The Speed Racer anime: A look back

speed racer anime mach go go goThe Speed Racer anime is special to me. It was one of the first Japanese animated shows that I ever watched. It was appealing because the art style and story telling were different from American cartoons.

Speed Racer was one of the first TV shows that sparked my interest in Japanese animation and eventually the country itself. It’s also one of my guilty pleasures. 

“Mach GoGoGo” becomes Speed Racer

Speed Racer was broadcast in the US in the late 60s and had become one of the first successful Japanese animations to succeed abroad (in the US). It remains famous to this day and you can hear references to the show whenever someone uses the phrase “slow down, Speed Racer”.

There happened to be a renewed interest in the series when it was rebroadcast in the early 90s on the MTV network and later the Cartoon Network. This was how I was first introduced to the series. However, I noticed that none of my peers had ever watched the show and to this day I have never had any friends that are fans. Sad, isn’t it?

Story

speed racer anime charactersThe Speed Racer anime or “Mach GoGoGo” in Japan, is about a young man named…”Speed Racer” that races with his amazing car called the Mach 5. The car itself has lots of tricks and gadgets it can do to help the main characters when they’re in trouble. I like to think of Speed Racer as a simpler version of James Bond, except all of the cool gadgets are rolled into the car itself. The Mach 5 can go under water, jump over stuff, cut through things, drive on any terrain, and send out a homing robot that carries messages.

The storylines the creators were able to do with this setup was simply amazing. They take the main characters all over the world and get them into various situations. I’d liken the story in the Speed Racer anime to adventure comics from the American 1930s through 1950s. Things were simpler back then, but the adventures were so much fun.

speed racer mach 5 carThe Mach 5 car becomes a character and a major part of the show. However, the story is not always about racing, which makes it so interesting. The main character Speed finds himself all over the place, whether it’s in South America helping a sick villager, Japan battling assassins, or in the middle east racing princes.

It’s actually a really colorful show and I think more people would be interested if it was remade using the same art style but with high-quality animation.

The theme song

Most young people today have probably not seen the show, but the theme song is popular enough that I bet many would recognize it. Throughout the English opening, you have the chant “Go Speed Racer, Go!” I loved this song so much that when I discovered the Japanese version, I fell in love with that one too.

Take a look at the English opening for Speed Racer:

Good luck getting that out of your head!

Now let’s compare it to the Japanese opening:

After seeing both openings, which do you prefer more?

When I’m forced to sing karaoke, I enjoy surprising older Japanese businessmen by singing the lyrics to “Mach GoGoGo” and making them feel nostalgic. People my age in Japan usually aren’t familiar with the song.

The Speed Racer anime- Animation Quality

This is probably the biggest complaint people had/have about the show. The animation is very jerky and many times the cars look strange for a few frames. The funny thing is, I never noticed the quality of the animation until watching it again later as an adult. Growing up, I guess I just was really into the adventure and story, so I didn’t notice the animation issues.

Something I like to remind people is this show came out in 1967. An awful lot happened in Japan during and after the second world war. The Speed Racer anime was one of the first serial animated TV shows adapted from a comic book and was considered fine for Japanese TV audiences at the time. You simply can’t compare it to the standards for animation people have today. For all those people that joke about the animation quality in Speed Racer, think about this: the animation may have been low, but there was a lot of action and movements happening. The show usually has a lot going on and can be very entertaining compared to other animated shows at the time.

The English Speed Racer anime problem

In addition to the dated animation, people like to make fun of the very fast and somewhat odd talking style of the characters in the English version. There are many factors behind this, so let’s dig in. First, even in the Japanese version, the characters speak ridiculously fast compared to modern Japanese animated shows today. I’ve had native Japanese speakers watch the original version and they have told me it is too fast.

Another point to consider is syncing the mouth movements of the characters to the recorded audio. In North America, great attention is paid to making sure the audio syncs well with the mouth movements of cartoon characters, but this has not been the case with Japanese animation. Japanese animators would draw and animate the show first and record the audio much later.

When dubbing the show into English, the producers decided that they wanted to try to match the mouth movements as much as possible, resulting in fast English dialogue and sometimes a weird way of speaking.

Did you know?

In the Speed Racer anime, there are many characters that show up throughout the duration of the series. However, the English version of the show was only voiced by three people. Yes, I said THREE people. Two men and one woman.

Anytime you heard a female character on the show, it was that same voice actress. The reason for this was due to budget constraints at the US company doing the dubbing. The higher ups couldn’t see the need for hiring more voice actors, despite the pleas from the main cast asking for more.

Knowing this has changed how I watch the English version of Speed Racer and makes for more appreciation knowing that the cast had to do all they could to make the characters sound different from each other.

Where can I watch the Speed Racer anime?

If you’ve never had a chance to see the show, I recommend you give it a chance. You can find all of the English version online, but only a few Japanese episodes are available to watch online.

You can watch all of the English episodes on YouTube.

Speed Racer English Episodes

A few kind-hearted souls decided to take the Japanese version and translate a few episodes for the curious. You can view them in Japanese audio with English subtitles here:

KissAnime: Mach GoGoGo

 

Final thoughts

That’s a look back at Speed Racer. Have any of you seen the show or read the manga? Let me know what you thought of the show in the comments. If you want to mention the American Speed Racer movie from 2008, that’s okay too!

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