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Speed Racer Vol. 3 - Episodes 24-36
Volume three of Speed Racer is finally here, bring the series past the half way point, and I couldn't be happier. I have very fond memories of Speed and the gang. This show aired every day after school, and since my mother wouldn't let me watch TV until after dinner, I'd try to get myself invited over to a friend's house to watch it. Maybe I enjoyed the show so much beacuse it was a forbidden fruit, but I don't think so. Now when I can watch whatever I want, I still get a thrill out of the show. Speed Racer still has a lot of energy and excitement, even after all these years. If you've never seen the show before, this disc has a selection of some pretty good shows.
Though it wasn't the first Japanese cartoon to be shown in the US, it was the first to become really popular. Released in Japan as Mach Go Go Go!, Trans Lux, the company the brought Gigantor to the States bought the rights and translated it into English. The man behind the show though was Peter Fernandez. He wrote the scripts, edited and directed the shows and even provided the voice for Speed and Racer X. This one man production team was really responsible for giving Speed Racer the feel that it had in its American incarnation.
The show is about Speed Racer, a young professional race car driver who pilots the coolest car ever: The Mach 5. This car is an ingenious and speedy machine that was designed and built by his father, Pops Racer, with some help from their mechanic Sparky. In addition to traveling at high velocities, the Mach 5 has a number of unique inventions that allows it to jump over obstacles, cut down trees in its path, travel underwater, and even get traction in any terrain. With this car, Speed is almost unbeatable.
Speed is accompanied on his journeys by his girl friend Trixie and his brother Spritle and Spritle's pet monkey Chim-Chim. Together the group always seems to find trouble while attending a race, and Speed isn't one to back down from a fight or ignore an injustice.
The show is really action packed, and the story travels at a fast pace. Even the people talk fast in this show. This was really so they could fit all of the dialog into the space where the cartoon character was moving his mouth, but it had the nice side effect of making the show seem even faster paced than it was. There is often little time wasted on background stories at the beginning, they'll start Speed off racing down a speedway and fill in the rest as they went along.
Even the opening of the show was fast paced. Starting off with fast staccato of notes followed by the revving of a car engine as it roars to life, the song was accented by trumpet blast and simple lyrics making it one of the most insanely catchy theme songs ever produced. The opening credits showed cars racing along, getting into accidents and crashing with tires flying over the other racers. Within 30 seconds of the show starting, you knew you were in for a wild ride.
The show was a "villain of the week" type program, where Speed would encounter a some crooks with a nefarious scheme and had to bring them to justice and win a race all at the same time. Roughly half of the shows were two part episodes with the rest telling the story in a single episode. The double shows are easily my favorite, since the first show would always end with a nail biting cliff hanger, often showing Speed and the Mach 5 plunging off a cliff towards certain doom.
The emphasis in the shows is on getting the bad guys. The races were only the backdrop, but they did add a lot of excitement. Speed would take time out of a race to fight a villain or rescue a damsel, then hop in the Mach 5 and miraculously catch up to the other drivers. Implausible as it was, it Speed often came in first, but just barely.
This disc has some good episodes in it. Racer X, Speed's long lost brother who hides his true identity behind a mask, was always my favorite character. Even if he is mainly used as a deus ex machina device, I always thought he was a tragic character. He plays a big part in The Gang of Assassins. In this story a group is trying to kill all of the world's leaders so that they can sweep in and take over. Speed discovers that Racer X has joined the gang and can't believe that the mysterious racer is really an enemy of humanity. In Crash in the Jungle Speed ends up fighting giant gorillas on an African Island, and The Man on the Lam is a tragic story of a convict who breaks out of prison so that he can save his daughter's sight.
The Royal Racer is a pair of shows with a lighter tone. While in the Kingdom of Sakkarin, Spritle switches places with the prince and heir to the throne who happens to look just like him. Unfortunately, there is a plot to kill the prince so that another more easily manipulated person will be in line for the throne. Of course Speed is there to set things right, but not before a lot of comic antics.
This is a fun and entertaining disc. I was happy to see that my two sons enjoyed it as much as I did. Though the show is over 35 years old, it has aged well and is sure to entertain.
The episodes included on this disc are:
24. The Royal Racer pt. 1
25. The Royal Racer pt. 2
26. The Car Hater
27. The Race Against Time pt. 1
28. The Race Against Time pt. 2
29. The Snake Track
30. The Man on the Lam
31. Gang of Assassins pt. 1
32. Gang of Assassins pt. 2
33. Race for Life
34. The Supersonic Car
35. Crash in the Jungle pt. 1
36. Crash in the Jungle pt. 2
Like the previous two volumes, the initial release of this disc comes with limited edition packaging. Though I really liked the first discs "tire" slipcase, and thought the "lights and sounds" case for the second disc was okay, I thought that they missed the boat a little with this one. It comes in a round tin, just like the LE version of Total Recall. After all of the complaints about that disc, you would have thought that the round tin container idea was dead and buried. Well, not quite. If anything, this is actually worse than the Total Recall tin because this one has a larger radius, meaning that there is more room for the disc to move around.
The tin itself is shaped like the steering wheel of the Mach 5, with three pictures of Speed and his car positioned between the spokes of the wheel. There are eight buttons on the hub, but they aren't labeled with letters like on the show, and the Mach five only had seven buttons (A-G.) Come on FHE, if you are going to do something like this, do it right.
The disc comes with a thin cardboard case to keep the tin from rolling off the shelf, and contains thirteen episodes.
The two channel English mono soundtrack is a little bit better than you would expect for a 60's kid show. There isn't any hiss or background noise, and the dialog is free from distortion. The dynamic range isn't as wide as current shows but that's to be expected. Overall a solid sounding disc. There are no subtitles.
The full frame video looks very good for a cartoon of this age. The colors are very bright and vivid, and the lines are sharp. The prints used did have some minor defects, the occasional line or spot on the film, but these were fairly rare. There was also a bit of grain in some scenes. There is no edge enhancement, and the only digital defect is some light aliasing in the background.
The only thing that is really wrong is that they've replaced the Speed Racer logo at the beginning with a modern computer generated one. This is a minor, though easily avoidable, flaw.
Unfortunately this disc doesn't have any extras. A commentary track by the surviving voice actors would have been great, especially if they didn't limit themselves to one episode and reminisced about the entire series. I guess we can keep our fingers crossed that they'll include something like that on the last disc.
I had as much fun watching this disc as I did when I originally saw these shows years and years ago. Speed Racer is still a fast paced and exciting show. Sure, you know that Speed will save the day and that he's not really going to die as he plunges over that cliff, but that doesn't diminish the sense of fun these shows have. Anyone who has fond memories of this program should definitely pick it up, and those looking for something to entertain their children should also consider it. I only wish that the had included more extras on this disc. Even so, this disc is Highly Recommended.