Image C Sound C Extras C+
"The Great Plan, Parts 1 & 2", "Challenge of the Masked Racer, Parts 1 & 2", "The Secret Engine, Parts 1 & 2", "The Race Against the Mammoth Car, Parts 1 & 2", "The Most Dangerous Race, Parts 1, 2 & 3"
by Bill Chambers The theme song says he's a demon on wheels, and in one traumatizing, out-of-step dream sequence, Trixie, Speed Racer's Girl Friday, meets a version of Speed Racer with a face like the Green Goblin's and scaly arms capable of summoning hellfire. Unmotivated by anything other than the fact that Trixie has fallen asleep, the scene embodies half the charm of the Americanized "Speed Racer": we're only given exposition if it matches the lip movements mapped out for the original Japanese scripts, leading to dialogue so profoundly aimless (but synchronized!) that US producer and former child model turned dubbing impresario Peter Fernandez should've called his version of the show "Samuel Beckett's Speed Racer". While the narration occasionally attempts to bridge story points A and C (with B either overdubbed into oblivion or lying on a cutting-room floor somewhere), for the most part it refamiliarizes us ad nauseam with the origin of Racer X, Speed's-older-brother-who-ran-away-from-home-when-he-crashed-Pops'-racecar-and-now-wears-a-facemask-to-conceal-his-true-identity.
Always lovable, "Speed Racer" is stupid, innocuous fun (I laughed at every single instance of a character ostensibly jumping to safety out a closed window, which happens a minimum of once per episode), but there are times when it's too stupid and too innocuous--when it's just shit, though diplomatic immunity is granted any scene featuring Speed's little brother Spritle and Spritle's pet monkey, Chim Chim. Both adorned in swirl yarmulkes that would better suit a somnambulist, the iconic twosome, for reasons unclear, often risk life and limb not only by stowing away in the trunk of Speed's car prior to one of his invariably violent races, but also by popping up mid-race for the sole purpose of making antagonizing funny-faces at the bad guys pulling up the rear.
Even "Scooby-Doo" never had a plothole as big as the one found in the second half of "Challenge of the Masked Racer" ("Speed Racer" is compulsively serialized, composed of two- and three-parters), in which Racer X--then simply the titular Masked Racer--sighs that he hopes to someday race his talented bro Speed--after he and Speed have already done 50 or 60 laps against each other in a torrential rainstorm! One is also left to speculate whether Speed's asexuality is a Japanese cultural by-product, as I hadn't figured out before reading the specs at the official "Speed Racer" website that Trixie and Speed's relationship is more than platonic. On the other hand, Speed sure loves his car (the fabled, all-purpose Mach 5), so maybe he's not so different from most gearhead jocks.
For the show's DVD debut, Artisan has "digitally remastered" all eleven 24-minute segments that constitute the first American season of "Speed Racer". The results are less-than-miraculous: the fullscreen video is blurry (especially during the opening and closing title sequences) and there are after-effects that possibly date back to the initial conversion of the source material for US broadcast. Still, for second-generation Sixties anime, it doesn't look any worse than you'd imagine. The Dolby 2.0 mono sound on this disc preserves the experience of watching the cartoon in first-run by being dedicatedly flat.
The text-based extras--collectively known as "The Speed Racer Files"--are enjoyable reading, beginning with "Production" notes that retrace the humble beginnings of the series at Tatsunoko Studios (and even include a sing-along of the insidious title ditty) and continuing on through plans for the Mach 5, a gallery of mugshots and bios for Speed's enemies, and an overview of "Speed Racer" spin-offs and merchandise. The "Limited Edition" slipcover features real rubber tire on one side bearing a design that flakes if you stack other DVDs atop it, something I learned the hard way. Given that there are only two seasons, it seems like Artisan shot its wad with this cool packaging, which would've been better suited to the complete series.
24 minutes/episode; NR; 1.33:1; English DD 2.0 (Mono); CC; DVD-9; Region One; Artisan