Today’s Random Tokusatsu: Spider-man “Episode 0” (1978)

Today’s selection: Spider-man (1978, dir. Koichi Takemoto)

Subgenre: Henshin hero, Mecha

Available from: rip-only, previously available streaming at Marvel.com

Reposting an old review from a previous ‘blog, with slight updates.

In case you missed it, Marvel used to stream the entire Japanese Spider-man show subtitled and for free on its website, including “Episode 0″, which was actually a theatrical film. The numbering is confusing; it’s not a prequel, it’s a bonus episode that comes somewhere in the middle of the story (between episodes 10 and 11 according to wikipedia), only in widescreen with (marginally) better production values.

As an episode, it’s pretty standard. An Interpol agent figures out who Spider-man is (because all Interpol agents are like James Bond in Japanese movies) by tricking the evil Iron Cross Army into attacking folks in the hero’s Friendly Neighborhood. He does this because he needs Spider-man’s help, but the bad guys come to their senses and capture the spy first, to torture for info. Spider-man rescues the guy from a boat full of henchmen, the enemy monster (who looks like a half man/half swordfish) grows in size, and Spider-man summons his giant robot Leopardon to finish it. By the way, you know that the story here is unrelated to the original Spider-man, right?

See, this was part of Toei and Marvel’s collaboration during the 1970’s, which resulted in Marvel doing things like the Shogun Warriors comics (unrelated to the Japanese anime that the characters came from), and Toei doing this and Battle Fever J, the third Super Sentai based on Captain America (though at the time it was called the first “Super” Sentai because it had a giant robot, an aspect it nicked from Spider-man. That’s right, you have Spider-man to thank for every episode of Power Rangers ending in a robot battle). The result is a show much in the vein of Kamen Rider, where instead of being a reporter bitten by a radioactive spider, Takuya (~Peter) is a motorcross racer who gets his powers from aliens. The standard evil empire sends out monsters of the week, so fighting mundane crime doesn’t even factor into this Spider-man’s equation.

So, I dig it. The stunt work was great, and the movie must’ve been filmed before the robot suit was stolen, because there are actually shots of the monster and the robot in the same frame.  It’s a shame that Marvel appears to have taken down all the streaming episodes, and there was never a DVD box set or anything (a chronic problem with Marvel shows), so keep an eye out for rips of the professional streams that have now dried up. Just be warned that the closest connection it has to the original Marvel story is that Leopardon was included in the Shogun Warriors toy line, and that’s a stretch.

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