Sunday, September 26, 2010

How Japanese Spider-Man Defeated The Toothache Alligator Monster

Spider-Man is in many ways one of the best and most important superheroes ever created. The character popularised the notion of more rounded characterisations in comics with an origin steeped in even more tragedy than Batman's and a private life with far more complications and setbacks than Clark Kent's. Comic books and superheroes took a big step forward thanks to the Webbed Wonder and it's all thanks to those classic elements introduced by Stan "The Man" Lee all the way back in 1964.

...but in Japan, they didn't agree.

Skip forward to 1978. The Toei Corporation in Japan reaches an exclusive deal with Marvel whereby it is allowed to use several of Marvel's characters for a number of years in whatever way it chooses.

This is what they came up with.

Instead of envisioning Spider-Man as an awkward, socially inept teenager named Peter Parker who is lovingly cared for by his overprotective Aunt May and Uncle Ben; the hero of this incarnation of the story is instead a "motorcycle racer" by the name of Takuya Yamashiro who, after obtaining a bracelet from the last survivor of the planet "Spider" (no, I'm not joking) he obtains spider-like powers and abilities and is given powerful vehicles including a "Spider-Car"...

...and a giant robot named Leopardon. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, you heard me correctly. In this confused Japanese mess, the man in the spider costume is given a giant robot named after a completely different member of the animal kingdom.

With these helpful tools at his disposal, Spiderman (and no, the hyphen does not exist in this incarnation) does battle with the sinister and malevolent "Professor Monster" who wins the "Doctor Doom Award for Most Original Supervillain Name of All Time".

I'm pretty stumped as to how and why this ever saw fit to exist. If Brand Recognition was ever a factor in its creation, did it really matter so little that this show resemble its source material?

In any event, its ridiculousness is such that it's completely awesome in a batshit insane kind of a way. I'm a big fan of superhero shows, but I'm not sure any of them can boast episode titles like "The Animate Accessory is the Beetle Spy of Love", "Transformation to a Splendid Murder Machine" or (my personal favourite) "I Saw The Tears of the Snake Woman in the Fires of Hell".

Thanks to my friend Tom Maher, it was brought to my attention that the good people at Marvel.Com have uploaded the entire series onto their merry website. So, I sat myself down and watched "The First Tin Plate Evening Star and the Boys' Detective Club" also known in some circles as "The Twinkling Star of Twilight and the Youth Detective Club". Easy knowing I'm not really ever likely to become a Japanese translator.

The episode opens with the already-posted-opening with the singer's freakish cries of "YEAH YEAH YEAH WOOOOWW!!" (it was probably considered cool and gritty to put trendy Western words like that into things). You might notice that in the first couple of frames, Spiderman actually does some pretty Spider-Man-Like things including climbing up buildings, hopping around in the darkness and (everyone's favourite) posing at the camera with his arms pointed outward and his body perched down.

Everything soon changes however, when Spider-Man's giant leopard robot is given precedence in the opening ("Let's sell some toys!!!").

Our story begins with a sleazy Japanese man talking to what looks like an air hostess as he demands ten billion yen for the plot device "botulism bacteria" which he has created. The subtitles claim that the sleazy man informs the mysterious woman that his bacteria is "the best!". However, the actual Japanese dialogue has him saying that it is "NUMBAAAH WAN!"

This is just one of many strange examples of Japanese dialogue awkwardly incorporating Western phrases for no apparent reason. Maybe they actually do this in Japanese conversation. If so, that's pretty funny.

As it happens, the sleazy man's niece Miyumi is watching this sordid exchange take place (even spotting the sleazy man hiding the Bacteria capsule away, after air hostess leaves) and sees fit to contact her eccentric friend; the leader of the "Sunset Youth Detective Agency" (basically a gang of idiot children who run around with toy swords and capes causing trouble and annoying people). Said friend has clearly modelled himself on some sort of hybrid of Basil Rathbone's Sherlock Holmes, Humphrey Bogart's Philip Marlowe and a generic  sheriff.

The young leader, name of 'Sanpei', is haplessly trying to convince the other members of the "Detective Agency" to accompany him on more adventures, but they are too interested in trivial things like studying and academia. It's here that we get our first glimpse of Takuya (aka Spiderman) who intervenes in his civilian form, when a fight ensues amongst the youngsters after which he gives us this glorious establishing profile shot:

It's here that the episode shows us how warped its morals are. Sanpei wants his friends to accompany him on his imaginary adventures and yet they feel obliged to adhere to their academic responsibilities. The little weirdo thinks they have no sense of loyalty and should be helping him play around in his little fantasy world instead of doing productive work and Spiderman agrees with him. Go figure.

After Takuya and the other youngsters depart, the young niece gives Sanpei the bacteria capsule and tells him to hide it and not tell anyone where it is. Sanpei pinky-swears that the secret is safe with him.

We cut back to the sleazy uncle's house where the air hostess woman (apparently her name is Amazoness) threatens to kill him with Amazonian poison darts (guess that makes sense; except that she's blatantly Japanese and not Amazonian) unless he gives her the bacteria capsule. Meanwhile, the young niece is kidnapped by Grey Jumpsuit Henchmen (think of the Putty Patrollers from Power Rangers). Takuya happens to be conveniently passing by on his motorcycle when his SPIDER SENSE DETECTS SOMETHING OMG.

The Putty Patrollers bring Miyumi back into the house where Amazoness questions her as to where the bacteria is. Spiderman intervenes giving us our first look at the wallcrawler in the episode and setting off possibly the funniest and lamest superhero/supervillain battle in the history of the concept of superheroes.

In fact, it's bigger than just superheroes. This might just be the silliest battle in the history of good-versus-evil. For the first time in human existence, the hero triumphs over the villain because there might be cake over there


The idea that Spiderman could deduce that because some sort of anthropomorphic alligator-beast would have a sweet tooth based solely on the fact that he is known for having a toothache and then actually defeating the villain with a half-assed ruse based on this knowledge is just too brilliantly stupid an idea for me to not appreciate. It's so completely lazy, so exclusively senseless and utterly devoid of effort on the writers' parts that I love them for it. It's original and brilliant and I will hear nothing else.

So the sleazy uncle guy "goes unconscious" (they probably had to be careful with doling out deaths on a kids' TV show) having been shot by one of the poison darts, leaving our heroes stumped. We cut to Professor Monster's villainous lair, which is conveniently located on the corner of Neon Purple Avenue and Neon Green St.

Professor Monster is angry that his minions have not retrieved the Botilisum Bacteria and instructs them to search harder as he affixes golden teeth onto the fallen alligator beast. Yes, that's what happens.

So later, Takuya spies on Miyumi and Sanpei as Miyumi explains to the "detective" why she stole the bacteria. Sanpei is just about to reveal where he hid it, when Takuya's sisters (well...I guess he's got sisters in this, just like Peter Parker never did) grab Takuya and bring him fishing with them. Essentially, Spiderman is delayed from learning an important plot point because his sisters force him to go fishing with them over there.

Initially this seems like a rather out of the blue suggestion and then we realise that it was just even more sensationally lazy writing, so that the Toothache Alligator could return into the scene. Takuya reels him in and the plot device sisters flee the scene and indeed the episode. Miyumi and Sanpei (who are apparently still close by) take off as well, but are apprehended by more Putty Patrollers (who are disguised as ordinary soldiers, for no apparent reason). Spiderman manages to hand the Putties their asses and Miyumi and Sanpei escape.

The two fugitives then figure that they'll need the combined power of the Youth Detective Agency to aid them in their perilous plight of puerility. Unfortunately, they're inexplicably caught by the bad guys again and thrown into a car before they have a chance to convince their disillusioned detective deputies. Sanpei, quick on his feet, drops his Detective badge out the window, suspiciously bending one of its edges. Spiderman conveniently pull up in his stealthy spider car...

...and finds the clue left by Sanpei. The other members of the club tell Spiderman that the curvature of the badge was an SOS left by Sanpei. For some stupid, unexplained reason, Spiderman makes the kids feel guilty about not helping him defeat the bad guys.

That's right. The guy with the spider powers, the spider car and the GIANT SPIDER ROBOT tries to get a bunch of kids help him defeat a gang of murderers instead of doing their homework. This show is fucked three ways towards the long weekend.

We then see the other detectives musing for a moment as maudlin clips of the young idiots engaging in previous "adventures" is shown. We see them running around committing various acts of buffoonery, none of which have much to do with detective work. We even see them get told off by an actual policeman who tells them to stop annoying people. My favourite part is when we see them eating rice in a field, for no apparent reason.

Were the producers trying to get these kids a spinoff show or something?!

So yeah, they agree to help Spiderman in what's sure to be a suicide quest on their parts. They show Spiderman their "secret emergency drop box" where sure enough, Sanpei has left them a note. Sure enough, the deus-ex-messagina reveals where the bacteria is hidden and in the next scene when the baddies go to open the container of the critical capsule, the box is empty omg!

Spiderman appears out of nowhere and reveals that he has the capsule and this beautiful exchange takes place:

That's right, folks. In order for Japanese Spider-Man to use the most famous ability Spider-Man has, he has to cry out "SPYDAAAHSTRINGUSS!" like a shell-shocked Nazi general. I'm not going to lie. This might replace "Feel the Fury!" as my new catchphrase. It's just that awesome. I may never stop exclaiming it.

Spiderman does battle with the villains, the toothache alligator turns giant (as per all Japanese kids shows) and Spiderman has to call on the power of his giant robot leopardon who makes short work of the amphibious behemoth. Unfortunately it has nothing to do with cake this time. He just hits him with a sword. Contrived.

The kids wave goodbye to Spiderman (all of them surprisingly jubilant considering he tried to get them killed) and the insane hero tells us that one day the Youth Detective Agency will disband...

...which makes sense, given that they're probably not going to live long enough to hit puberty given that there's crazed monsters running through the streets and the only hero the world has is telling them to go and fight the monsters, even though he's quite capable of doing that himself.

This is probably the most entertaining piece of crap I've seen in a long, long while. The initial battle between Spiderman and the 'Toothache Alligator' would be funny enough even without the immortal resolution. And I may never stop screaming "SPYDAAAHSTRINGUSS!" when I do something cool.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Canadian Overview: The Prodigal Gothamite Returns

So my Canadian exile has come to a close and I find myself back on Irish shores. The experience was thoroughly notable in that I laughed, I cried, I yelled, I sighed, I worked, I lazed, I drank, I ate, I drank some more and I even managed to fall in love a little bit.

But, as Captain Picard once said, all good things must come to an end and such was the nature of my excursion. For reasons monetary and academic, I found myself having to wave goodbye to the sleek city pastures (heh) of Toronto, its well laid out city streets, its curious architecture, its peoples, foods and customs and finally, the friends I made and lost in the time I spent there.

The trip was certainly the greatest experience I have had the pleasure of enjoying in my life thus far. I managed to learn quite a bit about myself where my various personality traits and disorders are concerned and I'm confident that I'm going to be able to make a few necessary changes in the way I look at and act in life.

But it wasn't all just about deep, internal reflection.

I'm going to miss the fuck out of Tim Horton's, Cora Pizza, The 88, street Hot Dogs and the various beers I became accustomed to during the many reckless, feckless, drunken nights I spent wandering the streets with my compadres and associates. As much as I love the fair city in which I grew up, we are a little bit culturally inept when it comes to quality food and drink at discount prices. It's either McDonalds or Luigi Malones. It's either Dutch Gold or €300 champagne. Perhaps I'm exaggerating, but there's very little in the way of affordably decent refreshments in our once-economically bloated burg. It also pisses me off that donuts just don't really exist here, except for those ones you get in the supermarket, which while nice, are not really the same thing.

You may be wondering about CanadaQuest (one of the big surprises of the Summer was finding out how many people actually watch it or have at least seen one or two episodes of it). The fact of the matter is I still have a mess of footage from Niagara Falls, Fan Expo (a comic book convention I found myself attending), and various days of hanging out in my cousins' house and Parker's humble abode. There is at least two episodes worth of footage still lurking around on my hard-drive and I can assure you that before the Summer is out, they will exist as episodes, in some form or another. I was delighted with how that whole thing worked out, even if it is a bit cheesy. Even now, watching some of the older ones brings me right back to when I filmed them and I'm hoping they'll serve as time capsules for years to come.

So to all of you who followed my adventures through YouTube, Facebook and even here (on the odd occasion when I decided to write anything) I thank you for making the journey even more memorable. Let's just hope I can find my way back there, someday.