Running Time: 300 minutes
MPAA Rating: G
Format: Standard 4:3
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0
Languages: English
Subtitles: None
Region: 1
MSRP: $19.98

Own It!
Speed Racer - Collector's Edition (1967)

Young Speed Racer, the son of famous racecar designer Pops Racer, is determined to become the greatest racecar driver in the world. His father, however, is dead set against the idea – at least for a couple of episodes. Speed and his car, the Mach 5 – which contains so many high-tech gadgets, James Bond is weeping with envy into his vodka martini – regularly enter the world's most absurdly dangerous races, which are populated by an assortment of the worst villainous scum this side of Mos Eisley. Fortunately for Speed, his little brother Spritle and the tyke's formidable pet monkey Chim-Chim are generally there to save the day.

Speed Racer was the first color anime to play regularly on American TV, and consequently remained a fixture during kiddie-oriented blocks of programming for twenty years. Heck, it even pre-dates the term "anime", or even the 80's neologism "Japanimation". Back in the day, it was just "a Japanese cartoon". It's a rare person who can't sing at least a couple of lines of the catchy theme song.

The original Tatsunoko Productions series was ported over to English in a very short period of time (three days per episode for scripting, one day for voice recording), and you don't have to possess a finely tuned ear to detect that all character voices are provided by a mere four actors. (Cult film fans should note that one of those actors is Jack Curtis, producer/director of The Flesh Eaters.) Though Producer/Scripter Peter Fernandez claims the three days were spent watching cartoon lip movements in an attempt to match words, it doesn't explain why most dialogue tries to fit a Dostoyevsky novel into a single breath – but that's half of the series' charm.

This Artisan disc gathers the first 11 episodes of the series (which ran a total of 52), comprising the first five story arcs:

  • The Great Plan details Pops' leaving the Conglomco Motor Co. to build his dream car, the Mach 5. Of course, his nemesis on the Board wants to steal the plans for Pops' revolutionary new engine, but the clever Pops paints the schematics onto a windshield in ultraviolet ink. Guess who appropriates the windshield so he can take part in a race forbidden him by his father?
  • Challenge of the Masked Racer – probably one of the more famous stories, as it was parodied lovingly in an episode of Dexter's Laboratory. It introduces Racer X – the mysterious masked driver who, unknown to Speed, is actually his older brother Rex Racer, who ran away from home to get away from Pops' anti-racing stance. Racer X will return throughout the series, usually to save Speed's bacon because Spritle is too busy eating candy.
  • The Secret Engine – World's most wanted criminal Tongue Blaggard escapes from prison, determined to find a Model T engine that can lead him to a billion dollars in cash. Speed, of course, gets in the way.
  • The Race Against the Mammoth Car – In a Trans-Continental Race that allows all makes and types of cars, someone enters the Mammoth Car – over 200 yards long and segmented like a railroad train. Sound suspicious? You bet! Especially since 50 million dollars in gold bars has been stolen, and someone has to get those bars out of the country…
  • The Most Dangerous Race – piles absurdity upon absurdity as Speed goes up against The Car Acrobatic Team – yes, they do gymnastics with their cars – in a race so dangerous, the participants might as well set themselves on fire at the starting line and save everyone some time. Adding to the problem: Speed is temporarily blind, but determined to finish the race anyway…

Artisan's Limited Edition tire rubber slipcase is interesting and quite lovely – the colored rubber is especially bright (If you've never seen the case and are scratching your head, only the front panel of the slipcase is rubber – the rest is cardboard). The film elements are themselves in wonderful shape, with vibrant color unfaded by age. Once more, though, the digital clarity reveals imperfections in the animation cels – scratches in the acetate are a particular problem.

The interactive menu seems a bit clunky. Choosing "Episodes" from the Main Menu leads you to a page for each story arc, with an appropriate sound clip from each. Unless you choose "Play All" from the first page, you're going to be dumped out to the same page and sound bite after each episode. And there are no chapter stops within each episode, either.

The extras are lumped under the heading "Speed Racer Files", which leads you to a layout of four file folders. The first, "Production", leads you to brief but informative text pieces on Tatsunoko Productions, U.S. Translation, Theme Song (where you can find a lyric sheet with accompanying song so you can sing along), and profiles of the U.S. Cast.

Mach 5 leads you to an interactive layout of the car's steering wheel – choosing different buttons provides an explanation of the attached gizmo and appropriate sound bite, not to mention a video clip of the gizmo in action.

Villains Gallery is you to a list of the improbably-named bad guys on the disc, with links to scenes of their villainy. Finally Speed Lives On leads to a gallery of a mere five pieces of Speed Racer memorabilia, and Sequels and Spin-offs has only two entries – the 13 episode attempt at a revival in 1993, with accompanying commercial, and only a mention of the award-winning 1996 Volkswagen commercial where Speed has to employ Inspector Detector's Golf GTI to win the race. Frustratingly, the commercial itself is not included, leading one to wonder just who at Volkswagen has never heard the phrase free advertising.

Dr. Freex, 7/5/2003