Speed Racer (1967-1968)
Speed Racer was an American animated television series adapted from the Japanese anime (Japanese cartoons), Mach Go Go Go, from Shōnen Book, in 1958. It was originally designed by Tatsuo Yoshida as a manga series (Japanese comics) in the 1960s, inspired by Yoshida’s Pilot Ace. Speed Racer ran 52 episodes in the U.S. from 1967 to 1968, later released as a comic in the 1990s under Speed Racer: Classics and Speed Racer: the Original Manga, and then as a live-action film in 2008, titled Speed Racer. An updated series called Speed Racer: The Next Generation appeared in 2008 on NickToonz with a second season in 2011.
An early example of how Japanese anime could be successful in the United States, Speed Racer is about the adventures of Speed the driver with his car, the Mach 5. The character, Speed, was based on the original Mach Go Go Go’s character, Gō Mifune. Speed’s original name, Go Mifune, part of his family’s Mifune Motors, pays respect to the Japanese film star Toshirō Mifune. The character was a fusion of Elvis Presley’s racer look in Viva Las Vegas and James Bond (Sean Connery) in Goldfinger. His car, the Mach 5, was inspired by a combination of the gadget-equipped Aston Martin from the James Bond movies, and other popular race cars in the 1960s. The name Mach Go Go Go is a pun, since “go” means “five” in Japanese (hence, “Mach-Go” is “Mach 5”). “Go” is also at the beginning of the character’s name (Gō Mifune). Therefore, intentionally, the name Mach Go Go Go is like saying, “Mach-Five, Go, Mifune, Go” or the recurring American translation of, “Go, Speed Racer, Go!” And going even further, the sound “gogogo” is the Japanese equivalent of the sound “rumble.”
The main characters of the American animation are Speed Racer/Gō Mifune, his girlfriend Trixie, Pops Racer/Daisuke Mifune, Mom Racer/Aya Mifune, his little brother Spritle/Kurio Mifune, a pet chimpanzee called Chim-Chim, Captain Terror and his Car Acrobats, and Speed’s mysterious older brother, Racer X (The Masked Racer). The original theme song was written by Nobuyoshi Koshibe and remade by Danny Davis and Nashville Brass. In the series, the characters speak very quickly, a by-product of dubbing English words into Japanese animation. As a result, the characters come off very excitable and exasperated, gasping often and quickly plowing through their dialogue. This feature of the animation is often parodied.
More recently, Speed Racer merchandise has taken off in the form of books and magazines, car accessories, and video games. The newest Speed Racer video game was released on Wii, Playstation, and Nintendo DS with Emile Hirsch (Speed), Christina Ricci (Trixie), and Matthew Fox (Racer X) reprising their roles from the 2008 film.