41 episodes that aired between May 1978 and March 1979, and the film fits in between episodes 10 and 11 of that series. The origin of the hero remains unchanged, where a young man gets bitten by a radioactive spider. Not! In fact, the origin of Spider-Man as recounted in the series is wildly bizarre. Takuya Yamashiro (Shinji Tōdō), a motorcycle racer, sees a UFO crash to Earth. Takuya finds the ship, called the Marveller, intact. Inside, he encounters Garia (Toshiaki Nishizawa), the last citizen of Planet Spider, a planet destroyed by the evil Professor Monster (Mitsuo Andō), and his Iron Cross Army.

Now Garia is dying and needs Takuya to carry on his mission. Hold on... that sounds kind of familiar. Replace Takuya with Hal Jordan, and Garia with Abin Sur, and it's Green Lantern's 1959 origin. No ring, though. Garia gives Takuya some of his blood, which results in Takuya receiving spider-like powers. But that's not all — Takuya receives a Spider Bracelet at no extra charge. The bracelet activates his spider protector costume, shoots web nets and web ropes, and controls the Marveller, which, lo and behold, can transform into the mighty, giant battle robot Leopardon. Good thing, too, as Professor Monster and his Army are en route to Earth.

Takuya wakes up and hears his sister Shinko (Izumi Ōyama) screaming and runs to find that Shinko and his little brother, Takuji (Yoshiharu Yabuki), are being attacked by Ninders, the foot soldiers of the Iron Cross Army. The attackers flee, but can't escape Takuya's alter-ego, Spider-Man. Having changed into the hero, Takuya dispenses them easily. He returns home, only to find that his brother and sister are nowhere to be found. The phone rings, and Takuya answers. The voice on the other end explains that his brother, sister, and girlfriend Hitomi (Rika Miura) are with them and that they should meet at a nearby hotel. Takuya quickly changes into his costume and drives to the hotel. Yes, drives. In his merchandising-friendly Spider Machine GP-7. Seriously? Yep. And believe it or not, there's precedent - in Amazing Spider-Man #150, 1974, Spider-Man is gifted a Spider-Buggy by Corona Motors, which he uses to stop Hammerhead's thugs.

When he arrives, Spider-Man is met by Interpol agent Mamiya Jūzō (Noboru Nakaya). He explains that his siblings and girlfriend are safe and that he set up the ruse in order to meet him and request his help. Now, why would Interpol need his help? Missiles have been repeatedly attacking cargo boats in the east, and a mysterious fish creature is the source. Spider-Man agrees to help but warns Mamiya that the Iron Cross Army is coming. Actually, they're already here, led by Amazoness (Yukie Kagawa), assistant to Professor Monster and commander of the Iron Cross Army (and the killer of Takuya's dad, by the way). Spider-Man tells Mamiya to stay in the room and leaps out of the window to confront Amazoness and her Ninders. With Spider-Man preoccupied, Mamiya is kidnapped by Amazoness and brought to Professor Monster, who is convinced that Mamiya knows Spider-Man's true identity. Mamiya is brought to their offshore freighter and awaits Spider-Man's arrival. Sure enough, Spider-Man arrives in a speedboat (just a plain, boring speedboat), which is blown to pieces by the Ninders. Is this the end of our hero?

Spider-Man, shockingly, survives, and swims to the ship undetected. Meanwhile, Amazoness calls for the mysterious fish creature, Sea Devil, and warns Mamiya that Sea Devil will destroy an industrial complex nearby unless he surrenders Spider-Man's identity. Just then, Spider-Man appears over the boat, flying in his Spider Machine GP-7 (it drives, it flies, it makes julienne fries). He jumps out of the car — you can see him literally jump out of the car. This is important to note. He activates his parachute but is shot down by the Ninders and crashes on the deck. Only, that's not Spider-Man. They shot down a Spider-Man doll! A doll that, apparently, has the ability to jump out of moving vehicles.

Outraged, Amazoness commands Sea Devil to blow up the complex. How, you may ask? Well, obviously with the missile launcher in his mouth. Don't all fish monsters have one? In the nick of time, Spider-Man enters the room, webs up the Ninders, and frees Mamiya. The pair escape in a speedboat to the mainland, where Spider-Man uses his bracelet to call the Marveller to him just as Amazoness and Sea Devil arrive. Sea Devil launches a series of missiles at the complex, but Spider-Man successfully stops them with Marveller. Now ever angrier, Amazoness tells Sea Devil to crush the complex. Sea Devil grows giant-sized and lumbers towards the complex. Spider-Man leaps into Marveller and changes into Leopardon, his giant robot. It's giant mecha versus kaiju, which sees Leopardon triumphant and Sea Devil explode. Unfortunately, Amazoness and her crew have escaped to fight another day. Mamiya and Spider-Man say goodbye to one another, and part.

1978's Spider-Man is the pinnacle as far as bats**t crazy Spider-Man iterations go, but it does have some company. CBS premiered The Amazing Spider-Man in 1977, their own live-action series with actor Nicholas Hammond in the role. The show is marginally saner than the Japanese series but does have some similarities (i.e. webs that look more like ropes). Variants throughout Spider-Man's comic book history are really where the contenders lie. Spider-Ham, who debuted in 1983, is a porcine variant, with many animal-based allies and enemies (for the record, there is a Spider-Cat, a Spider-Wolf, and a Spider-Monkey... but not a spider-spider monkey). Arachnosaur is a Spider-Man who is half dinosaur. The best of the lot, arguably, is Earth-3123's Spider-Ma'am, the alter ego of one Aunt May. It must be handy for the elderly vigilante to create her own yarn for knitting!

Tobey Maguire's Spider-Man had his Doc Ock, Sandman, and Green Goblin. Andrew Garfield's Spider-Man fought the Lizard and Electro. Tom Holland took out the Vulture and Mysterio. But not one of them had the chutzpah to take on a fish monster with a mouth full of missiles under the command of a female military leader who is under the command of a bulky-ass, Borg-like professor. Nor do they have access to a giant robot. Or a bitchin' ride. The 1978 Spider-Man may be crazy as all hell, but one can safely say there's nothing else like it. And there'll probably never be.

Lloyd 'Happy Trails' Farley: the man, the myth, the legend. He is a master of puns, with one pun book - Pun And Grimeish Mint - already released and another - Pun And Grimeish Mint II: The Empire's Spice Rack - in development. A devotee of B-films (Ed Wood in particular) and Calgary Flames hockey, Lloyd also holds fast to the belief that all of life's problems can be answered by The Simpsons, Star Wars, or The Lion King.Happy trails.

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Spider-Man COLLIDER VIDEO OF THE DAY SCROLL TO CONTINUE WITH CONTENT Shinji Tōdō Toshiaki Nishizawa Mitsuo Andō Izumi Ōyama Yoshiharu Yabuki Rika Miura Noboru Nakaya Yukie Kagawa The Amazing Spider-Man Nicholas Hammond Tobey Maguire Andrew Garfield Tom Holland