Marvel and Sony just announced that Tom Holland will be the next Spider-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, news which comes on the heels of a leaked Sony memo specifying that Spider-Man must be white and straight. But anyone who’s upset should know that a previous incarnation of Spider-Man was actually a Japanese role played by Shinji Todō.
Who’s Shinji Todō? Let us explain. He’s a Japanese actor who’s been in a lot of action series, he’s still acting and did a pretty good job playing the web-slinger.
That’s right, in 1978, Toei — the studio best known for Kamen Rider and Ninja Sentai Kakuranger, the show that was re-edited into Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers — made its first series from their deal with Marvel allowing the two companies to use each other’s intellectual property. Toei was originally going to use Spider-Man as a supporting character in a series starring the unstuck-in-time 12th Emperor of Japan.
Somehow, Toei decided a series about a time-travelling emperor might be a harder sell than a show starring Spider-Man (I know, weird, right?). The Spider-Man in Toei’s show, though, is not Peter Parker, nor is there a radioactive spider. Instead, Takuya Yamashiro is a motorcycle racer who sees a UFO. He checks it out and discovers the ship Marveller from the planet Spider.
The ship contains the last surviving Spiderianite warrior, Garia. Garia explains that their world was destroyed by the evil Professor Monster. Needing help against Professor Monster, Garia injects Yamashiro with Garia’s own blood, giving him spider powers… and the control of Marveller which, as it turns out, can also turn into a giant robot named Leopardon.
Kidding aside, this was actually an influential show. This was Toei’s first live-action show involving a giant robot, which led to their Super Sentai series, which in turn led to Power Rangers.
The show is also canon. Takuya Yamashiro appeared in the Marvel 2014 Spider-Verse comic book event. In fact, on the original DVD release, none other than Stan Lee himself praised the series, particularly Todō’s spider-like movements and Leopardon. Toei even invited Lee to work with them on a new series with Lee doing the storyline, but sadly that never came to pass.
Happily, Toei’s Spider-Man has not been forgotten. Marvel has put a couple of subtitled episodes online, and the show is a plot element in Ernest Cline’s cult geek novel Ready Player One… with Steven Spielberg set to direct the film adaptation. We may get to see Leopardon on the big screen yet!