The history of collecting Speed Racer on VHS format began for myself in 1989. I had noticed Continental Video was releasing some episodes that were teamed up with The Mighty Hercules. But their limited availabilty made them difficult to obtain. Shortly thereafter, I noticed some released by VidAmerica that year. In totality, I was able to collect Car with a Brain, The Trick Race, The Car in the Sky, Race for Revenge, Challenge of the Masked Racer, The Fire Race, The Supersonic Car, The Race for Life, The Car Hater, The Desperate Racer, The Man Behind the Mask, Motorcycle Apaches and Great Car Wrestling Match.
That same year, I had been collecting NOW Comics of Speed Racer and Racer X and noticed they had the first several episodes available by mail-order for $19.95 each. They had planned to release the entire series on VHS format, so this might work out. The company's artwork on the video sleeves was excellent and represented a scene in the episode that would encompass the whole sleeve as you'd look at it. In the summer of 1990, NOW offered a Speed Racer gift set in sleek packaging.
The set contained The Most Dangerous Race and had other collectibles including a full-color poster, bumper sticker and button. More items in the set were Speed Racer Classics, Volumes I and II, Speed Racer Special No. 1 Collector's Edition, a special copy of What Now?! magazine and Slimer comic strip. The set was available through December 31, 1993. Earlier that year, a second Speed Racer gift set was available. The contents included Challenge of the Masked Racer, a button and full-color poster, Speed Racer Prestige Edition, No. 1, and Speed Racer Classics, Volume II. The offer expired on December 31, 1993.
NOW concluded the video releases in 1993, but the company had rightholder problems and the following Speed Racer episodes never made it to video; The Car Hater, The Terrifying Gambler, The Race for Life, Car with a Brain, The Desperate Racer, The Dangerous Witness, Race the Laser Tank, The Great Car Wrestling Match, Motorcycle Apaches, The Car Destroyer, Junk Car Grand Prix and The Car in the Sky. In 1994, twelve episodes were released from Live Video, on their Family Home Entertainment label, licensed by Speed Racer Enterprises. In addition, Pioneer's laserdisc catered to Speed Racer episodes that Family Home Entertainment licensed out for consumer sale. In 1995, the other half of Speed Racer's two-part episodes had been released on VHS and laserdisc formats, but The Race Around the World wasn't released, nor were any single episodes by Family Home Entertainment, with the exception of Car with a Brain.
In the summer of 1993, The Speed Racer Show was made and released in movie theaters across the country. Basically, it was three episodes; The Race Against the Mammoth Car and The Car Hater, teamed up with a Colonel Bleep episode, and with three B&W vintage television commercials. The original Japanese opening animation was included, but the film print was minus the optical soundtrack. In preparation for the movie, a new grunge rock theme by the Alpha Team recorded in 1992 was used and integrated with the original U.S. Speed Racer theme music. The editor made a big cut and excised the original Japanese Mach Go Go Go title letters, which resulted in the spinning tire segment being shortened by 10 seconds. The first race track segment had 4 seconds that were excised by the editor, for a total of 14 seconds cut out. The studio did this because they had to synchronize the new and shorter theme music to the 16mm Japanese print. The original animation sequence was too long for the music, so this is why the editor made the two cuts when they were editing the digital video master in post-production.
Sound effects from the series was mixed in with the music, so they were able to make a complete title song to run the length of the original animation. However, the grunge rock theme used seemed out of place and a more suitable theme should have been heard for the sequence instead. Interpositives of all three episodes were struck from the original 35mm negatives housed at Tatsunoko Productions in Japan. Peter Fernandez and Corinne Orr were flown out of New York to attend many of the public screenings.
For VHS home video, it was retitled, Speed Racer: The Movie, released on February 16, 1994, by Family Home Entertainment. The 80-minute feature was re-released again, this time on DVD by Pioneeer on February 27, 2001. The bonus material included of most value is the lengthy interviews with Peter Fernandez and Corinne Orr. The DVD version of this film is currently out of print.
In 2001, Joe Castille, producer of Speed Racer Enterprises had taken the entire series to consumer videotape for sale at the official web site. His next goal was for DVD. But there was a big problem; the video duplicator couldn't do a good enough job to make the overall images look satisfactory for authoring. He went through more duplicators and was finally able to duplicate the series to come out looking great on DVD.
Industrial companies such as Heuris Logic Incorporated and Vidox Image and Data were involved in working on the DVD box set. The 1993 digital Betacam masters were the source material that was transferred to the DVD masters. Speed Racer Signature Edition DVD Set had a limited pressing of 1,000 sets for consumer sale exclusively at the official web site.
The price was a little high at $250 per set, but I had the funds to purchase it. Overall, the video and audio quality was very good in all respects. Slight MPEG-2 artifacts do appear on some tightly detailed images at times, but nothing of a major distraction. The bonus DVD materials included a 2001 interview with Peter Fernandez (disc 4), the Volkswagen TV commercial, Sponge Music Video (disc 2), and the pilot episode from the 1997 Speed Racer series, entitled, The Silver Phantom, (disc 5).
The Speed Racer Signature Edition DVD Set came with a Certificate of Authenticity, that included the set number and bore the Japanese and English signatures of Speed Racer co-founder, Ippei Kuri. In the set, disc one contains episodes 1-11, with disc two containing episodes 2-12, disc three with episodes 22-32, disc four with episodes 33-42 and disc five with episodes 43-52.
Artisan Entertainment released Speed Racer, Volume One on April 22, 2003. The disc contained episodes 1 through 11. Later in December, they were acquired by Lions Gate Films. The video image looks great, but a little soft, with some occasional bits of dust. Minor compression artifacts are visible, but nothing of a major problem. The overall color and contrast is excellent when you consider the age of the series. The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 1.0 mono and sounds very good.
The 2001 DVD box set pales considerably when compared to the Lions Gate releases. That set used the digital Beta masters that the 35mm prints were transferred to back in 1993. The video was much softer and the colors more pale. Compression artifacting was worse, too. The other factor involved is time compression. It's a method of speeding up the tape masters to fit the program in with sponsor advertisements for reruns on television. This was applied to all fifty-two episodes in the 2001 box set, so they could fit 10 or 11 episodes on each DVD.
Speed Racer was edited to 24 minutes by Zavala-Riss in 1967. This was a mandated requirement for a filmed television series that was broadcast in a 30-minute time slot. Time compression will shorten the running time of the episodes and it's based on how much was applied. All one must do is look at the DVD counter and when the episode falls short of its 24 minutes, that indicates the use of time compression.
The other factor is the music is going to play a little faster than usual. When too much is time compression is applied, the audio and video quality will suffer greatly. In the case of the Lionsgate releases, every episode was time-compressed on all five volumes. Blu-Ray DVD utilizes a great deal of storage data, which standard DVD isn't capable of, so the issue of time compression wouldn't be used in future releases.
Speed Racer, Volume Two was issued on May 18, 2004, with the same high quality image shining through on the big screen. It contains episodes 12-23. The next year had Speed Racer, Volume Three issued on May 24, 2005, containing episodes 24-36. Speed Racer, Volume Four was issued on March 14, 2006, with episodes 37-44. A die-cast Mach Five toy car was included as well. The final release, Speed Racer, Volume Five, was released on October 31, 2006. Episodes 45-52, the final eight of the series were included. A miniature Mach 5 license plate, with the tag line, "Go-Speed-Go!" was included.
Lions Gate Entertainment has signed with the Blu-Ray DVD group, so future releases of Speed Racer will certainly be released as the format grows over the next few years. For the ultimate experience, a fan, scholar and enthusiast should purchase Speed Racer on DVD. He or she should settle for nothing less.