What They Say:
Speed Racer The Complete Series contains episodes 1-52.
Speed Racer is an 18-year-old boy who dreams of driving his car, the incredible Mach 5, in professional races around the world. When the going gets tough and meddling crooks keep him from the finish line, he always finds a way to make it through. Join Trixie, Pops, Spritle, Chim Chim, and the whole gang as they root for Speed in the most nail-biting, death-defying races in history!
There is some erroneous information on this release. The packaging clearly states that this set has both the English Speed Racer language track as well as the original Japanese Mach GoGoGo track. However, only the English track appears here. Interestingly, the main menu has a language sub-head, but English is the only selectable track (either through the disc menu or my player’s submenu), and the English SDH subtitles will also not turn on (also in neither menu).
As for the English track, it’s about as good as it probably could be given the age of the series, though it won’t impress in any way. It’s only available in mono track, so it’s completely flat. But it’s also clean with no dropouts or distortions anywhere.
This series got a nice BD transfer. As an anime from the 60s, obviously it looks very dated and has some incredibly rough animation at times (not to mention a lot of reused animations), but it looks about as good as it could in this release. Colors pop and everything is clear and distinct. I can’t say I noticed any technical issues either. This release was mastered well.
This release comes on five discs, which are housed in a single BD case with a slip cover over it. The slip cover and the case have the same design, with Speed striking an action driving pose with etching sketches in the background. The back of the case has a few more pictures of Speed and some of the other characters, with the series summary and technical details filtered in around. Overall, it’s a nice, compact design.
The menus have a nice design. Most of the screen is taken up with an animatic of random scenes from the series while the theme song plays. The selections are below, and like most BD releases, clicking on them just brings up submenus rather than shifting to a completely different screen. It’s a clean look and easy to follow. However, note my comments above about the missing Japanese language track and English subtitles. There is still a selection on the menu for Language which brings up a submenu that basically does nothing. It’s unnecessary, but the menus are otherwise nice.
There are no extras on this release.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Speed Racer is a title that I have not had a ton of experience with in the past. I’ve seen random episodes here and there and was always interested to see more, but I never got around to it. My biggest exposure before now came in the form of the live action movie from 2008 which I always thought was a ton of fun as a spectacle and light entertainment, and I could never really understand why the Speed Racer “purists” loathed it. Having now seen the entirety of the original TV series, the best answer I can come up with is that the 2008 movie just wasn’t ridiculous enough (and it’s pretty ridiculous in its own right!).
Speed is the middle son in the Racer family, a family dedicated to racing, shockingly enough. Speed’s older brother, Rex, once had the potential to be one of the best racers in the world, but he refused to listen to his father’s advice to take it slow and develop his skills more, and he left, determined to train and prove to his father that he had what it takes. Since that time, Rex has not been seen. Years later, Speed is now grown and is ready to take the mantle of the family and try to become the world’s best racer. Driving the Mach 5, a special car built by hand by his father, Pops Racer, Speed soon proves himself able to turn professional. Aided by his father; his little brother, Spritle; and his girlfriend, Trixie, Speed sets out to win every race in the world. If he could stop running into dastardly people hell-bent on world domination, he might even win a few of them.
Speed Racer has a general formula: Speed travels to a new place, usually to enter a race (though sometimes for other spurious reasons), runs into some evil people trying to take over the world and/or kill him, he decides that it is his duty to try and stop them, and somehow driving really fast ultimately becomes the method with which to thwart their plans (and don’t forget Spritle and Chim Chim stowing away in the Mach 5’s trunk). Honestly, it’s a pretty good formula. It never really got old over the course of the 52 episodes, though I think that much of the series being built on two-part episodes helps that. Less having to start from the beginning and more opportunity to give each of the stories a little bit of depth.
That said, there’s very little depth beyond the surface, thanks to the formula. Any mysteries that are introduced are often quickly explained away by the omnipresent narrator (you’ll never guess the secret identity of the mysterious Racer X…because the narrator just tells you who he is), and there’s no real growth among the characters. About the only real advancement we get is that the series opens with Speed as an amateur desperate to turn pro, and the first few episodes are built around him proving to Pops that he’s ready. Then he turns pro, and that’s it. Speed starts the series self-righteous, and ends it the same way, often putting himself in more danger (not to mention missing out on or losing races) in order to do what’s right. Spritle constantly gets in the way. And Trixie is forever inconsistently getting outrageously jealous about every girl that even attempts to talk to Speed then moments later flipping her attitude and being ready to do everything she can to help.
But the lack of depth really doesn’t hurt it at all. That’s not why we watch Speed Racer. We watch it to see what ridiculous situations Speed can get himself into, watch him drive really fast to get out of said situation, and be endlessly entertained by a fantastically outrageous cast of villains (my favorite is the guy whose son was killed in a car wreck, so he’s decided that all automobiles should be destroyed. And to do that, he rides around on a horse and whips cars to destroy them. He whips cars. How fantastic is that!?). So where a lot of really old-school anime can become repetitive to try and binge watch, I never found that with Speed Racer. The level of inanity was great in so many ways that my only regret is that there isn’t more (I know there have been a number of sequel series that may or may not be any good, but I want more of the original).
As a final note to the review, I just want to reiterate what I mention above in the technical details (in case you skipped that part): the packaging on this release suggests it has the original Japanese language track. That is wrong; it does not, which is a shame since Mach GoGoGo (the Japanese title) is different to a degree from Speed Racer. The main menu does have a language section, but the only option is the English track. Even the English subtitles will not turn on, neither from the discs’ menu nor with my BD player’s Subtitles button. The fact that the that packaging says they are here and we seem to have a section set aside from them seems to suggest that perhaps the plan at one point was to include the Japanese track, but that it was pulled at the last minute for some reason. As of writing this review, it does appear that any online stores only note the English language track, so it isn’t misleading from that standpoint. But if you are looking at it in a brick-and-mortar store, be aware that it is English dub only. Don’t buy this if you are only hoping to be able to watch Mach GoGoGo.
Speed Racer is one of those seminal titles that, if you are a fan of anime (or even cartoons in general), you owe it to yourself to check out at least once. You will probably have the gist of the series within a couple episodes, but if you are anything like me, the complete absurdity of it all will keep you coming back for more, and I mean that in a good way. It’s not Shakespeare, but it is just a lot of fun to watch. Recommended.
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: A
Extras Grade: N/A
Released By: Funimation
Release Date: May 30, 2017
Running Time: 1300 minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 4:3 Full Screen
Magnavox 37MF337B 37” LCD HDTV, LG BP330 BluRay Player w/HDMI Connection, Durabrand HT3916 5.1 Surround Sound System