Sunday, August 14, 2011

I'm Done

This blog has been too much work. I am very busy now, and can no longer fully dedicate myself to writing, so I have decided to end Cat Demon Spirits. I will try to do the occasional MMF post, and Roundhead Lives will continue, but otherwise, it's sayonara time. I'm sorry. I'm done.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

JSM@CDS: Strange Tales from the Past - The Cursed Cat Grave

Episode 8: Strange Tales from the Past - The Cursed Cat Grave
MONSTER OF THE WEEK: Cat Demon: No explanation necessary.

The Iron Cross army unearth the bones of a vampiric cat demon from the edo period, and resurrect it as a Machine BEM! Takuya looks like the samurai who killed the demon, and it's out for revenge! Can Spiderman save the day and solve the mystery of the dead cat lady's cat doll? And yes, that is essentially the entire plot.

In some ways, this is the worst episode of the entire series. Aside from the cat demon's flimsy motivatiuon, it's practically plotless, and having seen House, I can safely say that there are better stories with cat demons out there. However, I must give the show some credit. Without it, I would surely not be half as interested in Japan as I am today. The episode introduced me to the, uh, uniqueness of Japanese popular culture. In my mind, it remains a testament to the strangeness of cool Japan, and all the reasons I love it. But is it really that weird? As I rematch it today, I find the flashy evilness of the cat demon oddly commonplace, and the story tacky and uninteresting, but that crazy cat demon is responsible for the person I am today, and for that I am eternally grateful.
NNNNN or 0, take your pick

JSM@CDS: The Ferocious Hit Song! Sing and Dance to the Killer Rock

Episode 7: The Ferocious Hit Song! Sing and Dance to the Killer Rock
MONSTER OF THE WEEK: Sasora: He can: Shoot poison arrows (!), cut stuff with his claws, go BIG.

A group of scientists develop a sensor that can detect the Iron Cross Army. Professor Monster orders that the machine be destroyed, but it is protected by Spiderman himself! But an opportunity presents itself when the hit band BB5 make a pop song about Spiderman, known as the Spiderman Boogie! The Iron Cross Army replaces the band members with evil cyborgs, whose amp makes a painful sound that can only be heard by spiders! Using their influence, The Iron Cross makes Spiderman Boogie the number 1 hit song in Japan, to the point that Takuya can no longer avoid that awful rock music!

Man, someone writing this show must really hate rock 'n' roll, or love BB5, I can't decide. Regardless, this is a very good episode. The concept is more than a little ludicrous, but is played almost completely straight, to very satisfying results. The song is pretty catchy, and the lyrics are almost as silly as the episode itself, which is saying something. The idea of an evil pop song resonated with me a lot, as it should for anyone with even OK taste in music, and now whenever I hear Bieber or Gaga's latest at a supermarket, I curse Professor Monster under my breath. The only real bone I have to pick with the episode is the Machine BEM's role in the story. While Sasora has plenty to do here, the Leopardon fight falls totally flat, as at this point Toei ran out of money and started using stock footage for the battles. This continues for the remaining 35 episodes of the series. Oh well.

JSM@CDS: The Experimental Labs of Horror! Evil Professor Monster

Episode 6: The Experimental Labs of Horror! Evil Professor Monster
MONSTER OF THE WEEK: Machine BEM Robacular: He can: Smell stuff, go BIG.

Yosuke, a childhood friend of Takuya's, went missing on a rock-climbing trip six months ago and is believed dead. So when Yosuke's girlfriend, Junko, tells Takuya he's returned, it comes as quite a shock. As it turns out, Yosuke was used in cruel experiments by the Iron Cross Army, where he saw many people killed on a whim and barely escaped. The Iron Cross Army plans to kill Yosuke because of his knowledge, and only Spiderman can save him!

After the fluff of the previous episode, this installment is shockingly dark. Within the first two minutes, two innocent people have been shot before our eyes. It seems as if Toei wanted to prove they could go for more nuanced storytelling. For the first time, The Iron Cross Army don't just seem evil, but evil. Any kiddie show super villain can steal some missiles, but killing people to resurrect them, experiment on them, and kill them again? Dang. Even Spiderman seems a bit grim here. Towards the end, he even pulls out a gun! If it weren't for the fact that this is a tv show for kids by the folks who brought you Power Rangers, this would have been less Adam West, and more Frank Miller. Kudos to whoever had the guts to write this into the series.

JSM@CDS: Thundering Machine GP7! An Oath of Brothers

Episode 5: Thundering Machine GP7! An Oath of Brothers
MONSTER OF THE WEEK: Machine BEM Chojinju: He can: Do Machine BEM stuff (I think?), go BIG.

The Iron Cross Army has stolen missiles and plans to use them on Japan! When one kid, Ichiro, sees them transporting the missiles to their base, Amazoness orders an EVIL truck to hit him. Takuya saves him, but in order to do so, gives his Planet Spider blood for a transfusion. What effect will it have on the boy? Can Spiderman stop both the missiles and the EVIL truck? Hop in the Spider Machine GP7 to find out!

Remember last week when I mentioned some of the episodes give the Machine BEMs no reason to appear other than to explode at the hands of Leopardon? This is one of them. Chojinchu has no use in the episode other than to die in honor of the laws of tokusatsu. He is completely tacked on and unnecessary, much like the entire episode. Its bland fluff for kids, and Ichiro is a terrible character. No, scratch that, he's not even a character! He is a Mary Sue, through and through, there so kids can imagine that they could get saved by Spiderman and become his best friend forever. And no, it doesn't matter at all that he has a tragic past, that's just how Mary Sues work. And yet, the episode has some saving graces. There are some really fantastic character moments and little jokes early on, such as a bizarre scene with Takuya and Hitomi (you'll know what I mean), and some truly winning shtick with Takuya's sister (Izumi Oyama). Minister indeed! There is also some really cool sh*t with cars. If watching the GP7 jump over a truck and then blow it up, feel free to skip this episode. Otherwise, dang, that's pretty rad.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

JSM@CDS: The Deadly Mer-Man! The Silver Thread of Miracles

Episode 4: The Deadly Mer-Man! The Silver Thread of Miracles
MONSTER OF THE WEEK: Machine BEM Mer-Man: He can: slash things with arm blades, breathe underwater, kill Spiderman (or can he?...), go BIG.

Professor Monster has designed a program called the "Spiderman Book of Fate" with precise instructions for how to kill Spiderman. When Takuya sees a notice of a Spiderman funeral in the newspaper, he becomes susupicious an Iron Cross Army plot. Meanwhile, a fish-like Machine BEM wreaks havoc. Can Spiderman beat fate? Will he be able to escape Professor Monster's plot? And most importantly, what do Takuya's bizarre dreams mean?

This is a very significant episode of the series. Though, like every episode, it stands completely on its own, it is the episode where Spiderman meets Professor Monster and Amazoness in person for the first time, and is one of the best episodes of the entire show. One thing that makes the episode great is the Machine BEM's constant involvement in the story. Many episodes give the BEMs minor roles,  often not even appearing until the last five minutes so Spiderman can get in his robot to blow it up, but this is not one of them. Mer-Man appears prominently throughout the entire episode, and is shown as a true thread to Spiderman, rather than another sacrifice to the Sword Vigor ritual. There's also a lot of drama. As I mentioned before, Spiderman meets Professor Monster and Amazoness for the first time here, and the scene is suitably foreboding, as Monster appears here at his most powerful. There's lot of tension here in the Spiderman Book of Fate plotline, as for once it is not clearly telegraphed from the beginning that he will win. In fact, he comes very close to dying, and only survives through a combination of perserverance and coincidence. In conclusion, many episodes of Supaidaaman can be skipped without impacting one's enjoyment of the series, but not episode 4. It is a shining example of the best Toei has to offer. Watch this one at all costs.

JSM@CDS: Phantom Thief 001 Vs. Spiderman

Episode 3: Phantom 001 Vs. Spiderman
MONSTER OF THE WEEK: Machine BEM Genyouchu: He can: Shoot blinding light beams (at night), hypnotize people, go BIG.

In this episode, we learn why it is wrong to steal. It is wrong to steal because if you do, you might get arrested and cry, and then get kidnapped by a bug dude and be hypnotized. When the Phantom Thief "001" (Ishinomori reference?) is caught at last, the dreaded Iron Cross abducts him from the coppers and has their bug eyed Machine BEM Genyouchu brainwash him into believing he is Spiderman. When this Spiderman continues to steal, Takuya his alerted to the Iron Cross Army's latest threat...

There's not so much to say about this episode, really. Its one of the show's most self contained episodes (and this show is really self contained), with a cool bad guy, a great big robot fight, and a nice moral to top it off. The most I can say is that then episode is a lot of fun (as always) and will be enjoyed by fans of silver age comics, namely those Jules Shwartz DC comics where some really weird cases are resolved with some random fact about lime. And a really, really epic fight at the end BTW.

JSM@CDS: A Strange World! A Man Who Follows His Destiny!

Episode 2: A Strange World! A Man Who Follows His Destiny!
MONSTER OF THE WEEK: Machine BEM Soutoukin: He Can: Create powerful blasts of wind (TEEHEE), Turn from a brain-thingie into a grasshopper-thingie, go BIG.

So a train is flipped over by a sudden unexpected burst of wind (heh heh...), killing and injuring many. One survivor claims to have seen something strange outside the train before the accident. Something not human. A giant floating brain with lasers, obviously. Takuya/Spiderman becomes suspicious of the Iron Cross Army having a part in the mysterious circumstances, and investigates with his photographer girlfriend Hitomi (Rika Miura). Plus, big robot action.

The episode stands on its own, but dedicated viewers are in for a treat. We get an expanded origin of Garia, Takuya's alien spider guru, that suitably expands and deepens (well, if you can call a show like this "deep") his background story to resounding effect. Some details are unnecessary and even harmful to the story's integrity (do we really need to know that 400 = 20 in spiderman years?), but in the best cases adds a lot to the story. The crowning achievement of the sequence would be the Garia vs. Professor Monster fight, which, aside from being awesome, gives us some insight into why Monster fears and hates Spiderman so much.

It should also be noted that this episode also probably has one of the best fight scenes of the entire series. Having seen the repetitive stock footage that comprises much of the series, it was a breath of fresh air to see this earlier, better budgeted episode. You have been warned.

JSM@CDS: The Time For Revenge Has Come! Attack The Iron Cross Army!!

Episode 1: The Time For Revenge Has Come! Attack The Iron Cross Army!!
MONSTER OF THE WEEK: Machine BEM Bokunryu: He can: Smash stuff, be a dinosaur, kill Prof. Yamashiro, go BIG.

The first episode of Japanese Spiderman sets up the premise immediately and without a lick of subtlety. Within minutes, the alien spaceship known as Marveller has been psychically crash-landed. Before the ad break, madcap cyclist Takuya Yamashiro's astro-archeologist (?) father looks for said Marveller, and is killed by Professor Monster's robot dinosaur. And after a brief tussle with the bird-like agents of the Iron Cross Army, Takuya meets Garia, the spaceman from the planet Spider, who seeks revenge on the Iron Cross for his planet's destruction, and gives Takuya "the SPIDER EXTRACT!" (plus Marveller/Leopardon) and then becomes a Spider. Cue ad break. After the break it's time for some wacky hero adventure, a la Adam West!

And when I say Adam West, I mean Adam West. The show is goofy, dated, thinly plotted, and completely enthralling. However, the show goes one step ahead of the Batman show, with thorough disrespect for its source material. Whereas Batman worked slavishly to replicate the comics of the time down to the Pows and Bams, Supaidaaman completely ignores its origins, and in my humble opinion, benefits from it. A burglar? Why not a dinosaur instead? Power and responsibility? Try BLOWING UP A DINOSAUR WITH A FREAKING ROBOT SWORD! It may be laziness on the part of the writers and staff, but the ignorance makes the show feel genuinely fresh. I had fun watching this premier episode of Spiderman, I can't imagine anyone who wouldn't, and in the end, that's all that matters.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

JSM@CDS: An Introduction to Supaidaaman

Welcome to Japanese Spider Man at Cat Demon Spirits! For two whole months, I will be blogging nonstop about the japanese live-action tokusatsu (special effects) adaption of Marvel Comics' most famous superhero.

When I started reading comics, I (like pretty much everyone else) devoured the super hero genre. I mostly read Marvel, and there was no comic book hero I liked better than Spider-Man. I didn't just read Spider-Man, I absorbed Spider-Man. I'm not sure how well I'd remember everything as well at this point, but at the time, I could tell you in excruciating detail all every "fact" there was about the spider-verse. Anyway, as a former diehard superhero fan, I can tell you one important fact about super heros: Every super hero is two characters: on one hand you have the costumed hero, the powers, personality, gimmicks, etc. set up by what can sometimes be half a century continuity. Then you have the CHARACTER. The man behind the mask and the world he inhabits, a character that can be changed and interpreted in different ways by any artist, half a century of continuity be damned.

Which is why, sometimes, Spider-Man gets to have a giant robot.

Japanese Spider-Man (Supaidaaman) is a tokusatsu TV show created for Toei's Super Sentai series (actually the second one ever made, and even predates The Power Rangers!) starring Shinji Todo as Spider-Man, and aired on what is now TV Tokyo. The show takes rather massive liberties with the classic Spider-Man storyline, replacing Peter Parker with Takuya Yamashiro, a motorcyclist who seeks revenge (no power/responsibility dynamic here) for the deaths of his father (Fuyuki Murakami) as well as the space alien Garia (Toshiaki Nishizawa, who gives Spider-Man his powers as well as sage advice) at the hands of the evil *cough-Dr. Doom-cough* Professor Monster (Mitsuo Ando) , Amazoness (Yukie Kagawa), and their world-domination plotting Iron Cross Army. In each episode, Takuya/Spiderman encounters some dastardly plot that the Iron Cross Army has cooked up, usually involving their rubber-suit monsters-of-the-week known as Machine BEM (voiced by Shozo Iizuka, Hisako Kyoda, and Shin Aomori, generally appearing in the last five minutes). When the Machine BEM grow big, Spiderman calls upon his transforming ship The Marveller (that's right, MARVELLER), which morphs into a big robot called Leopardon and then the robot blows up the monster. Oh yea.

About three years ago Marvel started putting up episodes of Japanese Spiderman on their official website, around the same time I started reading manga (Okay, I admit it, I'm a bit of a noob). At the time I was mostly reading classics like Phoenix, but for me, Japanese Spiderman was a revelation. It was strange, unique, and by far the most fun I'd had with Spider-Man in ages. It made me want to know what kind of culture could create a show like this, and, well... look at me now! Welcome to JSM@CDS.