Mach Go Go Go (which translates from Japanese to Mach Five Five Five) went from being a moderately successful hit ‘toon show in Japan to being the beloved and maladroitly dubbed cult favorite Speed Racer in late ‘60s America. The show detailed the ever-more-desperate beginnings of Speed Racer’s car racing career and the familial dispute it causes, especially with his violent-tempered car designer Pops, who’s also an ex-wrestler. It’s anyone’s guess whether people responded to the show for its vaguely futuristic, Hanna-Barbara spin on Japanimation (the sleek Mach 5 racing car, the chic hero and the never-endding stable of heavies) or for its spectacularly Batman-like camp aesthetic (such as the monotone narrator repeating show after show the true identity of the aloof Racer X, “secretly Speed’s older brother,” like a glitched-out Walter Cronkite). Now that the show’s fanbase is all grown up (or “little boys in big boy clothes,” to put it equitably), now it’s mostly the latter. Artisan Entertainment’s limited DVD release of the first 11 episodes (rumor has it that a set of the entire 52 episode series is possibly in the works) offers a whole smorgasbord of “ordinary hero” camp. Though apparently blessed with innate driving talent, Speed is consistently grounded by both stupid driving errors as well as his rag-tag posse, including his red clog and Capri-wearing mechanic Sparky and his self-deprecating girlfriend Trixie (when everyone pitches in to help Speed make a race deadline, she comments with no apparent sense of irony, “Even I’ll do something to help out!”). Rounding out the crew are Speed’s grating and candy-grubbing little brother Spritle and his pet monkey Chim Chim, who provide the show with its slapstick quota… that is, when the contrived villains aren’t tripping over their own feet. Never a show to push the dramatic pressure too harshly (it’s definitely taken for granted that each successive race is labeled by the narrator as “Speed’s most difficult race yet”), it has to be noted that Speed Racer has a higher body count from car crashes and explosions than I-95.
Unlike subsequent Japanimation, and unlike the work of Chuck Jones, Speed Racer's animation was less about the juxtaposition of still-life images with explosions of blink-and-miss-it motion as it was about still-life against still-motion. Even when the cars are racing at 300 mph it looks more like 55. About the most innovative animation came at the tail end of the show opening, when Speed jumps out of the car and the camera pivots around the freeze, which predicts The Matrix's bullet-time ballet by three decades. So, the chintz prevails and Artisan's transfers are damningly faithful. Specs on various animated cels betray the lack of motion between the Mach 5 foreground and the looping backgrounds. But, for what they had to work with, it's a remarkably vibrant job. The sound is even more distorted, especially Spritle's sandpaper vocals. The Dolby monaural is probably as allegiant as the video transfer, but a wholesale remastering was perhaps the preferred route here.
In the format of a filing system, Artisan has provided a modest collection of text and photo supplements that detail a Cliffs Notes version of Speed Racer's production history, with sections on Tatsunoko Productions, the English translations, the American vocal talent, and the origin of the classic theme song (the original version was deemed too militaristic and was replaced by the peppy, upbeat ditty familiar to most of the Gen-X set). Short but sweet, the notes are rife with surprising tidbits (such as the discovery that Corinne Orr, who plays Trixie, Spritle and Mom Racer on the show, also provided the Snuggle Bear with its cooing cords). Less text-centric but also less meaningful are the villains' gallery (which has snips of each in action) and the Mach 5 demonstration, which is a good deal less interactive than one would hope. Lastly, clips from the 1993 New Adventures of Speed Racer are there for anyone who needs them.
Fans will be happy just to have anything from the original series on DVD, and the "limited edition" cachet is simply fanboy gravy.