Speed Racer meets Knight Rider in this tale of a youth struggling to grow up and achieve his dream of becoming a world champion racer. While the ending of the series is never in doubt, the broad range of characters and their development makes this a surprisingly entertaining entry in the sports anime genre.
What They Say:
Cyber Formula is the future of Grand Prix auto racing where a mix of skilled driving and advance technology ultimately determines who wins and loses. Kazami Hayato is thrust into the fast paced world of Cyber Formula racing when he accidentally becomes imprinted to Team Sugo’s Asurada GSX after recovering the race car from would be thieves. Now the he must prove to himself and to his teammates that he can compete with the best racers in the world. Step into the world of Cyber Formula and prepare yourself for the fast lane.
Containing only a Japanese audio track, the series sounds decent but will not blow one away. The audio was free from distortions, dropouts, or other problems from beginning to end. As a series based around car racing, it would have greatly enhanced the experience if there were a lot of stereo and directional effects. Alas, it was not meant to be, but the audio experience is enjoyable enough.
Cyber Formula was released back in 1991, and the video shows the age of the series though some episodes managed to survive better than others did. Grain, dust, scratches, and other print defects are present throughout the entire series; there was no noticeable ghosting or defects caused by the digital transfer. Bandai provided a decent transfer given the source material.
This collection also is an excellent example of how I like to see my anime; the original Japanese opening and ending sequences are intact. The credits are not translated on screen while the song text, both the romanized and English translation, is displayed via subtitles. Title cards are left intact and are subtitled; I can turn off the subtitles and enjoy the show the way the original audience did. Bandai gets a huge “thumbs up” for this practice and will be another example I hold up when I must bang the drum before Viz and other companies.
Unfortunately, Bandai receives a “thumbs down” for not proofreading their subtitles. There were numerous spelling and grammatical errors mostly related to using the wrong word in situations. For example, the first disc contains numerous places where the text has the car “breaking” when it is actually “braking”; racers were continually “loosing” control of their car or “loosing” consciousness. My personal favorite was when a character wished another “Gook luck!”. It may be a significant amount of text to read, but a quick proofread should have caught most of these errors before release. Despite these annoying mistakes and the age of the prints, one should have a reasonably enjoyable viewing experience.
The entire series comes bundled in two bricks with each brick holding four discs. The bricks are enveloped in a thin cardboard sleeve. The sleeve features the front cover images used on the bricks. Both covers are free from clutter allowing the image to grab one’s eye. On the first brick’s front cover is a shot of V-8 (the dog not the drink or the engine) and Asuka handing Hayato a drink. The second brick features Eddie Bootsvorz, Knight Schumacher, and V-8 on the front cover. A small number in the upper left corner indicates which “volume” the brick is. The logo for the show is centered in the bottom of the cover just above a small banner containing the Bandai logo and the “Complete Collection” designation.
The back covers for each brick are nearly identical changing only the screenshots and the disc and episode numbering. The standard boilerplate synopsis, disc specifications, and series credits are identical in placement and content. Inside each brick is an insert that has a different image from the front cover, a very nice and unexpected touch. The back of the insert has an expanded credit listing for the show, and the booklet folds out to reveal an episode listing broken down by disc along with head shots for the various racers. The booklet for the first brick does contain a small error as it lists one episode on the wrong disc.
The menus are very basic and feature no animations or background music. To the right of an image on the main menu are the “Play All”, “Scenes”, and “Subtitles” options. The menus are simple and functional but do capture a bit of the show’s flavor.
There are no series specific extras in this collection; Bandai barely gets a passing grade for extras by including three trailers on the final disc of the collection.
In the not too distant future, the latest racing craze revolves around Cyber Formula, cars that combine the skills of drivers with advanced AI systems. The Sugo Asurada team is considered a small fish in the racing pond, but they are pinning their hopes on the brand-new Asurada GSX that is being shipped to Japan to compete in the qualifiers for the World Grand Prix. It is against this backdrop that our protagonist Kazami Hayato struggles to grow as both a racer and a man.
While the GSX is being delivered to the first racetrack, someone unsuccessfully attempts to steal it; in order to make the required inspection on time, Hayato must drive the GSX to the racetrack. Unfortunately, this results in the car’s cyber system registering Hayato as the only person able to drive the car. Only fourteen years old, Hayato must now shoulder the burden of trying to make the team’s dream of winning the “Super License” and an entry into the World Grand Prix a reality.
The series can be broken down into three acts. As the first act unfolds, we see Hayato struggling to become a stronger racer and earn the right to compete in the World Grand Prix. Along the way he learns many special lessons about being a racer and a man, forms bonds of friendship with his teammates and other racers, and makes a bitter rival out of Naoki Shinjyo of the Aoi Formula team. Act two has Hayato competing in the first half of the World Grand Prix while introducing us to the bulk of the supporting cast we see throughout the rest of the series. Three of these people play key roles in Hayato’s development. Mr. Smith and the racer Eddie Bootsvorz are continually trying to crash the GSX in order to steal the cyber system for use it in military weapons. Opposing them at every turn is the mysterious Knight Schumacher; Schumacher dispenses racing wisdom to Hayato with every encounter and seems to share a bond with Hayato’s teammate and love interest Asuka.
Little does Asuka know that Knight Schumacher is really her older brother Osamu who left home five years ago to become a racer in England. Schumacher knew Hayato’s father when he was building the GSX and is dedicated to foiling Mr. Smith’s plans. Eventually, Mr. Smith dies after an unsuccessful attempt to kill both Schumacher and Bootsvorz. While Bootsvorz looks to redeem himself on the racetrack, Schumacher is hospitalized and can no longer race in the Grand Prix. To close the second act, Hayato’s mother appears and informs him that his father died by Smith’s hands. After overcoming the initial shock of his father’s death, Hayato takes a firm step into manhood by accepting his father’s legacy and determining what his own personal dream is.
Hayato’s dream is to use the Super Asurada, the car Hayato’s father really wanted to put the cyber system into, to win the World Grand Prix. The third act sees the inevitable realization of this dream through his perseverance and dedication. Every sports-oriented anime seems to share a common plot. A teenager or team of teenagers are molded into strong, upstanding adults through a series of seemingly impossible challenges. The outcome is almost always the same; there might be some difficult losses along the way, but our protagonists overcome the obstacles before them. So, the series is more about the journey than the destination.
Cyber Formula manages to provide a surprisingly entertaining journey through a careful balance of developing both the main and secondary characters. It accomplishes this by portraying the racing world as a large and competitive family. Hayato and his teammates are the core family; we see them argue and fight but eventually grow into a close unit supporting each other in realizing their dream. Their actions have an effect on the extended family as the other racers applaud Hayato’s improvement but also do not want to be shown up by their upstart, younger “cousin”.
The best example of this is seen in the character of Naoki Shinjyo. The first act sets him up as Hayato’s rival; however, the series avoids the clich&eactue; of having Shinjyo and Hayato always at each other’s throats. Their rivalry is subdued and shown mainly as Shinjyo growing increasingly frustrated by Hayato’s continued success. Near the end of the third act, Shinjyo’s frustrations come to a full boil; after years of hard work to hone his skills, he is consistently being shown up by a fourteen-year-old novice. His driving becomes erratic, and he alienates everyone around him to the point that his future with the Aoi team is in jeopardy. It takes the verbal equivalent of a boot to the head from the Asurada team’s mechanic Miki to make him realize that his problems are of his own making.
Rather than blaming everyone around him, Shinjyo is forced to take a hard look in the mirror and realize that he has no one else to blame for his failure but himself. Shinjyo finds his love for racing again and gains a newfound respect for Hayato as a racer and an individual. The writers could have been content with using Shinjyo merely as a tool to shape Hayato’s character, but they managed to make the relationship work both ways. This extends to a number of other characters throughout the series providing a rich and entertaining cast.
What also impressed me about the series was the fact that not all of the characters changed. Kyoko Aoi starts off the series as a hard-nosed team owner that victory is all that matters; at the end of the series, she has not changed a bit and remains just as petty as she started. It gave the series a touch of realism to the otherwise predictable “happy ending”. I also appreciated the fact that the writers did not overplay the humanity aspect of the Asurada’s cyber system. The system does subtly evolve so it can understand human emotions, but this evolution serves more as a foil to aid in the development of Hayato’s character.
However, the cyber system also served as an annoying plot hole. The first two acts revolved heavily around the fact that Mr. Smith wanted to steal this revolutionary AI system. If he could obtain it, he could use it to make unstoppable military weapons and sell them for an astronomical profit. Yet, when Mr. Smith dies, so do the attempts to steal the cyber system. Considering the resources he had to muster for the attempts, one has to wonder why no one else considered the GSX worthy enough to steal even if they did not fully know what it contained. No further attempts are made though, and the team goes on its merry way without ever mentioning it again.
There was one other thing that puzzled me for awhile. A character named Randoll appeared for the final five races of the Grand Prix. As each race unfolded, his high point total seemed wrong. How could he have gained so many points when he had not participated in the previous five races? The light finally clicked on above my head when I realized that the points for each race are awarded to the racing team and not to the individual racers. Randoll was the replacement driver for Knight Schumacher’s team after Schumacher was injured; so, the team retained the points Schumacher won while adding to their total with Randoll’s wins. Keeping this fact in mind might save you a bit the head scratching and annoyance I went through near the end of the series.
The first act of the series is the sappiest of the lot as it falls into a rhythm of having Hayato attend races while learning a “very special lesson”™ in between them. While they do have an after-school special feel to them, the lessons unfold in an entertaining enough manner and provide the foundation for Hayato’s development for the rest of the series. The second and third acts move the story along briskly maintaining a good balance between racing action and character development. There are an inordinate amount of transformation and boost sequences near the end of the series, but I was still pulled into the drama and excitement of the races.
Cyber Formula is less about the finish line and more about the journey our characters take to get there. While the series is predictable and at times sappy, the writers managed to balance the development of several characters in a believable and compelling manner. Overall, the series zips along nicely and manages to capture the spirit of the racing world and use it as a backdrop for the classic struggle towards adulthood. It is definitely worth watching once, though I would lean towards recommending this as a rental title.
Japanese Language, English Subtitles
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: C+
Extras Grade: D-
Released By: Bandai Entertainment
Release Date: November 18th, 2003
Running Time: 925 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Mitsubishi 27″ TV, Pioneer DVL-919, Sony STR-DE915 DD receiver, Bose Acoustimass-6 speakers, generic S-Video and audio cable