Go Speed Racer Go!
November 13, 2012
Over the last few blogs, I’ve been looking at the cross-fertilization between American and Japanese pop cultures. In our post on giant robots, we wandered into the world of television anime. In the age of Netflix and dedicated cartoon cable networks, today’s anime connoisseurs have it easy. There was once a time when Japanese anime was a new and rare phenomenon to American kids like me. My grade school compatriots and I didn’t even know it was called anime. We called it Speed Racer, and it was AWESOME!
The first anime to make it to these shores was Astro Boy, the American adaptation of Osamu Tezuka’s Tetsuwan Atomu, which aired from 1963-1965 and remained in syndication into the 1970s. I never saw Astro Boy in its original run or reruns, but I have watched it on DVD, and it is wonderful. Tezuka is revered as the "Godfather of Anime" and the "Japanese Walt Disney." That last is no slight, as Tezuka was deeply influenced by Disney.
My peer group had never heard of Astro Boy. The cartoon phenomenon of our grade school years was Speed Racer (Mach Go Go Go in Japan). I had no idea that it was Japanese. However, I did notice that the animation style differed greatly from the Hanna-Barbera cartoons of the time. The American series ran from 1967-1968, but it continued in syndication well into the 1970s. Just like Johnny Sokko, I was so frightened by an episode of Speed Racer ("The Most Dangerous Race") that I freaked out and didn’t watch the show for quite some time. But I couldn't stay away from Go Mifune (Speed’s real name) and his Mach 5 for too, long. How could I resist the insane physics-defying race sequences? The mysterious Racer X? Chim-Chim's antics? Or sweet, sweet Trixie?
MTV reran the original series in the early 1990s, which brought the faith to a whole new generation. The 1994 updated New Adventures of Speed Racer and 1997 Speed Racer X were flops, however. One does not simply "update" Speed Racer. The Wachowskis' (of Matrix fame) 2008 Speed Racer live-action film was to suffer a similar fate, both at the box office and in the hands of the critics. I didn't see the movie in the theatres, and I heard it was a real stinker. But then I broke down and watched it on DVD, and I have to say that I think the Wachowskis' Speed Racer will become a staple of cult moviedom. It's eye-candy of the highest order, and the race scenes are just as insane as in the original, but filtered through every racing video game ever. Don't try to make too much sense out of the movie. If you tried to do the same with the original series, you'd be just as baffled.
In my next blog, I'll venture on into the epic space opera anime of the 1980s, and then after that, we'll look at the 1990s when anime finally conquered America in the form of a boy and his electric chipmunk.
Still wanting my own Mach 5.