The Aftermath of Speed
Part 4: What Came Next? Sequels and Remakes
by James Long
Once MACH GO GO GO finished its initial Japanese broadcast run in March of 1968, the series remained popular and well remembered thanks to it being shown in syndicated reruns. As a result, toys and model kits based on the series continued to sell quite well, and were readily available for many years after the show ceased production. There were even attempts to expand these lines by creating new items like model kits of vehicles that never appeared in the series, such as a Mach 6 racing car and a motorcycle named “Gallant.” With that kind of long-term popularity, it certainly made sense that Tatsunoko Productions would try to recapture the same kind of magic they’d had with MACH GO GO GO by building a new series around a similar concept.
Their first attempt came in 1969, with a project named SKYFIGHTER Z. Not wanting to do an exact copy of their earlier success, SKYFIGHTER Z was going to feature airplanes instead of race cars. The focus of SKYFIGHTER Z was going to be a 17-year-old test pilot named Bunta Ozora, who flew in his one-of-a-kind airplane, the ‘Light.’ Like Go Mifune’s Mach, the Light was going to be a gimmick-laden airplane. By pressing one of the five buttons located in the center of the Light’s yoke, Bunta could activate the following special abilities:
A Button – Jet Engine
This changed the Light from a propeller driven airplane to a jet powered plane.
B Button – Flying Cutter
Pushing this button revealed razor-sharp edges hidden in the wings of the Light that allowed the Light to slice through anything in its path.
C Button – Searchlight
This button activated a pair of rotating searchlights built into the wings of the Light.
D Button – Docking Air Machine
When activated, this revealed a grill pattern on the bottom of the Light which, using air suction, allowed the Light to latch onto the side of larger airplanes. This could also be used to grab hold of falling objects.
E Button – Hydro Engine
The use of this button caused the wings on the Light to retract as the water-safe Hydro Engine was activated, converting the airplane into a miniature submarine.
Bunta would have spent much his time battling rival pilots and taking part in air races. Assisting him were his father, Senta Ozora, his girlfriend, Miki Kazemami, and her family, which included her mother and father, Kazuko Kazemami and Kazuyoshi Kazemami, his little brother, Chinpei Kazemaki, and their pet bulldog, Goemon. Bunta would even have had a hand in thwarting the schemes of the evil organization ‘Galactor,’ several years before Tatsunoko’s SCIENCE NINJA TEAM GATCHAMAN TV series would make use of the same name for its enemy organization.
By all accounts, Tatsunoko had great confidence in SKYFIGHTER Z, and fully expected it to be picked up as a series. Using characters designed by Tatsuo Yoshida and vehicles designed by Mitsuki Nakamura, SKYFIGHTER Z got as far as producing a pilot film and some additional work on what would have been the first three episodes of the series before the project was shelved.
Never wanting to give up on a good idea, the SKYFIGHTER Z concepts were dusted off, reworked, and updated for a new series proposal in 1976, this time titled SKY GANG LEADER. SKY GANG LEADER featured a sleeker, more dynamic look that was more in keeping with the popular action series Tatsunoko was producing at the time. Ippei Kuri did the design work on the characters, who now looked tougher and more ready for a fight, while Mitsuki Nakamura once again did the mechanical designs.
A now 16-year-old Bunta Ozora was once again the hero, whose single-minded recklessness often got him into trouble. Instead of the Light, this time Bunta was flying the ‘Red Scorpion,’ an airplane that had the ability to transform into a car. Instead of being his girlfriend, the character of Miki was changed to that of a rival pilot, Kaoru Asakaze. Adding some spice to the mix was a mysterious masked pilot, the Blue Jaguar.
Like the Red Scorpion, the airplanes flown by Kaoru and Blue Jaguar also possessed the ability to transform. To give the show some heart, Bunta was to start the series in an antagonistic relationship with his father. Through the “tears and laughter” of Bunta’s adventures, this relationship would develop from one of opposition into one of kindness.
SKY GANG LEADER got as far as planning establishment and presentation illustrations, but in the end it fared no better that SKYFIGHTER Z had. With that, the idea of a flying version of MACH GO GO GO faded away.
Tatsunoko’s first attempt at a full-fledged remake of MACH GO GO GO came in 1984, when the studio drafted plans for M-THUNDER, with the “M” standing for “Mach.” The main cast for M-THUNDER had a few familiar faces, with direct counterparts for Go Mifune, Daisuke Mifune, Michi Shimura, Kurio Mifune, and Sanpei, though this time Sanpei was going to be a spider monkey rather than a chimpanzee. While the cast also included a new Masked Racer, this character would definitely not have been our hero’s older brother, since this Masked Racer was going to be a woman. Rounding out the cast were a pair of gentlemen, one of whom bore a more than passing resemblance to Ippei Kuri, who did the Character Designs for M-THUNDER.
Sadly, no information regarding the names and relationships of any of these characters has come to light.
Like the characters, the famous car itself also received an update, courtesy of the design group Ammonite. Sadly, the car named ‘M-Thunder’ lost much of the distinctive look of the original Mach. During that time, transforming and uniting mecha were quite popular with anime fans, so many of the gimmicks in the M-Thunder were designed to appeal to that audience. While the popular Auto Jacks remained part of the car, it received new additions like caterpillar treads that lowered from the chassis and a motorcycle that could launch from the center of the car.
The M-Thunder had other possible modifications, though several of these weren’t built directly into the car. The rear tires and engine block on the car were removable, allowing them to be replaced by a variety of attachments that would allow the M-Thunder to safely traverse various terrain, including the wilderness and both on and under the water. The preparation for M-THUNDER got as far as the planning establishment, a series of design illustrations, and both character and mecha design model sheets before the plug was pulled.
Surprisingly, the first remake to actually make its way into production would come from a source other than Tatsunoko Productions. In 1992, Fred Wolf Films, the studio responsible for producing the first TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES animated TV series, licensed the rights to create a new SPEED RACER series. In September of 1993, the fruits of their labor reached TV screens across America, as THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SPEED RACER made its debut.
Despite what might be implied by the title, this syndicated TV series was not a continuation from the original SPEED RACER. Rather, it was a complete reworking of the series, starting from scratch in an effort to introduce the characters to a new audience that was unfamiliar with the original. The reworked premise had Speed and the gang working at Mach Research, an industrial research center created by Pops Racer that was located on an island off the coast of the United States. Of course, the Mach 5 was still a car with many tricks up its mechanical sleeve, including the venerable Auto Jacks and new features that included Magne-Lock Tires and a Compu-Link dashboard computer. Speed certainly needed these gadgets, as he often used the Mach 5 to work alongside Racer X while the two fought various criminals. Borrowing a page from the BACK TO THE FUTURE films, the new Mach 5 had gained the ability to travel through time, allowing Speed and Racer X to encounter anything from aliens to dinosaurs. Oh, and Speed would occasionally enter a race too.
While the original SPEED RACER series was something that could be enjoyed by both kids and those who were kids-at-heart, the NEW ADVENTURES series was aimed squarely at younger kids. Older fans were put off by the changes in the look of the characters and the Mach 5 that made them all but unrecognizable, a new theme song that bore no relation to the original theme, and stories that were, at best, bland and unimaginative. Likewise, the kids for whom the redesigned series was aimed at never took the new SPEED RACER to heart. THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SPEED RACER ran a total of 13 episodes, and aired weekly for one year before vanishing in September of 1994.
In January of 1994, the real Go Mifune did finally reappear in Japan — sort of.
It was then that Tatsunoko Productions released the second of two made-for-video specials based on their popular TIME BOKAN series of comedies, titled ALUMNI MEETING IN THE TATSUNOKON KINGDOM. In this video, the characters from the second of the TIME BOKAN series, YATTERMAN, made their way to the Tatsunokon Kingdom, a place where all of the characters from the various series produced by Tatsunoko live. While wandering through the streets of the town, the YATTERMAN villains were almost run over by Go Mifune as he whizzed by in the Mach. Later, when the villains attacked in a giant robot, they picked up and threw the Mach at the fleeing crowds.
WONDERFUL TATSUNOKOLAND, a TV special that aired on New Years Eve in 1999, used a similar notion of having all the Tatsunoko characters living in one location, this time a seahorse-shaped island named Tatsunokoland. Go Mifune and the Mach made an appearance here as well, as Go maneuvered his car to catch the magic bottle that was home to the genie from Tatsunoko’s comedy GENIE HAKUSHON when said bottle was sent flying through the air by the baseball playing kids from IPPATSU KANTA-KUN. Admittedly, these were both brief cameos, but it was still nice to see the classic Tatsunoko characters in action once again.
It was not until 1996 that Tatsunoko was finally able to get the green light to produce their own full-fledged remake of MACH GOGOGO. Most of the staff working on the series were new to the world of MACH GO GO GO, though certainly not new to the animation industry. They included Series Planners Koki Narushima and Mitsutoshi Tokuyama, Mechanical Designers Satoshi Horii and Hiroshi Ogawa, and Composer Michiru Oshima. To help make certain that they handled the racing aspects of the series properly, Tatsunoko even brought in professional racer Masahiro Hasemi as a Technical Advisor.
There were even a few members of the staff who had worked on the original MACH GO GO GO on hand to lend their talents to crafting the new series. Among these were Hiroshi Sasagawa, returning to the role of Chief Director that he had so ably handled before. Joining him was Masami Suda. Suda had been the Animation Director for the 1967 MACH GOGOGO, but for the new series he would provide the Character Designs, based off of Character Planning created by Ippei Kuri. Suda would even go on to act as a guest Animation Director for several episodes of the series.
Premiering on TV Tokyo on January 9, 1997, the new MACH GO GO GO focused on the adventures of young Go Hibiki. Despite having a slightly different name than the original Go Mifune, the two characters were very much alike; brash young racers hoping to become the best in the world. Go Hibiki’s family consisted of his mother, Misuzu Hibiki, and his father, Daisuke Hibiki. Daisuke was the head of Hibiki Motors, and the creator of Go’s fantastic race car, the Mach.
Because Go’s older brother, Kenichi, was apparently killed during testing of the Mach many years earlier, Daisuke had enhanced the car by adding special equipment to it that he named “Safety Seven,” each of which could be activated by pushing a button on the car’s steering wheel. Much of this equipment consisted of updated versions of the gimmicks found in the Mach from the 1967 MACH GOGOGO, and included the following:
A Button – Aero Jacks
Replacing the stilt-like jacks from the original were a series of jet engines that could push the car off the ground. With the help of small wings that appeared from the body of the car, the Aero Jacks allowed the Mach to safely fly short distances.
B Button – Balloon Tires
For use when going off-road, the tires of the Mach could expand to gigantic size, allowing the car to travel through the wilderness safely, in much the same manner an SUV can.
C Button – Cutter Blade
Replacing the metal buzzsaws blade from the original series were a pair of laser-generated buzzsaws. These buzzsaws were positioned on the end of highly maneuverable arms.
D Button – Defense Guard
Much like in the original series, this enveloped the cabin of the Mach with a solid shield.
E Button – Emergency Wire
The only completely original piece of equipment, replacing the Evening Eye from the 1967 version. The Emergency Wire fired a grappling hook attached to a strong cable from the fender of the Mach. With the hook firmly attached, the Mach could retract the cable like a winch.
F Button – Fish Diver
Pushing this button converted the Mach from a standard car into a small submarine. Thanks to twin propellors that appeared from the back of the car, the Mach could travel safely underwater.
G Button – Gallant
A small, remote controlled flying machine very much in the style of the Gizmo flying robot from the original series. The Gallant could be used to aid in navigation, as well as to gather data on other cars in a race.
When the new MACH GO GO GO began, the main focus was on Go’s efforts to win the Earth Grand Prix, a series of difficult races that took him to all manner of exotic locations around the world. During these races, he would face opponents driving their own unique “battle cars,” race cars that were equipped with a variety of different gadgets that they could use to try to force others out of the race. Go’s chief rivals during these races were playboy racer Jetson, the arrogant young Crasher Kid, and Cecile and Mikhail, both of whom were part of Team Exelion. Mr. Bolboa, the head of Exelion, wanted both for his team to win the Earth Grand Prix and to learn the secrets of the Mach, in particular about the mysterious Mirage Shoot. The Mirage Shoot, under certain circumstances, allowed the Mach to travel at unbelievable speeds.
Also appearing frequently was the mysterious masked man, X Racer. As is a surprise to no one by now, X Racer was actually Kenichi Hibiki, who survived the crash that should have killed him thanks in part to the power of the Mirage Shoot.
Accompanying Go on his world travels were Takumi Tateishi, the main mechanic for the Mach, and Mai Kazami, a girl reporter who covered the racing circuit. Instead of giving Go a younger brother, that role fell to Mai’s younger brother, Wataru. When the series started, Wataru did not have the primate pal that one would have expected. This changed in epiode #20 of the series, when the Earth Grand Prix took our heroes to Africa, where Wataru would come to take care of a young African Lowland Gorilla named Rocky, conveniently dressed in red overalls and a striped hat.
The new version of MACH GO GO GO tried to appeal not just to younger viewers, but to high school age kids as well. As a result, the various subplots involving Team Exelion, X Racer, and the Mirage Shoot were developed at a slower pace, building over time while the main focus of the action was on the challenging races Go was in. In keeping with this style, the music created for the series by Michiru Oshima ranged from slower jazz-style pieces to faster paced race music, with all manner of music in between.
The series had a lot of support behind it, in particular from music company Nippon Columbia and toy manufacturer Tomy. Despite this, the show’s ratings were not as good as had been hoped. While popular with younger viewers, the series failed to attract enough of an older audience. In an effort to improve this situation, it was decided to take MACH GO GO GO in a different direction. The Earth Grand Prix storyline was quickly wrapped up in the 21st episode of the series, with Go Hibiki winning the championship, of course. The following week, the series moved to a new day and a slightly earlier time that might help attract more of the elementary school-aged viewers who made up the majority of the audience. Starting with that episode, the premise of the series was also radically changed. Gone were racing stories and characters like Jetson and Team Exelion. Instead, it was discovered that, when the Mach pushed itself to its limits and traveled at 555 KM/h, the car would enter into the Mirage Shoot, which now allowed the car to travel through time and space to anywhere and any-when in the world. Apparently the BACK TO THE FUTURE films were as popular in Japan as they had been in America.
Regardless, this ability to time travel took our heroes to the year 2555, where they discovered that the world was being taken over by the evil blue-skinned alien Handler. The only thing Handler needed to secure his domination of the world was the Ezekiel Wheel, a legendary source of power that randomly jumped across time. In short order, Go, Mai, Wataru, Rocky, and Takumi decided to use the Mach to travel throughout history in order to keep Ezekiel Wheel from the clutches of Handler and his time-hopping mineons.
Alas, the change did not succeed in drawing a larger audience to MACH GO GO GO and the series was cancelled. Fortunately, Tatsunoko knew enough in advance that the series would be coming to an end, so the studio was able to give the series a finale. When the 34th and final episode aired on September 24, 1997, Go used the Mach to invade Handler’s fortress stronghold and defeat the villain once and for all.
Not surprisingly, Speed Racer Enterprises quickly sought to release the new MACH GO GO GO in the United States. When first proposed in 1998, the new series would have been retitled SPEED RACER Y2K. Speed Racer Enterprises used the third episode of the new MACH GO GO GO to produce a pilot for SPEED RACER Y2K, titled THE SILVER PHANTOM. This pilot had its world premiere before a packed house at the San Diego Comic Con International in 1998. Unfortunately, despite the positive reception the series received during the convention, Speed Racer Enterprises was unable to sell the series. MACH GO GO GO languished unseen in America until 2002, when Speed Racer Enterprises struck a deal with DiC Entertainment to edit and dub the series for broadcast on the cable channel Nickelodeon.
Now titled SPEED RACER X, the new series premiered on Nickelodeon on August 12, 2002 as part of a block of action-oriented programs titled “Slam.” However, Nickelodeon only aired a handful of episodes before they abruptly decided to cancel the entire “Slam” lineup, SPEED RACER X included. As if this wasn’t enough, the agreement between Speed Racer Enterprises and DiC fell apart at this point, leading to DiC suing Speed Racer Enterprises for fraud and breach of contract. Because of the drawn-out battle between the two companies over the ownership of SPEED RACER X, only 12 episodes of the series were ever produced, and it is likely no more will ever to be seen.
In 2006, SPEED RACER had another remake — of sorts — called SPEED RACER LIVES. SPEED RACER LIVES was a series of Flash-based “webisodes” that were released on-line through the website of the toy company Art Asylum. At that time, Art Asylum had the license to produce a series of SPEED RACER toys, through which the company released several versions of the Mach 5 and the Shooting Star to toy store shelves. In order to create a larger toy line, Art Asylum wished to expand the world of Speed, Trixie, and the rest beyond what was seen in the original 52 episode series. They worked with Speed Racer Enterprises to develop a concept that brought the SPEED RACER characters to the present, showing what had happened to them after the original series ended.
The new SPEED RACER LIVES focused its attention on the married Speed and Trixie, their twin son and daughter, Speed Junior and Velocity, and the friends of the children. Other classic SPEED RACER characters also appeared, including Racer X, an older but still unstoppable Pops Racer, an adult Spritle, who now worked as a mechanic, and Chim-Chim, who had somehow transformed from a chimpanzee to a gorilla. Following in the family tradition, both of the Racer children were now entering into the racing field themselves, with Velocity driving the Mach 9 and Speed Junior behind the wheel of the Mach 10. And, as always, trouble would follow.
Three short episodes of the series were produced, featuring the return of Cruncher Block as he used a gang of evil cyborgs to win races. The last episode ended with a cliffhanger where Cruncher’s men kidnapped Pops Racer in an effort to force the Racer family to turn over the plans for the GRX engine. The hope was that the series would garner enough attention to continue, thereby allowing Art Asylum to produce toys based on the new characters and vehicles. Despite the best of intentions, the reception to SPEED RACER LIVES was tepid, and plans to expand the series were shelved.
Of course, the biggest news involving a new vision of “Speed Racer” was waiting just around the corner…
Stay Tuned to SciFi Japan as anime merges with live action and CGI and our coverage combines to take you into the world of the new SPEED RACER movie! And for more information on the film, please see the official website and the earlier coverage here:
- Here He Comes! Here Comes SPEED RACER!
- SPEED RACER Production Notes
- SPEED RACER: Interview with Rain