Introduction and Foreward
Speed Racer was a unique series to watch and listen to. It was reminiscent of a Disney feature film and highly artistic in nature. The camera angles, plots, visual and sound effects and the overall realistic appearance was far superior to American cartoons. The attention to detail was excellent and surpassed the American cartoons by a big margin. There were many camera angles used that were reminiscent of Hitchcock's filming techniques to achieve a dramatic effect. There was no silly music or laugh track in the background. Rather, the exotic, exciting and martial-sounding thematic music was used to accentuate the overall cinematic experience.
The attention paid to the scenery in the series was unique. The sun sparkling on the ocean, the reflection of the sky on a lake, the sea gulls flying close to the Mach Five. Who could forget when Speed drove to the Acropolis in the final episode? Or when the Mammoth Car melted, revealing that it was made of pure gold? And when Speed and Racer X drove right through the skeleton of a giant dinosaur in the mountains of Kapetapek?
The mountain scenery was highly detailed in any episode it was seen in. The rain and snowfall was seen and looked so real. The rising sun would cast its light and shadows on the snow-capped mountains that was seen in the Great Alpine Race. The deserts of Sandoland and the Sahara were ablaze from the hot sun, without any water and there was no relief in sight. The desert in Arizona wasn't as severe, but was full of deadly automobile and motorcycle bandits that ruled its barren wastelands.
The dense jungles of Africa and South America were full of intricate details. The animals that inhabited the regions were so realistic in appearance. Even the fish that lived in the oceans were very lifelike. Many of the creatures were given the cute and wide-eyed look with the smile. The mother hippo and her babies enjoying themselves in a pool of water. The deer and wildlife that populated the flatlands. However, there were monster-sized gorillas that could instill the fear in a child, who was viewing a particular show.
The characters in Speed Racer were very important and good family members. The audience at home could identify and care about them. Speed would never instigate a fight, but when attacked, he would defend himself. He would stand up for anything he believed that was the right thing to do. He and the other characters were just as real as we are. A venerable and genuine bond was felt with Speed and the good qualities of those who were around him. What child didn't want to be a secert agent, a race car driver or helicopter pilot?
Yet another important factor in Speed Racer was that its stories were juxtaposed with morality and the lessons of life that were an integral to it. The villains and their cohorts were evil people who set out to do harm to the good people. The bad guys paid the price to the fullest extent in every episode. The topic of good and evil was defined in every storyline. Speed was the first young man in filmed television who was given power on a realistic level, but he wasn't a superhero.
Themes were explored such as honesty, courage, trust, selflessness and friendship, along with the intentions of the greedy, evil, unscrupulous and selfish individuals in every storyline. While the good series contained excessive violence, it was created for a constructive purpose. Sadly, there were parents of the 60's and 70's, who didn't allow their little children to watch the show, but there were just as many parents who did allow their childern to watch the show. The story settings took place in exotic locales, with intrigue, excitement and fast racing cars. What little boy or girl didn't want to become part of this? In a sense, Speed Racer was created by the children of America. It became a cult hit and later, a worldwide phenomenon.
Speed Racer was created in 1966 by Tatsuo Yoshida. The original name of the anime series was Mach Go Go Go, which centered on car racing. The show was an early example of Japanese manga that was carried over to anime which became a successful franchise in North America. The concept, characters and stories originated in Japan from the anime studio known as Tatsunoko Productions. In 1967, it came to the United States for television syndication, but that was only the first step in what is known as Speed Racer.
The pivotal character was a young race car driver named Go Mifune (Speed Racer). Tatsuo Yoshida was careful with the naming and symbolism in his creation. The large red M on the hood of the Mach 5, was assumed by U.S. viewers to stand for the Mach 5. In reality, it is the emblem for Mifune Motors, the family business. The same can be said of the M on Go's helmet. This was a homage to Japanese movie actor, Toshiro Mifune.
His first name is Go, which is a Japanese homophone for the number 5 on his car. It can also be observed by the yellow letter G that is stitched on his blue shirt. The name of the series, Mach Go Go Go represents a triple meaning of the number 5; it stands for the main character and the word "go" stands for his car, "Mach-go", that would be called the Mach 5 in the U.S. version, and the show's main title, "Mach-go, Go Mifune, Go!" The names represent the multi-lingual wordplay of this kind that started to became part of the Japanese popular culture at the time.
Tatsuo Yoshida was born in Kyoto, Japan on March 4, 1932 (he died of liver cancer in 1977). His brothers, Kenji, born in 1935, and Toyoharu Yoshida, born in 1940, and the trio founded Tatsunoko Productions Company in 1962, based in Tokyo. The Yoshidas were among the founding pioneers who created Japanese animation. Tatsunoko in Japanese means "seahorse," with the allusion to the studio's cartoon seahorse emblem that can be seen in certain episodes of Mach Go Go Go, which includes episodes 2 and 26 of the series.
Tatsuo was a self-taught comic artist and was living in Kyoto. He was employed at a local publisher as an illustrator. In 1954, he and his wife moved to Tokyo, so he could find better employment in the big city. He didn't make a fortune of wealth illustrating the children's magazines, but created his first manga series that was titled Tetsuwan Rikiya and Champion-Ta that was about the sport of prowrestling. He became well-known in the comic industry in light of this stepping stone in his early career. His younger brother, Toyoharu Yoshida (Ippei Kuri) joined him the following year to serve as his assistant.
"Before I joined him, however, I was already burning with the desire to become a cartoonist. During my youth in Kyoto, I puchased a few secondhand American comic books which had been discarded by the U.S. occupation forces. I was overwhelmed and strongly influenced by the character Superman- his robust physique and his macho appearance. In contrast, at the time, Japanese comic books were amateurish. I longed to design in the realistic style of the Americans."
But even with Tatsuo as his teacher, his own drawings looked identical to those of his older brother. To set aside confusion, he adopted the name of Ippei Kuri that he would go by. It was 1956 and Ippei made a deal with Shimamura Publishing to release his first manga, Abarei-Tengu, that was a Pacific War-themed series. He followed up with Z-Boy, Mach Sanshiro, Missile Kintaro and Ohzora Eh No Chikai. Ippei's luck came to fruition when Z-Boy caught the attention of Shueisha publishing company and they published the series as a monthly serial in their magazine.
Ippei had greater plans and he spoke with Tatsuo about creating their own animation studio. Tatuso agreed with Ippei's desire and Tatsunoko Productions Company Ltd., was born in 1962. They attempted to make Z-Boy an animated television series and were under contract with Toei Films, but their contract went bad and they were let go. The Yoshida brothers decided it would be a better idea to go into the business for
themselves. They placed advertisements in the newpapers and compiled a great team of highly skilled artists and animators in the homeland.
Their first animated television series was called Uchu Ace (Space Ace), but it didn't find the marketplace to make a good deal of profits. The first episode was finished and they had no sponsor, so they had to finance the production of Space Ace with their own money and had no choice but to borrow money using their own home and property as collateral. To keep the cash flow coming, they kept working on comics for local magazines. Some time later, the Yoshidas almost went bankrupt and they received word that Fuji television would broadcast their series.
Space Ace made its debut in May 1965 on Fuji TV. The fifty-two black and white 30-minute episodes were broadcast weekly on Channel 8, Fuji TV, with the final airing in April 1966. Tatsunoko was now ready to make their second series and it would be filmed and broadcast in color. He gave it the title of Mach Go Go Go. Just as with Space Ace, the production would be fifty-two episodes (the majority are two-part serials), aired weekly at 6:30 pm with the pilot episode telecast on April 2, 1967.
Mach Go Go Go was originally created as a series of manga created by Tatsuo in June of 1966, by Sun Publishing. The series was published for two years until May of 1968. Every story filmed in the 52-episode series was based on the manga series which was published during that time. The Mach Five was destroyed at least once and had to be completely rebuilt in the manga.
The trend in 1966 for Japanese television was to adapt a successful manga series and carry it over to an animated program. This practice had been used for manga such as Astro Boy, Gigantor and Eighth Man. Yoshida had conceived Mach Go Go Go initially as a cartoon, but he was forced to publish the story as a comic first. The idea of plugging the anime adaptation "based on the popular manga," Yoshida did exactly what the other comic artists had done to get their manga series on television.
Middle brother, Kenji Yoshida recalled, "Not many people know this, but the 'Mach Go Go Go' manga is based on another of my brother's manga called 'Pilot Ace.' It was also about a car, and the characters were similar to those in Mach Go Go Go. The 'Mach Go Go Go' manga was well receieved and we decided to adopt it for television. Also, at the time, auto racing was pretty popular in Japan."
Tatsunoko teamed up with an agency by the name of Yumiko Productions and they served as an agency as the series went into pre-production with Channel 4, Nippon TV in 1966. "We did all kinds of color testing," Kenji recalls. We weren't sure if we were going to produce the show in black and white or color. Only a third of the people had color TV. And the color was not as good as it is today, so we took a lot of time testing. All of a sudden, our agent said that we changed TV stations to Channel 8, Fuji TV, and they agreed to pay for the show. Oftentimes an episode wasn't completed until the day before air."
Many of the story settings in Mach Go Go Go were set in exotic locales around the world. There were places such as South America, England, Africa, Russia, France, China, Antartica, United States, Canada, and the Middle East that were written into the stories. This allowed a wide variety of action and adventures for the series. And it's also part of the Japanese history at the time the series was made.
In the 1960's, Japan's post-war economy was at its peak, spurred partly by United States investment, but mainly was due to the government's economic intervention with their Ministry of International Trade and Industry. Heavy industrailization and over-loaning to conglomerates, increases in stock dividends and trade liberalization were all major factors in this miracle to the Japanese economy.
In 1965, Japan's GDP was estimated at just over $91 billion dollars. The economic growth quickly expanded the government's infrastructure by building highways, subways, high-speed railways, airports and dock facilities on the coastline. The people of Japan were ready to board a jet or ship and explore foreign lands far outside their own. Tatsuo Yoshida was very smart to add the element into the stories of Mach Go Go Go, so it would spur worldwide travel for the people of Tokyo who were finally able to do so.
The race track and grandstands seen in Mach Go Go Go were another staple that was created for the look in the series. In one race, Go Mifune is competing for the trophy at the Fujiyama Grand Prix in Japan. In reality, no such race track existed in the homeland. It was Yoshida's way of adding the Fuji Speedway into the series. A race track was needed to study for the animators to illustrate in the program. In the fall of 1965, the Fuji Speedway opened less than a year before Mach Go Go Go was conceived.
Fuji Speedway is a race track that was built in the lush foothills below Mount Fuji, Oyama, Japan. Speedway Corporation was established as Japan NASCAR Corporation in 1963. The track was originally made to be a 2.5 mile high-banked speedway, but there wasn't enough money to complete the project. Only one of the bankings was completed on the track and in October of 1965, Mitsubishi Estate Company invested in the circuit and took over management rights.
They converted it to a road course and the circuit opened in December of 1965. It proved to be particularly dangerous with a banked turn that resulted in accidents on a routine basis A new section of the track was constructed to prevent the problem and it provided to be successful with the course now at 2.7 miles to race on. In 1976, the first Formula One race took place in Japan at the end of the season.
Mach Go Go Go didn't turn out to be a big hit series, but it achieved good popularity. There weren't that many cartoons on the air at the time and animation was new, so the audience watched. Perhaps the series was too American for the Japanese viewers and it didn't find a place in their hearts as The Adventures of Hutch, The Honeybee had done. But the series attained success for a toy deal that placed the Mach Go Go Go model kit in second place to the best-seller model kit of the Ford Thunderbird.
In the spring of 1967, the North American rights to Mach Go Go Go were acquired by Trans-Lux Corporation in New York. They knew the Japanese series had potential for the U.S. audiences, so they contacted Zavala-Riss to work on the editing. Peter Fernandez was working for Titra Studios at the time. For the new adaptation, Trans-Lux instructed him to "Americanize" the series. Peter had to retranslate the Japanese scripts into English, but their quality was poor. He was given free reign to rename the characters, episode titles and anything else in the adaptation. The one thing he didn't have to rename was the Mach. He added in the number 5 on the side of the car and you have Mach 5.
Peter was no stranger to Japanese anime series. He had previously worked translating the scripts from Astro Boy and Gigantor into English for U.S. syndication. In Mach Go Go Go, the image of Go Mifune's family was based on the stereotypical U.S. family. He also benefited from the Western style atmosphere in Mach Go Go Go, that inspired Tatsuo Yoshida and his brothers when they enjoyed reading American comics in their youth.
Peter was a highly skilled voice actor and provided the voices for Speed and Racer X. He needed a cast of six voice actors. There was a young lead, his girlfriend, his friend the mechanic, a little boy, the monkey, his father, a narrator, the villains and everyone else. Zavala-Riss told Peter he could hire only three voice actors because that's all the budget would allow. Peter renamed Mach Go Go Go to Speed Racer. The name was catchy and sounded good. His three co-stars that he hired were Jack Grimes, Corinne Orr and Jack Curtis. The quartet had worked with each other in the past and were all good friends.
The working situation was a monumental job for Peter and the voice cast. Peter told Shelly Riss it would take at least two days to write one episode and at least one day in the studio to direct it. Riss told him that each episode had to take no more than one studio day. That's all the budget could afford.
Zavala-Riss had a second series, Marine Boy, on the production line. Peter and the voice cast had to work on this show while they were preparing Speed Racer. For this series, the voice dubbing was recorded first and the tracks would be flown to Japan to be added to the animation. This procedure was done opposite from how Speed Racer was made. Tatsunoko Productions would take the 35mm negatives and reprint them on 16mm interpositives that were flown to Zavala-Riss on a monthly basis in 1967. The film editing of the series was applied lightly for time and content.
The majority of Mach Go Go Go episodes were left in their original form when
Zavala-Riss was working on the editing in 1967. A minor amount of episodes had
light editing applied for time and content. Things like excessive and fatal car
crashes were edited out in some cases and in a given episode, a driver's arms
and legs would get blown off when the car exploded. In another example, a mucous
bubble would be seen coming out of a character's nostrils when falling asleep.
This was done to emphasize slumber in the scene. This was excised and another
bad habit like spitting was also edited out in a small array of episodes by
Zavala-Riss. The running time of Mach Go Go Go was 25 minutes on Fuji TV with paid
sponsorship in a 30 minute time slot. The U.S. version (Speed Racer) was at
23-24 minutes with 6 to 7 minutes of sponsors in the same time slot.
Since the shows were dubbed, Peter had to match the dialogue to the characters' mouths and make sure all the words were spoken in a short amount of talking time. This resulted in another iconic Speed Racer trait; the characters' quirky staccato diction.
Peter Fernandez recalled, "The dubbing was all done in loops. We were working from a 16-millimeter print, and we would have a white grease pencil and mark off in the script what would be a loop. Having been actors for years, we wanted the loops as short as possible so that only one or two lines would go by. Once in a while, there was a long speech in which there didn't seem to be any breaks. You'd have to memorize each line so you could take your eyes off the page, look at the screen, and fit yourself into that loop. Sometimes it became rather challenging to memorize a long speech and match it to the finished product."
Production of Mach Go Go Go began in August of 1966 and by November, they'd completed the first round of 13 episodes that were appropriately copyrighted. The recording date for the music score in Take Flight! Mach was performed on August 24 and by November 7, recording of the music score had been completed for The Revenge of Marengo. Production resumed later in March of 1967. By this time, Tatsunoko and K. Fujita Associates, Inc. sold the series to Trans-Lux Corporation for the U.S. adaptation to be produced in New York. Tatsunoko's budget was $9,650.00 per episode, which was a good deal of money to produce the series in the early days of Japanese color television.
The newly dubbed Speed Racer made its debut in U.S. syndication on September 23, 1967. Mach Go Go Go had begun its airplay five months earlier in Japan. Both the U.S. and Japanese companies were producing the series through 1967. Later in the year, Tatsunoko had completed making the final two episodes, The Greatest Race in History. The music score for these two episodes was recorded on December 19, 1967. The post-production of the series in Japan continued into the new year, just as Titra and Zavala-Riss completed the production of the U.S. version in early 1968. The Race Around the World was telecast on March 15, and two weeks later, The Greatest Race in History was aired by Fuji TV on March 31, 1968.
The Japanese opening animation sequence is 1 minute and 42 seconds long. It starts off with an overhead view of the Mach Five. The angle tilts downward to reveal a side shot of the car. Go Mifune comes into frame, runs to the Mach Five and jumps in the driver seat. He starts the engine and hits the accelerator. It then cuts to the tire spinning, with the Mach Go Go Go title in Japanese letters that was superimposed on the film. The following series of scenes are of Go driving and waving his hand and he keeps on driving. Next are shots of the racing track with the Mach Five and other cars in frame. The scenes that start it off last for 47 seconds. Some of these shots are seen in Challenge of the Masked Racer.
For the next 42 seconds, the opening animation sequence continues with scenes of Go racing the Mach Five in the lush jungle of Africa. Two elephants are seen from the driver's seat in Mach Five and Go auto-jacks over them. The big elephant raises its trunk as the car passes overhead. Then we see a variety of exotic animals flanking the Mach Five as Go is driving in the jungle.
The opening sequence continues with Go being pursued by a trio of black sports cars that are shooting bullets at him in the Arizona desert. Go then drives into a cave tunnel and sees a deserted city and skillfully drives through the middle of a huge dinosaur skeleton. The Mach Five makes it to the other side and the skeleton crashes to the ground with Go looking back on it.
The sequence continues with a vista shot of soldiers on their camels watching Go and other drivers racing in a desert region of the Middle East. In the final 13 seconds, we see the grid of cars that are driving across the map of the world. It then dissolves to the final shot of the yellow and red checkered background, with the Mach Five driving up. Go Racer jumps out and strikes his famous pose in a 90-degree pan that's so 3-dimensional!
The U.S. opening sequence differs quite a bit from the original Japanese version. It starts off identical to the Japanese version, with the first 47 seconds left intact. Zavala-Riss had to cut out 42 seconds, which begins with the elephants and through all the various shots that lead to the grid of cars on the map and the checkered flag with Speed and the Mach Five. The final 13 seconds from the Japanese version were kept intact for the U.S. version.
Peter Fernandez had personally written a new theme song entitled Speed Racer. But his theme fell short of the original Japanese animated sequence, so that's why Zavala-Riss had to cut out the 42 seconds of scenes. In preparation for the U.S. version, the opening and closing sequences of Mach Go Go Go were reprinted on 16mm film stock by Tatsunoko, so Zavala-Riss could apply the new U.S. titles.
The Japanese main title, Mach Go Go Go was stenciled and painted in red letters, and the one for the U.S. version was titled in white letters as Speed Racer. Note the latter American version used 16mm prints only, where the Japanese used 35mm on Fuji TV. The U.S. title, Speed Racer was created on a transparency that was filmed on 16mm film and optically printed with the condensed U.S. opening animation and reprinted for every episode in the final assembly of the series, for syndication on independent TV stations in America. For the new U.S. version, the main title letters, Speed Racer, would spin out of the black tire and dissolve after so many seconds. The titles were the same color for the closing animation that concluded the show. The theme music recorded for the end titles sequence matched its duration and no edits were made to the film. The ending animation sequence which concludes the episodes is a motor parade that is very memorable. Speed, Trixie, Sparky, Pops, Mom and Spritle are driving twentieth century vehicles that alternate with futuristic automobiles in the sequence. The final shot is a still of the Racer family with the Mach Five.
The original Japanese episode titles were stenciled and painted in white letters on transparencies and filmed. The original 35mm negatives of the episodes have no titles at all. The rough cut is finished and the editor takes the master negatives out of the cans and edits them exactly how the rough cut was assembled. The original 35mm negatives were reprinted on 35mm interpositives for broadcasting on Fuji TV, Channel 8. The Japanese episode titles were superimposed and printed on the 35mm interpositives by the optical printer.
For the U.S. titles, Zavala-Riss had to edit the new episode titles immediately after the Speed Racer title music. They were stenciled and painted in white letters and superimposed on the red and yellow checkered background. For the U.S. version, the only episode that follows the original Japanese sequence is Race Against the Mammoth Car, (Part 1). No doubt this was done to showcase the impressive entrance of the Mammoth Car's undercarriage in the filmed storyline.
Part of the formula for Mach Go Go Go's episode title would employ the usage of a dramatic pause during an action shot in every episode. After the original Japanese opening animation concluded, this cliché would be seen about three minutes into the story. The episode title would appear in white letters and the action scene briefly paused for 5 seconds.
The original music scores were composed and conducted by Nobuyoshi Koshibe. He was born on August 21, 1933 in Tokyo and was the musical director of the Japanese orchestra for Mach Go Go Go. He composed the main title music and the lyrics were written by Tatsuo Yoshida and Akira Ito. The exciting and exotic martial-sounding themes contain elements of jazz and heavy percussion that are exceptionally brilliant. His thematic cues were derived from the main title music and written in different guises such as happy, sad, chase, tension and suspense. The music covered a wide range of emotions in tandem with the storylines.
In numerous cases, selected theme cues would be edited in with the original music recorded to complete the episode's score. In film jargon, it's called "tracking", that is a method of recycling music to save on the production costs, but it was applied only when it was considered practical and to a minimum degree. In many episodes there was no tracking of music, since Koshibe composed music for every episode.
The writing of the lyrics for the U.S. main title music, "Go, Speed Racer, Go", was composed by Peter Fenandez himself. He contacted and hired Danny Davis as the music producer. Peter and Jack Grimes had previously worked with Danny at MGM Studios working on children's records in Culver City. Danny hired musician Billy Mure to arrange the music around the lyrics and hired his boss, Don Burkhimer as lead singer for the theme songs. The first thing of importance was Peter Fernandez and Billy Mure had to retain the Japanese melody in the lyrics and new theme music, so it could match with Nobuyoshi Koshibe's orchestral music heard in the storyline.
Janet Lederman was Don Burkhimer's secretary who came with him to assist with the backing vocals. The main title was sung by Burkhimer and the band did a good job in recording the new theme. The end title music had the quartet of Burkhimer, Davis, Mure and Lederman singing along with the musicians that were playing it and the gig was finished. Danny was not a stranger to music. His band, the Nashville Brass, had been playing live music in 1968 and their final live performance was in Georgia on July 23, 2005. Danny Davis the Nashville Brass won seven Country Music Awards and earned one Grammy Award. Davis passed away at age 83 on June 12, 2008.
"Go, Speed Racer, Go" is 1 minute and 6 seconds long, and almost a minute shorter than the original Japanese title music and allowed more time for commercials during airplay. The length of the Japanese theme song wasn't the major reason to replace it, but more like how the American audience could not identify with it. To one who loves film music is one thing, but this wasn't the case in general. The heart-pounding and jazzy orchestral theme, with its loud male vocals and chorus, would sound more like a military song for an animated series that children watched at home. The U.S. theme song by Peter Fernandez and Billy Mure was more catchy to the sentiments of the American audience.
The sound effects used in Speed Racer episodes were provided by Ishida Sound Productions. They specialized in gathering sounds for Japanese film and television productions. The sounds were obtained from the engines of cars, trucks, boats, airplanes, trains, motorcycles, helicopters and other types of machinery for sound recording and editing in the final mix of the soundtrack. Many other types of sound effects were used in general that covered a wide range of vehicles and objects in the series.
The first generation engine sound for the Mach Five is the powerful and high revving motor heard in the first 11 episodes of the series. It has an enriching BMW flavor to it. For episodes 12 and 13, Pops had installed a new, supercharged engine for the Race at Danger Pass. This second generation motor is even more powerful and has a pre-1995 NASCAR growl to it. The third generation engine is a mixture of high-pitched whine and growl that is heard in episodes 14 through 52 of the series.
The animal sounds used in Mach Go Go Go (Speed Racer) were all recorded from real, live animals by Ishida Sound Productions. In the case of Chim Chim, his sounds were provided by voice actor Horishi Otake in the Japanese version. In the U.S. version, it was skillfully provided by Jack Grimes, but one can still hear Otake's vocals in some parts of the soundtracks. In totality, the genuine sound effects that were used in Mach Go Go Go was a major factor that gave it such a realistic quality.
By the late 1970's, the new wave of American cartoons was slowly forcing Speed Racer off the air, not to mention the inclusion of anti-violence groups, including organizations such as the PTA and Parents Magazine. The other problem for Speed Racer was its short run of 52 episodes for airplay. For syndication, 65 episodes is the minimum requirement to be aired on a quarterly basis, five days a week. By 1979, the series drove off into the sunset for good. In March of 1993, Speed Racer was acquired by cable channel MTV. They selected 26 episodes to rerun and no editing was applied until sometime later that spring.
And now, a little corporate history. Trans-Lux Corporation owned the distribution rights to Speed Racer in 1967. They also held the rights to The Mighty Hercules, Felix the Cat and Gigantor. In 1969, Trans-Lux sold the animated library to Alan Gleitsman and his independent company, Alan Enterprises, for television syndication. In 1986, he sold the film library to Color Systems Technology, a firm that colorized B&W films.
Later in 1986, Color Systems filed bankruptcy and General Electric Pension Trust held onto the library as security. In 1989, Broadway Video acquired the library from General Electric through 1991. The final change of hands was in 1992, when John Rocknowski acquired the ownership rights to Speed Racer. He established his own company, Speed Racer Enterprises in Santa Monica, California. By this time, Trans-Lux Corporation had gone out of business.
In 1993, Speed Racer Enterprises began to digitally remaster the fifty-two episode series. Tatsunoko sent them 16mm interpositives that were struck from the original 35mm negatives. Digital Betacam was the tape format they chose to preserve the best image quality. The audio tracks from the 16mm prints Zavala-Riss prepared in 1967 were transferred to digital audiotape and remastered.
The 16mm prints were transferred to Digital Betacam and the editing of the storylines had to match the cuts Zavala-Riss made on the 16mm prints in 1967. The reprinted Japanese main title and opening animation sequence were edited identical to how Zavala-Riss did the job with their cut. The print of the opening animation is without the Mach Go Go Go title, but the red swirl remains visible in the center of the spinning wheel until the shot cuts to the next scene.
The new Speed Racer title spins out of the wheel in yellow letters with red outlining. In the 1966 Japanese prints, the red swirl was only visible for just a few seconds and would disappear as the title words spun out of the wheel. A noteworthy discrepancy for discerning eyes. The ending animation sequence was reprinted, so the computer generated titles could be superimposed on the digital video. The new episode titles and background were created by the computer to look as close to the originals made by Zavala-Riss in 1967.
The new title sequences were edited to fit before and after the storyline to finish the visual part of the job. The original soundtracks for every episode were synchronized to match the video to complete the remastering of the series. The print quality was excellent and displayed vibrant colors and the image details were unsurpassed. When compared to older generation 16mm film prints used in past syndication and video releases, the results were simply breathtaking to say the least.
In February 1994, Speed Racer returned to cable and it was acquired by Cartoon Network. In house duplication replicated the series, but employed time compression to every episode. The recording speed was at 5%, which made the show run very fast, so they could fit the commercials in a 30-minute time slot. Viewers that grew up with the show also noticed the original titles were replaced with the new ones mentioned above. The series concluded on Cartoon Network in 1998 and it was handed to Boomerang, its sister network. In 2005, it was purchased by Speed Channel Cable Network. Currently, the series isn't on any cable lineup and hopefully it will be seen again someday.
In totality, Speed Racer proved to be of excellent quality for American audiences since 1967, when it became a cult hit. The series is still embraced with great passion today, but Mach Go Go Go wasn't received with the same sentiment when it began its syndicated run in the early 1970's and beyond. In Germany, a local station was forced to pull it off the air, just after the third episode was seen. Irate viewers called in and complained about the excess of violence.
Both the Japanese and U.S. versions of the series contain a lot of violence.
People get shot (sans the blood), the cars crash in a spectacular fashion,
things get blown up with fatal consequences and the villains are nasty. The U.S.
adaptation was rewritten by Peter Fernandez and he did a wonderful job in the
way of morals and values that were learned with every episode. The Japanese
original had no voice narration, where Peter wrote it in the scripts for all 52
U.S. episodes, so viewers could understand how the adaptation worked in the
stories. The majority of Mach Go Go Go episodes were left intact and only a
minority of them had light editing applied for excessive violence and a few
unsuitable things that viewers could object to on American TV. In one example, a
character would fall asleep and a mucous bubble would be seen inflating from the
nostrils. This was depicted in a humorous way to emphasize the slumber in a
scene. The relationship between Go (Speed) and Michi (Trixie) is much more
obvious in the Japanese version, where in the U.S. version it is cleaner and
innocent in tone. Finally, the Japanese version has Go Mifune yelling "Go!"
every so often and whenever he does a feat that is neat or dangerous when
driving the Mach Five.
Speed Racer (Go Mifune) is a young man who is 18-years-old and is beginning his career as a race car driver. In fact, Speed is the youngest driver in the international racing circuit. Intelligent and good-looking to the young ladies, but contains perfect morals. Speed's natural skills and reflexes come in handy along with his strong courage in many situations he becomes involved in. Speed believes in doing the right thing.
Not a bad loser, since he's had to sacrifice winning a race at some point to the benefit of something that is more important than a win. In the planning for the series, Go Mifune (Speed Racer) is an expert fighter and wrestler. This element wasn't thrown in the series at random opportunity, rather because Go's father was the captain of his wrestling team when he was a student. This is the reason why he is so proficient in a fight.
Speed's younger brother named Spritle (Kurio Mifune), along with his pet monkey, Chim Chim (Sanpei) would always get into trouble by hiding in the trunk of the Mach Five and in other vehicles. Their slapstick routine was a dual-combination in favor of their antics. But in times of dire straits, the two have come in handy for the benefit of Speed and company. Not to mention, the duo will eat any given amount of candy that comes their way!
The company's top mechanic is Sparky (Sabu), and Speed's best friend. The letter S on his shirt matched both the original Japanese name and U.S. renaming. Loyal to the company, Sparky will go out of his way to make sure the Mach Five will perform in any given race, despite the odds.
Speed's father, Pops Racer (Daisuke Mifune), was a former professional wrestler-turned race car owner and builder. His sweet-natured and loyal wife was Mom Racer (Aya Mifune). She was able to cook a warm meal faster than anyone else.
Speed's female companion and girlfriend was Trixie (Michi Shimura). The letter M on Trixie's blouse stands for Michi. She would fly around in her helicopter during a race and advise Speed, via a radio link in the Mach Five. In the anime, it isn't specified in Michi's first manga appearance, that she is introduced as the spoiled and willfull daughter of the lead executive of a rival car company, who at first, meets Go Mifune when she is sent to spy on Mifune Motors. When her and Speed fall in love, the plan is circumvented. Trixie is 17-years-old and her background as a rich girl explains why she owns an expensive helicopter and Mercedes-Benz. She is also an expert at navigation and similar to Speed, highly skilled in martial arts.
Racer X is the most intriguing character, who reoccurs throughout the course of the series. He drives the Shooting Star No. 9, a superior race car in all respects. Racer X's mysterious personality is also presented and entangled with elements of a heroic, selfless, sympathetic and, of the brooding soldier of fortune, whose secret identity is Rex Racer (Kenichi Mifune). He is Speed's older brother. He had a falling out with Pops in the past after wrecking the first car his father built. Rex's accident predates the series going six years into the backstory.
When Rex was advised by Pops that he was not ready to compete in a professional race, Rex defied him and entered the race at the Sunny Downs Track. With less than one lap to go, Rex had passed up all the competition and was cruising towards victory. He waved to Pops as a symbol of celebrating his victory, but lost control and crashed, totalling the new car.
Pops burst into anger and berated Rex for his lack of experience behind the wheel and that his beautiful new car was all smashed up. Still defiant, Rex told Pops that he would have to become a racer without his help, so he left right on the spot and would never come back home. Rex vowed to become the greatest racer in the world and then chose to assume the mysterious identity of Racer X, also known as the Masked Racer, to pursue his own racing career. He met a race car driver named Kabala, who tutored him while he was driving "tortured roads and broken trails". Kabala became Rex's mentor, which gave him the expertise and enabled him to become a professional racer.
Both Speed Racer and Pops acknowledge that Racer X is the superior driver of the two and the greatest driver in the racing circuit. But perhaps the least understood driver, because of his feared opponents who have tried to ruin his good reputation by blaming him for car crashes in races that weren't his doing. Speed Racer was suspicious of Racer X's identity and motives because he would continuously sacrifice winning a race to protect Speed from other drivers with intent to harm or kill him. Racer X's career as a race car driver is also a cover for his occupation working for the Paris-based International Police.
With Racer X's assistance, it nearly led to Speed winning a race, with Racer X coming in second place. After the race was won, Racer X would congratulate Speed on his victory and would quietly slip away, receding ino his own secret life. Speed does suspect Racer X may be his estranged, older brother in Challenge of the Masked Racer, but cannot prove it. In fact, the second part of this story has Racer X revealing, in his thoughts, that he is Speed's older brother and takes off his mask, but for no one to see him in doing so.
Racer X is seen sans the mask in The Secret Invaders, The Dangerous Witness and The Trick Race. In the latter episode's climax, Speed is firmly convinced that Racer X is his older brother. In Speed's mind, his conviction appears to be strong enough, but since he didn't see Racer X unmask himself during that particular moment in question, rather to awaken, find his mask on the ground and Racer X had vanished once again.
A few moments before Speed regains consciousness, Racer X delivers a brisk, sucker punch in the stomach that renders Speed unconscious just after he asked Racer X, "Are you my brother? Are you my brother, Rex Racer?" Captain Terror, the Car Acrobatic Team's leader, is able to discern that he is Speed's brother and maintains he can even see the resemblance under the mask. Racer X then vows he can't go home again and will spend much of his time as a secret agent without a name or country, looking out for Speed's welfare in the future.
Speed and his party run in the same direction and call out, "Rex, where are you?!", and there is no one in sight. Speed looks up at the sky, and vows he will do everything he can in the racing world to make Rex proud of him and bids a tearful farewell. This deeply touching scene was picked by TV Guide as one of the Top 50 moments in television history.
Detective Rokugo (Inspector Detector) is introduced in The Secret Engine, (Part 2). He is a good friend of the Racer family and calls on Speed's help whenever there is a crime to be solved that involves a race or race car. The Inspector is very grateful for the help he's received from Speed and his family. However, there were many occasions when Spritle and Chim Chim caused the Inspector problems no one could solve!
Series History: Part 2
The New Adventures of Speed Racer (1993)
In 1992, Speed Racer was revived by Fred Wolf Films. There were legalities that had to be sorted through at the onset for the new series. Fred Wolf had to license out the rights from Speed Racer Enterprises in order to make it. The animated series was titled, The New Adventures of Speed Racer. It made its debut on September 13, 1993. However, the new series was quite unlike the 1967 classic.
The characters didn't look or sound like their counterparts in the original series. The only exception was Racer X, who still looked like the original character. The new Mach Five looked more like a Toyota and this didn't go over well. The storylines that were used were contemporary in this adapation and bore no resemblance to the original series. U.S. distribution was handled by Group W for the majority of television markets. The overseas distribution was by Westinghouse International. They were able to sell it to several countries for foreign airplay.
The 30-minute series lasted for only 13 episodes and was canceled. It was much too detached and contemporary in form. It lacked the artistic tone and style, unlike its 1967 counterpart. The music and sound effects used were inferior to those in the classic series. The titles employed a new rock n' roll theme song. The 1967 Speed Racer classic piece by Danny Davis and the Nashville Brass wasn't used because of legalities.
Fred Wolf also wanted to use a new theme song, since the 1967 original was a classic, campy piece and he thought it wouldn't be appropriate in this updated 1993 version of Speed Racer. Kenji Yoshida, who originally produced Mach Go Go Go in 1966 and is the president of Tatsunoko Studios, was asked about the updated version of the classic and wouldn't speak about it.
Mach Go Go Go (1997)
In 1997, Tatsunoko Studios begun its quest to make a new Mach Go Go Go series. Fifty-two episodes were ordered to be made by the original studio who made the series 30 years before. The majority of the episodes were in two parts. The anime was the best for any television series of its kind. The new Mach Go Go Go was visually complicated, with great details and fluid animation in its entirety. The original characters bore a close resemblance to their 1967 counterparts.
Mach Go Go Go made its debut on January 9, 1997. The series was aired weekly by the Tokyo Broadcast System on Channel 12 at 7 p.m. Some of the original character names were changed for the new series. The storylines were detailed and dramatic in tone and bore a similarity to the original series. The Mach Five's special devices were improved for better performance. But the new series failed to gain a wide audience and its ratings dropped. This resulted in the new series being canceled and Tatsunoko had enough time to produce the 34th and final episode that aired on September 24, 1997.
Speed Racer Enterprises wanted to release the new series in America and retitled it as Speed Racer Y2K. They decided to use the third episode, The Silver Phantom, to serve as the U.S. pilot episode. A new music theme had to be composed and recorded to replace the original Japanese music for the U.S. adaptation. The names of the main characters were the same as in the original 1967 series. The pilot was screened at the San Diego Comic Con International in 1998. The series generated good response, but no parties were interested in buying it.
In 2002, Speed Racer Enterprises made a deal with DiC Entertainment to edit and dub the series for airplay on the cable channel Nickelodeon. Now titled as Speed Racer X, the new series made its debut on August 25, 2002 and was part of the block of action-oriented programs titled "Slam". Nickelodeon broadcast a small number of episodes and canceled their "Slam" lineup without giving any prior notice.
The next problem facing Speed Racer X was much worse. The agreement between DiC and Speed Racer Enterprises didn't work out and DiC filed a lawsuit against Speed Racer Enterprises for fraud and breach of contract. The series' ownership was the legal issue between DiC and Speed Racer Enterprises. This resulted in only 12 episodes that were produced and aired on Nickelodeon, concluding on November 10, 2002. To this day, it doesn't appear the promising new series will ever be seen in the future.
Speed Racer: The Next Generation (2008)
In 2007, plans for a new and updated version of Speed Racer were announced. Lionsgate Entertainment and Animation Collective began working on the new animated series to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the original Speed Racer series. The U.S. rights were licensed out by Speed Racer Enterprises in Santa Monica. In past years, there were two revival series which failed in the process. The new series was the third attempt and at the onset, it was a mixture of positive and negative criticism if it would succeed or fail.
Speed Racer: The Next Generation was the title of the new, animated series. The first episode was entitled The Beginning and it was 66-minutes long. The storyline was based on the classic series by centering on Speed Racer's orphaned son. He had to endure the daily hassles of life at the Racing Academy, but revealed unknown secrets about the disappearance of his famous father, Speed Racer, Sr.
Speed's friends were Lucy and Conor, who had a monkey robot named Chim Chim. He lives up to his name and becomes the new guy to beat in the driver's seat. Speed and his friends worked together to uncover the secret truths behind the disappearance of his famous father. Together, the trio build the ultimate driving machine, the Mach Six. The series used cutting-edge and artistic animation that was inspired by the 1967 original. The story plots dealt with hot-topics, renewable resources and modern-day technological wonders. The series was acquired by Nicktoons Network for weekly airplay in May 2008.
The 66-minute pilot episode aired on Friday, May 2, 2008. The first season consisted of twenty-six episodes that were broadcast over the course of the year. The airtime was at 7:00 PM, EST. The voice of the original Speed Racer, Peter Fernandez signed aboard to voice an older, middle-aged Spritle, who was the headmaster at the Racing Academy. The pilot episode was released on DVD-video and subsequent episodes that followed. The new series was canceled in 2009, as it didn't have a great impact on the viewing audience. Peter Fernandez was able to make some money and work for a change. He remarked that he liked the new design of the racing cars, where the ones in the original were bigger. Despite the series not falling into favor of all the fans, a second season was ordered to be made. On March 24, 2011, it returned to the airwaves on Nicktoons Network. The show's animation, layout and 3D effects were outsourced to Toonz Entertainment in India for the second season. After his death, Peter Fernandez's character roles were replaced by Greg Abbey. The series ended on August 25, 2013. The final episode telecast was "Family Reunion," for a total of 52 episodes made and aired.