#105 : Speed Racer

SR_1Auto racing… I love the sport. Always have, always will. Mix that love of dancing on a knife’s edge with four wheels with animation and I am one happy otaku. Speed Racer was already an established classic by the time I was first exposed to the property in the mid-1990s when it made its way to MTV and more importantly in my case, home video. My diet of Robotech and Voltron with Indycar and F1 now had a killer combination in a couple tapes I rented from the local video store. What I did not realize at the time was I was viewing a cartoon that has touched many a generation and in many ways connected me to others whose only connection to anime was this singular show. Thus is the power of Speed Racer.

1967 was a great year for motor racing. Parnelli Jones nearly won the Indy 500 with a jet turbine powered car, Dan Gurney and AJ Foyt won the 24 Hours of LeMans in a Ford GT40 (and thus was born the first champaign spray, thanks Dan!) and Team Lotus debuted the iconic Lotus 49, which featured the classic Ford Cosworth DFV engine in F1 competition. Also of note from F1 was Honda’s second victory in the hands of John Surtees at the Italian Grand Prix. But another, perhaps more subdued, victory for Japan would be the television debut of Tatsunoko’s Mach Go Go Go (well, ultimate victory for us cartoon lovers). Tatsuo Yoshida’s manga had come to life… guess it helps the fact that he is head of Tatsunoko Studios (don’t you love that seahorse logo?). Thats all fine and great, but when Mach Go Go Go’s translated/adapted version came to the west as Speed Racer in the fall of 1967, the real race truly began.

SR_2Consisting of time and true shonen standards of fun, action, adventure and friends, Speed Racer combined it all around a young man trying to become a top race car driver with one of the coolest cars ever, the Mach 5. Is it me or does the Mach 5 look like a late 1950s Ferrari Testarossa mixed with period James Bond gadgetry? Speed with his family (including everyone’s favorites Spritle and Chim-Chim?), girlfriend and friend/mechanic travel all over the globe proving his skills and many times getting into side adventures as well. Often times Speed meets up with the mysterious Racer X who is so much like an older brother to him… oh yeah, right… he is is older brother, just in disguise. Hope that doesn’t spoil the party for some of you, but it is one of those in show details you pick up on quite fast.

SR_3My greatest joy with Speed Racer is the fact that this is a series in which I can connect with people who are usually older than me. Many fans of this show may or may not be fans of Japanese animation per se, but their love and fondness for the adventures of Speed and crew cannot be denied. If you grew up in the 1960s or 1970s, Speed Racer was a keystone in your upbringing and to see fans still connected with this show makes me feel a little less alone in the world. Great examples of Speed Racer references include an experience from work in which I was asked about the artwork in my cube, “Are you the one with all those Speed Racer type images in your cube?” Also conversations with my dentist during appointments about animation in general. Even though he is not up to par with most anime, he did grow up with Speed Racer and still loves it. In fact both of us had to instruct the hygienist on how cool this show is. The magic of synchronicity through Speed Racer… puts a smile on my face.

SR_4This is a show that shows its age with the jerky movements, simplified shapes and that machine gun dub that makes me say they don’t make anime like they used to. I appreciate the archaic nature of Speed Racer, both in terms or visual and acting (thank you Peter Fernandez for giving us an English version). Sadly though, I don’t follow professional racing anymore due to lack of interest. And yet I have vintage races to see, AND… I still have Speed Racer amongst other car and racing related anime (Initial D as an example). All is good! …Go Speed Racer, Go Speed Racer Go!

#61 : Baribari Densetsu

Man (or woman) and a machine working together is a beautiful thing. Not a computer, or an iPhone, but a machine that allows a human being to move at speeds beyond the capability of one’s legs. Moving at high speeds in a vehicle on a race track animated by the animation studios I love most… WE HAVE A WINNER! From a lover of finely crafted machines I present, Baribari Densetsu, translated as the Legend of Rolling Wheels, or Motorcycle Legend. And, this is way more than a story for just speed geeks. I promise.

BBD_1Our hero, Gun Koma, loves riding on his motorcycle, especially going downhill and trying to beat this rival of his who seems to have more skill than himself. Of course they both do this on public roads which makes it totally illegal and dangerous. Now what does this remind me of… Initial D maybe? …Well, well… turns out the original manga was done by the same guy, Shuichi Shigeno. How about that? Needless to say there is a heavy rivalry between Gun and the skilled Hideyoshi Hijiri (probably because he is shorter and smaller?), but there is another rider who one day showed the both of them up; their high school classmate; miss cute tomboy herself… Miyuki Ichinose, or just Mi.

BBD_2Yup, you two boys were schooled by a girl, TAKE THAT! There is good reason for this as she is the daughter of Ichinose Racing Team’s president, so racing would only come naturally presumably. Thankfully she is a generous one as she sees talent in both boys and asks if they would be interested in entering a four hour race at Suzuka racing circuit, but… Gun and Hideyoshi will have to run as a two-man team and get along. And while this race will become the big focus of the story, we have to remember that all our characters are still high school students. And as high school students the usual riffraff of trouble making bullies and romantic infatuations make appearances. Even hot headed and tough Gun has a girl crushing on him really, really bad.

BBD_3When we do get to the big race at the awesome Suzuka circuit we see how Gun and Hideyoshi grow from arch rivals into almost blood brothers. It is idealistic that they do it at one of the world’s best circuits. Seriously, watch any F1 race that was staged there or find a driving game with it included. Suzuka is demanding and fun. As for the racing animation I want to get back to Initial D for a second. One thing that Baribari does that Initial D did not, which maybe because it was the times or whatever, was show all the action as hand drawn instead of the PS2 looking CGI action. The movement is organic and smooth and all the bikes look like they are a part of the actual production instead of oddly placed.

And yet, after this big endurance race, we still have even more story to tell as Baribari Densetsu ends with a tragedy that borderlines on the unfair. Just as so much promise for the future was within sight, it all changes in the blink of an eye. Do I know any anime that features a motorcycle that does not end a little bit on the tragic side? Megazone 23, Venus Wars and Bobby’s Girl come to mind, but it goes to show that one must always be careful when taking responsibility of a two wheeled machine.

BBD_4Baribari Densetsu, for me, is a gift from the heavens. From early childhood I have always enjoyed motor racing. Not for the adrenaline thrill, but for the elegant dance of man (or woman) and a machine on a track. It takes great skill to guide either car or motorcycle at racing speeds and for that I have great respect for those who do it well. Even though I don’t follow the professional circuits anymore, I still yearn for that love only this time within another love of mine, that being anime. Classic anime’s default answer of course is Speed Racer. Then there is the rallying OVA Goddamn (which is ok) and the F1 series I would die to see, F. Is there anything else besides going to Future GPX Cyber Formula (just not interested). Then fate landed this motorcycle racing short into my lap. Thank you.

If only I had a TurboGrapx-16/PC-Engine as they had a Baribari Densetsu game. Oh well, there is always my trusted SEGA Genesis and Super Hang-On 🙂