Marvel 616 Episode 1: Japanese Spiderman – Disney+ Talk.
Disney+ have recently added a new show to their streaming service called ‘Marvel 616’. This 8-episode series explores various aspects of the Marvel phenomenon in terms of previously lost media, cosplays, representation and new era comics. And the first episode is simply titled ‘Japanese Spiderman’.
‘Japanese Spiderman’ revolves around the making of the Japanese version of the webbed superhero. Interviews with the cast and crew of the show document how the idea came about and what it was like to film the 41-episode series. It was a show that was exclusive to Japan, from 1978-1979. It wasn’t until 2009, when Marvel uploaded the show online, that the show was revealed to the rest of the world.
While watching this, two points stuck out to me: the first one was that Marvel comics did not originally sell well in Japan. Due to how popular they became in the Western world, it’s interesting that this was not the case in other parts of the world, and really shows how culturally different Asia is compared to the Western world. It’s revealed that Marvel Comics didn’t sell well because of the popularity of Manga. While comics are viewed as ‘pictured storybooks’, Manga is viewed as entertaining picture books that use visuals instead of words to get its narrative across. This led to Toei, a production company that was already creating popular kids shows, creating their own version of Spiderman, complete with vehicles and robots.
And, yes, I said robots. While pop culture icons like Gundam, Transformers and Power Rangers are well known now, it was surprising to hear that ‘Spiderman’ was the show that introduced a transforming robot, which Spiderman uses to fight the show’s various monsters. After the introduction of Leopardon, a spaceship-type vehicle that transforms into the transforming robot warrior, Marvel ended up writing ‘Shogun Warriors’ which led to the creation of ‘Transformers’. The show is also arguably an influence on the Toei show ‘Super Sentai’ which led to ‘The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers’, a show which I loved as a kid. The various monsters also replaced the well-known villains that featured in the American comics, highlighting how much of the show is different from its Western counterpart, and showcasing what Japanese audiences were looking for compared to American audiences. However, there’s no denying that, despite its deviations, it was still popular in the country it was made for, as well as making an impact on pop culture.
The second point that stuck out to me was how the series was filmed. The show, like a lot of Japanese kids shows at the time, was given a low budget and a very tight filming schedule. Spiderman stuntman Hirofumi Koga even said that, because this was a time before CGI and visual effects, all the stunts that were shown were actually real, including an end credit scene where Spiderman is seen climbing up Tokyo Tower! While this is dangerous, it also showed what lengths the cast and crew would go to to make this Spiderman work for Japanese audiences. It’s shocking but also oddly inspirational.
The main purpose of these shows is to sell toys. This explains the introduction to Leopardon and Marveller; while they were key to the show’s action scenes, they were also there to sell toys. This is a tactic that has been tried in the Western world (i.e. ‘Batman & Robin’), the difference here is that the vehicles and robots are a key factor to the show’s plot, whereas ‘Batman & Robin’ showed the numerous vehicles and gadgets before discarding them in the next scene. Popy Toy Designer Katsushi Murakami explains that the toy sales were how the source material made their money back, hence why a lot of the characters had to be created to fit that category. And, like how the show introduced the idea of a transformer, Popy Toys were the first company to introduce the transforming toy.
Overall, the first episode of ‘Marvel 616’ is a fascinating documentation into the filming of another perspective into the well-known superhero. Not only was the show popular in Japan, but we also have a lot to thank when it comes to shows it influenced. It may be extremely dated now, but it’s interesting to watch the making of it, and see how differently some pop culture is portrayed around the world.
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