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Artisan Home Entertainment presents
"I can't crash up!!"
DVD ReviewAlthough Japanese animation is currently in a state of almost universal admiration from both casual and serious fans, its entry into the collective Western media didn't take place as recently as many might think. Back in the late 1960s, some anime did actually manage to penetrate the world of traditional characters like Tom and Jerry or Looney Tunes, such as Tobor the 8th Man, Astroboy, and of course, Speed Racer. Speed Racer has since gone into that immortal realm where only the most fondly remembered TV shows go; that cultural brick that builds the eventual structure of childhood memories or late-night laughs. Admittedly, it may be the silly and ridiculous nature of the cartoon that's ensured it this memorable place, but that's no disgrace in the end. The irony is that there are people who saw Speed Racer as children and have since grown up perhaps having no taste at all for anime. Yet, they witnessed the beginning of the format's exposure to Western eyes.
For those uninitiated, Speed Racer, represented in this release by the first eleven episodes, is a pretty simple cartoon in which young Speed Racer (yes, that's his name; at least in the English localized version. His Japanese name being Go Nagai) races in various, dangerous contests using his super high-tech car, the 'Mach 5,' which was designed by his father. While getting into trouble and misadventures (thanks mainly to sinister people trying to get their hands on the Mach 5), Speed is often joined by his little brother, Spritle and the family monkey, Chim-Chim. In reality, the show was originally Mach Go Go Go! in Japan, and the characters all had different, less silly names, but in all honesty, I think anyone who loves Speed Racer would probably admit that without the poor, mostly laughable, localization, it simply would not be the same show. As Speed constantly challenges new courses, new villains, and eventually a wide cast of weird characters who are either friend or foe, it's impossible not to become addicted to this insane little show. Why insane? Well, for one, the break-neck pacing and completely senseless plots usually throw logic out the window, resulting in something so ridiculous, you have to love it. Of course, the monkey tagging along for rides in the Mach 5 is worth at least a few chuckles.
There's a strange fun here that is rarely found anywhere else, and yes, it has a great deal to do with the laughable nature of so much of the show. That might sound strange or possibly offensive to the hardened 'otaku' crowd, but any anime this unintentionally funny is worth a viewing. While Speed Racer is coming back into popularity thanks to a newer, more serious cartoon, it's an entirely different set of circumstances. No longer is there really an exotic charm here, because the new Speed Racer is being mixed in amongst the current crop of anime-assaults that kids are being bombarded with. So, for those who grew up in the age of modern anime, a trip back in time with Speed and his pals is definitely in order.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-
Image Transfer Review: Overall, Speed Racer looks OK, but whether or not this is a horrible transfer will largely depend on the viewer. Personally, I wasn't really expecting a total restoration of the show and there are still quite a bit of scratches, speckles, and other negative issues. The transfer doesn't enhance these problems and they're the best I've ever seen these episodes, but some might be disappointed at the plain, vanilla aspect of the transfer. It's not a big deal in the long run, since the episodes are all clear enough and lacking in serious digital issues, but again, some people might just not like that.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: The mono English audio (split into two channels) is pretty much as you might remember Speed Racer. The dialogue and other elements have taken a boost thanks to DVD clarity, but there's nothing fantastically impressive here. It's the same old stuff, only a little cleaner and without as much analog hiss in the background as there often is on TV broadcasts and VHS incarnations. No Japanese dialogue is available most likely because of a complicated maze of legal issues surrounding the US distribution rights of the show, as well as the fact that names and plot elements have changed due to the re-writes in the English dub.
Audio Transfer Grade: C+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 22 cues and remote access
Extras Review: There really aren't any great extras to speak of, but the disc presentation is quite nice with each episode having a sound clip to go along that provides a peek at what it's all about. Unfortunately, while the disc promises 11 episodes, it should be noted that all Speed Racer stories are comprised of at least 2 episodes, so there are 5 stories on this disc.
Extras Grade: D+
Final CommentsWhile this disc is only the first season of Speed Racer (a fact that is oddly marginalized on the disc's packaging, which presents itself as somehow complete), the future is a bit up in the air for this series, due to the previously mentioned legal complexities. Still, to see this series end with just this disc would be a great disservice to animation fans in general, as the whole show deserves to see the light of day in its English format, which is really how so many people fondly remember it.
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