Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Geek TV: Speed Racer!


Concept: A young man, Speed Racer, competes in races around the world in his specially-designed car, the Mach 5, built by his father, getting into adventures wherever he goes.

Total Episodes: 52

Original Air Dates: Speed Racer, in its original form as Mach GoGoGo in Japan, ran from April 2, 1967 to March 31, 1968. It ran in first-run syndication beginning in the Fall of 1967, and ran in syndication for many, many years after that.

Original Network: Fuji Television in Japan, all over the US in syndication.


Speed Racer/Go Mifune (Peter Fernandez in the US, Katsuji Mori in Japan): The main character, Speed loves racing and his family. He drives the powerful Mach 5, built by his father, Pops Racer. Speed is a very talented racer, winning nearly every race he competes in. He has an older brother, Rex, who disappeared after a dispute with Pops, and a younger brother, Spritle. His girlfriend is Trixie, and his best friend is Sparky, who is the mechanic for Racer Motors, Pops' company. Speed is a skilled hand-to-hand combatant, although he's also prone to be rather impulsive at times. He has a tendency to lead with his heart instead of his head, except when he's behind the wheel of the Mach 5. Speed usually is seen wearing a pair of white pants and a short-sleeved blue shirt with white trim and a red "G" on the breast (which stands for "Go" in Japan, the character's first name; in later US comics, it was revealed that the "G" stood for "Greg," Speed's birth name, with Speed being his nickname), and a red neckerchief.

Spritle/Kurio Mifune (Corinne Orr and Jack Grimes in the US, Junki Hori and Hiroshi Ohtake in Japan): Speed's younger brother, Spritle is a mischief-maker who is addicted to candy. Spritle's constant companion his the chimpanzee Chim-Chim (Sanpei in Japan), and the two dress identically. The two often sneak away from Pops, stowing in the trunk of the Mach 5, where they occasionally help Speed out due to the advantage of surprise (and skill with a slingshot). Spritle, for such a young boy, is a rather talented driver himself, having participated in the "Baby Grand Prix," a race for children. He has also driven what appears to be a child-sized Model T Ford when sneaking off to spy on enemies.

Pops Racer/Daisuke Mifune (Jack Curtis in US, Teiji Omiya in Japan): Pops is a former wrestler turned race car owner and builder. He had been employed at a corporate car manufacturing company before quitting his job there and going independent, forming Racer Motors. Overprotective of his family and possessing a violent temper, Pops drive his oldest son, Rex, away from the family. It takes a lot to get Pops to admit he's wrong, but he eventually comes around.

Mom Racer/Aya Mifune (Corinne Orr in the US, Ryoko Kinomiya in Japan): Mom Racer (she's never given a first name in the US version of the cartoon) is very much a background character, with very little dialogue.

Racer X/The Masked Racer (Peter Fernandez in the US, Kinya Aikawa in Japan): Driving car number 9, named the Shooting Star, Racer X is a man of mystery, operating as often as a soldier of fortune as much as a professional race car driver. Secretly, Racer X is actually Speed's older brother, Rex, something that was hinted at in many episodes, but not formally revealed until the episode "The Trick Race." Nobody ever remarks on the fact that Racer X has the same stylized "M" on his costume that appears on the hood of the Mach 5, oddly enough. Racer X is a superior driver to Speed, although he often comes in second place when the two compete in the same race.

Trixie/Michi Shimura (Corinne Orr in the US, Yoshiko and Michio Nomura in Japan): Trixie is Speed's girlfriend, wearing a blouse with an "M" on it (for her Japanese name). She is often Speed's spotter in the episodes, flying over the race in a helicopter. Trixie is in no way a typical helpless damsel in distress, often being able to escape on her own from villains without help. She does have a bit of a jealous streak when Speed is involved with an attractive woman (never romantically, the other woman is usually in need of help that Speed provides), although the two always make up in the end. 

Sparky/Sabu (Jack Grimes in the US, Kei Tomiyama in Japan): Sparky is the ace mechanic of Racer Motors, Speed's best friend. Sparky is devoted to Speed and the Mach 5, and feels bad when it appears that his role is being usurped.

Inspector Detector (Jack Grimes): Inspector Detector is a worldwide agent of the law, who often asks Speed for help. He seems to have a working relationship with Racer X (only hinted at in the anime). 

Geek Pedigree:

Prior to Speed Racer, lead voice actor Peter Fernandez had a long career i radio, including appearances in Superman. He was also involved with directing and voicing English tracks for foreign films from all over the world, including Mothra and some of the Godzilla films. His first anime involvement began with adapting scripts for translated versions of Astroboy and Gigantor.  His involvement in Speed Racer included writing the US lyrics for the theme song, as well as writing and directing many episodes of that, as well as Marine Boy, Ultramar and The Space Monsters. He can be seen on-screen in the I Spy episode "The Abbe and the Nymph." In the 1970s, he voiced Mark Venture on Star Blazers. He later directed recordings for episodes of Courage the Cowardly Dog, as well as doing some voices. He voiced the adult Spritle in Speed Racer: The Next Generation and had a cameo as a local race announcer in the live-action Speed Racer.  His voice can also be heard in a handful of Power Records book and record sets, including voicing Spider-Man/Peter Parker on one of the first ones.

Corinne Orr did some voice work in US adaptations of Ultramar, Gammera the Invincible, and Godzilla Vs. the Sea Monster prior to Speed Racer, and later did voices on other productions, including Gamera Vs. Viras, several characters on the ABC Saturday Superstar Movie of "Popeye Meets the Man Who Hated Laughter," voicing Nova on Star Blazers, as well as many other voice roles.

Jack Grimes played T. J. Thistle on Tom Corbett, Space Cadet prior to voicing Chim-Chim and Sparky on Speed Racer. He was the voice for Jimmy Olsen on Filiation's The New Adventures of Superman, and voiced Professor Fumble and others on Marine Boy. He could be seen on-screen in two episodes of All in the Family playing Mr. Whitehead, if you're interested. He later voiced Galman Gen. Gustaf in 25 episodes of Star Blazers.

Jack Curtis was another cast member with experience doing dubs for Japanese monster movies, including parts on Mothra Vs. Godzilla and Gammera the Invincible. Along with voicing Pops Racer and Inspector Detector on Speed Racer, he voiced Bulton on Marine Boy.

DVD Release: By now, the entire TV series should've been out on DVD, probably with multiple releases.

Website: is the best source for Speed Racer on the web, these days.

Notes: I literally used to race home after school to watch Speed Racer with my siblings every afternoon, and was disappointed when my local station stopped airing it. I remember being very disappointed that there was no merchandising of the characters done in the USA. However, I was happy when Cartoon Network started up and included the show on their schedule, as well as seeing some American comics being published. I recently saw the live-action Speed Racer for the first time, and was kind of surprised at how relatively good it was. For the most part, the casting was great (I'll never understand why Sparky became a grungy Australian), but the racing sequences as well as a lot of the stylization was way over the top. Probably most annoying to me was that there was only one race Speed used the Mach 5 in, instead mostly racing with the Mach 6! Perhaps one day, we'll get a Speed Racer movie that can be a little more toned down visually and present a movie that really uses the original series as its template.

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