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While the recent announcement that Disney will begin broadcasting Doraemon in the U.S. this July was good news for fans of the prolific anime, many were just as quickly disappointed at the extensive changes being made in an effort to make the show more accessible for Americans in its target preschool and elementary-school age brackets. Many have said that if so much tinkering has to be done, why not just make a new series from the ground up?

After all, that’s exactly what Japanese production company Toei did when they brought Marvel’s Spider-Man to Japan in the 1970s.

It’s hard to imagine now, when Marvel adaptations are some of the biggest box-office hits not starring a singing ice witch, but for decades, superhero stories weren’t seen as a particularly lucrative commodity outside of the realm of comic books and the occasional Saturday morning cartoon spin-off. So it’s understandable that when Toei made a deal with Marvel for the rights to create a live-action version of Spider-Man for Japanese TV, the comic publisher was apparently happy enough for the business and recognition that it didn’t impose much in the way of restrictions regarding how far Toei could stray from the source material.

The series premiered in 1978, and a total of 41 episodes aired during its year-long run. It’s since faded into obscurity, with even most of our Japanese staff members being completely unaware that it existed. At the time of its release, though, the Japanese Spider-Man was popular enough that it even got its own theatrical feature tie-in.

Even looking just at the opening to the Japanese TV series, we can see that Toei did indeed take advantage of their opportunity to take some tiny liberties with the original. Longtime fans of the Wallcrawler may be disappointed that it does not, in fact, use the iconic Spider-Man theme song that’s been associated with the hero since 1967. The Japanese opener, “Go! Spider-Man!” does offer a pretty good alternative to the familiar “Spider-Man, Spider-Man” lyrics.


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That’s not all that’s different, though. For starters, Spider-Man’s secret identity isn’t gifted student/freelance photographer Peter Parker, but motocross racer Takuya Yamashiro.

▼ Who rides a bike with a custom Spider-Man face paint job

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He does wear the same costume, though, and fights bad guys by climbing up and around buildings and shooting webs at them.

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Still, this is a Spider-Man for Japanese tastes, and like many of the county’s greatest heroes, he needs an extra dose of pathos, as the lyrics tell us he’s “Giving up peace, giving up everything.”

Japanese Spidey’s also got his own origin story. Instead of being bitten by a radioactive spider at a research laboratory, Takuya meets a centuries-old alien, who injects our hero with superpower-bestowing spider extract in order to fight against the evil invaders of the Iron Cross Army. This actually makes his transformation into a hero more in line with Captain America than the original Spider-Man, right down to the symbol associated with his enemies, but Toei wisely didn’t give their creation the obvious title of Captain Alien Super Spider, because nobody wants to say their favorite TV show is Captain ASS.

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Tatsuya continues to play by the Japanese superhero rulebook by battling foes dressed in identical jumpsuits. And yes, the subset to this rule is in place, in that occasionally his opponents are giant-sized, and in order to defeat them he has to summon a huge transforming robot.

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You might assume that Spider-Man would have a mecha arachnid, but the clever producers at Toei know how to throw viewers a curve. Instead, Spidey’s robotic ace in the hole is the cat-like Leopardan.

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Oddly enough, once the machine transforms from a flying battleship to its bipedal form, its head also transforms.

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Really, we’d like to talk to the designer that created Leopardan. How did he get the idea that the battleship mode needed a head, and then somehow that it should be shaped like a predatory cat?

Actually, that’s just one of the many questions the Japanese Spider-Man’s opening has us scratching our heads about.

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Video, images: YouTube
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