What is there to say about Speed Racer that hasn’t been said over the years really? This original Japanese anime series adapted from the 1966 manga was one of the early anime series to reach international success with its American re-edit and English dubbed adaptation by Peter Fernandez. The series, also known as Mach GoGoGo in Japan revolves around automobile racing and a male auto racer named Mifune Toshiro, Americanized to Speed Racer. Long before anyone ever dreamt up Knight Rider, “Speed” was racing around race tracks and other locales in his high-tech super car full of gadgets, the Mach 5, ad taking on other racers like the mysterious Racer X or Fukumen Racer in the original Japanese series (twist identity to be revealed in the 52 episode series) as well as other antagonists like criminals, thugs, gangs, car haters, and even nefarious royals. Speed goes up against these colorful characters and takes to the racetracks with the help of his equally motley collection of friends and family – his girlfriend Trixie (Shimura Michi in Japanese), Sparky (Sabu in Japanese) the mechanic, his dad Pops Racer (Mifune Daisuke in Japanese), a former wrestler-turned racing mechanic, his younger brother Spritle Racer (Mifune Kurio in Japanese) and Spritle’s pet chimpanzee Chim-Chim (Sanpei in Japanese).
The animation style seems less in the stylized Japanese anime style that we are accustomed to today and more in a traditional Western style of animation, not unusual of the period and recognizable to anyone familiar with classic early anime such as Astro Boy or Gatchaman – although the latter would be pushing more toward the break toward a unique Japanese style. However the greatness of Speed Racer was less about the animation style and more that its high-speed antics always seemed grounded in reality. It was about grittiness of the streets, the story of a dysfunctional family and a kid trying to make it in the world by racing his heart out.
The American adaptation didn’t get everything right, but it suited the era for Television stateside at the time. Unfortunately, this new set from Funimation doesn’t rectify a need by otaku and even more casual anime fans to have an American release on Blu-ray of the original Japanese version of the series, despite the mislabeling on the back of the packaging that Japanese audio is available on the set – it isn’t. We get the same American version of the series that many people here grew up watching Saturday mornings or, in my case, weekdays as I got ready for school. I was hoping for a Gatchaman-style complete original series, but this isn’t it.
The 1080p AVC encodement framed at the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio looks beautiful considering the series’ 1960s vintage and, obviously, that it was done on film. It retains a filmic quality and has a textured layer of grain with little source damage to get in the way of what is a nicely saturated image with crisp detail.
Well, despite the listing on the back of the package, there is no Japanese audio on this, only the English dub and that makes sense because this set only includes the American re-edit from the Peter Fernandez adaptation. It’s included in a competent Dolby TrueHD 2.0 monaural track that is clean, but don’t expect the sort of dynamics you’d get from a contemporary audio track.
This Speed Racer collection comes with zip, zilch, nada. Not a clean opening or closing animation, not an interview or character sketch gallery, not even a trailer, not counting the opening Funimation trailer promos on each disc. If you’d like to see some ‘extras’ check out our gallery for some stills, character sketches, and logos courtesy of Tatsunoko Productions and Funimation Entertainment.
The Final Assessment
Speed Racer looks and sounds good for a 1967 series done on film and the casual anime fan who remembers this series from their youth or even those who caught it when MTV briefly resurrected it in the ‘90s, probably owing to Matthew Sweet’s video, will have no qualms with this collection. For the rest of us, this set can’t help but feel like a let down. There are no extras and the American re-edit with the English dub remains the only available official version on Blu-ray here with the release of this long-awaited collection.
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