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Manga

I grew up being deeply immersed in the wonderful world of manga and tokusatsu. These are genres which are becoming increasingly popular outside Japan but I shall define what they are in my own way here:

Manga: what is known in English as "comics." Japan has a whole wealth of them which are unparalleled anywhere-else in the world. Wikipedia on Manga

Tokusatsu: Short for "tokusyu-satsuei" which basically translates as "special effects" (films). Again, Japan has an ever-growing number of TV series, films and DVDs of those. Wikipedia on Tokusatsu

Being a purist in most things, I ONLY call works that are made in Japan in the Japanese language "manga" or "tokusatsu". I suppose it's good that artists in countries other than Japan are beginning to want to write mangas but I am yet to see one that is up to the traditional Japanese standard. When and if I do, I shall be the first to rave about them.

In the meantime, here are some mangas and tokusatsu films I adore and have respect for...

 


Spiderman

Spiderman DVD set

Yep, this is the same “Spiderman” as the Marvel one. In 1978, Marvel allowed the biggest tokusatsu film studio in Japan called, “Toei” to do a TV series of it. This is the result.

This incarnation won’t disappoint you if what you like about the original Spiderman are the sense of solitude and the air of darkness. It will disappoint however if you expect the original villains to appear as there are none of them in here, although I am told that some episodes are based on some original plots.

This is how the dark and clandestine feelings are retained in the plot:  Toei set Spiderman as a descendant of a good alien from, erm, “The planet Spider.” In the opening episode, the only other remaining Spiderman (as it were), dies from battle-wounds (fighting against the chief villain, explained below) and thereby our hero swears revenge. Hurrah.

A revenge plot was rather unusual, especially in those days. Toei’s other famous hero programmes, such as the “Power-rangers”, usually defend the earth (i.e. Japan) from evil forces; therefore they are “heroes”, whereas Spiderman is on a revenge-rampage for a personal reason. The only other tokusatsu series I can think of that revolves around revenge is “Kaiketsu ZBat.”

The chief villain (who destroyed the Spider Planet of course) is an alien mad scientist called Monster Kyoujyu (“Professor Monster”). The actor who plays him is (the late) Mitsuo Shindo. He is one of the top actors the Japanese tokusatsu world has ever had and he can be seen in many other series as high-ranking villains. It’s widely known that the actor was ill at the time of shooting and his slightly O.T.T. acting is due to this, but nevertheless his delivery and timing is quite something. In fact, without the pull this man has in the show the whole thing would have been a bit pale.

The Prof’s side-kick, the ill-fated “Amazoness” is always such a thrill to watch as well. The actress is Yukie Kagawa. She was trained and gloomed in the Toei system as one of their “young faces” and she has played similar sidekick villain types elsewhere, too. Amazoness’ drastic and pointless costume-change halfway through the series is unfortunate to say the least and confused the hell out of me watching it as a child.

There is usually an opening theme song and an ending one to these shows. The songs for Spiderman are written in a minor key and sound really dark and determined. The closing theme is especially thrilling. Lyrically both songs reflect the solitude and the anonymity the hero has to endure; pretty rare in tokusatsu/anime songs. That said, I like sad songs so I’ll be introducing more of those rare gems later :)

Incidentally, the non-Japanese man who shouts in the song is obviously French.

The author, Stan Lee, apparently really liked this Toei version apart from one factor: the big-robot called Leopardon that appears at the end of every episode as the villain’s creature enlarges itself. Spiderman then summons his ship called “Marvella”, no less, and the ship turns into the robot which the man pilots.

This Spiderman series is out on DVD but, in a typical greedy and misguided Toei style, it’s only available as a box set and the price is rather astronomical. The box, however, does come with a colour booklet with photos of all the robots and characters and very revealing interviews of the staff and the cast, including one with Miss Kagawa and Kousuke Kayama (Shinji Toudou) who played Spiderman. Shame he hasn’t aged well, he used to be quite cute.

 

If you like Leopardon, the chogokin-damashii toy of it is really well-made.

 

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