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Category:    Home > Reviews > Animation > Action > Adventure > Automobiles > Cars > Animé TV > Speed Racer – Volumes 1 – 5 (Original 1967 - 1968 Animated TV Series)

Speed Racer – Volumes 1 – 5 (Original 1967 - 1968 Animated TV Series)


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: C+     Episodes: B+



One of the all-time animated classics is the TV series that put Japanese Animé on the map.  At a time when Hollywood was in a mixed cycle of films centered around racing cars that did not always work, Speed Racer (along with Ultraman, reviewed elsewhere on this site) joined Toho’s giant monster films and the Samurai cycle a full blown renaissance of Japan by jumping into the Pop Culture scene.  Created by Tatsuo Yoshida, the show had the charm and chemistry of the best animated series form anywhere else in the world and along with Hanna-Barbera’s original Jonny Quest took their cues from James Bond and the Spy Craze that went with it to launch a whole new cycle of action animation.


In some ways, this took a while to catch on, but catch on it did.  This show was syndicated well into the early 1980s and gained fans wherever it was shown.  The show is about the Racer Family, led by Pops, a major racer in his time who is now a groundbreaking designer in the auto business.  Assisted by young apprentice Sparky, they continue to build all kinds of gadgets and other designs, but the main focus is on the race car The Mach 5.


Though street legal, the car is also designed to enter professional races (we never do see them tweak it for the purpose of track use) as handled by Pop’s younger son Speed.  Originally, Pops wanted his older son Rex to handle the car, but an ugly falling out drove Rex to leave and he has been estranged form his father and the whole family ever since.  He has not contacted them since either, but it turns out he joined the Secret Service (Japanese, English or otherwise, depending on what translation you are watching) and is also the true identity of Racer X.  X is one of Speed’s biggest rivals, but X has planned this as a diversion to hide his identity and keeps his eye on the family as they cross every madman and enemy agent camp around.


Joining Speed is his girlfriend Trixie, younger brother Sprytle and his pet Chimchim.  Trixie is supportive and able-bodied in interesting ways, Sprytle has a weight problem and cannot stop eating every fattening goodie he can find.  Chimchim is very smart, but also eats too much (is that animal abuse?) and the two are always showing up where they should not by sneaking around.


The scripts are very smart for their time, especially for a show aimed at children, and the Mach 5 is as much of a star as any of the characters.  There is a real love of cars on the show that is unmistakable and thorough throughout.  Also great are American voice actors Corinne Orr, Jack Grimes, Peter Fernandez and Jack Curtis, who voiced the original live action Ultraman at the same time for U.S. TV.  The work they did on these two shows is some of the most important in animation history.  Known for fast-talking, overdramatic heightened punctuation and classics “awes of shock” that are the audio signature of the show even above sound effects.


The art design for the show is classic and use of color underappreciated, but it is the moral center of Speed doing the best possible thing in any situation.  He is surrounded by not just his family, but a core of very upstanding, moral people who are ever appealing and is the reason this show inspires so much love and loyalty among fans.  “Speed Racer Nation” is larger than you might ever expect.


Now to the sets.  It would be nice if all five of them had the correct broadcast/production order, but only the first two do.  What follows is the full original broadcast order of the 52 shows that were made is, with notes about each title where applicable:


1)     The Great Plan (2 parts)

2)     Challenge Of The Masked Racer (2 parts)

3)     The Secret Engine (2 parts)

4)     The Race Against The Mammoth Car (2 parts)

5)     The Most Dangerous Race (3 parts) [end Set One]

6)     Race For Revenge (2 parts)

7)     The Desperate Desert Race (2 parts)

8)     The Fire Race (2 parts)

9)     Girl Daredevil (2 parts)

10)  The Fastest Car On Earth (2 parts)

11)  Mach Five vs. Mach Five (2 parts) [end Set Two]

12)  The Royal Racer (2 parts)

13)  The Car Hater

14)  The Terrifying Gambler

15)  The Race Against Time (2 parts)

16)  The Snake Track

17)  The Man On The Lam

18)  Gang Of Assassins (2 parts)

19)  The Race For Life

20)  The Supersonic Car

21)  Crash In The Jungle (2 parts)

22)  The Secret Invaders (2 parts)

23)  The Man Behind The Mask

24)  The Car Destroyer

25)  The Desperate Racer

26)  The Dangerous Witness

27)  Race The Laser Tank

28)  The Great Car Wrestling Match

29)  Motorcycle Apaches

30)  Car With A Brain

31)  Junk Car Grand Prix

32)  The Car In The Sky

33)  The Trick Race

34)  Race Around the World (2 parts)



Oddly, the last three volumes do not stick with the original episode order, opting instead for this arrangement:


Set 3

     The Royal Racer (2 parts)
     The Car Hater
     The Race Against Time (2 parts)
     The Snake Track
     The Man On The Lam
     Gang Of The Assassins (2 parts)
     The Race for Life
     The Supersonic Car
     Crash In The Jungle (2 parts)


Set 4

     The Terrifying Gambler
     The Secret Invaders (2 parts)
     Man Behind the Mask
     The Car Destroyer
     The Desperate Racer
     The Dangerous Witness
     Race The Laser Tank


Set 5

     Great Car Wrestling Match
     Motorcycle Apaches
     Car With A Brain
     Junk Car Grand Prix
     The Car In The Sky
     The Trick Race
     Race Around The World (2 parts)



The 1.33 X 1 image is good and consistent throughout, but these are transfers from the 1993 that add a newer logo to the beginning credits and mutilate the animation definition and detail of the end credits.  How ugly!  However, there will be digital High Definition versions sooner or later and these issues will be fixed.  Maybe the new logo will look better and make more sense coming out of the tire.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono sound is good for its age and only the original English translations fans grew up on are present.  Also, the music and those sound effects are iconic.  Love the monophonic echoes and the use of Jazz and xylophone in particular is the most underrated and groundbreaking element of the series.


Extras are unusual for this series.  DVD Set 1 has the most to offer, including a limited-edition "rubber tire" packaging if you get it in time, info about Tatsunoko Productions, U.S. translation notes, theme song info and lyrics, biographies of U.S. voice cast, Interactive Mach 5, villains gallery, clip from remarkably awful The New Adventures of Speed Racer (1993) and a merchandise gallery.  Other limited edition goodies include DVD Set 2 playing the theme from the show and having headlights that light up, DVD Set 3’s steering wheel packaging, DVD Set 4’s diecast Mach 5 and DVD Set 5’s mini-license plate inside the front paperboard packaging.


Now the series is totally available, but you can be certain fans be wanting Blu-ray versions and don’t be surprised if it is one of the first classic animated shows to get that HD treatment.  Recently, a whole new cycle of product licensing has arrived for the original show, including a slot race set that was discontinued prematurely for legal reasons.  However, this original show remains a classic and will always be the granddaddy of all Animé shows.  Good thing it holds up so tremendously well, especially against so many later shows in the genre.


So is Speed Racer coming back?  Besides the failed animated revival, there have been plans for a few years over at Warner Bros. to do a live action feature film of the series.  Earlier, the casting considered was rumored to be Johnny Depp as Speed and Nicolas Cage as Racer X, but that fell through.  Now, Warner has announced in an interesting surprise that The Wachowski Brothers of Matrix and V For Vendetta fame will make the feature film version of Speed Racer.  This should be very interesting.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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