Sing along, kids!
It’s kind of strange that the 1960s anime would find new life in the 1980s thanks to the in-transition MTV as they slowly left their “Music Television” title behind. Nowadays you wouldn’t see many anime fans the same age I was when this came out checking out older anime, which is too bad given how many great shows have been lost to how people absorb TV now in the binge model. Speed Racer still manages to find fans through American spinoffs and even a remake in the native lands of Japan.
However it’s actually based on a manga series, known in Japan as Mach Go Go Go which was also the name of the original anime. Dubbed by electronics company Trans-Lux, the show was originally produced by legendary studio Tatsunuko. Like many anime today it was based on a manga, in this case by Tatsuo Yoshida. And I’m sure the anime was a faithful adaptation because unlike the West Japan would never make a bad adaptation of a pre-existing comic outside of needing filler so the manga can catch up.
I’m told that crying laughter comes from The Promised Neverland fans. I’ll make it worse. I hear Amazon Studios wants to make an American live-action version…because those always end well.
In 2000 WildStorm, who had started producing their own American Speed Racer stories, started translating the manga. Three stories are published in the first volume, the only one I currently have. It was one of many translations released in English. You all know the story by now, right? Speed Racer wants to be the best race car driver ever, and has a gadget-filled car called the Mach-5 that’s supposed to keep the driver safe but ends up getting used James Bond style to fight assorted villains from criminals to cheating racers. Speed lives with his dad “Pop”, his mom “Mom”, his brother Spritel, and Spritel’s pet chimpanzee Chim-Chim. Yes, Chim-Chim is the actual Japanese name. That’s the one the dubbers went with. Rounding out the cast is Speed’s girlfriend Trixie, the mechanic Sparky, and Racer X (say it with me now…”secretly Speed’s older brother Rex, who ran away from home years ago”) and do you believe it took until today to get the joke? Unless [Rac Er X] was a coincidence and not a clever pun on the dubber’s part.
The collection we’re looking at contains three stories which I’ll do a quick once-over for each.
Speed Racer: The Original Manga volume 1
(originally published by Books Nipon)
WRITER/ARTIST: Tatsuo Yoshida
ENGLISH TRANSLATION: Nat Gertier
ART RETOUCH/LETTERER: Tom B. Long
COLLECTED EDITION DESIGH: Tommy Yune & Amber Bennett
COVER ILLUSTRATION: Tatsuo Yoshida & David Baron (I’m betting Baron just colored some old art he did. Yoshida passed away in 1978.)
Return Of The Malanga
Speed is in the middle of time trials when a mysterious race car, the X-3, interferes. It turns out the car, also known as the Malanga, was forced off the road and the driver killed by the Three Roses Racing team under orders from two officials the X-3 later runs over despite Speed’s attempts to help. The culprit is the late driver’s son, seeking revenge and forcing his sister to help get it. That’s more motivation than we get for why the two officials ordered the Three Roses to kill the X-3’s driver, though given their willingness to kill Speed during the actual race they aren’t exactly good guys. I do wonder why the sound effects aren’t translated and sometimes the dialog is a bit clunky when they had more room for stuff (I also wonder why Uri’s thought balloons are written in a smaller text) but overall a pretty good story.
The Deadly Desert Race
Speed and Trixie arrive in a fictional desert country where they meet the son of a colonel. The jerk is full of himself but his own father wants to get him back to fulfilling his duties. I’m not sure what duties a military leader’s son has since he’s not a prince in this version. Speed is framed for blowing up the not-prince’s car but when he tries to clear himself he gets caught up in a military coup and a race with the jerk who proves to be a cheater too. Basically Speed’s there to save Trixie and the one good Arab in this story outside of the civilians who aren’t even part of that story. And even then Speed nearly runs one over when Trixie finds proof of his innocence. This one frankly isn’t that great a story. I just did a search for the episode and I get the feeling the anime was made so Yoshida had more time to fully tell the story. It feels rushed at points and I can’t really root for anyone.
This Is A Racer’s Soul
Against Pops’ wishes, Speed enters the Eastern Alps Race. Another racer, Lenny Duggary, is preparing to race but for the Alpha Team. Pops tries to talk Speed out of racing, fearing he isn’t ready for such a dangerous race, especially after it’s learned the mysterious Racer X is also entering. Racer X also tries to talk him out of it, which gets Speed mixed up with a plot by the Alpha Team to keep Racer X out of the competition. Spritel and Trixie must save him in time for the race. This is another story that seems a bit short since we don’t know if Lenny was part of the plot, but that’s really the only hiccup. The story itself is quite good, and it seems Mom may suspect who Racer X is. (Guess Queen Marlena was right, a mother knows.) One odd thing is that a previous encounter with Racer X is also mentioned, which may mean this isn’t the third story of the original manga…and yet I checked the anime episode list and this is Racer X’s first appearance. We do learn why Rex originally ran away and we get to see a few more of the Mach-5’s gadgets.
What this book should have started out with, and granted I can’t prove the first episode even has a manga counterpart, is Speed’s origin story. It’s possible the anime changed the story order since this series were mainly done-in-two episodes (mostly two-part stories) and added in an episode but part of me also wonders whether or not WildStorm goofed on this one. Overall it is pretty neat seeing the original Japanese stories but the word balloons are too big (I’ve seen other translated manga work around this, and with less clunky dialog…and also more clunky dialog based on the translations), the sound effects aren’t translated, and by this point manga fans were serious about not flipping the art to a more US style of comic direction so I’m surprised they got away with that. (Personally I prefer it in the direction I’m better acquainted with as an American comic reader, but unflipped was the way to go by this point to the diehard fanbase.) While the art still holds up the writing feels stifled by its limits, and that’s kind of too bad. There’s some good story potential here, as seen in the animated version where they have more time to fully tell the story, but it’s worth checking out for the curiosity factor if nothing else.