Go Speed Go!
An Introduction to SPEED RACER
Author: James Long
“Here he comes, here comes Speed Racer. He’s a demon on wheels.”
We’ve all heard that theme song, and more than likely have it indelibly etched into our brains. As memorable as the song is, how often have you thought about the series that it represents, and the long history that led it to being one of the best remembered animated series of the 1960s? Our goal here is to lead you through that history, from the origins of the series up to and including the upcoming live action SPEED RACER feature film! So sit back and buckle in, cuz’ “Adventure’s waiting just ahead…”
Before we get too deeply into the history of this anime classic, we should remember that there are those out there who aren’t familiar with the world of Speed Racer. So, for both of those people, let’s take this opportunity to remind everyone just what it was all about.
SPEED RACER began life in Japan as MACH GO GO GO and premiered in both countries in 1967. The American version of the series featured the exploits of a young race car driver named Speed Racer. Speed would travel around the world to take part in all manner of daring races featuring names like the ‘No Limit Grand Prix,’ the ‘Fire Festival Race,’ and the ‘Super Car Race.’
Helping Speed through these races were his family, including his father, Pops Racer, his mother, Mom Racer, and his little brother, Spritle. And where Spritle would go, the family’s pet chimpanzee, Chim-Chim, was sure to follow. Speed’s other constant companions were his girlfriend, Trixie, and Speed’s one-man pit crew and ace mechanic, Sparky.
To win these races, Speed made use of the Mach 5, a racecar designed and built by Speed’s father. The Mach 5 was by no means an ordinary racecar. Aside from its unique, powerful engine design, the Mach 5 was loaded with a vast array of special features, from retractable buzzsaws to jacks that allowed the car to leap over obstacles. Using these features allowed Speed to safely traverse the dangerous terrain he faced during his races, or to outsmart unscrupulous racers who would try to use underhanded means to force him out of a race.
Even when he wasn’t racing, Speed often found himself squarely in the thick of things, such as helping to stop criminal activities like those perpetrated by the Car Hater or the Gang of Assassins. For Speed, even what should have been routine events quickly turned into adventures. At various times, Speed had to escape from a desert island, help deliver medicine to a dying man, and even test drive a new supersonic car!
The adventures of Speed Racer were shown over 52 thrill-packed half-hour episodes, culminating in an exciting race that literally took Speed around the world. Winning that race allowed Speed to claim the title of a World Champion Racer! Though the checker flag was waving on the series, SPEED RACER ended with Speed behind the wheel of the Mach 5, racing off to find new adventures.
Off the screen, anyone who watched Speed’s exploits found them mesmerizing. The excitement began with the thrilling opening theme song and never let up! The majority of the stories were told in two parts, with the first half ending in an exciting cliffhanger that virtually guaranteed that kids who saw it would rush home from school to catch the second part. The enduring popularity of SPEED RACER kept the series airing in syndication for many years, resulting in it becoming a cultural touchstone for anyone who grew up in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The lasting impression SPEED RACER had on those who watched and loved it as children has now come full circle, as those who watched it as wee tots have now grown up to create the new SPEED RACER feature film, a film that is poised to bring the excitement and drama of Speed and the Mach 5 to a whole new generation!
A Who’s Who of SPEED RACER!
So, just who was Speed Racer anyway? And Trixie, Pops, and the rest, for that matter? Don’t worry if you’re feeling a little rusty on the Racer family and friends, we’re here to help you with this handy guide to the main cast of SPEED RACER!
Speed Racer (Voiced by Peter Fernandez)
Japanese Name: Go Mifune (Voiced by Katsuji Mori)
An 18-year-old race car driver, Speed possessed a natural affinity for cars and racing. His innate talent, coupled with plenty of hours spent training to handle anything on wheels, served to make Speed one of the best racers in the world.
He was quite courageous, bravely facing any danger on and off the racetrack. He had a strong sense of right and wrong, and would go to any length to help those in need, no matter the cost to himself. Thanks to his physical training, Speed was pretty handy in a fight, which helped him out of tough spots more than once!
Like his father, Speed could sometimes be quite stubborn, and it was nearly impossible to stop him once he set his mind to something.
Trixie (Voiced by Corrine Orr)
Japanese name: Michi Shimura, nicknamed Mitchi (Voiced by Yoshiko Matsuo (#1), Ikuko Sugita (#’s 2~11), Michiko Nomura (#’s 12~52)
Speed’s 17-year-old girl friend. The daughter of the president of an aviation company, Trixie was a trained helicopter pilot, a skill she used to assist Speed on numerous occasions. She was also an expert race navigator, and often accompanied Speed on his races when he needed one.
Trixie did possess a bit of a jealous streak when it came to Speed and the attention his good looks attracted from the many young ladies they ran across in their adventures.
Spritle (Voiced by Corrine Orr)
Japanese name: Kurio Mifune (Voiced by Junko Hori)
Speed’s 8-year-old brother. He was always accompanied by Chim-Chim, the pet chimpanzee owned by the Racer family. The pair had a reputation for following Speed on his adventures by hiding in the trunk of the Mach 5. More than once, this habit turned out to be quite helpful to Speed, as they would add the right amount of needed assistance at just the right moment to turn a potential defeat into a victory. Spritle had a tremendous sweet tooth, and would do almost anything to get his hands on a stash of candy.
Chim-Chim (Voiced by Jack Grimes)
Japanese name: Sanpei (Voiced by Hiroshi Otake)
The Racer family’s 2-year-old pet chimpanzee. He was Spritle’s constant companion, and the two were always getting into mischief together. Though unable to speak, Chim-Chim was very expressive, and could usually get his point across thanks to his body language.
Like Spritle, Chim-Chim had a weakness for sweets, and many times the two would get into friendly arguments over who would get to eat whatever candy they managed to find.
Pops Racer (Voiced by Jack Curtis)
Japanese name: Daisuke Mifune (Voiced by Teiji Omiya)
Speed’s 46-year-old father. A mechanical genius, he was the man who designed and built the Mach 5. Pops was a man with a very quick temper, prone to fly off the handle when angered. Fortunately, his anger could be deflated just as quickly when someone, usually Mom Racer, poked holes in his tirades.
Despite what one might think from the way he’d holler, Pops cared deeply for his family, and much of his displays of anger stemmed from his desire to keep them safe.
Mom Racer (Voiced by Corrine Orr)
Japanese name: Aya Mifune (Voiced by Ryoko Kinomiya)
Speed’s 42-year-old mother. The matriarch of the Racer family, Mom did not often involve herself directly with the family business. Instead, she provided a warm environment for when her boys came home. She had a good sense of humor, and made for a good balance for the blustery Pops.
Sparky (Voiced by Jack Grimes)
Japanese name: Sabu (Voiced by Kei Tomiyama)
Speed’s best friend. Sparky usually acted as Speed’s pit crew during races. Like Pops, Sparky was a top-notch mechanic, and could get the Mach 5 ready to go with a moment’s notice. Sparky was also a good race navigator, though he didn’t get the chance to show it very often.
Racer X/Rex Racer (Voiced by Peter Fernandez)
Japanese name: Masked Racer/Kenichi Mifune (Voiced by Kinya Aikawa)
Of the various allies and rivals Speed faced on the race track, none were more prominent than Racer X, a racer whose true identity was hidden by his black mask. Driving his special car, the Shooting Star, Racer X was one of the best racers in the sport, and he divided his time equally between challenging Speed on the race track and working to keep Speed safe when he got into tight spots. More than once, when Speed found himself in serious trouble, Racer X would appear just in the nick of time to save him.
The reason for this protective streak was simple: Racer X was Speed’s older brother, Rex Racer. Rex left home after Pops’ short fuse caused him to yell at Rex after Rex refused to admit that it was his lack of skill that caused him to crash his car during a race. Rex vowed to conceal his identity until he became the best racer in the world, a goal he had come a long way toward accomplishing during the six years since he disappeared.
A superb athlete, Rex was recruited to work for Interpol, using his Racer X identity to move around the world in an effort to thwart the plots of many criminals.
Inspector Detector (Voiced by Jack Curtis)
Japanese name: Detective Rokugo (Voiced by Kenji Utsumi)
A police detective who was friendly with the Racer family. When there was any criminal activity involving races or racecars, Inspector Detector immediately contacted the Racers for assistance, and was quite grateful for all the help Speed gave him in apprehending evil doers.
Japanese name: The Mach
As integral a part of the series as any of the human characters, the Mach 5 was Speed’s one-of-a-kind racecar. The Mach 5 was designed and built by Pops Racer, and featured a series of gadgets hidden beneath its stylish body. These gadgets could be individually activated by a series of buttons located at the hub of the Mach 5’s steering wheel.
Labeled “A” through “G,” the features were as follows:
(Japanese name: Auto Jack)
This button lowered four stilt-like jacks from the bottom of the Mach 5. These jacks were intended to raise the Mach 5 off the ground, thereby making it easier to quickly change the tires or repair the car during a race. These jacks could lower so quickly and with so much force that they could actually hurl the car into the air. If they were used while the Mach 5 was moving, they allowed the car to safely jump over obstacles in the road.
(Japanese name: Belt Tires)
Using this button caused a special tire chain to be released from the Mach 5’s fender onto the car’s tires. This chain increased the Mach 5’s traction, allowing Speed to maintain control over the car during unsafe road conditions.
(Japanese name: Chopper)
When this button was pressed, twin buzzsaws appeared from under the front of the Mach 5. These buzzsaws were powerful enough to cut through trees, preventing the Mach 5 from crashing into them if it was forced off the road in a wooded area.
(Japanese name: Defencer)
When activated, this button released a bulletproof glass canopy over the Mach 5’s cockpit, forming an airtight seal and protecting the driver and passengers from outside dangers.
(Japanese name: Evening Eye)
For use at night when conditions didn’t allow for the use of standard headlights, this button activated special infrared headlights. When viewed with the noctovision glass of the visor on Speed’s helmet, it allowed him to see things clearly in the dark.
(Japanese name: Frogger)
If the Mach 5 had to travel underwater, this button was used in conjunction with the D Button to give the Mach 5’s cockpit a 30-minute air supply, as well as to raise a periscope-like camera from behind the driver’s seat. Images from this camera were relayed to a TV monitor inside the Mach 5’s cockpit.
(Japanese name: Gizmo)
Pressing this button launched a bird-like homing robot from the hood of the Mach 5. This robot could be used to carry small objects, such as film or a tape recording, and its flight was controlled by a remote control built into the Mach 5’s dashboard. This control also included an H Button that would send the robot flying to Speed’s family’s home.
To Be Continued!! Keep checking back to SciFi Japan as we continue our in-depth look at the original SPEED RACER cartoon and the new SPEED RACER movie coming to a theater near you May 9, 2008 from Warner Brothers!