Artisan // 1966 // 262 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Mike Pinsky (Retired) // October 28th, 2003
"Adventure's waitin' just aheeeeeeead..." -- Theme Song
Speed Racer was one of my first childhood heroes. I thrilled to every leap, hissed at every villain, and cringed every time his sugar-addled sibling and that damned monkey climbed in the trunk of the car. Only in Speed's world could people talk breathlessly, without any punctuation or vocal inflection. Only there could they have names like "Ace Deucy" or "Inspector Detector." I was dimly aware, from the end credits, that the show came from Japan, which explained why some details of the show never made any sense. Why did Speed have a G on his shirt? I did not know then that his real name was Go Mifune. Speed Racer was just a stage name for American television. But nothing could ever explain his jaunty cravat.
Artisan tries to jump start my memories of childhood, and that of plenty of other kids who grew up in the early '70s, by packaging the first 11 episodes of the primordial anime classic Speed Racer in a "collector's edition" DVD with tire-rubber glued on the front of the case. Every smudge of the animation cels, every continuity error and anatomical horror is visible just as they were back in the days when we did not care. Back then, we just wanted to see cars crash (no fooling us kids -- we knew those drivers were dead) and Speed win the big race. And if we were lucky, Spritle and Chim Chim might be run over by a truck.
Most Speed Racer stories were told in several parts. The pilot episode, the two-part "The Great Plan," details how maverick car designer Pops Racer built the Mach 5, hiding his secret engine plans in the windshield. Of course, young Speed goes against Pop's orders and enters the car in the Sword Mountain Race. Most of the Mach 5 gadgets are already in place for the race. But explain this to me: why is the airtight cockpit seal button completely separate from the button that activates the cockpit oxygen pump? Would you ever use one without the other?
Speed's long lost brother Rex is introduced in "Challenge of the Masked Racer." Thereafter, every time Racer X was on screen in the show, the narrator would remind us that he was Rex, except for those times when Rex would muse to himself how he was Speed's brother. I think even Leonard Shelby in Memento could keep track of that little tidbit. In "The Secret Engine," a crazy old coot with a Model T and a disturbingly large number of adopted children becomes a target for Tongue Blaggard and his dangerous gang of motorcycle thugs. This episode does not feature very much auto-wrecking action, and subsequently is rather a disappointment.
"Race Against the Mammoth Car" is pretty much a non-stop car chase, though, interrupted only briefly by -- brace yourself -- a mine car race. Inspector Detector (who was obviously destined for police work, even though he never seems very good at finding crooks without Speed's help) is searching for millions in stolen gold. Think it is hidden in that 200-yard long car that just entered the race?
This first collection of Speed Racer episodes winds up with a three-parter, "The Most Dangerous Race," in which Speed tangles with the Car Acrobatic Team, and Spritle and Chim Chim inexplicably dress up as fin de siècle German aristocrats to go on a spying mission.
In spite of the fancy packaging, Artisan makes only a half-hearted effort with supplements: only a set of text files with cursory information on the original Japanese Mach Go Go Go (but no clips for comparison) and the American production teams, some redundant displays about the Mach 5 and the villains, and the paralyzingly awful theme song from the 1993 update of the show (but no clips from the 1997 version that aired only in Japan). I suspect that the dated look of the show is not likely to pick up any new fans, and original fans may be horrified at what they thought was cool in their youth (my wife, for instance, insisted I turn the DVD off). But if you still have fond memories of Speed Racer, this DVD is a great bargain. And every kid needs to learn the theme song. Go Speed Racer! Go Speed Racer! Go Speed Racer Go!
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 262 Minutes
Release Year: 1966
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Speed Racer Files