Friday, March 22, 2013

Movies That Suck: My Soul To Take (2010)

You know those movies that you realize are going to make for a miserable viewing experience as soon as you start watching one of them? This was a big example of that for me. Barely two minutes into this movie, I was so damn confused and had no idea what was going on that I thought to myself, "Oh, boy. I'm in for it!" And it got so much worse from there that, when I got to the 48-minute mark in this 108-minute movie, I was about to turn it off, thinking, "Man, I don't know if I can take another hour of this." But, I stuck to it and made it through because, as Brad Jones, a.k.a. the Cinema Snob, has said time after time, I didn't want to give this movie the satisfaction of making me give up (even movies that I have turned off at some point I've eventually gone back and finished). I sure didn't feel like I had accomplished anything when I made it to the end, though. In fact, I felt as if I had come out of a bad fight and lost, which is weird because I went into My Soul To Take expecting to have a good time. Now, that's not to say that I thought it was going to be great or anything, especially since I had heard a lot of people say that this movie was awful, However, the reason I was expecting to have a good time nonetheless was because I had heard so many say that this was a case of a movie being so bad that it was enjoyable. And to them, I have to say, "Okay, you're just wrong." I don't usually say that about anyone's opinion but in this case, I'm just dumbfounded at the idea that someone could get any enjoyment out of this piece of crap. This movie fails in every conceivable way that a movie, (not just a horror movie but a movie in general), can. It's not scary, it's cliched, derivative, uninspired, very convoluted, has characters that you don't care about at all, and, above everything else, is just stupid and boring. And before we get in-depth into the review, I want to apologize in advance if I miss or mess up some plot-points because I was barely paying attention to it when I was watching it again for this review (which was only the second time I had seen it) and, honestly, I don't give a fuck if I get something wrong in this instance!

Abel Plenkov is a man with a severe case of multipe-personality disorder, with one of his personas being that of the Ripper, a merciless killer who has been terrorizing the small town of Riverton. One night, Plenkov's evil persona takes control of him, forcing him to murder his pregnant wife as well as his psychiatrist before he's finally killed by the police after his double-life is uncovered. Sixteen years later, "Ripper Day" is being celebrated by the Riverton Seven, a group of teenagers who were born at the exact moment that the Ripper died that night. They take part in a tradition of driving away the Ripper's evil spirit at the site where he was killed but, when this year's ceremony is interrupted by the police, who've been informed that Ripper Day is no longer a holiday, it seems as though this allows the vengeful killer to return from the dead and prey on the Riverton Seven. The following day, Adam "Bug" Hellerman, the most emotionally troubled member of the group, struggles not only with his personal problems but with a bizarre, mob-like scenario at his school where the jocks are ordered to beat on other kids. As the murders continue and appear to influence his personality, it eventually culminates in Bug discovering that not only has the Ripper actually returned but also that he has a personal connection to the killer that many in the town have known of but never told him. However, does that mean that the Ripper is getting his revenge through Bug or is he doing it through someone close to him?

The saddest thing about this review is that this is not only the first film by Wes Craven that I did (the reason being that I had the Blu-Ray and wanted to review the movie so I could get rid of it) but that it was the only one I got to during his lifetime. In any case, Craven was a rather odd duck in the pantheon of the masters of horror, in my opinion, in that his filmography is very uneven, ranging from beloved genre classics and tentpoles like A Nightmare on Elm Street and the Scream movies (the original trilogy, anyway), as well as gritty grindhouse exploitation films like The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes, to movies that are criminally underrated like The People Under the Stairs and Wes Craven's New Nightmare (the latter of which is actually both my favorite Nightmare on Elm Street and Craven movie), movies that are pecular but are interesting and enjoyable, like Deadly Friend and Shocker, and movies that are so bad that they're excruciating to sit through, like The Hills Have Eyes Part II and Vampire in Brooklyn. It's almost like he himself had a split personality, one being a filmmaker whom you could easily call a genius and the other being a completely clueless person who wouldn't know a good script if it bit him (although, given what I've read since his passing, it seems as though the studios were often the reason why some of his movies ended up as bad as they did). Overall, while I do think he was a better filmmaker than Tobe Hooper for the most part, I honestly wouldn't put him anywhere near the same league as people like John Carpenter and David Cronenberg, or even George Romero for that matter. But, while I haven't seen every one of Craven's films (I have seen almost all of them at this point, though), I don't see how any of them could be worse than My Soul To Take. It's particularly disheartening to know that he wrote the thing as well as directed it, the first time he had done so since New Nightmare, because that means he must be held responsible for a lot of it. I really would have liked to have asked him what in the hell went on during production because something drastic had to have happened, especially since the film was originally supposed to be released in 2009 and was originally titled 25/8 (what does that even mean?) Craven even said that making the movie was a difficult experience, which I wouldn't doubt at all either! And, worst of all, this and Scream 4, which came out the following spring (and, to be fair, is infinitely more watchable than this), were the last movies he released, making for a sad way to end a fairly solid career.

One other thing I have to comment on before we really dive into the meat of this review is the fact that this movie was converted to 3-D when it was released. Why?! I can understand why movies like the remake of Piranha that came out a couple of months before this was converted to 3-D because that type of film lends itself to it (and, from what I hear, actually worked rather well too), but My Soul To Take? I get that the only real reason they did it was because 3-D was becoming annoyingly popular around this time but still, why convert this type of movie to 3-D and then do absolutely nothing with it? And I mean that last part literally because, watching this on Blu-Ray, I don't see anything in this movie that seemed as if it took advantage of the 3-D. Nothing is thrown at the camera or anything like that, and while there may have been some atmospheric 3-D, like some depth being added to the background, I doubt that it would have been all that impressive. Also, the opening title is as uncreative and generic as you can get, just being white letters on a black background and simply popping up, staying onscreen for a few seconds, and then disappearing in a single cut. It doesn't even come at the camera like the titles of Friday the 13th Part 3 and Jaws 3 did either, giving no indication whatsoever that this was shown in 3-D, and there are also no other opening credits, so it's almost like that title was just an afterthought. All I can say is that I feel bad for the poor people who paid their money to see this in 3-D because it sounds like it was a massive rip-off. Hell, I can tell just from looking at the movie itself that, if I had seen it in the theater, I would have been absolutely miserable, so I can't imagine having to sit through it in 3-D!

Amongst its many other faults, one of the movie's biggest shortcomings is the cast of characters. While there are a couple that I kind of like, for the most part none of these people are likable or interesting in any way, shape, or form and this, unfortunately, goes for the lead, Adam "Bug" Hellerman (Max Thieriot). I feel kind of bad for giving this guy crap because he looks like he's trying his darnedest to come across as a troubled kid, having to deal with his school's insane mob-like system of students, a sister who absolutely despises him, and an apparent severe case of multiple personality disorder all his own. It's also revealed near the end of the film that he's the child that Abel Plenkov's wife was carrying when he murdered her and that they just barely managed to save his life, which gives him a very personal and horrific tie to the Ripper. And, of course, there's the simple fact that the Ripper has killed a lot of his classmates and his family members, so that gives him incentive to try to stop him, leading to what is meant to be a sort of redemption for his inability to, "drive the Ripper back," at the beginning of the film. So, to be fair, Thieriot has a lot to try to act through in this part; unfortunately, I don't think he succeeds at all. While he doesn't come across as douchey like a lot of the other teens in this movie, he's just not a very good actor, coming across as rather wooden and unable to do anything except act awkward and geeeky. They try to pass him off as such a complete innocent that he won't even say the word "fuck" but that, in and of itself, is cheesy more than anything else, and he soon starts saying the word a lot, making that initial innocence totally pointless. I don't find the parts where he temporarily loses his mind to be at all creepy (I find them to be just weird and annoying, actually) and I couldn't care less about his tie to the Ripper or whether or not he's going to overcome him. And let's not even get into how he barely responds to his best friend dying at the end of the movie. He's just a nothing character to me: uninteresting, bland, and so awkward and weird at times that it's annoying.

Where's Christine when you need her?
I kind of like John Magaro as Bug's best friend, Alex Dunkelman (I agree with Brad Jones when he said that he looks a lot like Keith Gordon from Christine). I don't know why but there are some things he does in this flick that I kind of enjoy, such as the fake positive spin he tries to put on things, like when he tells Bug to tell those that pick on him, "Thanks, that felt good," whenever they hit him, and the like. You also can't help but feel for him since he has this horrible asshole stepfather who beats on him for no reason whenever he gets a chance and also because he seems like a decent kid overall. But still, that said, I don't really care about the friendship between him and Bug. For one, you don't get that much of an idea of how long they've been friends or how deep their connection really is. Sure, you get the feeling that they hang out a lot but, other than Alex telling Bug to smile back at whatever crap life throws at him, their friendship seems to have no substance to it save when one of them says that the other is his best friend (like I said, Bug doesn't come across as that broken up when Alex dies at the end of the movie). For another, they tend to have these weird, fast-paced conversations between each other that come across like Craven is trying his best to be Quentin Tarantino but, in the end, it feels unnatural and annoying. There's also this whole thing they have between each other where Alex calls Bug, "Condor," and Bug calls Alex "Crow." I'll get more into that later on but when they do this stuff, it just makes you go, "What?!", because you're given no explanation for it save for some vague, mythological contexts concerning those birds and even that doesn't explain why they would call each other those names. Finally, it's revealed in the end that the Ripper has possessed Alex's body and has been using him to commit the murders, which is not only very predictable but, as we'll get into later, it makes no sense and is one of several elements that makes the revelation of what's exactly going on really confusing and convoluted.

Some of the victims in the film you barely know anything about. For instance, all you know about the first victim, Jay Chan (Jeremy Chu), is that he's one of Bug's friends and feels that, in order to cross the bridge that the Ripper supposedly haunts without getting attacked, he has to spit in the water. And since he's the first to get it, it seems as if he was ill-informed on that score. As far as Jerome King (Denzel Whitaker), another one of Bug's friends goes, all you know about him is that he's African-American, blind, and that his sister is a member of this group of students that controls the school (at least, I think she is) and she tells him to stay away from Bug and Alex. He doesn't even have the dignity of his attack by the Ripper being shown on-camera; it's just talked about and he dies soon afterward from his stab wounds. The other character in the film that I kind of liked was Zena Grey as Penelope Bryte, a devout Christian who often prays to God, senses that this is the day that the Ripper will return to claim them, and tries her best to warn everybody. The major reason I like her is because she's one of the few students who isn't one of Bug's immediate friends that doesn't act like a complete ass to him and, in fact, seems to care about him, helping him and Alex when they're being assaulted by one of the major "enforcers" of the school mob. She doesn't get a lot of screentime or development otherwise but that was still enough for me to like her. Unfortunately, she's like the second person to get killed, so I was just crap out of luck with this movie as far as really likable characters go.

There's the stereotypical bully, Brandon (Nick Lashaway), who beats on Bug and Alex a lot, especially since he's being ordered to do so by the school's mob. He's also stereotypically sex-hungry, demanding a blow job from the one who tells him to beat on Bug and Alex, as well as chasing after said girl when she refuses to give it to him later on (was he planning to rape her?) I don't think it's going too far to say that he's also the typical dumb jock, given how he falls for that girl's very obvious ploy to get away from him. Weirdly enough, though, after all that, they actually try to give him some character depth when he finds out that he impregnated the principal's fifteen-year old daughter, a revelation that seems to really shake him. And later on when he's killed by the Ripper, he's asked if there's anybody he wants to say goodbye to and his response is, "My unborn child." I'm like, "Are you actually trying to make him sympathetic?" I'm sorry but it's a little hard to feel bad for someone who mercilessly beat and picked on two students (even when he wasn't ordered to do so, I might add), demanded a blow job from a girl, and chased after said girl like a rapist when he didn't get it. It's not how you do things and Wes Craven, of all people, should have known that.

The character that pisses me off the most is Bug's bitch-and-a-half sister, Fang (Emily Meade). This woman is absolutely loathsome. You find out that she despises Bug because, after their father was taken down by the police, he was seen as a miracle since they were able to get him out of his mother's womb in time, whereas she was seen as a painful reminder, and she takes it out on him by ordering others to beat on him (not to mention beating him up herself at one point), constantly belittling him in the most venomous ways possible, and, ultimately, telling him that he's ruined her life for that reason I mentioned earlier. Holy shit, if she was my sister and did that to me, I would have beaten the living crap out of her myself and screamed at her, "IT'S NOT MY FAULT! GET OVER IT!" (And just for the record, I do not condone violence towards women.) Good God, I've never understood how someone could hold such a grudge against someone their entire life, making themselves an absolutely bitter, miserable person. And just like Brandon, we're suddenly supposed to sympathize with Fang when she sporadically has a change of heart after Bug smashes the rocking horse (I don't get the significance of that thing, honestly) that she gave him as an insulting birthday present in her room and says, "We're even." Now, she suddenly seems to care about her brother, helping him to hide from the Ripper when he attacks them in the house later on, and actually hugs him when he comes out of the house at the end after the Ripper has been vanquished. No! Mr. Craven, you cannot expect me to just suddenly drop everything and sympathize with a character who's been an asshole for the majority of the film, no matter the reason for the change of heart. I cannot so easily forget that she had tried to make Bug's life a living hell, beat the living crap out of him at one point, and pretty much told him that she hated him with every fiber of her being. Yeah, Fang can go to hell for all I care.

I don't have much to say about Brittany Cunningham (Paulina Olsynski), one of the school's most popular students who also happens to be one of Fang's gang members. She's the one who tells Brandon to beat on Bug and Alex, going as far as to distract a nearby cop when it comes time for the beatdown, and is also the one whom Brandon demands oral sex from as payment. I would make a comment about her being the stereotypical dumb blonde but, honestly, she doesn't seem to be all that stupid. Like I said earlier, she's smart enough to distract Brandon's dumb ass when he shows up and demands that blow job from her and also has enough wits about her to call the police on Brandon when she discovers Penelope's body while being chased by him (she actually did have good reason to suspect Brandon of killing her since Penelope humiliated him in front of her and he threatened to get her for that). There's also a hint that she secretly does like Bug, given how Fang uses that to make her do what she wants, and even after Brittany comes across him in the girl's bathroom and calls him a pervert, she says something comforting to him under her breath before changing it to save face and walking off. Ultimately, though, like everyone else in this movie, she's another faceless teenager who's only reason for existing is to get killed by the Ripper.

While we're on the subject, let's talk about this whole "mob" thing that's going on at the high school. What in the name of all that is decent is up with Wes Craven's warped idea of high school life in this movie? You have Fang and her gang who order other students, mainly Brandon, to beat on some of the "lower" ones and they even have a system for how intense the beatdown should be, like, "Give Bug a 3 and Alex an 8." Apparently, there are also penalties for beating on someone when you're not supposed to, like when Brandon is warned what Fang will do if she finds out that he's been "moonlighting." (Yes, they actually do say that.) Moreover, everyone else in the school is actually scared to death of Fang's mob, with some girls at one point warning anybody who's near the girls' bathroom at a certain time (in this case, it was either Alex or Bug, I can't remember) to get away from it because it's going to be a "Fang Zone" in a minute or so. And, yeah, Fang and her lackeys actually hold a type of mafia meeting in there, going through the day's business as well as smoking a cigarette in Fang's case. In fact, this is another reason for me not to like Fang. In addition to the crap she puts Bug and Alex through, she tries to control every aspect of her lackeys' lives, actually telling them whom they should date and whom they shouldn't, and threatening them in various ways (mostly exposing something they want to be left secret) if they refuse to do what she says. This goes beyond Fang simply being a bitch and into her being freaking insane! Seriously, what is this girl's problem? And, finally, several times in the film, there's talk about a "revolution" among the students, that they're going to take control of the school away from Fang. Revolution?! This is high school, not Gangs of New York! Like George Romero's take on the internet age in Diary of the Dead, this comes across like an old man talking about something he had absolutely no clue about and couldn't possibly comprehend. I know that it's a popular thing in movies and TV shows, like Disney's Recess, to have the school system be structured in the same way as big cities and towns, with the government that's supposed to keep things in order and run everything, i.e. the teachers and faculty, and an underground network of gangs, secret meetings, and so on. But, here's a reality check: that's not real. At least, it wasn't in the schools I went to. Yeah, there were clubs and there were bullies who did seem to act in groups, but nothing like the mob BS in this movie. Do you have any idea how much trouble these kids would be in if the teachers found out what was going on? And furthermore, why doesn't someone tell the faculty or the principal about this? What is Fang going to do about it, kill them? (Actually, she's so crazy that I wouldn't put it past her.) Now, to be fair, maybe by some slim chance there are high schools where this type of stuff does go on and if so, to reference Brad Jones once again, I'm glad I don't go to school anymore because that would suck big time! However, I feel confident in saying that this scenario is just a concept dreamt up by someone who was very out of touch with how things operate in the modern world (at least, I hope that was the case).

The adult characters in this movie fair even worse than the teenagers. The only decent one is Jessica Hecht as May, Bug and Fang's adopted mother, who comes across as really caring towards Bug and tries her best to protect him from all of the bad stuff around him, such as those who think he should be institutionalized and Fang. She's also one of many adults who has tried to shelter Bug from the horrible truth that's eventually revealed to him. Overall, not a bad character, but she's severely underdeveloped and gets killed off-camera, so it's a waste. Frank Grillo didn't impress me at all as Detective Paterson, the guy who investigated the murders at the beginning of the film, which led to him shooting down the Ripper, and takes up the investigation of the similar murders that are happening now. I feel they could have done a lot more with him, particularly in regards to the scene near the end where Paterson confronts Bug, whom he thinks is the killer, and says something along the lines of, "We all wanted the best life possible for you." Like he did in A Nightmare on Elm Street, Craven is playing with the idea that the adults in the town know the dirty secret that they feel the kids shouldn't and it could have worked just as well here as it did there, particularly with the character of Paterson, but it ultimately becomes superfluous. Besides, Paterson is killed shortly after that moment, rendering it pointless anway. The only purpose of the character of Jeanne-Baptiste (Danai Gurira), the police medical examiner, is to provide exposition, which ultimately only adds to the very confusing concept of the Ripper. There's also some banter between her and Paterson about how, sixteen years later, they've suddenly swapped beliefs, with Paterson talking about the supernatural and her talking in terms of rational science, something that, again, could have been interesting but is regulated to being almost non-existent. The rest of the adult characters are either very typical or add nothing to the movie. Dr. Blake (Harris Yulin), the counselor of Abel Plenkov? Nope. Principal Pratt (Dennis Boutsikaris), the school principal? Does nothing except suggest that Bug be put in an institution and learns that his fifteen-year old daughter has been impregnated (which doesn't go anywhere). Quint (Lou Sumrall), Alex's absusive stepfather? Typical alcoholic asshole who hates his stepson for no reason and beats on him constantly. We don't even get to see him get killed, so there was no payoff to the one horrible abuse scene that we see. There are other characters that I could talk about but I'm not going to waste my time since they're so unimportant as well as because I could easily bore you with those details. Bottom line, the characters in this movie are mostly just a bunch of blank, cardboard cut-outs meant to represent human beings.

It's bad enough when the characters you're meant to like and sympathize with are poorly constructed but, when your villain is not interesting in the slightest as well, you're dead in the water, and that's another problem with My Soul To Take: the Ripper is one of the most generic villains imaginable. He comes in one of two forms: a personality whose voice comes out of other characters' mouths or as a very tall guy dressed in black, with long black hair and a face that is covered by some type of mask with a big, grizzly beard (you hardly get a good look at it and, as you can see from that image, when you do it's so bland that it's not worth even trying to describe) and, either way, he's not enjoyable or intimidating at all. All he does is lay out a bunch of threats peppered with a lot of profanity with no charisma or real menace to them. The murders, which he commits with a curved knife that has the word VENGEANCE written on the blade, are very lame as well, which is very disappointing since the violence in a Wes Craven movie is often brutal enough to really make you wince. The kills are nothing more than typical stabbings and throat slicings, with no creativity or any impressive gore at all. And, like I said, his look when he actually appears throughout the film is as uninteresting as you can get and he's not scary at all. It's like, "Wow, Mr. Craven, you really slapped this villain together in about two seconds, didn't you?"

Not only is the Ripper a lame villain but the mythology surrounding him, as well as what exactly his plan is, is very confusing and convoluted. He starts out as one of many personalities that the character of Abel Plenkov (Raul Esparza) has in his head, forcing him to commit gruesome crimes at the beginning of the film. Fair enough, but then, we suddenly get the idea that the Ripper may be more than just a second personality seeing as how, when he's confronted by the police at the beginning of the film, Abel gets shot numerous times and yet, will not go down. Even after he's apparently killed, he comes back to life inside the ambulance, causes it to crash, and appears to escape. However, there's no sign of him whatsoever and we're led to believe that he did, in fact, die by drowning. So, this guy can shake off a bunch of bullets like they're nothing but he can't swim?! (Just you wait until we get to how he's vanquished for good at the end of the movie. It's even lamer.) Now, in spite of how dumb that was, I would be willing to roll with the idea that the Ripper was actually an evil spirit that had possessed Abel's body rather than just another personality but then, we're told this idea that all of the other personalities this guy had within him were souls as well. Okay, how in the name of God did this guy manage to get possessed by so many souls? Are they the souls of the people the Ripper killed? And if so, why didn't they go to either heaven or hell instead of possessing Abel's body? Does the Ripper want to keep them all in the same body so he can torment them some more? What is going on in this movie?! As I've said before, I don't mind things being left ambiguous if it makes it more creepy but in this case, so much stuff is left unexplained that it makes it confusing and hard to understand.

But it gets even worse when we get to Bug and his tripping out. Just like his father, he seems to suffer from multiple personality syndrome but, as with Abel, we soon find out that it's something more. Apparently, those souls that were inside Abel went into the various kids who were born that night and each time the Ripper kills one of the kids, that soul goes into Bug and he starts to take on that person's characteristics, (this plotpoint reminds me of A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, where the lead teenager in that film receives the powers and abilities of every person that Freddy kills). Fair enough, except that Bug starts to mimic the person himself, not the souls that went from Abel into them... unless those souls were like that to begin with? And what's more, Bug starts mimicking people who aren't even dead, like Fang or even Alex, the latter in a bizarre scene in the hallway where he starts acting like a mirror image of him before Alex literally knocks some sense into him. In one scene that is really weird even for this movie (I'll elaborate on it shortly because it deserves its own section), Bug and Alex give are giving a class report and, inexplicably, Bug's voice becomes rather deep and demonic-sounding, akin to what happens when the Ripper possesses somebody... except Bug is never possessed by the Ripper! So, what in the hell was that about? And, again, what exactly is the Ripper's plan? Is he killing the teenagers to get those souls back? If so, then why are they going into Bug? Because he's Abel's son? How is that an explanation? And at the end of the movie, just when you think you've figured out what the Ripper's plan might be, the character himself throws you for another confusing loop. After he reveals that he's possessing Alex, he comes out with some convoluted plan that I can't even keep straight. I think he tries to blackmail Bug into taking the wrap for the murders and allowing him to continue to inhabit Alex's body or something like that. He also said something along the lines of, "The two of us could come off as the town heroes." I'm sorry, by the end of this movie, I was so bored and confused that I was barely paying attention and even my second viewing for this review didn't help because I still couldn't understand what was going on. And here's one last thing that doesn't make any sense: if the Ripper was possessing Alex's body the whole time, then how was he able to appear seven-feet tall when he was dressed up in the costume and attacking people? Does he have the ability to transform the body he's possessing? And if he was possessing Alex, then what was it that Penelope saw lurking outside in the woods during that scene where Bug and Alex were giving their presentation? Does that mean he can exit the body and roam around? If so, why possess someone to begin with? Ugh, this crap makes my head hurt. None of it makes any sense and if you try really hard to figure it out, all you'll accomplish is giving yourself a migraine. I've heard that Wes Craven said that the script was rewritten several times and boy, does it feel like it! It's so obvious that he never got to a final draft that ironed out what was going on in a satisfactory way before he had to start shooting and the end result is a movie that is an absolutely incoherent mess.

Just as head-scratching as the Ripper is this movie's fascination with condors. Bug in particular is kind of obsessed with them, listening to a radio show early on in the film that's talking about how they're steadily coming back from the brink of extinction, the disgusting ways in which they defend themselves, and the mythology surrounding them. All of this information comes to a head in what is undoubtedly the most surreal, bizarre, and inexplicable scene in the entire film (and that's saying something). Bug and Alex are giving a presentation about the condor during one of their classes and while Bug spouts out various facts about the species in that inexplicably deep voice of his, Alex puts on this elaborate condor suit, complete with fake black feathers and a big head, and goes around the room, flapping his wings and squawking. And as if this spectacle wasn't weird enough, when Brandon ignores Bug's very blatant warning about what might happen if you mess with a condor by pulling out one of the suit's feathers, Alex activates some sort of pump in the suit that makes it actually puke on Brandon! The bully naturally doesn't take too kindly to this and immediately attacks Alex, who retaliates after getting beaten on by activating another mechanism in the suit that makes it crap on Brandon. All the while, Bug continues to go on and on with his report, eventually ending it by proclaiming that you don't mess with the condor, after which all I could do was laugh and say, "You damn right!" This part has to be seen to be believed, it's so ridiculous. And you know what honestly offended me the most? Afterward, Alex tells Bug that being in that suit made him feel like Mothra. It's just a personal thing but, being such an enormous fan of Godzilla and the like, my reaction was, "Oh, don't mention Toho's awesome monster flicks in this piece of shit!"

I wish I could say that's the extent of the film's odd fascination with the condor but I'd be lying. It also serves as a bizarre tie between Bug and Alex, with Alex calling Bug, "Condor," and Bug calling him, "Crow." At one point early on, Alex even tells Bug, "You're a condor. You eat death for breakfast. Remember that." And according to Bug, he calls Alex "Crow" because crows are guardians or something of the like, which he mentions when they're walking through the woods near his house and he points to this fake crow sitting on a tree branch (somehow, ravens got thrown into the mix as well but I'm not even going to attempt to figure out that significance). Hell, there's even a scene where Alex is watching Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds on TV (another awesome flick that I didn't want mentioned in this awful movie) and since it's the scene where the crows attack the school-children, it prompts him to say out loud how they have a higher score than the humans. And finally, there's the ending, where Bug is forced to kill Alex in order to get rid of the Ripper once and for all. After he does so, they have that odd Condor and Crow banter again and after Alex dies, Bug says, "Fly now. I know you're up there, and I know we're down here." (?) He ends the movie with a speech that begins thusly: "I am the condor. The Keeper of the Souls. I eat death for breakfast." I kind of get that significance since the souls of the victims did go into Bug, and I also kind of get the whole crow thing since Alex was more or less Bug's guardian, teaching him how to "be a man" or something similar, so maybe it does make sense in some weird way. But, the manner in which Craven gives it to you is just vague and bizarre and we're never given a concrete reason as to why they call each other Condor and Crow other than to have some way for the condor's mythology to fit into the plot. A little exposition on why they started doing that (perhaps it's tied to something that happened to them when they were kids), would have been helpful. Even though you can figure a little bit of it out in hindsight like I just did, it still makes you scratch your head, particularly with what Bug said to Alex after he died (I still don't get that at all). And just to confound you even more, Craven places the first section of the ending credits over a weird animated backdrop involving condors flying over the town, scratching up the screen, and so on (I swear, one of the condors did something similar to the Moon Walk!) I don't know about you but when I went into a movie called My Soul To Take, I didn't expect all of this hullabaloo about condors, particularly an animated ending credits sequence devoted to them!

If you come away from this feeling that I didn't put as much effort into this review as I normally do, I apologize. Here's the thing: when a movie is this generic, confusing, and bland, you tend to lose interest in it very quickly and before long, you're barely paying attention to it and just wishing that it would end. My Soul To Take is a perfect example of how excruciatingly boring a movie can get when you don't care about any of the characters, their conflicts, what's going on with the plot as a whole, and so on. I wasn't kidding when I said at the beginning that I would probably get a lot of details in this movie wrong simply because I was barely paying attention to it when I watched it again for this review. I tried. God knows I tried! But I just found it impossible to stay focused on what was going on or being said (I turned on the subtitles just so I could actually see what was being said since so much of it is spoken so quickly and that hardly helped!) This movie is so boring to talk about that, when I was in the middle of writing this review, I accidentally did something that about caused me to have a heart attack. I don't know what I did but I hit some button that deleted the entire fucking review! Yeah, somehow I ended up deleting all of that excruciating effort in one clumsy stroke andI almost went postal because I did not want to rewrite this whole damn thing again. Fortunately, though, Blogspot has an Undo and Redo button which enabled me to recover what I had deleted but man, I almost decided right then and there, "Well, then, this review just won't see the light of day. I'm not talking about this bullshit again!" And believe me, telling you about that near fatal incident was a lot more entertaining than talking about My Soul To Take itself. The good thing is that there's not much more I can say, so I can begin wrapping things up but, bottom line, this review, and that near catastrophe in particular, has probably taken a few years off my life.

The actual look of the film is fair enough. As I've said in the past, I'm not a fan of the way movies look nowadays, with color correction and the like, because it doesn't feel genuine to me. The murky picture quality and unnatural look of the colors from that process tend to give films a synthetic look that I'm not fond of at all. It feels to me more like you're watching a workprint instead than a finished movie. That said, though, My Soul To Take doesn't have much of that problem. Granted, it's still there and is recognizable, but it's not as nauseatingly pronounced as other films tend to be nowadays. I don't mind the setting of the film that much, either. Yes, we've so many movies set in these small towns that it's beyond stale but I didn't mind this location, especially the nighttime shots of the woods at the beginning that look pretty cool and atmospheric (too bad nothing's done with them). It was shot in Connecticut and while it doesn't look all that distinct or special, it feels like the type of place that lends itself to a story about evil in a small, innocent town (though, personally, I still prefer the towns in films like Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Fright Night, or even the Scream films for that matter).

Like I said earlier, not only is the Ripper himself not that original of a villain but his murders are absolutely lame and unoriginal. All they consist of are just typical stabbings for the most part, although there is a moment at the beginning of the film where the Ripper does attempt to use a gun (he doesn't succeed, though). The killings are not only unimaginative but you barely see anything in the way of gore. Save for Brandon's death where we get a graphic closeup of blood coming out of his mouth after he's stabbed, the lack of blood in this movie is just laughable. Heck, I don't think you even see the initial attack on Brittany, seeing as how, after the Ripper kills Brandon, he says to himself, "Now, where did I leave your bitch?" and we then cut to Brittany, who is running through the woods with bloody stab marks on her back. Unless I got so bored that I momentarily passed out, I never saw the beginning of her attack. In fact, I don't remember how she was ultimately done in at all. (Probably wasn't much to write home about, anyway.) Actually, now that I think about it, that's what a lot of the blood in the movie is: blood on top of wounds that have been inflicted off-camera. Just lame. I feel so sorry for Vincent Schicchi and Josh Turi, the makeup effects artists on this thing. They must have been bored out of their skulls and just languishing during the filming.

I don't have a damn thing to say about the music score by Marco Beltrami. I literally don't remember a single tune from this entire movie; it's all just generic horror music that runs together, with no distinct themes at all. Beltrami tends to be a fairly hit and miss composer anyway. Except for Music of the Heart, he scored every one of Craven's films from the original Scream on and, while I do like a lot of the music that he composed for those films (a lot of his score for the first Scream was put into Halloween H2O as well), I wouldn't say that they're iconic. The same goes for his score for other stuff like Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines: it's fairly good and fits the images that it's put to but it's not something you'll be humming to yourself afterward. Weirdly enough, though, I do really like the score he made for the 2011 prequel to John Carpenter's The Thing, one of many aspects of that film that a lot of people despise. In short, Beltrami is the guy that you call when you want music that simply fits your visuals well; otherwise, there's nothing that special about his work. But, man, the score he did for this sucked just as bad as the movie itself. I can't even call it forgettable because that says that there was actually something there to forget. Like the movie, it's just a whole lot of nothing.

The songs on the soundtrack suck even worse than the score in my opinion and the reason I say that is because they're not only annoying but they're also the types of songs that particularly grate on your nerves when you're not enjoying the viewing experience, as was the case with me. There's actually a song called Fang's Gang by Danny Saber that plays in the scene where Fang and her lackeys are walking towards the girls' bathroom: cheesy, stupid, and makes the movie even more obnoxious than it already was. Even worse is the song that plays over the first part of the ending credits, which I think is Everything Touches Everything by Jesse Elliott. Whatever that song is, I find it to be very, very annoying. Imagine watching this bizarre, animated sequence involving condors while this song that constantly repeats the lyrics, "I am a man, I am a man!" plays over it. It's so bad and is quite possibly the perfect way to cap off an infuriating movie like this. And finally, another song by Elliott called I Want You To Keep Everything plays out the credits. I don't remember anything about that song either except it was another one that seemed to be saying, "Ha ha, you just wasted nearly two hours of your life on this piece of garbage!" There are other songs on the soundtrack but those are the ones that stuck out to me.

There's no nice way to say this so I'm not even going to try: My Soul To Take blows ass on every possible level. The characters are either bland, uninteresting, or loathsome, the villain is as uninspired and derivative as you can get, the story is a confusing mess with themes and deeper meanings that are so convoluted and contrived that trying to sort them out will make your head explode, the music score will not stick with you one little bit, and there's not even enough gore for you to enjoy this film on a level of simple, gratuitous entertainment. The studio behind it, Rogue Pictures, must have known that this movie was bad because not only did they convert the film to 3-D in a desperate attempt to squeeze a little bit more cash out of it but they also tried to drum up some publicity by staging a fake stabbing at the movie's premiere, making it look as if some guy got stabbed right in front of Wes Craven and the cast. The stunt didn't fool anybody and it didn't encourage people to go see the movie either. The film was a huge bomb, making back only $14 million out of the $25 million budget, and, coupled with the less than stellar performance of Scream 4 the following spring, could have been taken as a sign that Craven's days as an in-demand, not to mention a quality, filmmaker may have been behind him (again, it's a shame just how literal that notion turned out to be). I know there are some out there who find this movie to be so bad that it's good but, for my money, unless you're a big fan of Craven, you'd best steer clear of this huge misfire. As a reviewer on IMDB said, it's more like it should be called My Money To Take, because that's the only experience you'll get out of it.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Anime Corner/Stuff I Grew Up With: Speed Racer (Mach Go Go Go) (1967-1968)

When I was around six to seven years old, I first got a glimpse of this show through advertisements promoting its upcoming premiere on Cartoon Network. And the minute I saw those commercials, I knew that this was a very different cartoon from the stuff that I usually got on Cartoon Network. It looked nothing like the Looney Tunes or the old Hanna-Barbera shows and while it had some similarities to the latter's action cartoons, it was undeniably a show that had a flavor all its own. However, there was something else on Cartoon Network at the time that I could immediately compare it to: G-Force (which I've learned in recent years was one of many titles given to a show that was originally called Science Ninja Team Gatchaman). While I wasn't a die hard fan of that show or anything, I watched it occasionally and, therefore, it didn't take much for me to realize that there was a connection between the two of them, most notably in the character designs as well as in the very ways the shows looked. The title character himself, Speed Racer, in particular looked a lot like a couple of the characters who were members of the team in that show to me. Of course, I was much too young to put an exact finger on it, but I just knew that there were similarities between the two shows. (It would be many, many years before I learned that these shows looked similar because they were both from Japan and were examples of what I would learn is called anime.) In any case, even though I wasn't a major fan of G-Force or even car racing for that matter, I couldn't helped but be intrigued by the clips that I saw of Speed Racer, as well as a brief glimpse that I got of one of the episodes and so, shortly after it premiered on Cartoon Network, I decided to sit down and watch an entire episode from beginning to end.

While some things in that first episode that I saw did throw me off (particularly the really fast way the characters talked), I wound up actually rather liking it. Therefore, I decided to watch more and more episodes after that first one and it wasn't long before I became a genuine fan. I liked the character of Speed, I enjoyed the action and adventure, and it was a show that hardly ever bored me. Naturally, there were some things about the show that I was too young to understand and went right over my head but it didn't matter. Speed Racer soon became one of my must-watch shows on Cartoon Network, much to the annoyance of my parents since I would hog the one TV we had at that time whenever it was on, no matter what time of day it was. (My dad got particularly irritated when I would watch it at around 9:00 at night, causing him to miss something that he wanted to watch. You also wouldn't believe some of the lengths I went to in order to make sure that I wouldn't miss an episode.) Because of how big a fan I became of it, I've always considered Speed Racer to be my first real exposure to anime, even if it wasn't the first one I actually saw. Therefore, I think it's only natural for it to be the first anime that I review on this blog. In fact, watching it again as an adult is an even more interesting facet to talk about than my nostalgic memories of first seeing it way back when. It stopped airing on Cartoon Network in 1998 when I was around the ages of ten and eleven and, save for some brief times when I saw it on the Speed Channel during my first year of college, I hadn't actually seen the show until last year when I rediscovered it on Hulu. I had always intended to review it on here at some point and when I watched it again on there, I decided that the time had come. While some aspects of the show don't quite hold up to the scrutinizing abilities of an adult, I still think it's a fun, exciting series whose interesting translation from just another Japanese cartoon series to an American cult classic resulted in a quirky, unique charm that no other show has.

The story of the show is fairly straightforward. Speed Racer is a skilled, 18-year old amateur racer who longs to not only become a professional but also to be the greatest in the entire world. While his hot-tempered, car engineer father, Pops, is at first against Speed's racing, he eventually allows him to go professional and soon, Speed is competing in auto-races all across the world with the Mach Five, an amazing racing vehicle that his father built. As Speed journeys down the road to becoming a professional racer and world champion, he and his friends and family must deal with all sorts of evil-doers, from unscrupulous rival racers to evil businessman, gangsters, and even terrorists, the latter of which lead Speed into many adventures involving espionage. A constant ally and competitor to Speed is the mysterious masked Racer X, who is actually Speed's long lost older brother Rex and has taken it upon himself to watch over his younger brother and, unbeknownst to Speed, aid him in his quest to becoming the greatest racing driver in the world. Throughout all of these adventures and encounters, Speed's racing skills continue to improve and with each race, he gets closer and closer to realizing his highest aspiration.

Like most anime, Speed Racer began life as a manga (comic book). It was created in 1966 by Tatsuo Yoshida, a self-taught comic book artist who was fairly well known in the Japanese comic industry by that time, and his brother Toyoharu had had some minor success with the creation of some popular manga, most notably Z-Boy. The two of them, along with their middle brother Kenji, had created their own production company in 1962 but their first anime, Space Ace, which debuted in 1965, didn't meet with much success. Despite this, Yoshida decided to go ahead with another anime, one that was to be filmed in color, unlike the black and white Space Ace, and combined elements of one of his most popular manga, Pilot Ace, with those of the films Viva Las Vegas and Goldfinger. It was originally intended to be an anime from the get-go but since it was a popular practice at the time to adapt popular manga into anime, Yoshida decided to start it off as a manga. The manga, with the original title of Mach Go Go Go was published in 1966 and the anime series premiered the following spring, with the chief episode director being a guy named Hiroshi Sasagawa, who has done work for all kinds of anime throughout the years, including Voltron as well as Speed Racer X, one of several modernized versions of the series that popped up in the 90's and 2000's. It proved to be a pretty popular show over in Japan and the American rights for it were snatched up not too long after its premiere. The Trans-Lux Corporation in New York were the ones who acquired the rights and they hired Peter Fernandez, a veteran voice actor and writer-director for dubs of foreign films and TV series who had worked on the dubs for Astro Boy and Gigantor, to Americanize the series. Fernandez, who ended up actually voicing Speed, was essentially the one who turned the series into the entity that American audiences know today. He had free reign to do whatever he wanted in terms of renaming the characters, the titles of the episodes, and anything else that he could think of. He even turned the anime's original theme song into the charming little tune that fans know and love to this day. To make a long story short, the show that we know as Speed Racer was both created and embodied by Peter Fernandez.

Before we go any further, one thing that I must make clear is that the focus of this review will be the English adaptation that's known as Speed Racer. Obviously, that's the version that I grew up with and is the one I have the nostalgia for. In fact, I've never seen the original Japanese Mach Go Go Go, simply because you cannot find it in America. It's not available on DVD here and I can't find it anywhere on the internet either save for some brief clips here and there. Believe me, I would like to see that version of the show so I could compare the two and make this a more thorough review but, unless I spend a lot of money on importing a DVD from Japan (and, honestly, I don't care enough to go through all of that trouble), it doesn't look as if that's going to happen any time soon. Fortunately, from all the research I've done, it seems as though the show wasn't altered that much when it was brought over here, save for slight trims here and there due to violence as well as deletions of some minor moments. So, it's good to know that I'm not missing that much. Anyway, I'll try to acknowledge what ever aspects of the original series that I do know of when the opportunity presents itself but, for the most part, this will simply be my thoughts on the version that I knew from my childhood.

One thing that can be said about Speed Racer himself is that he is most certainly not a complicated character (even Peter Fernandez said at that one point). His motivations are very clear: he loves racing and he wants to be the best that there is. That's his dream and he's so determined to fulfill it that nothing is going to stop him from doing so, not danger, the interference of other, less scrupulous racers, or even when he either does lose a race or is unable to participate in one due to more pressing matters. No matter what gets in his way, he just keeps right on going, determined to be the best racer in the world. But, that said, he has very strong morals and understands that human life is more important than winning. He won't hesistate to help someone who's in danger, no matter if it will cost him the race. In fact, as I said, there have been many instances where he's sacrificed even entering a race when something more important is at hand. He's basically a boy scout in a racing car and while many may feel that doesn't make for an interesting lead, I think it makes Speed a very likable lead since you know where he stands and that he will, in the end, do the right thing. The only times where he has been absolutely determined to win a race no matter what is when what ever consequences that may occur simply aren't his problem. One such instance was when he was in a race whose outcome would determine whether or not this country would open its borders to the outside world. Speed discovered that Racer X was attempting to protect the land's natural and national treasures and he tried to dissuade Speed from continuing the race, saying that the country would be ruined if he won. Speed, however, said that he didn't care about the political reasons for the race being held and that he entered it simply so he could race to win. That was all he cared about. He was going to test his skill as much as he could in this race and he was not going to hold back for any reason. There was another instance where a woman appeared at the hotel that Speed was staying in and she actually asked him to let her brother win the race. Speed, understandably, wasn't too happy about this demand and refused to lose the race on purpose. Even when he learned her reasons for asking him that (and they were good reasons, mind you), he was still determined to try to win and wasn't just going to throw the race. So, to sum up, Speed understands that some things are more important than winning and will sacrifice a race if the need arises but he's still determined to win a race whenever he can and won't lose on purpose for anything.

It's clear from the beginning of the series that Speed is a very skilled driver, with how he weaves through traffic during a race for fun that opens the series and with how he maintains himself on the curves of the track. Still, as skilled as he is to begin with, there's still much more for Speed to learn and as he enters more and more professional races, his driving ability increases that much more to the point where, by the end of the series, he proves himself to be the most talented driver in the world. He's also quite skilled at hand to hand combat, as we see many times whenever he gets caught in a scuffle with some bad guys. Speed more than holds his own in 90% of the fights that he gets into throughout the series and often manages to mop the floor with his attackers. Although this fighting talent is never explained in the anime (not in the English version anyway), I think it's said in the manga that Pops was the captain of his wrestling team when he was a student. (It is said in the anime, though, that Pops himself used to be a wrestler.) And, finally, on top of everything else, Speed is very loyal to his family and friends and he won't hesistate to help or save them no matter what. So, basically, Speed is the ideal teenager: extremely handsome, dresses very well, skilled at both racing and fighting, has great morals, and is the best son/brother/friend that anyone could ask for. I know it may seem like he's too much of a goody-goody but, honestly, Speed was the kind of person that I wanted to be when I was a kid and to this day, I still think he's a great lead character. My only complaint with him, though, is just how much he will go out of his way to help someone that would stab him in the back given the chance (and they tend to do so afterward as well) or when he gives and helps when there's no real need for him to do so. The best example of the latter is in the very last episode when a racing pair runs out of gas and he gives them all of his spare gas and oil. Eventually, he himself runs out of gas and he's given a deservedly stern lecture about being overly generous while competing. As much as I like Speed as a character and think that he's a great guy, he should have just gone on with the race. Yeah, it sucks that they ran out of gas but hey, that's what happens. Still, I do really like Speed.

Speed's most constant companion in his adventures is his feisty girlfriend, Trixie (voiced by Corinne Orr). Though nothing is said about her background in the anime, I've heard that in the manga it's explained that she's the daughter of the executive at another car company. I think that the manga also mentions that her father owns an aviation company as well, which explains why she has her own helicopter. In any case, Trixie is not a typical damsel in distress. While she has been captured quite a few times during the show, she never cowers in fear, cries, or pleads for her life. In fact, she more often than not tells the villains off and has even been the one to rescue Speed on some occasions. She can also hold her own in a fight just as well as Speed and she often helps her boyfriend during races by flying around in her helicopter and advising him on what's happening on the road ahead. She's also been known to use that helicopter or another aircraft to fend off bad guys who are after Speed, like in the second part of the first episode when she drops smoke bombs on the gang of hitmen who are chasing Speed. She also rides along with Speed in the Mach Five during some races, acting as a navigator and she's often eager to join him in whatever he's doing, be it a race or an investigation. The one drawback of Trixie, though, is that she's more than a little possessive of Speed. Speed literally can't even look at another girl without Trixie getting all jealous and pissy, often dragging Speed away, storming off, or giving Speed the cold shoulder. There was even one instance where she shoved another girl away from Speed, even though that girl was simply trying to keep him warm in the cold environment they happened to be in at the time, and another where Trixie kicked Speed's leg to make him take his eyes off a dancer at a floating restaurant. It's like, "Jeez, Trixie, can't Speed at least even talk to another girl? And he's such a boy scout that I don't think you have anything to worry about. He's obviously the faithful type." Besides, there was one instance where Trixie was excited to meet a prince that she only knew through voice and she was expecting him to be absolutely handsome. That turned out to not be the case, though, and Trixie immediately dropped her interest in him. And let's not forget that when they first met Racer X, she said he looked handsome, so I think it's safe to say that Trixie can be a hypocrite. She also acts that way whenever Speed says he has to do something on his own and that it would be too dangerous for her to go. (Jeez, Trixie, clingy much?)Despite that side, though, Trixie has often shown a sympathetic and caring side to others, like when she told that one girl that she wasn't responsible for her brother's horrible actions (the one that she shoved away from Speed, mind you), and in another instance where the group was trying to escape from an island they were stranded on, she allowed a young woman who desperately wanted to get to her ill mother to go in her place in the escape attempt that would only call for a limited number of people. And despite her jealousy, though, it is clear that she does genuinely love and care for Speed (though, in this version of the series, their relationship is as innocent and plutonic as you can get). Bottom line, despite her sometimes annoying shortcomings, you got to love Trixie.

One of the most enjoyable parts of the show for me are Speed's kid brother Spritle (voiced by Corinne Orr) and his pet chimpanzee, Chim Chim (voiced by Jack Grimes). Characters like this often get on my nerves but for some reason, I always enjoyed these two whenever they were onscreen, particularly Spritle. He's so energetic and mischievous that it's great. He and Chim Chim often stow away in the trunk of the Mach Five in order to join Speed on a race and while they often get themselves in trouble by doing so (be it with Speed and Pops or by being caught by the bad guys), there have been many times where their stowing away has been a blessing in disguise because they're able to help Speed get out of a predicament. In fact, if you think about it, Speed would have been dead many times if it hadn't been for Spritle and Chim Chim's presence. The two of them have managed to stow away on other trips as well. There have been many times where Speed has had to travel to another country to attend a race and even though Spritle has been told that he and Chim Chim can't come, they almost always find a way to get aboard the plane, either by disgusing themselves or by simply sneaking aboard the Mach Five and getting out after it's loaded into the plane. Despite his mischievous streak, Spritle clearly loves his brother and wants to help him win races or defeat bad guys however he can. There have been several instances where it's believed that Speed has been killed and Spritle shows how much he cares by crying his eyes out. Speaking of crying, though, Spritle does that a lot in the series but it's mostly for comedic effect, like when he didn't get his way on something. It should be annoying but, save for those aforementioned instances where it's believed that Speed has been killed, I always find it hilarious because Spritle sometimes cries at very random moments. In the very first episode, there's a moment where he and Chim Chim are dancing to the radio and Pops, who is trying to think, says, "Quiet." He didn't even yell it, he just said it very quickly and somewhat sternly and yet, Spritle suddenly burst into tears. It was just hilarious. And then, to make it even funnier, his mom gave Spritle and Chim Chim some candy but Chim Chim ran off with all of it and Spritle started crying again! That's another thing: Spritle and Chim Chim will do anything for food, particularly sweets. Spritle often asks for it as payment for his help, no matter how pressing the situation is, and he and Chim Chim can gobble it down like nobody's business (although this has, unavoidably, left them with stomach aches from time to time).

Spritle and Chim Chim have also been the focus of some of the show's most surreal moments. There was one episode that involve the two of them being lost in the desert with no food or water (Chim Chim gets so affected by the heat that he thinks the camel they're on is fruit and bites him) when they come across an oasis... or so they think. You know where this is going. It turns out to be a mirage but it takes a while for it to be revealed as one because we get into this long sequence of Spritle and Chim Chim swimming around in the water, playing amongst the bubbles and the fish (yes, they imagine fish in the water), and so on. (The music in this scene adds to its dreamlike, hallucinatory quality.) Heck, even before that, Chim Chim is actually climbing through the trees even though, as we're eventually shown, there are no trees there either, so when these two have hallucinations, they're very elaborate. Another such scene happened in an episode where the two of them were having to transport one part of a precious cargo across the American West. While riding on the wagon, Spritle falls asleep and dreams the classic scenario that he's a masked stranger who ventures into an old western town (in other words, he's the Lone Ranger). He does the typical thing of shooting these bad guys who ambush him as he rides through the town and after the sun goes down, he's sitting with this guitar-playing woman who's been observing the whole thing. It's a well done dream sequence, with an interesting visual style in that, save for Spritle, his horse, and that woman, everything is drawn in an abstract way with a bunch scribbled lines. It lends itself that this is a dream about the very idealized image of the American West and the soft, strumming guitar music adds to that feeling. One thing that kind of gives me pause, though, is right when Spritle is about to kiss that woman, she suddenly turns into Chim Chim. Now, while Spritle is clearly freaked out in the dream when that happens, when we go back to reality and see him still sitting there sleeping, he's smiling, bobbing his head back and forth, making some, "Hmm," sounds. (I like the silly expression that Chim Chim is making while he's asleep this whole time as well.) Uh, what was that about? And why did Chim Chim even spring up in the first place... you know what, take that back. That's getting a little too raunchy but I felt I had to point that part out.

Finally, I like Spritle just for the random comments and observations. There was one time when someone was offering Pops some money if he would let Speed join his racing team and after he made his offer, a representative for another team started laughing at him. The guy demanded to know what was so funny but the other man just kept laughing. All of a sudden, Spritle pops up and says, "Something must be funny." There was another instance where Speed and the gang had been captured by a man who showed them all of the great works of art that he had stolen throughout the world and when he said that he now wished to show them something else, Spritle asked if it was more works of art. The guy commented that they were works of art in a way and Spritle, despite being too young to appreciate art, said in a matter-of-factly voice, "Alright, let's see 'em." It's random moments like that that just make me love this little guy. Spritle's awesome.

I don't have much to say about Chim Chim. Obviously, since he's a chimpanzee, he doesn't speak (although he does make a lot of monkey-hooting noises whenever he's onscreen) and his personality is basically a reflection of Spritle's: mischievous, energetic, and with a huge appetite for sweets (he tends to eat all of the food that they have and leave none for Spritle, much to Spritle's annoyance). Heck, he even wears overalls and a striped hat that are identical to the ones Spritle wears and tends to mimic his movements and actions. His vocal effects are interesting because in the original Japanese version, voice actor Horishi Otake maned to emit some very realistic, monkey-like sounds and yet, when the show was brought to America, actor Jack Grimes performed his own vocal effects. Even more unusual is that you can hear Otake's original sounds behind those that Grimes created and the result is a rather unusual combination that makes it sound as if Chim Chim has two "voices" coming out of his mouth. I personally think he does sound like an actual primate for the most part but I can't deny how strange his vocal effects sound as well. Finally, I just have to say that I've always wondered how Spritle came to have a chimpanzee as a pet. Even as a kid, that confounded me, particularly because my parents wouldn't even let me have a dog or a cat! Is the Racer family so well off that they could afford a pet chimpanzee? I ask that because they live in the manner of a typical, middle class family. And also, why not get Spritle a dog or a cat? Are chimps a popular animal over in Japan? Obviously, this is not a show where you should overanalyze stuff and I'm mostly being sarcastic when I say this stuff but still, it is something that I tend to wonder about.

Another character who is partly comic relief is Speed's father, Pops (voiced by Jack Curtis). He's a former wrestler who has gone into the business of designing and building cars and it was him who designed the Mach Five. At the beginning of the series, he quits working for a car manufacturing company after having a fight with a board member who is not at all impressed with the Mach Five or Pops' plans to rebuild it, complete with a new engine that he's designed, and establishes his own company. He's also initially against Speed's desire to become a professional racer, feeling that he needs a lot more experience and skill before he can even hope to compete professionally, although he doesn't mind Speed taking the Mach Five for amateur races. As we also learn, another reason for Pops' initial reluctance to let Speed race professionally is because of the falling out that occured between him and his oldest son, Rex, years ago. Pops told Rex that he shouldn't enter a race until he has enough experience but Rex did so anyway and when he ended up wrecking the car right before he could cross the finish line, Pops admonished him for his lack of driving skill and overconfidence as well as for destroying his new racing car. Pops forbade Rex from racing again, prompting Rex to leave home and become a professional racer by himself. Pops maintains this same feeling towards Speed throughout the first couple of episodes but when Speed enters one race in particular without his father's permission and actually wins it, Pops decides to allow his son to go professional. But, once he allows him to do so, he starts pushing his son on improving his driving skill and encourages him to enter some rather dangerous races, saying that he must take up the challenge. Pops often makes his convictions on what he feels should and shouldn't occur in racing quite clear, such as in one episode when a dangerously fast car engine that was believed to have been buried where no one could find it is used in a sports-car and Pops tries everything he can to keep the engine from being used, saying that it's much too dangerous and powerful for anyone to handle. There was also an episode that involved a sport known as "car wrestling," that involved drivers smashing their cars into each other and Pops made his opinions on that matter clear as well, saying, "Smashing cars on purpose is ridiculous and anyone who does it shouldn't be allowed to drive a car!"

Now despite the serious side of the character that I described above, I wasn't kidding when I said that Pops is often used as comic relief. This mainly from the fact that he's a real hothead and often blows his top and starts yelling, albeit in a comical way mind you. The arguments he has with people tend to get him in hot water (it's partially what caused him to quit his job in the first episode) and some of the stuff that he says when he's mad is pretty funny, like when he becomes angry when he hears that Speed entered a race without his permission and Spritle offered an opinion on the matter. Pops thought about it at first but immediately turned around and said, "I didn't ask your opinion, Spritle!" In the second part of the same episode, when Pops finds out that Speed went ahead and entered that race even after that blow up of his, he says, "I'm not mad... but I should be." And let's not forget this classic line when he and Sparky are at an airport and he's told that there are no more planes available. Pops points out the window to a plane that's sitting out there and he says, "Well, what is that big thing? Don't tell me it's a bird!" Like I said earlier, Pops used to be a wrestler and even though he's become rather obese in his middle-age, he can still hold his own in a fight very well (although he has been overwhelmed by younger rivals and gotten clocked on the head). The fact that he's not a young man anymore does catch up with him in some instances, though, like when he's expecting to be Speed's navigator in one race and does some warm-ups to get himself ready. However, he ends up straining a muscle in his back and groans, "Oh, and to think, I used to be a champ!" Pops Racer: former wrestler turned brilliant car designer, devoted family man, but also a hothead and somebody who needs to realize that he's not as young or fit as he used to be.

The member of the Racer family who gets the least amount of exposure is Pops' wife, who's simply now as Mom (voiced by Corinne Orr). It's not far fetched to think that you could count the number of episodes that she appeared in on less than two full hands simply because she's just not that essential a character. As a result, she doesn't have that much of a personality but when she is onscreen, she comes across as a very sweet, loyal, and encouraging mother and wife who simply wants her family to be happy. She's also the one who tries to maintain some peace in the household whenever Pops is ticked off or when Spritle and Chim Chim are getting into mischief. Not much else that I can say other than that though. She's just not that defined of a character.

The most complex character in the entire show is the mysterious Racer X (voiced by Peter Fernandez) and even before it's revealed in his debut episode, I don't think it's too difficult to figure out that he's Speed's long lost brother, Rex (and don't worry if you forget that little tidbit because the show's narrator will remind you almost every time you see Racer X). As I said earlier, Rex ran away from home when he had a falling out with Pops over his lack of driving skill and became determined to become the best racer in the world. And when he appears as Racer X, we hear just how talented of a racer he has become from Speed and others, with Speed saying that he's defeated some of the best racers in the world and, ironically enough, Pops himself says that Racer X is one of the best he's ever seen. We also get to see Racer X's skill in action many times throughout the series. In the first part of his debut episode, he manages to keep control of his car while driving after Speed during a violent storm (whereas Speed has a lot of difficulty in keeping the Mach Five from crashing). In another episode, he suddenly appears at a track where Speed and some other drivers are being coached on the finer points of racing and decides to show the less than perfectly skilled drivers, including Speed, how it's done by hopping into the Mach Five and performing some amazing feats of handling with it, including effortlessly swerving around a series of poles, and after he's finished, he gets back into his own car, the Shooting Star, and just drives away, leaving Speed and the others flabbergasted. Their coach comments that that's how it's done and that nobody is as skilled as Racer X. There was even one instance during a race where the drivers were forced to cross a dangerous chasm and when it was Racer X's turn to cross, he made it look incredibly easy, jumping from rock pillar to rock pillar like a frog and eventually making it to the other side of the chasm. These and other encounters with Racer X make Speed even more determined to improve his racing skills and eventually surpass Racer X. As a result, the two of them become friendly but still very fierce competitors. Although he's initially still intent on becoming the world champion racer, Racer X also takes it upon himself to be his younger brother's guardian angel, protecting him from danger during the various races and espionage adventures that they have together, and when Speed actually wins the first professional race that the two of them participate in, Racer X says that he hopes Speed will become the greatest. From then on, he aids Speed whenever he can, be it when he's in danger or injured and can't drive properly, but although he apparently let Speed win their first race together, there are moments where he makes it clear that he's not going to make it easy on him. During one race later in the series, Racer X thinks to himself about how Speed's skills have improved but insists that he's not going to let him win. It's not clear whether he himself is still trying to be the world champion or whether he's doing so to push Speed's skills even further so he will become the greatest. I personally like to think it's more towards the latter, given what Racer X said to himself after their first real race together and with how he gives his younger brother important advice both in terms of driving skill and what the best mindset to have during a race is.

Later on in the series, with more and more episodes involving espionage and political intrigue, we learn that, somewhere along the line, Racer X became a secret agent. He's Agent 9 (the same number as his race car) of the International Police, which is based in Paris, and we see him in his secret agent occupation in one episode where he's trying to prevent a gang of assassins from replacing the president of a country with the crooked vice-president and in another where he's briefed about a recent plane hijacking that just happened to involve Speed as well. There was even one episode that featured Racer X, without his mask, entirely as Agent 9, wearing a white suit, hat, and dark glasses (you'd think Speed would be able to recognize his brother when he's not wearing the mask, glasses or not but he doesn't). We're not told until a later episode that that was indeed Racer X but given that we now know of his other occupation as a secret agent, that his agent numer is 9, and by the very fact that it's unmistakably his voice that comes out of his mouth, it's not that hard to figure out beforehand. In fact, even before his dual occupation is officially revealed, you would undoubtedly suspect it due to an episode where Racer X infilitrates an organization of assassins in order to destroy them. Heck, at the end of the episode, Speed even asks Racer X if he is a secret agent, which Racer X just laughs off. By the end of the series, Racer X inexplicably decides to give up racing in order to become a secret agent full-time and says that he can't return home. This revelation comes across as rather random because throughout the series, Racer X has been saying that he would return home one day. At first, he said it would be after he becomes the world champion racer and in another episode, it would be after Speed achieves that honor. But then, out of nowhere, at the end of one of the last episodes when Speed comes out and asks Racer X if he is his brother, Racer X suddenly punches him in the stomach, leaving Speed unconscious. It's when another person who's present remarks that he can tell that Racer X is indeed Speed's brother that Racer X makes that revelation. It just feels like it came right out of left field because there's no reason why Racer X can't reunite with his brother and return home (in the manga, that actually does happen). I don't think Pops is still going to be mad about what happened between them years ago now that Rex has become an incredibly skilled racer and has also saved several countries from falling into turmoil through his other occupation as a secret agent. It can't simply be because Racer X feels that Speed will be safer if he isn't aware of his true identity because he sure as hell hasn't been able to stay out of danger's way before, even being mistaken for a secret agent himself by a criminal corporation in one instance (not to mention that the criminals they defeat in this episode in question were from various parts of the world and knew that he was Rex Racer so I think it's safe to say that his cover's blown). And, ironically enough, the very next episode is the last of the series where Speed become the world champion, which Racer X said would prompt him to return home one day. I can't tell that's due to bad writing or really good writing that helps make Racer X even more complex, that he simply feels for whatever reason that he can't return home. It's not that clear but it is something to think about.

Finally, there's one more issue that must be addressed when it comes to Racer X: does Speed ever figure out who he really is? There's no clear answer to that question either. What is clear, though, is that Speed is suspicious of his identity from the beginning and he does begin to wonder if he is Rex. He begins to think this when he's in Racer X's hotel room at one point and he sees a vase full of white roses, which is his mother's favorite type of flower. There's another instance in a later episode where Speed, while looking at Racer X up close, thinks to himself, "There's something about him that reminds me of Rex, my brother." (This brings up issues of how old Speed was when Rex left hom and if he could truly recognize his brother's face. You also have to wonder why Speed thinks that when Racer X is his brother when he has the mask on and yet, in that episode where he's dressed completely as a secret agent and not wearing the mask, Speed doesn't bat an eyelash. And let's not forget that, during the first episode with Racer X, we see Speed in bed, thinking about his brother and we see that he at least remembers what Rex looked like back before he left home. Needless to say, it's another tricky issue.) And then, there are simply instances where Speed wonders why Racer X went of his way to help him or why he sometimes feels more like a close friend than a competitor (a more subtle way of Speed suspecting that he's Rex). This is all culminates in the aforementioned episode where Speed finally asks Racer X point blank if he is his brother. While Speed is unconscious, Racer X takes off his mask and drops it by Speed. When Speed awakens and finds the mask, he says out loud that he's sure that it belonged to his brother and, to that end, gets up and yells for Rex, who is nowhere in sight. After realizing he's gone, Speed promises to be the best racer in the world and to make Rex proud of his younger brother and then sheds a tear as he bids farewell to him. That should say once and for all that Speed now knows that Racer X is his brother. But, after he and Sparky encounter him during the second part of the last episode and Racer X leaves behind a tank of gas so they can finish the race, Speed says, "Thank you, Racer X, whoever you are." And during the last moments of the show, Racer X, while watching the victory celebration for Speed now that he's the world champion, says to himself, "Speed suspected I'm his long lost older brother, but he never found out for sure." I don't know about you but I was under the impression that the ending of that one episode concretely proved that Speed knows that Racer X is his brother. Granted, the line of, "he never found for sure," could be taken as being true, seeing as how Speed never actually saw his brother take the mask off and reveal his face (which leads back to that issue of whether or not Speed would recognize his brother now) but, again, the ending of that episode felt pretty final. In other words, the issue has no easy answer and it's open to interpretation.

One of Speed's most loyal allies outside of his family and girlfriend is Sparky (voiced by Jack Grimes), the young mechanic who works for Pops. He seems to know just about everything there is to know about cars and it's very clear that the two of them have a very close bond, with Sparky always willing to help make the Mach Five ready for any race that Speed enters (he's the one who, in the first episode, installs the special grip tires that become part of the car's regular arsenal). There was one time where Speed and Sparky had a brief falling out, which was when Speed was preparing to race against the Car Acrobatic Team during the dangerous Alpine Race. Sparky wasn't too sure if the Mach Five or Speed would be able to compete against such a rough and highly skilled team of drivers during such a treacherous race. Speed, however, didn't take too kindly to Sparky's asking him not to enter the race and gets quite angry at him, yelling at him  as well as actually grabbing him by the shirt collar and flinging him down (bit of an extreme reaction, I must say). Sparky walked off, hurt, and because he wasn't around to help Speed specially prepare the Mach Five for the race, the car's faulty brakes weren't replaced and Speed almost ended up getting killed as a result. Fortunately for him, Trixie, Sparky, Spritle, and Chim Chim rescued him from falling down a deep chasm, he and Sparky made amends, and Sparky fixed the brakes. That was the only instance in the series where there was any type of conflict between the two of them. Otherwise, Sparky was as loyal a friend as you could get. In fact, there were several times where he wanted to act as Speed's navigator during a race but Trixie usually beat him to it, much to his annoyance (Sparky eventually did get to be Speed's navigator in the very last episode). There were also times when Sparky would show up in places where Speed was for a race, even though there was no way he could have gotten there. There was one time where he suddenly appeared at a racetrack in Monte Carlo, even though Speed and Trixie had driven there without him the previous day, and another where he appeared in the garage of the hotel they were staying at in one city even though, again, they clearly arrived without him earlier. How does get there? I guess you could say he has his own car but still, why not just arrive at the same time as the whole gang, even if it is in a different vehicle? Again, I'm just nitpicking for the sake of nitpicking but this is the kind of stuff you tend to think about when you look back on a childhood favorite as an adult.

Another recurring character is Inspector Detector (voiced by Jack Curtis), a local police detective who is a good friend of the Racer family and sometimes calls on Speed's help whenever there is a case involving cars, like in one instance where he asked Speed to help chase down a mysterious sports car that's been causing some fatal crashes and another where cars were apparently being put under some type of remote control and driven away. There was one time, though, where Detector had to place Speed himself under arrest when he was framed for a robbery. However, naturally, it was discovered that Speed was not the culprit and was allowed to help catch the real one. Detector also tends to have trouble dealing with Spritle and Chim Chim, like when the two of them had some vital evidence but would only give it to him if he gave them cake, eventually forcing Detector to say that they would get an eight layer chocolate cake. And during that aforementioned instance where Speed went after the ones who framed him for the robbery, Spritle and Chim Chim kept popping up in both the helicopter and later the boat that Detector was using to keep tabs on Speed, much to the inspector's irritation. One last thing that I have to say about Inspector Detector is that beard of his is just... wow! The way that thing curves out to the side is truly a sight to behold (kind of looks the way my hair does in the morning).

For me, the most annoying presence in the show is this narrator (voiced by Jack Curtis) who constantly chimes in to point out the most painfully obvious stuff. As I said earlier, you almost can't get a glimpse of Racer X in any episode without the narrator reminding you that, "Unknown to Speed, Racer X is secretly his older brother Rex, who ran away from home years ago." Sometimes, he doesn't even say that. There have been moments where he has said, "It's Rex Racer, in disguise as Racer X," or simply, "This is Racer X." It's like, "I know who he is, dude. You don't have to keep reminding me." But his stating the obvious goes beyond that. Particularly in the earlier episodes, he would often suddenly start talking and tell you something that you can blatantly understand just by looking at the screen, such as, "There is less than 50% of oxygen left in the Mach Five," which he says during a plain shot of the car's oxygen meter. He also tended to explain what was going on during action scenes, such as, "Visibility is almost zero as Speed and Racer X race blindly into the night," and, "Racer X, whom Speed does not know is his older brother, races to the rescue." Now I know that the reason Peter Fernandez gave for writing in that narration was so people could understand what was going on but good God, man, this is the type of narration that you would write either for a blind person or someone with a bad memory. I don't mind a narrator to help catch us up to speed on what happened during the last installment in a multi-part episode (Speed himself often did that, though the narrator would sometimes do that as well) or at least help explain a situation that might a little hard to understand but this is overdoing it. I don't need everything spoon-fed to me. And finally, the narrator kind of detracts from what is otherwise a glorious ending to the series. At the end of the last episode, after he has won the world championship, we see Speed driving across various parts of the world and it's an awesome conclusion to show... save for the narrator telling us, "Be sure to see the next exciting episode of Speed Racer!" Normally, I would wonder what the writers were thinking after making such an error but knowing that Fernandez and his team received the episodes one or two at a time and possibly out of order (it wasn't until after working on a few episodes featuring the character that he knew that Racer X was Speed's brother), you come to realize that they more than likely didn't realize that this was the series finale (though I would think that rather epic last part would be a clue). Still, it is a bit of a distraction, particularly when you know that there was no "next exciting episode" but it doesn't absolutely destroy the impact of it all either. Bottom line, I can appreciate why Fernandez thought the narration was necessary but it's just overdone and tends to be quite annoying and intrusive.

When it comes to the good guys and bad guys of Speed Racer, there is almost no gray whatsoever. It's practically all black and white: Speed and his friends and family are the ones you cheer for and the bad guys are the ones you hiss and boo at and whose nefarious plans you hope will be stopped. Most of the villains have very simple motivations: they want to win races no matter what, acquire wealth through crime, or they want to rule a country or the entire world through terrorism. They only care about themselves, getting what they want, and no one will stand in their way. They absolutely must be stopped. And when you look at them all, they're quite a colorful bunch as well, with rather interesting names. The very first episode had Ace Duecey (whose name, after watching this again as an adult, I swear I thought was Ace Deuchey), a hitman who is hired to steal the plans for Pops' new engine and ends up going after Speed during a race since it's revealed that the plans were written in invisible ink on the Mach Five's windshield, and a very aggressive, rotten racer named Skull Duggery who Speed must content with and ultimately save during the race (this character was basically reused in the next episode; although he was given the new name of Zoomer Slick, it's obviously the same guy). The second episode, which was the one that introduced Racer X, had Mr. Wiley, the crooked owner of a racing team who told his men to win no matter what, and Mr. Fixer, one of his cronies who originally tried to pay Pops to let Speed race on the team and during the episode's climactic race, he arranges it so that gasoline would be put into Racer X's car when he pulls in for a pit-stop (Spritle and Chim Chim foiled that plan, though). One episode had Tongue Blaggard, the leader of a large gangster organization, who planned to steal a Model T engine that contained a clue that would lead him to the spot where a fortune in money was hidden (by the way, the guy who buried the money in the first place was named Light Fingers Klepto). One of the most well known bad guys on the show was gangster Cruncher Block, the owner of the monstrous Mammoth Car who planned to use it to smuggle $50 million in gold out of the country after it finished a race. He's the epitome of a stereotypical gangster, with the tweed suit and hat, a big cigar in his mouth, and an Edward G. Robinson-like voice (the character even kind of looks like Robinson). He also has one of the most fabulous lines in the series: "I always get hungry when I'm up to skull duggery." That's just awesome!

Some other popular villains are a whole group of ferocious racers known as the Car Acrobatic Team, whom Speed competes with during the dangerous Alpine Race and, near the end of the series, he has a brief rematch with them before they're forced to put their grudges aside to save themselves. These guys' cars have special wings installed on the undersides to aid them in crossing large chasms and there's nothing that they won't do to win a race. In a meeting that they have before the race, they're told to do everything they can to win and, "if you have to break the law, break it!" The most iconic members of the team are the leader, Captain Terror, a freaky looking guy whose face always has a skull-like expression with his teeth showing on it, even while he's talking, and the driver who leads the team during the actual race, Snake Oiler. Snake is one of the most iconic characters to come out of the show, with his purple jumsuit with a big S on the front and his yellow helmet with red stripes going across it and big, black, downward-pointing visors covering most of his face. And although they don't get much of anything to say or much screentime, it's hard not to remember the names of some of the other members of the team: Kobra, Tiger, Knuckles, Brawn, Ugly, Poison, and Ender. The only thing that gets me about the Car Acrobatic Team is how quickly Captain Terror, along with his men, become good guys in the episode that they reappear in, something which I'll elaborate on further later.

One villain who was out for nothing but revenge was Flash Marker Jr., an angry and bitter young man who forces his sister to occupy a remote-controlled car during a race in order to get revenge on the surviving members of a crooked racing team who ended up killing his father in a race years before. And since Speed attempts to thwart his plans, he ends up falling prey to Marker's vengeful rampage as well. Another villain who wanted revenge, although his motivation is never completely explain other than he has a grudge against the entire area, was Dr. McFife, who built an enormous vehicle known as the Monster Car and, after bringing its electronic brain through lightning, let it loose on the countryside of Scotland. A lot of the villains are people who, through various methods, want to take over a country or the entire world and gain power. Some of these guys include Ali Ben Schemer, who was originally the right-hand man to the leader of a group of rebels trying to liberate their country but he turned on his boss so he could take it over himself; Mr. Cumulus, a bizarre-looking guy in a green mask who had a copy of the Mach Five built that he intended to use in some grand scheme and by the end of the episode, he threatens to blow up the city with a nuclear bomb that he's had built into his Mach Five copy (he also ruthlessly kills a young woman who tries to stop him); Omar Offendum, who wanted to replace the real prince of a country with an idiot whose strings he could pull and thus, rule the country himself; Professor Anarchy, the head of a group of assassins and terrorists who planned to kill representatives from various countries who were in Japan to attend a peacemeal conference (this guy is memorable because of his weird look, with his long white hair and an odd, diamond-shaped monocle or whatever it was supposed to be over his left eye); Francisco Franco, who intentionally had the mayor of a small South American village bitten by a poisonous snake so he could take the position; General Smasher (who looked a lot like Hitler save for having a more traditional moustache) and Professor Loon, who created a device that could make animals gigantic and planned to create a giant army of men to take back their country (and take over the world, of course); another gang of assassins, headed by a man Elegantor, who planned to get rid of Speed because they suspected him to be a secret agent and, just like Omar Offendum, planned to replace the ruler of a country with a puppet that he could control; Miss X, yet another person who planned to assassinate the ruler of a country; Omar and Slimer, two guys who used top secret plans to create a powerful vehicle known as the Laser Tank; and ultimately, most of the gangs of terrorists that have appeared throughout the show are revealed to be part of an organization called International Spies Incorporated, which is headed by a man named Mr. Supremo, whose face is never revealed but who has a metal ball in place of one of his feet and walks around with a cane that has a fake snake wrapped around it.

Other villains were simply after money. These guys included Cornpone Brotch, a crooked man who arranged a dangerous high-wire stunt at Niagra Falls in order to keep everybody's attention focused away from his true plan to steal treaure from a cave behind the falls; Mr. Fastbucks, a loony tycoon who planned to destroy all the oil refineries in the world in order to increase the value of his railroad stock; Splint Femur, a former assistant to an archeologist who took advantage of said archeologist's daughter being struck on the head and getting the idea that she's Cleopatra by having her help him dig up the real Cleopatra's treasure; Mr. Stencher, a former partner of an escaped convict who is determined to get his share of the money from a bank robbery that the convict hid; Mark Meglaton, a kooky art thief who wears an extremely ugly mask and kidnaps Speed, forcing him to use the Mach Five to steal more works of art for him; Mr. Forcer, a gang leader who orders his thugs to find a precious diamond that's hidden inside one of the pineapples that are being used as part of an annual race; and Mr. Freeload, a guy who wanted a female assistant of his to win a race for women so he could get the money but eventually, he decided to hold a baron's long lost daughter for ransom in order to get money that way. There were other crooked racers that popped up throughout the series, like these two guys who pull every dirty trick imaginable during the race around the world in the last episode, but none of them were as memorable as Skull Duggery or the members of the Car Acrobatic Team.

As I said, most of the villains on this show are as black and white as you can get. However, there were some who had more complex and understandable motives behind their crimes. In fact, two of them had practically the same motivations and plans: Mr. Trotter and Dr. J.D. Crepit. Both of them despise cars ever since they each lost a loved one in an accident and both are determined to get rid of cars in their own ways. They both also have children who are caught in their fathers' madness and suffer some unintentional physical abuse from them. Trotter hires a group of thugs to simply sabotage some cars all over the city so they will wreck, thinking that it will make people see his point that cars are dangerous, whereas Crepit takes control of cars using little radio-controlled ones that hook underneath real cars and drive them to his castle, where he melts them down and uses the metal to build sections of his castle. Others include Lawson Lamster, an escaped bank robber who, although he intends to reacquire some money from his last job that he hid, also adores his young daughter, Delicia, who is blind and, after he's fatally wounded, asks for his eyes to be given to her (which they do); Gadge Zoomer, a very angry professional racer turned car wrestler who plans to use his now profession to get back at Speed, whom he's hated ever since he lost a race to him, but, at the same time, doesn't want his beloved son to know that he's participating in the disreputable sport; and finally, you have Geronimo, a Native American who uses his gang of motorcycle apaches to attack convoys heading towards a NASA-like base in order to make those who run the base abandon it and get off their land.

There are two more things I have to say about the villains in this show. One is that they have a bad habit of talking about their evil plans out loud and in public, which often leads to Spritle and Chim Chim (because Speed is typically in the middle of a race or something similar) overhearing them (although no one else seems to) and prompting them to botch their plans. A lot of these villains' plans would work just fine if they'd learn to shut up every once in a while! And speaking of which, when you really think about it, aspects of some of these villains' schemesdon't make sense. For example, that guy Mark Meglaton who kidnapped Speed in order to make him use the Mach Five in order to steal various works of art for him. Before he forces Speed to do so, he shows off an impressive collection of art that he's already stolen. He seems perfectly capable of stealing art by himself, so what does he need Speed for? One could argue that he hijacked the plane carrying Speed because he really intended to kidnap the professor who was aboard. That could be true, seeing as how he did intend to use the professor's new rocket engine in his plans but still, why put Speed through this elaborate plan when he seemed perfectly adept at stealing works of art (and replacing them with exact replicas, no less) on his own? Going back to Mr. Trotter, think about this: Trotter wants people to understand that cars are really weapons on wheels, right? And keep in mind that, earlier in the episode, he was angered by news of a bunch of accidents, saying, "It wouldn't happen if we didn't have cars." Anyway, how does he try to accomplish his goal? By having these thugs sabotage cars and cause accidents that no doubt injured and killed a bunch of people. Confused morals much? And as for Dr. Crepit, he says he hates car, intends to destroy them all, and says that mankind did fine before cars and they'll do fine after them as well. All of this talk and yet, we see him driving cars himself a couple of times during the episode! Just think about that for a second. I also don't get why Tongue Blaggard went out of his way to kidnap Speed for the number that was etched on that specific Model T engine or why he was looking for it to begin with, seeing as how he remembered the number himself. What, was he too dumb to figure out that the numbers were probably directions and needed someone smart like Speed to tell him what they meant? (Maybe I missed some detail about that episode but I don't think I did.) Speed Racer is a great show, no doubt about it, but when you really think about it, some of the villains' plans don't make sense.

The character designs in the show are quite varied but are also typical depending on what type of character each one is. Speed Racer himself as well as Trixie, Racer X, and a couple of the side characters who pop up in specific episodes are the characters who look the most realistic and, at the same time, are the most ridiculously good looking, particularly the two leads. Speed, being the hero, is, of course, the most dashing of all of them, with his tall, lean physique, handsome face, dark brown hair, blue eyes, and his iconic way of dressing with his blue shirt, white slacks, yellow gloves, red socks, brown shoes, and the silver racing helmet that he's often wearing. It's perfectly understandable why he gets so much attention from the ladies (and why Trixie often gets jealous). Trixie is a pretty good looking young woman as well (in fact, most of the women who pop up on the show are), with her fair physique, brown hair, and lightly-colored complexion. She's almost always wearing a pink tanktop as well so you get much more than your share of her nice, slender arms. And Racer X, during the rare instances where you actually do see his face, is pretty good looking as well. But, most of the characters are cartoonish in one of two ways. The funny characters like Pops, Spritle, and Chim Chim are blatantly silly-looking, especially the latter two with the funny way they dress and Pops' outfit with the red shirt, gray pants, and white, crumpled hat coupled with his small moustache and obese body make him look quite funny as well. A lot of the cronies of the villains look stereotypically silly as well, often looking either dopey and stupid or tall and gangly, with long noses, fat faces, and such. That leads to the other type of cartoonish design present here: that of the villains. When you're introduced to these characters, all you have to do is look at them and you immediately think to yourself, "Bad guy." If you don't believe me, just watch a couple of episodes of the show and, trust me, you'll know the villain is for each particular episode when you see him or her. Heck, up above, I described the stereotypically evil ways some of the villains in the show and, as you read, they just scream, "Villain." So, I can't deny that the character designs of Speed Racer are quite stereotypical for the types of characters present but it was the 60's so what can you do?

One of the weakest parts of the show's technical side is the animation. Since it's a cartoon made for television from the 1960's and is from Japan, which wasn't as adept at animation, particularly for the small screen, back then as it is now, you shouldn't expect something on the level of Disney or Studio Ghibli but, that said, the animation is quite crude. It's very choppy, with very few frames during movements, and sometimes, there are some really bad jump-cuts that can make it hard to understand what's going (the fight scenes in the show were especially jumpy and quickly edited but they were done to such an extent that they were actually funny to watch). Also, there are some bits of animation that occur that don't make much sense in and of themselves. One occurs in the very first episode, where Pops confronts some bad guys on motorcycles in the middle of a tunnel. Instead of just stopping and getting off their bikes, they instead swerve for no reason and end up crashing into the wall before getting back on their feet and actually fighting Pops. Why did they do that? Would it have really been that hard for them to just stop? And during the climactic race of the second episode, the one that introduced Racer X as well as involved the character of Zoomer Slick (who, again, is just Skull Duggery from the first episode but with a different name), Slick and the other members of the racing team that he's on create havoc during it, causing some bad wrecks. However, the animation is so chaotic and choppy and because the various members of that team are all dressed the same, I could have sworn that Slick himself crashed a couple of times during that race but turns out he didn't. Of course, as with most animated shows, the animators did get better as they went on. If you watch the show from beginning to end, you can see a subtle but nice change from the animation in the earlier episodes to those in the later ones. While it's still choppy, it does genuinely look better (and the facial features on the characters, which sometimes looked odd in those early episode, got better as the series went on as well). There were also some cartoonish gags that popped up in the early episodes, like stars circling around or little bird-like sprites coming out of a character's head when they got clobbered and a character being left covered in black soot with a dazed look on their face after their vehicle got blown up, that they dispensed with after those early episodes as well. To sum up, while Speed Racer never had the best character animation in the world, it did improve as the show went on and the animators got more used to what they were doing.

Proving the point that nobody's perfect even more so, the very dated character animation in this show isn't the only thing that can give you pause. There are also some errors in the animation that are interesting to say the least. There are errors that are pretty basic and that you often see in cartoons, such as many, many instances where Speed will be wearing his helmet in one shot but it will be gone in the next, but there are also instances where things are drawn weird and make you sit up and take notice when you do see them. One such moment occurs in the first part of the episode featuring the Mammoth Car. After a scene where Racer X saves Speed and Trixie from some motorcycle-riding thugs that are deployed out of the Mammoth Car, there's a shot of the two of them after they manage to get back on the road and continue with the race. Look at Speed's lips: they've suddenly become very pronounced and puffed out and he looks as if he should be singing, "Mammy!" Even as a kid, I noticed that and wondered what that was all about (there's a similar oddity in the very first episode but this was the one I always remembered). Speaking of which, there's a shot of Racer X in the second part of the episode that looks strange. It comes when he's following Speed and Trixie and happens just after he sees them drive off the road and into the woods. He's drawn like a little kid in a toy car in that shot. It's a far off shot and his head seems rather big and his torso looks a bit small for it. The fact that the big X on the torso of his uniform isn't present in this shot either adds even more to him looking like a kid. Speaking of Racer X, there was one episode where he was talking to several shady characters by a lake and there was a shot from behind him looking at the men. However, if you look closely at Racer X's body in that shot, you'll notice that they drew Speed in there by mistake. The blue shirt, white slacks, and yellow glove on the exposed hand make for a really jarring mistake and it's obvious that it is indeed Speed when it's supposed to be Racer X. (That was another mistake I picked up on even when I was a kid.) Also, in the very episode, notice how Speed and Sparky... embrace after Sparky suggests Speed enter a race in order to get money for Pops. That's all I'm going to say on that. But the bit of animation that kills me the most occurs in one of the very last episodes, where Trixie enters a race for women that requires them to build cars out of piles of junk. When the race first starts, several of the drivers don't make it very far and end up crashing (comically, mind you, but they still crash). A couple of them end up driving into a barnyard and one car gets chased by an angry bull... that has a very visible udder! Now, I know that there are cows that grow horns but I just don't understand why an animator would go into that much obscure detail on a joke. It just dumbfounds me when I see that bit. A bull with an udder. Just wow.

While Speed Racer may not have had the best character animation in the world, it more than made up for it in regards to the animation of the vehicles as well as in the overall look of the show. The cars, trucks, tanks, and the all other vehicles of the show move very well and the movements in the races are actually quite fast and exciting, particularly when Speed is maneuvering around other cars in order to make it to the finish line. You also get a lot of different camera angles on the moving vehicles, such as in front of or up above them, over the dashboards, and so on. These help keep the action scenes flowing and interesting and I'm not kidding when I say that, as a result, the action scenes are genuinely thrilling. There also some interesting animation effects in the show, such as one involving shimmering water that is so unusual looking that it defies explanation and some brief bits of animation that look as if they're models being moved and matted into a hand-drawn instead of being created through traditional animation. And the overall look of the show is just great. The colors are bright and vibrant (though not excessively), the designs of the featured vehicles (which I'll elaborate on in a minute) are imaginative and iconic, and a lot of detail was put into the various environments that Speed finds himself racing in. The races that take place in the mountains take place amongst crisp, white blankets of snow and silvery, glass-like ice, and the settings of the jungle and desert that are seen in the show have a lot of detail to them that makes them feel realistic. The deserts are colored so brightly, with the lighting effects sun and the vibrantly yellow sand, that you can almost feel the sweltering heat and the jungles, with the well designed serengetis, watering holes, and detailed rainforests look like they're out of a work of art. You can say a lot of things about the show but you can't say that it's not exciting or that it doesn't give you interesting things to look at.

After watching this show again, I safely say that it deserves its title because it feels like it's constantly on the move. Not only do the plots move lightning fast, even during the multi-part episodes (which most of them are), but it just feels that there's almost not a scene or moment during the episodes when something isn't going on. Whether it be quick action and fight scenes or moments filled with the fast-paced dialogue that the series is famous for, it just feels like there's always something happening onscreen to hold your attention. There are very few moments that are positively silent. Even some scenes that have no dialogue or action going on or any music playing over them have some sort of sounds going on in the background, such as an episode that had scenes taking place inside the hideout of a group of assassins where you could hear costant, reverberating sounds in the background. Basically, what I'm trying to say is that this show just feels very alive due to the fast-paced stories, rapid dialogue, thrilling action and race scenes, and the almost constant presence of music or some kind of sounds going on in the background. And that makes it a very enjoyable show to watch as well.

Much like Jonny Quest, which premiered just a few years before, Speed Racer feels very ahead of its time when compared with other action cartoons that were made around that time. Not only is there plenty of action in any given episode but, when you really look at it, the amount of violence in this show is quite striking. This is a show where people die, where people get shot are caught up in car crashes that no one could walk away from (although not every wreck in the show killed somebody), get blown away by gigantic explosion, or, in the case of Lawson Lamster, die after being badly beaten as well as burnt. This is why I sincerely doubt that the American version is all that different from the original Mach Go Go Go save for a few trims here and there because this show does have more than its fair share of fatalities. Heck, there's even one instance where Racer X, after saving Speed and some other hostages, shoots down some charging assassins and you can actually briefly see some blood in that shot! (It cuts away rather quickly but if you look, you can still see it.) Speed himself has also been known to wrack up a body count of his own, either by forcing bad guys off the road, causing them to crash, or by gunning them down (for someone who's supposedly just a racer, Speed sure knows how to handle firearms!) And let's not forget that the villains' plans often involving killing people, like assassinating an important political figure, and sometimes they have succeeded in doing so (like in one episode where a representative from a foreign country got blown away by a bomb planted in a suit of ancient armor that he was admiring). They try to downplay it by never having the word "kill" be said and "die" is said only once in the entire series. Usually, they just say, "Now, we have to get rid of you," or something similar. Still, that doesn't distract from the fact that there is a body count in a lot of these episodes and it's often a substantial one at that. It's something that you would never see in action cartoons meant for kids nowadays and I think it's kind of a shame. I'm not saying that every one of these action/adventure shows should be as violent as the Rambo movies (which, oddly enough, did spawn a kids' cartoon) but I think there should be a bit of a body count just to get across the idea that the stakes are high and that the characters that you love are facing genuine threats in their adventures (The Incredibles is a good example of the idea that I'm trying to get across). And, even though there is a lot of killing in this show, it's not like there's blood and brains splattering everywhere. It's done in a minimalist, adventure serial-style way that I think is highly unlikely to upset anyone. But unfortunately, with everything being so overly PC nowadays, it's unlikely that we're going to see another family-intended adventure cartoon with as many fatalities as Speed Racer any time soon.

Since this is a show about racing, the vehicles are just as important as the characters and some of them are so iconic that they can be considered characters in their own right. The most well known vehicle to come out of the show is the Mach Five, Speed Racer's car. This vehicle really is iconic. It's design is instantly recognizable, with its sleek, white-silver body that has hints of blue here and there, big red M on the hood (which, in the Japanese version, actually stands for Mifune Motors, the name of Pops' company in that version), a yellow 5 in the middle of a red circle on either side of the car, and a completely red interior (even the rim of the steering wheel is red). Let's also not forget the small trunk that Spritle and Chim Chim often hide in (however, it is big enough for even Trixie to hide in, which she did at one point). And, as its name implies, the car is quite fast, although I'm not sure what its top speed is, since one shot of its speedometer shows that it can go up to 250 km/h and one in another episode shows the highest speed as 350 km/h. But, in any case, it's not only fast but also handles very well, able to take on a lot of tricky turns and curves. Its motor has a distinct sound to it too: a high-pitched "vroom" that tells you that there is quite a bit of power beneath the hood of the car. In one episode, a new, more powerful engine was put into the Mach Five for a particularly hazardous race that Speed was going to enter. This engine gave off a loud, almost growling sound with a high-pitched but rather soft screeching behind it. And by the wau, while there are more technically efficient vehicles that pop up in the series, it's the combination of the Mach Five's capabilities and Speed's driving skills that allow him to win almost every race that he enters.

Another reason why it's such a well-known car is because of the gadgets installed in it, which are intricate and varied enough to make James Bond proud. As Speed explains to us at the beginning of the second part of the first episode (as well as at the beginning of another episode later on in the series), the gadgets are controlled by a series of buttons on the hub of the steering wheel. Button A activates the car's most well-known gadgets: four auto jacks that deploy from underneath it and while they were originally meant to boost the car up so it can be repaired, they're most often used to make it jump short distances over obstacles and their deployment creates a distinctive, echoing sound that is so well known to fans of the series that the Wachowskis put it into their 2008 feature film (one of the few things that movie actually had in common with the show, I might add). The jacks have also been used as an alternative to the brakes and to balance the car when it's forced to go across something unstable. Button B sprouts special grip tries that allow Speed to drive over rough terrain like ice, rocky mountain paths, and even the bottom of the ocean! Also, according to Speed, 5,000 horsepower is distributed evenly to all four of the tires. Button C deploys a couple of big, rotary saws from the front of the car that are used to get rid of obstacles such as tall grass or even trees (I'm sure the Forestry Service appreciates Speed for that). Button D releases a powerful deflector that covers the cockpit and makes it completely bullet-proof and crash-proof as well as air-tight or water-tight, depending on the situation. Button E activates special lightbeams that allow Speed to see much farther and more clearly than with normal headlights, which he uses in conjunction with night-shade lenses attached to his helmet. In one episode, Button E was modified to make the Mach Five sprout little wings underneath it that would help Speed clear long jumps. Button F makes the Mach Five a vehicle than travel underwater, by supplying the sealed cockpit with oxygen as well as activating a periscope that scans the surface and relays whatever's seen down to the driver's seat via television. And finally, Button G activates a bird-like homing robot that Speed uses to send items such as pictures, tape recordings, or anything else that will fit inside of it to whomever Speed chooses. Speed can control the robot with a little joystick next to the driver's seat and there's a button marked H that sends the robot to Speed's house or any other preprogrammed location. The robot can also be used as a makeshift weapon when Speed has no other choice. There's also a button that's featured in the first episode that never comes into play again. It's on the floorboard near the gas pedal and when Ace Duecey steals the Mach Five, he accidentally steps on the button it causes both the hood and the trunk to flip open, obscuring his vision. I don't know what the purpose of this button is since it seems to be more hazardous than helpful and almost causes Duecey to crash. Like I said, it never pops up again so it doesn't matter but I still wonder what the point of it was. In any case, all of these unique features help make the Mach Five one of the most well known fictional vehicles alongside James Bond's tricked out Aston Martin and the Batmobile.

There are some other notable vehicles featured throughout the series. One is the Shooting Star, Racer X's car. That car has a pretty distinctive look as well, with its yellow color, black front bumper, big number 9 on the hood and on the sides, and its red interior which is similar to that of the Mach Five. While it doesn't have the gadgets that the Mach Five does, it's still a very powerful and agile car and it allows Racer X to show just how skilled a driver he is: effortlessly making sharp turns, swerving around obstacles, and, as I described earlier, jumping across a series of pillars like a frog. There was the Melange, a blue-black car with X3 on the hood that is a replica of the car driven by Flash Marker built his vengeful son. While Flash Jr. forces his sister, Lily, to act as the car's driver, it's actually controlled by Flash, who uses a helicopter to keep up with it, through remote control. Flash uses it to take revenge on the members of the racing club who killed his father by entering the car in a race and having it fatally crash into them. And then, there was the GRX, the fastest car on Earth. The GRX was actually the name of the engine but since the golden car that housed it was given the same name, I'll follow suit. In any case, the car lives up to its nickname. The engine generates incredible power and allows the car to travel at almost supersonic speeds. However, no drive could handle the power generated by the engine and the GRX caused the deaths of several test drivers as well as its own inventor. The engine was buried in the grave of its creator but it's dug up at the beginning of the episode featuring it and placed inside the sportscar to race again. I really like the sound of the engine itself. It's very loud and intimidating and it does get across the feeling that there's a lot of power being generated by it. You also see just how fast it can go when Speed makes the mistake of driving it himself at one point and the road ahead becomes a blur to him, making him feel as if he's driving into another dimension and after he regains consciousness the next day, he's initially dazed because, according to Pops, the speed and power of the engine messed up his coordination. Ultimately, the GRX proved to be so powerful that those who dug it up had to come with a special serum to make a driver able to handle it but that serum came with its own bad side effects, as I'll talk about later.

One of the most intimidating vehicles in the series is the monstrous Mammoth Car. This thing is a freaking beast and looks more like a train than a car. According to the dialogue, it's over 200 yards long, has a main engine that can generate 7,500 horsepower and each of its wheels has an engine with 1,500 horsepower, and it's basically unstoppable, able to travel over terrain and smash through any obstacle. Its signature attack on another driver is to surround and encircle him or her with its sheer length, like an enormous snake. It's mostly red, has openings for its occupants to shoot out of, and the combination of its grill and yellow front windows make it look as if it has a frowning, angry face. It also often makes loud, screeching sounds and while I'm not exactly sure what's supposed to be generating those sounds, I assume it's the horn. (Being a big monster movie fan, those sounds make me think of Gaira, the evil green Gargantua in the Toho flick War of the Gargantuas.) In any case, it's a freaky sound and just makes the Mammoth Car all the more terrifying a force to have to deal with. A similar vehicle is the Monster Car, a gigantic armored vehicle controlled by an electronic brain that it is activated by being struck by lightning. Unlike the other vehicles I've mentioned, this machine was created not to win races or smuggle riches but merely to cause havoc. It's let loose across the Scotland countryside by its insane creator and destroys everything in its path. It looks like an enormous, low to the ground, armored animal with a dark-blue, ridged back that looks like a shell, massive wheels that are long and narrow, a pointed, nose-like mechanism in the front, and two big red lights on the front that look like eyes. It's more than capable of defending itself, rolling over and crushing anything in its path, able to use blasts from its back engine as a weapon, firing a ray that can destroy anything that attacks it, and has a built in self-destruct device that it's programmed to use when the need arises. For some reason, there's one moment where the Monster Car abducts a little girl by sucking her up into itself with a long tube. I don't know why it did that since that girl being held hostage inside it serves no fuction whatsoever but whatever. And, like the Mammoth Car, the Monster Car makes a bizarre roar and this one sounds so weird that it's impossible to describe. Just watch the episode featuring it and you'll see what I mean. In any case, there are many other vehicles features on the show but those are the ones that stick out to me and most fans of the series.

There are a couple of aspects to the show overall that, after watching it again, I feel have to give my two cents on. The first is one that might show my ignorance when it comes to what the very premise of the show is: auto-racing. Even though I really like this show, I've never been interested in racing or any sport for that matter. So, keeping that in mind, it's very possible that I'm missing something but I have to ask: would any racing federation in the world allow the races that are run in this series? There are several reasons why I ask this. For one, these races are incredibly dangerous and take place in the most hazardous places imaginable. I'm well aware that racing is a dangerous sport anyway and that many have died doing it but seriously, racing over dangerous mountains? through blazing hot deserts? through hazardous jungles? through the heart of an active volcano?! (Oh, yes, there is an episode featuring such a race.) I know some of these races are made far-fetched for the basic concept of escapist fun but still, would people be allowed to have races in such dangerous place? And so many people clearly die in these races that I think it's obvious that the racing federations behind them would get sued up the ass by the familes of those racers. Another reason why I'm asking why these races would be held is something that I've thought about since I watched the show as a kid: why are there so many spectators present when all they will get to see is the beginning and ending of the race in question? Now, to be fair, some of these races do take place on the big circling tracks where Nascar and the like hold races but for most of these races, these people are paying to get in when they're going to miss basically all of the action. I just don't see how that's feasible. Sure, maybe they could be shown what's going during the race via a camera aboard a helicopter that's covering the action but I wouldn't think that would be as exciting as seeing it all up close and in person and I would also believe that just hearing what's happening over a radio wouldn't do since you would obviously want to see it. And would they have to pay to get to see the ending of the race as well as the beginning? Now, it's very possible that I'm overanalyzing everything and blowing it all out of proportion but I just can't help but wonder about the plausibility of these races, even in a series like this that is simply meant to be fun.

The other thing about the show as a whole that I must comment on is actually one of the few major complaints I have: there are way too many episodes centering on espionage. Now, don't get me wrong, a lot of these episodes are very fun and exciting (as you will see later, some of them I put into my favorite episodes list) but the thing is, the show is called Speed Racer, not Speed Agent. When you have so many episodes that involve Speed stopping terrorists or helping to catch criminals instead of entering and winning a race, you start to wonder why he doesn't do what Racer X eventually does and give up racing to become a full time secret agent. That's not to say that they don't work a race into these plots because they sometimes do but even in those, it feels like the race in question takes a backseat to the espionage and I know that stopping the assassination of an important political figure is more important than winning a race but again, if they wanted to go this route, then they should have made Speed have a double life as an agent from the start. Now, I don't mind it when Speed gets involved with corruption in the automotive company or has to fend off criminals who target him during the race because that keeps what the show is supposed to be really be about in check but when it gets pushed aside in favor of stories about terrorists and political intrigue, I feel that the series starts to get off track. Bottom line, like I said near the beginning, I know that one of Tatsuo Yoshida's influences in creating this story was the James Bond films (which I am a huge fan of, in case you're wondering) but I just feel that in some sections of the series, that influence smothers what it's actually supposed to center on.

As I said in my introduction, the thing that immediately struck me when I watched the show for the first time back when I was a kid was how fast the dialogue was. In fact, the first episode that I really watched began with an opening speech by the narrator so I was introduced to one of the series' most endearing quirks right away. Anyone who's ever watched this show knows just how odd its dialogue is in that it's lightning fast, particularly in long speeches, which are often finished in less than a minute, and there's a lot of gasping as well. It was something that I remembered even throughout the many years that the show was gone from my life and when I rediscovered it again years later, it was like, "Yep, welcome back." Oddly enough, watching the series again in order to do this review, there are actually moments, such as in the opening narration by Speed in the first episode, where the dialogue sounds perfectly normal both in tone and in speed. It's when you get deeper into the series and the plots become much more complex that the dialogue becomes rapid almost all the time. Anyway, as I watched more anime both in my childhood and as an adult, I couldn't help but constantly wonder why the talking in Speed Racer was so fast whereas in every other anime that I had seen, it sounded and flowed much more naturally. Since I knew that it was a show from the 60's and I also learned that it was one of the first Japanese anime to ever be dubbed into English for mass American consumption, I figured that may have had something to do with it and, upon doing a lot research for this review, I've discovered that I was actually half-right.

Peter Fernandez was tasked with making sure that the dialogue that he translated from the Japanese scripts fit the mouths of the characters and that it was all done within the amount of time that the character was speaking. The dubbing was also all done in loops and while that worked fine for short bursts of dialogue, long speeches had to be memorized word for word so that the actor could match it to the footage being shown without having to look down at his script, which would stop the flow. This is what led to the quirky way the characters talked and I'm sure that the limited technology of the time as well as the fact that this hadn't been done all that often at this point added to it as well. And there was the time and money factors. The studio hired to do the dubbing had only enough money to hire three actors (although Fernandez was able to squeeze one more person in there) and the budget was also so tight that Fernandez was told that he had to get each episode done in one studio day, even though he initially told one of the heads of the studio that it would take at least two days to write an episode and at least one to get it recorded. As if that wasn't already enough pressure, Fernandez and his crew also had to do dubbing for another show, Marine Boy, at the same time and while the dubbing for Speed Racer was done with the actors looking at the actual footage, the dubbing for that show was done first and then the tracks were flown to Japan where they were added to the footage. So, while the dialogue is quirky with how fast it is and there are some apparent flubs both in terms something being spoken as well as in regards to the cotinuity of the various stories, given the unbelievable pressures of time and money that Fernandez and his crew were facing, I think it's a miracle turned out as coherent as it is overall.

As I said, all of the numerous characters in Speed Racer were voiced by just four people in the English dub: Peter Fernandez (who, oddly enough, is only credited with writing and directing the dialogue during the ending credits, Corinne Orr, Jack Grimes, and Jack Curtis. Since Fernandez could only hire a limited number of voice actors (he got his fourth voice actor out of the projected three by splitting his salary with Jack Grimes), he decided to hire his friends and this, by all accounts, made for a very pleasurable working environment. Fernandez, since he was the one in charge, naturally gave himself the best roles: Speed and Racer X. Watching these shows again, I can say that I really do like Fernandez's way of voicing Speed. He gives Speed a very genuine, almost boy scout-like quality, and he especially sounds good when he's talking about what's right and what's wrong. On top of that, his voice, which has a warm, slightly raspy, Spanish-American quality to it, is simply soothing to the ear. And nobody could gasp and yell in fear like Fernandez. Whenever Speed is faced with and cornered by extreme danger, he does a lot shallow breathing and shuddering as well as some loud gasps and short yells. While some may feel that this makes Speed look like a sissy, I think it's actually more realistic. Just because you're brave doesn't mean that you don't realize when you're in real danger and could possibly die so I think it added more humanity to Speed and makes him more identifiable than if he were to just face danger head on without batting an eyelash or react at all. When Fernandez played Racer X, he deepened his voice considerably, and managed to give off an air of extreme confidence and knowledgable wordliness as well as a sense of brooding. I also feel that it made sense for Fernandez to do these characters since they're brothers and I like how, in the flashbacks to Rex Racer when he was Speed's age and crashed Pops' car, he used the voice he did for Speed, which subtly suggests that Speed's voice may sound like Racer X's when he gets to be his age. I feel he really managed to create a link between the two characters. Fernandez voiced some other miscellaneous characters in the show, most notably giving his best Edward G. Robinson impression for the character of Cruncher Block, but those two characters are the ones fans most identify him with.

As the only female voice actor in the group, Corinne Orr did the voices for all of the women that pop up in the show, particularly Trixie and Speed's mom, as well as the voice of Spritle and the other children characters. She's able to send really young and spunky when playing Trixie but she also manages to deepen her voice and sound much older when voicing other, more adult female characters like Speed's mom and the female villains in the show. She also gave Spritle an energetic, though quite stereotypical, child-voice that, by all accounts, should be annoying but just isn't for some reason. Weirdly enough, though, there have been sporadic moments throughout the series when she's voiced Spritle in a much more believable and mature-sounding voice. It's hard to explain but anybody who has watched the series from beginning to end should know what I mean. Jack Grimes did the voice of Sparky, giving him a quirky, teenage-style voice and he also did the voices of many of the villains, often giving them a sneering and blatantly evil quality (like Ace Duecey), as well as the various elderly characters in a typical shaky old voice. And finally, you have Jack Curtis, who had a nicely rich, deep, announcer-type voice and was perfectly suited for providing the voice of Inspector Detector as well as, as annoying as I think he is, the narrator. He also voiced Pops and had to make his voice really gruff in order to do so. According to a 2001 interview with Fernandez, due to the nature of Pops' voice as well as his constant hot-headed yelling (and I'm sure because he also had to do other voices like that), Curtis could barely talk by the end of a full day's work.

Even though the dialogue spoken in the show is coherent for the most part despite its obviously quirky, fast quality, the conditions that Fernandez and his crew were working under led to some unavoidable flubs. There are a couple of times in the show where a character will, for no reason, say something twice in a row. One that sticks out to me is an episode where Speed and Trixie are in a desert and they come across an ancient building. Speed says, "It's fabulous fabulous." For no reason, he said "fabulous" twice, which is unintentionally funny. There was another instance in an episode where Speed and Trixie are acting as decoys for the would-be assassins of this princess and Speed is disguised as an old man. Off-camera, you can hear Fernandez start his line in typical voice for Speed but then suddenly clear his throat and go into the voice of an old man. When I first saw this episode, I actually that it was part of the joke, that Speed initially forgot he was supposed to be acting like an old man and that he quickly corrected himself. However, it is possible that this could have been an honest mistake by Fernandez that was left in since the budget and time constraints couldn't afford another take. But, like I said, it fooled me into thinking that it was intentional so maybe it did so to others as well. And finally, there's one that just killed me when I heard it again: "Calling heliflopter number one. Calling heliflopter number one." What?! What in God's name is a heliflopter? It wouldn't have been so bad if Jack Curtis had just said it once but he said it several times and even Jack Grimes in the role of the pilot called it a heliflopter as well. However, no one else in the show referred to it as such so is heliflopter just a word used between bad guys? I'm sure there are other dialogue flubs in the show but those are the ones that stick out the most to me as being very amusing.

Besides flubs, there are also instances of dialogue that are so repetitive, cliched, and inane that they're just great. The most noticeable one to me is how much the narrator (as well as some other characters in the show) likes to throw around the word "secret." One bit of dialogue went, "Meanwhile, in the harbor of a distant city, a secret meeting is about to be held secretly." No kidding? I thought it was going to be held out in public. There was another instance where he said, "On a secret dock, a secret meeting is being held secretly," and one episode began with the dialogue, "One of the most secret secret places in the world: The Secret National Science Institute." I think he may have set a record with that latter quote. (And, incidentally, that place isn't so secret if there's a road that leads directly to it!) There was even an instance where a bad guy said the line, "This secret film was filmed secretly..." Bottom line, Speed Racer threw around the word "secret" more than any other show I've ever seen. But there are some other hilarious lines in the show. One was spoken by the villain Cumulus who told the daughter of the man working for him, "Your father is a genius, and he's got brains too! And what's more, he knows how to use them." Another goodie was spoken by the villain Mr. Fastbucks. When he admits to Speed that he is indeed the man who forced him to bring him to Monte Carlo, he says, "Yes, I'm the one the police want. I was lying earlier!" He then goes on to say, "Yes, I'm wanted by the police in at least half a dozen countries and I'm near the top of the Interpol list. I'm wanted for robbery, murder, swindling, and cheating at dominos." Just awesome. Some humor comes out of just how much stuff the characters speak in one long, quickly spoken line. In the episode featuring the villain General Smasher, he's talking to the professor who previously met Speed on a plane and after an alarm is sounded, he turns on a monitor and sees Speed swimming towards the island base. Their conversation goes like this: "Ah, someone is approaching this island. We'll see who it is on the monitor. Hm, a very young man. You see, professor, we are so well-guarded here that not even that man can approach without our knowledge." "Oh, that's Speed Racer!" "Oh, you know him? Well, we don't let anyone return to the mainland once they've dared to come here. That's why the natives stay away and cause us no trouble. He looks frightened, doesn't he? Hmm-hmm." Just imagine all of those lines spoken in quick succession and you'll get why it's so amusing. Also, in the episode featuring the character of Lawson Lamster, when he takes Speed hostage and he asks him why he didn't tell Delicia about what kind of person he really is, Speed says he simply didn't have the heart to tell her what a rat he is, which leads Lamster slugging him on the side of the face and yelling, "That's for calling me a rat!" Speed, while rubbing his face, then asks, "You trying to convice me that you're not an escape convict and that you're kind-hearted?" to which Lamster simply and quickly responds, "Yeah." And then it just cuts to the next scene so I guess that settled that! I could go all day naming some of the hilarious and quirky quotes that have come out of Speed Racer but we're already really deep into this review and there's more to talk about so we'd better move on but just watch some episodes of this show and you're bound to come across a gem.

As you've no doubt already seen, a lot of the names in this show are just hilarious and crazy. The villains all have priceless names that I mentioned earlier and even some of the names of the main characters, particularly Inspector Detector (Peter Fernandez himself even admitted one time that that was a ridiculous name), can make you smirk. Even the name Speed Racer sounds like a nickname but the idea of there being a family with the name of Racer and that they actually gave one of their own the name of Speed is just so out there and silly. There are plenty of other silly names in this show though, such as Fireball Rust, Prince Jam and Prince Sugaren, Chief Zuma, Twinkle Banks, Oriena Flux, Dr. Nightcall, Inspector Anton Dubious, Dr. Digger O. Bone, Jack Rival, Mr. Dante Ferno, Mr. Tycootis, Mr. Blagget, Mr. Twert, Professor Carnivory, Rusty Muffle, Dr. Fantasty, Hap Hazard, Princess Pedal, and, my favorite, Baron Von Vondervon (I think Mr. Fernandez was getting a little lazy with that one). There were even some countries in this show with odd names, such as Flathill Country and in the episode that takes place in Africa, there's a place called Bangthebongo (try finding that on a map). I know Fernandez was under serious constraints to do the writing for the episodes but, man, I can't help but wonder why he made up so many weird names for people and places in this show.

In watching the episodes, I've also noticed some continuity mistakes that Peter Fernandez made while writing some of the dialogue. Some of these happen during the many multi-part episodes and it seems as if Fernandez had trouble keeping straight what happened in the first part when a character mentions it in the second one (however, as I said earlier, he probably received the scripts for the episodes one at a time and possibly out of order so this could explain the screw-ups). The most blatant one is in the episode where Speed is framed for a robbery and later comes across Cumulus, who has had a replica of the Mach Five built. In the beginning of the second part of the episode when Speed is narrating to us about what happened in the first part, he says that the car used in the robbery was a replica of the Mach Five. However, if you watched that first part, you would know that it was the real Mach Five that was used in the robbery and that the duplicate hadn't even been built yet. One that I felt may have been a goof but, after watching it again, I'm not sure, occurs in the episode where Speed must deal with the Melange and Flash Marker's vengeful son. In the second part, Speed notices the helicopter that Flash is in and comments that it's the same helicopter that he saw while chasing after the Melange when it had a robot driver in the first episode. At first, I was going to say that he didn't see the helicopter in that first part, simply because I didn't remember it, but looking at the episode again, he does indeed see a helicopter up in the sky. But now, you get a shot of this helicopter right after Trixie radios him about the Melange's present location and since, as we know, Trixie is often seen flying a helicopter, I thought it was her helicopter that was shown. But, now I'm not entirely sure so maybe that was Flash that Speed saw. However, I do know that there's a continuity error in that episode when Speed brings in the aforementioned robot driver. He says that when the robot crashed and uttered the line, "Melange still races," for the last time, that the nearby train was so loud that he couldn't make out what the robot said. But, no, the train was already long gone by the time Speed got to the robot after it had crashed so he should have been able to hear it. And, of course, how did Spritle get such a clear recording of what the robot said when he was in the trunk of the Mach Five and furthermore, how did he get a recording of it saying that line over and over again when it didn't do so when he was nearby? Again, I'm just nitpicking for the sake of nitpicking and this is just minor stuff that I've noticed.

Other blunders in the show include instances in some episodes where a plot point that should have been introduced earlier will pop up out of nowhere. I don't know if these happened in the Japanese versions as well or if they're just another type of consequence of the way this show was Americanized but there are times where you're watching this show and something will be said that will make you go, "What?" The most blatant one of these for me happens in regards to the character of Gadge Zoomer, whom you learn used to be a racer but has since turned to the much more disreputable sport of car-wrestling. One of his reasons for doing so is because he lost a race to Speed some time before and has hated him ever since. But, that revelation is made over halfway through the episode and before that, no indication of this is made and what's more, Speed and Gadge don't even seem to know each other, which I would think they would if they once raced against each other. That little goof, however, is just a prelude to one of the most absurd ones ever, which happens during the second half of the very last episode. In that episode, the man in charge of putting together the fabulous Around the World Grand Prix offers his daughter's hand in marriage to the winner of the race. The daughter, Lovelace, doesn't take too kindly to being forced to marry against her will and decides to enter the race herself in order to disrupt it. From what we're told, she makes herself out to be a man in order to do so but it's one of the worst disguises ever simply because there is no disguise. Not only is she still wearing lipstick but she's dressed in this racing uniform that is so tight-fitting that it leaves nothing to the imagination. You can see plain as day that she has breasts and the shots of her rear while she's wearing that outfit are also very telling. I don't care if she is deepening her voice to make her sound like a guy, no one in their right mind would think that by looking at her. I just look at this girl and think, "Are you kidding me?" I can usually swallow some ridiculous stuff but that was just beyond unbelievable.

After I've talked about all of these goofs, errors, and other mistakes that I see in the various episodes of Speed Racer, you might be asking, "Cody, are you sure you like this show?" I want to assure you that yes, I do enjoy this show very much. It's just that when I rewatched it again and paid much more attention in order to do this review, I noticed many more mistakes in the plots and such than I did when I revisited it for the first time a little while ago, which I did purely out of nostalgia. But, let me make it clear that this is not a rant in the least. Speed Racer, despite its flaws, is still a very entertaining and enjoyable show that has just as many good elements as it does goof-ups. That said, just because I'm a fan doesn't mean that I don't recognize some inherent flaws and so, when I've been talking about the mistakes made here, I'm not insulting the show or anything. I'm just having some fun with it because, let's face it, there are a lot of ridiculous aspects to it. When it comes to this show, I tease because I love and that's all.

Turning the original Mach Go Go Go into something that American audiences at the time would be more geared towards wasn't not as difficult a job for Peter Fernandez as you might think. In fact, Tatsuo Yoshida and his brothers enjoyed American comics much more than Japanese manga and to that end, they made the original Mach Go Go Go manga feel as close as possible to those comics that they loved when they were young and the anime followed suit. Even though car racing was popular in Japan around that time (and I'm betting that it still is), that's fundamentally an American sport due to NASCAR and whatnot so that helped. In fact, there's nothing overly Japanese about the look of the show either. The small towns, cities, and countrysides present here are so unspecific in what country they're part of that they feel as they could exist anywhere and it's not too hard to imagine that Speed and his family live somewhere near the American West coast since there are a couple of times where a beach near the Racer family's home is mentioned and it looks as if it's in a fairly warm climate like you would expect near California or some place similar. The fact that Speed travels all over the world to take part in races also helped keep the original series' home country vague enough to where Fernandez could Americanize and in the one episode that is of a blatantly Japanese quality, he simply rewrote the story to make it so that Speed was simply in Japan for a race. The characters themselves look more American than Japanese and the Racer family itself is modeled after the typical American family. If you had no idea that this was a Japanese cartoon, you'd swear that they did live in an average American household. Even some of the symbolism in the original anime worked to Fernandez's advantage. The M on the hood of the Mach Five as well as on the forehead of Speed's racing helmet actually stands for Mifune Motors, the original name of his father's automobile company but since he decided to rename the car the Mach Five, it worked out fine. Hell, the car practicaly renamed itself since it was already called the Mach and had a 5 painted on its sides, not to mention that in the Japanese language, "Go" is also the homophone for 5. So it all worked out and so did the S written on Sparky's shirt since his original was Sabu. However, there were some things that Fernandez couldn't avoid. Since Speed's original name was Go Mifune, there's a yellow G on the left side of his shirt and Trixie's original name was Michi, which explains the M on her shirt. I guess it's not a big deal in the long run but I do wonder if some people looked at their clothes and wondered what those letters meant. Other than that, though, the series really lent itself to Americanization, which is much more than you can say for many, many other anime.

Anybody who's ever watched this show remembers the catchy, fun theme song that began every single episode. "Here he comes, here comes Speed Racer, he's a demon on wheels," and nobody could possible forget, "Go Speed Racer, go Speed Racer, go Speed Racer, go!" It's a great song, very energetic and fun and is played up against images of Speed racing amongst other cars on a track, which leads to one car getting flung off of it and being blown to bits. It lets you know that you're in for a show that is meant to be nothing but pure entertainment. In doing research for this review, though, I've learned that the American theme song, although it has the same basic beat, is much different from the original Mach Go Go Go song and, for that matter, so is the opening title sequence. The original song has a military-flavor to it, with loud, banging instruments and a much more jazzy theme as well as with a loud male chorus that sings the song. I actually just listened to it in preparation to write this section of the review and I have to say, it's an amazing thing to experience. Not only is the song itself very powerful and awesome but the actual opening is much longer, with scenes that were cut completely from the American version. You see Speed (or Go, as I guess should say) racing through the jungles of Africa and using the automatic jacks to leap over a couple of elephants in his path, Speed being chased through the desert by black sports cars that are shooting at him and leading them to a cave where a dinosaur skeleton falls on top of them, and an awesomely epic shot of some middle-Eastern soldiers watching Speed, Racer X, and other drivers race through the desert before the sequence ends with the iconic shot of Speed parking the Mach Five, jumping out of it, and striking his famous pose. These images, added with the music as well as some sound effects that aren't present in the American opening, make for a very memorable opening. But, unfortunately, since they felt that American audiences might not gravitate to that theme and also because the longer opening sequence might less time for commercials during the show's airplay. I think it's a shame because, while I do like the American theme song very much since I grew up with it and think that it worked very for how much of the opening they did show (and the new lyrics fit perfectly in place of the original Japanese ones), that original opening is just unreal and it's a shame that probably not too many people over here are aware of it or would even watch it.

There were a couple of other aspects of the show that were changed slightly when it was brought over here. One that has in recent years been altered even more so than it originally was is the replacement of the title Mach Go Go Go with that of Speed Racer. In 1993, the episodes were digitally remastered and the opening titles were slightly altered. The credit Trans-Lux Television Presents was removed and while the title Speed Racer originally just popped up on the screen in white letters, it now spins out of the rotating tire of the Mach Five and has a more elaborate look that was clearly created through computers. The ending credits were replaced with more modern ones as well. This has been the way the credits for the show have looked ever since 1993 and I know some fans aren't all that happy about that change either. Since I grew up on those remastered episodes when they aired on Cartoon Network, I've never had any issue with the fact that the titles look a little modern, even though I can now clearly tell that they are. Another change that was made to the format of the show when it was brought over here was the placement of the episode titles. In the original Japanese episodes, the title for each one would placed over the screen about three minutes, often in the middle of an action shot with the footage freezing in a dramatic pause. However, the American versions put the titles in front of a red-checkered flag background right after the opening credits and so, for no explain reason there, the action would just suddenly freeze for a few seconds before continuing with the story. Few probably know that that's where the titles were originally supposed to go. Inexplicably, though, the title for Race Against the Mammoth Car Part 1 was put where the original Japanese title was. I wonder why they decided to make an exception for that one episode? Why don't just do the same for all of the episodes? Who knows?

Even though the opening theme song, as well as the theme that plays over the ending credits and animation, were changed considerably when the show was brought over here, I'm pretty sure that all of the other music, composed by Nobuyoshi Koshibe, was left intact. There's some really good music in the show, running the entire gambit from exciting to suspenseful, happy and whimsical to sad, and so on. My favorite piece of music in the entire show is this awesome instrumental version of the main theme called Race to the Finish, which you first hear in the second part of the first episode, most notably in the sequence where Speed, after dispensing with Ace Duecey, gets back into the race and heads for the finish line, weaving amonst the other cars and attempts to pass Skull Duggery for first place. It's an awesome piece of music, wonderfully exciting and enjoyable, with a big orchestra giving it a very epic and impacting feel. I honestly don't think they used this track enough in the show, at least not this version of it. You hear it in five episodes but for the most part, throughout the series it was replaced by a slightly softer version of it that's good as well but doesn't have the power of that original version. If you have a chance to listen to that theme on a soundtrack or on YouTube, I highly recommend it because it's a piece of music that just makes you go, "Hell, yeah!"

Another good piece of music is the theme that plays during the opening of the very first episode as Speed racing along a track maneuvering around a bunch of other drivers. It's another fun and adventurous track of music, with a jazzy sound to it that highlights the general excitement of racing as well as some slightly ominous parts that hint at the danger that's present in the sport as well. One of my favorites is a rather serious sounding piece of music with loud, threatening horns that also has elements of the main theme sprinkled throughout it. It often plays during a scene where Speed is having to do something very dangerous and it does a good job at getting across how much dangerous he's in during the given scene. You first really hear it in the series in the second part of the first episode where Ace Duecey steals the Mach Five but has a hard time controlling it and all the while, Speed is trying to catch him. An even more suspenseful piece of music is first heard in the episode featuring the Mammoth Car. It plays during the scenes early in the race where the Mammoth Car is knocking the other racers off the road as if they were nothing and also plays later on in the episode where it relentlessly pursues Speed and Trixie across the countryside. It has a very threatening and constantly driving feel to it, emphasizing how much of a monster the Mammoth Car is as well as just how unstoppable it is. The visuals in this episode work perfectly with the music and while that theme was heard in other episodes, I don't think any of them worked with it as well as this one did. A theme that plays during the opening of the second part of the episode The Most Dangerous Race also works very well with its visuals. It has a very epic and dangerous feel, highlighting just how immense this particular race is and also how hazardous it is as well. Finally, there's a theme that plays whenever things are very, very desperate. It has a whirling sound to it that has a sense of urgency and is followed by a more distressed version of one the main theme's melodies. The episode and moment I associate it with is the first part of Race Against Time, where Speed is forced to travel to a distant pyramid and bring back a small statue in order to save Trixie's life. He only has two hours to do all of this in as well and this music fits with how dire the circumstances are. Those are my absolute favorite tracks of music from the score for Speed Racer. Really great music all-around.

Before we get into my favorite episodes of the series, I feel I must mention some episodes that most people would expect to be in my favorites but, for one reason or another, aren't. One is Challenge of the Masked Racer, the second episode as well as the one that introduces Racer X. However, other than introducing this seminal character as well as Speed's determination to beat him, there isn't much to this episode. The villains aren't that memorable, the action scenes are okay but not the best, and while I like the climactic race as well as Pops ultimately deciding to let Speed become a professional racer, I'm not sure that I like the fact that Racer X let Speed win, as Speed himself comments. I know he wants to help his brother but I don't think he should have just let him win. The Secret Engine is the episode that follows that and details Speed's attempt to help an old man whose prized Model-T, which contains clues to the whereabouts of a haul hidden by his criminal father, is sought after by a crook who wants to get the money for himself. I've just never found this episode that interesting. Again, I don't think the bad guy is that great and there are some very glaring continuity errors in-between the two parts. There is one great moment though where Trixie disguises herself as a native of this valley in order to rescue Speed and annoys him to death while in disguise, prompting Speed, who doesn't know it's Trixie, to tell her to shut up. The Race Against Time, an episode where Speed has to help a woman whose lost her memory and thinks that she's Cleopatra, was one that I thought I was going to put in here but after watching it again, I don't think it holds up that well or is that memorable. The Desperate Racer is the episode where the sister of Hap Hazard asks Speed to intentionally lose the upcoming race to her brother and after he refuses, the two of them fight during the entire race. This episode actually kind of pisses me off because I feel that Speed gets a raw deal in the end. I know there was a good reason as to why Hazard's sister asked him to throw the race but still, as I said a while ago, Speed refuses to throw the race not only because he doesn't want to intentionally lose but also because I feel it wasn't his problem. Also, I don't like the character of Hap Hazard because the guy is a complete douche. After Speed brings his unconscious sister back to their house, Hazard accuses Speed of beating her up; during the race, Hazard steals the pineapple that Speed needs in order to actually win the race and not only does he refuse to give it back even after he learns that Speed didn't take his to begin with, he actually tries to steal it from him again; and after Trixie has Chim Chim put Speed's pineapple into Hazard's car so he'll win, Hazard proclaims, "Now everyone knows that I'm a better racer than Speed!" When he says that, Speed throws his helmet down and I don't blame him. Again, I know Hazard had a good reason for needing to win the race but that doesn't change the fact that I still think he's an asshole who constantly treated Speed like shit. So, I don't like that episode at all. And finally, there's The Trick Race, a sequel to an episode that will be in my favorites and is the one that ends with Speed apparently learning that Racer X is his brother. Like Challenge of the Masked Racer, other than that rather important aspect to it that happens near the end, the episode isn't that memorable to me. It's nice seeing the Car Acrobatic Team again but the rematch between them and Speed is lackluster in my opinion (this should have been another multi-part episode in my opinion), I still don't buy how quickly the leader became an ally to Speed, there's too much stock footage, and I feel that the revelation that there is this enormous network of spies and terrorists that Speed and company have been encountering throughout their adventures was a wasted opportunity since they're all destroyed so easily. I know a lot of people love this one but I think it's just part of the okay category. (Plus, Racer X gets shot in the back of the head in one part and yet later on, he has his arm in a sling. How does that work?)

But, enough about the episodes that didn't make it. Here are my favorite episodes of Speed Racer.

The Great Plan: The very first episode, I think it does a good job in introducing the characters and setting up Speed's desire to become the greatest racer in the world. It also has a great excuse for Speed entering his first real race. Pops quits his job at the automotive company after having an arguement with a board member who says that his plans for an improved Mach Five, complete with a new engine, are impossible, and decides to strike out on his own. Speed, worried about how Pops will acquire the money necessary to rebuild the car, decides to enter a mountain race where the prize is $5000. But, of course, as I described at the beginning of this review, Speed unknowingly enters the race with a windshield that has the plans for the new Mach Five written on it in invisible ink and is soon pursued by Ace Duecey, who has been hired to steal the plans. A lot of great stuff in this first episode, including some entertaining action scenes such as the first one where Speed and Pops are ambushed by some motorcyclists who try to steal the plans and a fight ultimately breaks out in a tunnel. Although Pops manages to hold his own, he's ultimately knocked unconscious and it's up to Speed to take care of the rest of the bad guys. One moment I like is when Speed comes up behind the bad guys who've clobbered Pops, gets their attention, and when they turn around, he charmingly says, "Hi." It's a playful side to Speed that I don't think was shown nearly enough throughout the show. I also like the opening scene with Speed driving the Mach Five around a track as well as various parts of the big race during the episode's second part, especially when Ace Duecey steals the Mach Five but it's bizarre, unexpected features almost cause him to crash. And, of course, there's the race to the finish with that awesome piece of music that I mentioned earlier. That last bit of the race combined with that music is one of my favorite moments in the entire show period. I also like that everything isn't all neatly wrapped up at the end. Even though Speed wins the race, he doesn't get the money because of the interference of Duecey's gang during the race and he also had to smash the windshield in order to keep Duecey from getting the plans. And even though Pops says that the busted windshield doesn't matter because he still has the plans in his head, he's still not too keen on letting Speed be a professional racer, a conflict that continues into the next episode. I just like that idea because it feels realistic, that everything can't be resolved within thirty minutes or an hour. Anyway, I thought it was a great first episode.

Race Against the Mammoth Car: You can't leave out the episode featuring the bad-ass Mammoth Car. To me, this episode is just classic Speed Racer. It has it all: the over the top, memorable villain, an iconic enemy vehicle for Speed to deal with, some really good action scenes, and an awesome climax. The Mammoth Car's introduction, where it comes roaring up to the starting line with its freaky horn screeching and people scramble to get out of the way, lets you know that this is a vehicle not be trifled with. The undershot of it during its first appearance hammers home how incredible a vehicle it is even more and when the race begins, there are some overhead shots of it that shows just how massive the Mammoth Car is and how it dwarfs the other cars. It's not too long in the race before the Mammoth Car begins disposing of the other drivers, sending them flying off the road, and there's even a moment where a train crashes into its last section. Even that doesn't slow the Mammoth Car down for long and when Speed and Trixie try to figure out what the car is hiding since it was given a repair job even though it was barely damaged, that's when Cruncher Block orders the drivers to get rid of them. Although Racer X manages to stop an attempt to get rid of Speed and Trixie with motorcycle-riding bad guys that are deployed from underneath the Mammoth Car, it's not long afterward when the car's drivers decide to use the vehicle itself to dispose of them. This is when things really get good. The Mammoth Car side-swipes them and sends them into the guardrail. They get knocked back and forth a little bit before Speed uses the automatic jack to jump over the rail and head down the side of the hill but, unfortunately for them, the Mammoth Car smashes through the rail and relentlessly pursues them down the hill. This is where you see how practically unstoppable the Mammoth Car is. No matter where Speed goes, it follows him, jumping over large chasms, smashing through boulders, and even when Speed uses the Mach Five's rotary saws to try to escape through the forest, the Mammoth Car manages to follow them into it by smashing the trees as if they were toothpicks. Speed does manage to destroy one of its wheels with his saws but that doesn't even slow the damn thing down and during this whole sequence, the Mammoth Car's intense theme music as well as its constant screeching make it feel less like Speed is dealing with a vehicle and more like he and Trixie are being pursued by a monster (in fact, this whole sequence makes me think of Steven Spielberg's Duel). This first part ends with the Mach Five being flung into a lake by the Mammoth Car, giving a great cap to a heart-pounding episode.

While the second part of the episode isn't nearly as good as the first, there are some parts to it, like when Cruncher Block and his gang take Speed and Trixie hostage, tie them to a mining car, and send them rolling down into the mine where they'll eventually collide with another car that's loaded with dynamite. After they're sent rolling down into the mine, Spritle and Chim Chim try to help the two of them but they only end up making things worse when they get tangled in the ropes themselves. They come very close to colliding with the explosive car but, at the last minute, Racer X throws the track switch and Speed and the gang take a different track from that of the dynamite car. There's also a great finale where Spritle and Chim Chim sneak aboard the Mammoth Car, which heads to the docks in order to get aboard a ship and while they manage to stop the driver from doing so, the Mammoth Car soon gets out of control and causes havoc on the dock. Speed himself manages to get aboard and tries to stop it but eventually has to bail out along with Spritle and Chim Chim when the Mammoth Car smashes into an oil tanker and is engulfed in flames. The fire causes the car to melt down to reveal that the large amount of gold it was believed to have been carrying was built right into it so no one would find it. The scene where it melts down is oddly eerie, with the image of it slowly dissolving as well as the surreal, bubbling noises that accompany it. All in all, this is an awesome episode of the series and is a great example of it at its absolute best.

The Most Dangerous Race: As the only episode with three parts, this story feels positively epic, telling how Speed first meets the Car Acrobatic Team and how he races against them in the dangerous Alpine Race (however, seeing as how a later episode has Speed racing through the inside of an active volcano and having to dodge fire and lava, I would call that the most dangerous race!) The first part is little more than a build-up to the latter two, although it has some great stuff like when the Car Acrobatic Team first make themselves known, driving and sailing right in the middle of this stunt show, terrorizing the spectators and making Speed realize the gravity of what he's up against. You have that brief falling out between Speed and Sparky that is rectified in the next part and you also have a moment where Racer X gives Speed some advice on how to traverse the dangerous race course, then tells him that the reason he's doing so is because he wants Speed to be in the race so he can beat him, telling him, "I'm not going to give you a break!" Near the end of the first part when Speed and Pops, along with Trixie, Spritle, and Chim Chim, are installing some new equipment that will make Speed's traversing through the mountains a lot easier, Pops suddenly falls ill and Trixie takes him to the hospital, forcing Speed to finish preparing the Mach Five himself. He just barely makes it to the race in time and just a few minutes into the race, there have already been some bad crashes. We also see the consequences of Speed not having Pops or Sparky to help him finish the job on the Mach Five: Speed discovers that the car's brakes aren't working very well.

Part 2 begins with a bang. The Alpine Race is well underway and Speed weaves amongst the other cars on the dangerous, winding, and, eventually, icy mountain roads, with several cars just barely making it around those tricky turns. Speed again realizes that there's something wrong with the Mach Five's brakes and later on, as the race continues, the cars enter an ice cave and this is where things start going south. Several members of the Car Acrobatic Team use their cars' wings to fly up to the roof of the cave in order to knock some ice stalactites down to hamper Speed's progress and while their trickery eventually causes them to crash themselves, they cause Speed to lose control of the Mach Five on the icy road. Even worse, the brakes fail completely and Speed starts sliding backwards down the side of the mountain. After a lot of uncontrollable skidding, the Mach Five ends up teetering on the edge of a long drop and Speed, who got thrown out of the cockpit by the impact, is hanging onto its rear. Being terrified of heights, watching Speed barely managing to keep himself from falling to his death really freaks me out. It's only through the help of Trixie and the others in her helicopter that he is able to survive. They manage to pull him out, Speed and Sparky make up, and Sparky fixes the faulty brakes. I like this little section where they're fixing the Mach Five and Trixie and Spritle actually start competing over who should help Sparky fix the car. Spritle goes into a boxing stance and chases after Trixie, who runs to Speed for help. I also like this moment where Speed and Trixie look at each other, make faces, and then Speed puts Trixie in the helicopter, telling her that it's her turn to take a rest after she told him to do so (he does the same to Spritle shortly afterward). Before Speed leaves to rejoin the race, Spritle, feeling bad about acting like a brat, gives his brother his good luck charm, another moment that I like because it shows how close Speed and Spritle are as brothers. He needs all the luck he can get because when he does rejoin the race, he discovers that an oncoming storm has destroyed several sections of the course, making it even more hazardous to continue on. He, Racer X, and the members of the Car Acrobatic Team decide to draw straws to see in what order each of them will cross the chasm. Speed draws last place and by the time he has to jump the chasm, the impact of the other cars has disintegrated the course even more than how it was originally. To show how dire the circumstances are, the scene of Speed preparing to make the jump is intercut with a scene occuring in a nearby cabin, where Trixie and the others learn the effect the storm is having on the course. Spritle is at first confident that Speed will be alright because he has his good luck charm but when everyone else seems despondent, he begins to cry, knowing that this may be the race that Speed doesn't come back from. And sure enough, although the Mach Five's newly installed wings enable Speed to get a little far up the crumbling course, when he makes his second jump, the ground underneath his back tires gives way and sends him crashing down into the chasm. The last shot is of Spritle's good luck charm lying in the dirt at the bottom of the chasm, giving us a feeling of bleakness in regards to whether Speed survived or not.

Part 3 begins with a small recap of the last moments of Part 2 and soon after that, we see one of the most surreal and freaky moments in the entire show. Trixie, Sparky, Spritle, and Chim Chim head out into the storm to try to find Speed but their truck runs out of gas and they're forced to spend the night in it. In the middle of the night, Trixie has a dream where she sees the Mach Five pull up and a figure that appears to be Speed jumps out. However, when she runs up to him, "Speed" is revealed to be a blue-skinned demon with fangs, pointy ears, and very evil-looking, reptile eyes. Surrounded by fire, the demon announces in a booming, echoing voice, "I am not Speed as Speed Racer no longer exists!" He then proceeds to grab a screaming Trixie and laughs evilly at her. That's when Trixie wakes up with a gasp. And that's it. This big WTF moment is not mentioned at all for the rest of the episode. There's no reason for it, seeing as how it was just a dream, but I still would like not to know what that was all about. After that, we are shown that Speed, of course, survived the fall down the chasm but after he regains consciousness, his eyes are inexplicably hurt by the sunlight and he realizes that he's gone blind. This is something that I never understood when I was a kid and even now, I still don't quite get it. When Speed awakens, he seems to be able see but it's when he looks at the sun that he suddenly loses his eyesight. I've heard theories that he suffered a concussion during his fall down the chasm and that's what caused him to go blind but if that's the case, then why was he still able to see until he looked at the sun? Not being a medical expert, I'm probably missing something but it's a question that's never adequately explained in the episode. In any case, though, I remember as a kid being rather upset by the sight of Speed, who's always a very skilled driver as well as someone could hold his own physically in any confrontation, stumbling around, unable to see. Even worse is when Snake Oiler comes across Speed, realizes that he's blind, and mocks his condition. He gets Speed so upset that he starts to cry! This was the first time I'd ever seen Speed shed tears and that upset me even more when I was young. After Snake gets back into his car and drives off, Racer X appears and decides to help his brother. When Speed manages to get into the Mach Five, Racer X begins driving a little bit ahead of him so he can follow the sound but when Speed gets stuck, Racer X crashes his car on purpose and tells Speed that his legs are broken, even though they're perfectly okay since he jumped out before the Shooting Star hit the wall. He then proposes that the two of them act as a team, with Racer X giving Speed directions while he drives and that they hope that with a bit of luck, they can overtake Snake. I like the section where Speed opens the Mach Five up in order to catch up to Snake, with Racer X telling him to go as fast as he can and the music that plays enhances the seriousness of the situation. After driving around some particularly treacherous obstacles, including a crumbling wooden bridge that Speed manages to jump over despite Racer X's warnings to stop, they manage to catch up to Snake. When Racer X tells Speed that Snake's car is leaking oil, Speed does his best to warn him but Snake, naturally, doesn't listen, which leads to getting blown up and allows Speed to win. After Speed wins the trophy and before he goes to the hospital to get his eyes worked on (I actually wish they'd done an episode where we see Speed's eyes getting healed), Speed learns that Racer X's legs weren't broken at all and that he only said so to help him. Speed says that Racer X deserves the trophy for that bit of selflessness but by that point, Racer X has slipped away, admiring to himself how Speed is not only a great racer but a great man as well, valuing human life over winning. It's an awesome and satisfying ending to the most epic episode in the entire series.

The Fastest Car on Earth: The episode featuring the GRX, this one has a rather atmospheric and eerie opening where the henchmen of Oriena Flux, the woman who intends to use the GRX to win races, remove the engine from its grave in the middle of a very creepy cemetery (the vehicle they're using is a hearse, adding even more to the eerie scene). The next day, there's an interesting moment where Flux's men kidnap Chim Chim and use him as a guinea pig for the V-Gas, which is the chemical that can enable someone to safely drive the GRX, and it's not long afterward when the car is revealed at the race track where Speed is practicing the Mach Five for an upcoming race. When the GRX starts up and takes off down the track, it doesn't take Pops long to recognize the engine through its distinct sound and he warns the others, particularly Speed, to keep away from the car. That's when he makes a weird statement that is completely forgotten by the episode's second part. He says that there's something supernatural about the car and that it might even be a ghost. I figured he might be saying that just to make doubly sure that they don't go near that car but after that, there's a scene where he, Spritle, and Chim Chim go to the cemetery. In the middle of this scene, right before the fade out to a commercial break, Pops sees something and exclaims, "It's gotta be a ghost! That must not be real!" When we come back, we're shown that what he saw was the empty grave and he now knows for sure that the GRX has been dug up. Then why he was going about seeing a ghost or whatever? It's never brought up again so who knows? In any case, despite Pops' warnings to stay away from it, Speed follows the GRX back to Oriena Flux's house and sneaks inside to get a better look at it. When he realizes that the car's engine is indeed the GRX, he makes the bad decision to drive it himself (if he knows about the engine, then shouldn't he also know how dangerous it is and why it disappeared from public view after a while?) At the same time this is going on, we learn from Pops just how lethal of an engine the GRX is, that several test drivers as well as its own creator died because of it, and that Pops now wishes he had destroyed it when he had the chance. We also get the first hints of the bad side-effects of the V-Gas when the guy who drove the GRX earlier suddenly becomes terrified of going fast after he drinks some water. This all culminates when Speed takes off in the GRX himself and both the bad guys and Pops chase after to try to stop him. It's bizarre to see Speed, who's normally a very safe, conscientious driver when he's not racing, accelerate up to 340 km/p while driving in the middle of the city and actually laugh with delerious glee at the power of the car he's controlling. But, it's not long before the GRX overpowers him and he feels as if he's going so fast that he's traveling into another dimension. He passes out at the wheel and with Pops unable to catch up to the car, it looks as if Speed will inevitably crash, making for a great cliffhanger lead-in to the next part.

Part 2 has a great opening, with Speed still unconscious at the wheel of the GRX and still flying around the various curves of the road. Fortunately, his foot slips off the gas pedal, enabling Pops to catch up to him and, with Spritle and Chim Chim's help, they manage to stop the GRX and get the still unconscious Speed out. The next day, Speed awakens in his bed but seems to be in a daze and unable to understand where he is. Pops explains that the GRX's speed and power has messed up his coordination and that he has to give him the "treatment." Said treatment is throwing water in his face and this leads to a really funny part where Speed, after regaining his senses, gets out of the way when Pops throws another round of water and it ends up soaking Trxie instead (even Speed himself thinks this is quite funny). After that, though, Pops tells Speed about how dangerous the GRX is (again, something he should have done beforehand) and about how it affects a driver's coordination. Pops again warns Speed to keep away from the GRX but when, during the trials for the upcoming race, the new driver that Oriena Flux hired makes the dumb mistake of drinking water while driving the car and ends up crashing, he's asked by Flux herself if he would like to drive the GRX. Speed, wanting to feel the GRX's power again, agrees. I like that idea that it's like a drug, that, while it did eventually cause him to pass out, up till then it felt awesome and Speed wants to experience that feeling again. The only thing about this episode that I don't get is when Pops explains why he doesn't want to take the matter to the police, saying that the publicity would inspire other people to try to make more engines like the GRX. Okay, first off, people already know about the GRX since the case was clearly quite well known and even then, the announcer at the trials called it that as well so most who've heard the story already know about it for sure so he's not stopping much in that case. And second, the only way people could try to copy the GRX is to look at and study the engine itself, something I don't think Oriena Flux would allow and especially not the police after they confiscated it. Once again, I'm probably overanalyzing it to death but those are my feelings. Anway, Speed is sprayed with the V-Gas and even though this enables him to handle the GRX, he's stopped and taken home by Pops. On the way, Speed drinks some water and soon develops the crippling fear of going fast. This is another thing that was quite upsetting to see as a kid: Speed, a very skilled and brave racer, terrified of going fast. Pops puts him through a rather torturous attempt to try to break him of the fear by forcing him to watch a film taken during a drive down a street. Speed gets freaked out and shudders and gasps like mad and for someone who really looked up to him as a hero when I was a kid, this was kind of hard to watch! On top of that, Pops makes him enter the big race, despite how jittery he still is. I know Pops is just trying to help him overcome the effects of the V-Gas but watching this again, it feels ungodly cruel. However, thanks to some peptalks that Pops gave him (although it's not made clear when he told this), Speed manages to overcome his fears and I like that Race to the Finish theme starts playing triumphantly when Speed becomes his old self again. AT the same time, the new driver of the GRX makes the same dumb decision of drinking water while driving it and ends up crashing, killing him as well as destroying the GRX for good. They tack on a plot point at the end about that guy, who also popped sporadically throughout the episode, being the son of the GRX's inventor. Rather pointless and it didn't matter at all since it didn't affect the story one little bit and was only revealed at the very end. Still, a great episode.

Gang of Assassins: This is the episode that clearly takes place in Japan and involves a terrorist group who plan to disturb a peacemeal conference that's taking place in the country. It starts off a bit slow, with the assassins planting a small bomb inside a suit of armor that later blows up a president of another country as well as some of his ministers and then proceeds to show Speed winning his latest race, which ended with a neck-and-neck between him and Racer X, It's when Speed and Trixie go sightseeing later on that they first encounter the assassins. What follows is a pretty good action scene where a few of the assassins, perched on the roof of a castle, attack Speed and he counters by using the homing robot as a makeshift weapon. After managing to knock one of the assassins down, Speed then uses the Mach Five to protect himself from a couple of assassins who are using machine guns. The assassins drive off and when Speed gives chase, they spike strip to flatten one of the Mach Five's tires and then proceed to melt the car, along with Speed, with flamethrowers. However, Speed is saved by the intervention of the nearby castle guards, who up until then had been rendered unconscious by the assassins. The following day, Racer X, who claims to know of Speed's encounter with the assassins because "a little bird" told him, warns Speed to forget about the assassins and soon afterward, Racer X himself is approached to work with the assassins given his impressive physical skills as well as how well he uses a gun, which was shown when he was shooting clay pigeons. Racer X seemingly takes them up on their offer. After Speed and the others, as well as Racer X, see an enormous sea monster appear and sink a sightseeing boat carrying more attendees of the peacemeal conference, Speed tries to follow the monster but has no luck. However, he spots the assassins and follows them to an old temple, which turns out to be their hideout. Part 1 ends with Speed being held trapped by the assassins' remote-controlled, weapon-wielding statues.

As Part 2 begins, Speed manages to defend himself very well against the aforementioned statues as well as the assassins themselves, dealing with exploding shurikens, throwing knives, and spears. However, he's soon take prisoner by the leader of particular section of the assassins' organization and they proceed to take him into the heart of their hideout. Here, we see a scene of the assassins training, doing stuff like like practicing their shooting, driving, and testing out equipment such as a fire-proof jacket and boots that allow them to walk on the ceiling. (This whole part reminds me of a similar one in From Russia with Love, where we see the training ground of the terrorist organization SPECTRE.) After this is when the leader of the entire organization, Prof. Anarchy, offers Speed a position with them. I like how Speed not only refuses to join but actually laughs at Anarchy's offer. As a result, Anarchy orders Speed to be dealt with and that's when Racer X enters the room, proclaims to Speed that he's now part of the assassins since he was sick of getting little money from racing, and proceeds to beat Speed up (however, we hear Racer X's thoughts where he apologizes to Speed for doing this, revealing to us that he's indeed just pretending to be part of the assassins). The next day, Trixie, Spritle, and Chim Chim use the Mach Five to try to find the monster that sank the boat and while they do find it, it turns out to be a submarine that swallows the car up and takes them to the assassins' hideout, where Trixie is put in a holding cell along with Speed and the captured diplomats. After that is when we learn the assassins' ultimate plan: to plant a bomb in the building where the peacemeal conference wll be held. Racer X offers to take charge of the mission, secretly hoping to foil their plans, but he's instead ordered to kill Speed, Trixie, and the diplomats, who are lined up like in a shooting gallery. Racer X, however, uses his incredible shooting skills to shoot their ropes off and that's when all hell breaks loose. Now knowing that Racer X was never one of them, the assassins come in and open fire on him. Racer X manages to shoot down a bunch of them, Spritle comes barreling in driving the Mach Five(!), Racer X sets a time bomb in an ammunition room that eventually blows the base sky high, Speed and Trixie use the Mach Five to try to stop the assassins from destroying the peacemeal conference but they are chased from above by the now flying monster "submarine" that's shooting lasers at them, and Spritle and Chim Chim, who snuck aboard the sub, knock out the pilot and parachute out just before the sub crashes down on the assassins, destroying them along with the bomb. The few minutes of this episode alone make it a great one but overall, it's one of the best of the series' many espionage-themed episodes.

The Race for Life: This one is notable for, along with the next episode, being one of the first that I ever saw. After watching it again, I still like it, mainly because it's short and to the point. Speed has to help a young woman in South America get a serum to her snake-bit brother in time or else, the small town that he's mayor of will fall into the hands of a ruthless man who plans to rob the village of its treasure. Being a one-off episode, not a single moment is wasted in telling the story and it works very well. It starts innocently enough: we see Speed win a race at the beginning, get kissed by the lovely senorita whom he eventually ends up helping (making a hilarious flabbergasted face as she does), and watch her dance for him, which makes him comment, "Ole!" but once the woman is given the serum by a man who dies shortly afterward, it never slows down. Speed pursues the gunmen who run after the woman and ends up having to save her from a bull that the men let loose on her. As Speed helps the woman get to her village, he, along with Spritle and Chim Chim's help, has to get the Mach Five out of a river when it falls in due to a sabotaged bridge and he ends up having to send Spritle on foot with the serum when the Mach Five is blocked by a landslide. After the villain is revealed, his men set fire to the village and then cause a stampede of bulls so he can escape. This leads to a great climax where Speed uses the Mach Five to chase after the villain, who escapes on horseback through a thunderstorm and it ends when Speed has a final confrontation with the guy on the edge of a cliff that leads with the guy falling to his death. Maybe I just like this episode because of nostalgia but I can't help it. It is one of my favorites.

The Supersonic Car: This is another instance where I'm probably going on nostalgia since this is the very first episode I saw from beginning to end. After the test-run of a new supersonic rocket car with Speed as the driver ends with the car cracking apart and crashing, the company who built it soon decides to go ahead with building another and conducting another test. Not knowing that it was sabotage, the company decide to hire a new driver but Speed is encouraged by his friends to apply for the job of test driver again. This leads to Speed and his friends discovering that the sabotage is a plot by another company to destroy the one in charge of building the supersonic car. This episode has a bunch of classic Speed Racer scenarios: Speed and Pops being shot at in a cemetery, Speed attempting to catch the man behind the sabotage in one scene but ends up having to deal with five rifle-wielding cronies at the same time, and a climactic final test where Speed pushes the supersonic car to its limits to avoid a time bomb that's been placed on the track, which results in him breaking the speed record, a goal that the president of the company had hoped to meet. Again, I'm probably just gushing over this episode because of nostalgia but watching it again was a treat and I still really enjoy it. Plus, even though I wish there weren't so many episodes involving spies and terrorists, I do like stories like this that involve corruption in the automotive corporate world because it feels in line with what the show is supposed to be about.

Crash in the Jungle: I would say that this episode is like Speed Racer meets Tarzan but a more appropriate nickname would be Speed Racer as Tarzan. While flying back from checking the course of a big race that will go run all over the continent of Africa, Speed meets Prof. Carnivory, who has come to investigate claims of a monster living near a certain mountain in the heart of the continent. In the middle of their meeting, the pilot and co-pilot of the plane reveal themselves to be from the country that was once Carnivory's home before it was taken over and they parachute out of the plane with the professor, leaving Speed to die in the plane's inevitable crash. While Speed manages to escape the plane crash, he's soon attacked by the fabled monster of the mountain: an enormous gorilla. He's chased throughout the jungle by the monster and one thing leads to another until it is revealed that the monster gorilla is one of many animals turned into giants by rebels from Prof. Carnivory's country who intend to create an army of giant men to liberate their country. The opening of this episode is very suspenseful and threatening, with the giant gorilla smashing through the jungle and terrorizing the various animals. The animation on the gorilla in this opening is quite startling in some shots and the roars that he makes are extremely frightening. As I said, after Speed escapes the plane crash, he's soon pursued by the monster gorilla but even before that, he has to deal with a couple of deadly jungle animals like a big snake and a leopard. After Speed escapes the monster, he comes across a tribe of natives (the character designs on them are not very flattering and more than a little stereotypical, I might) and their chief asks Speed to help them battle the monster (I don't know why they thought he would make any difference in the fight). It's here where I might as well mention the most notable aspect of this entire episode: Speed becoming a Tarzan-like jungle hero. As soon as he lands in the jungle, he demonstrates just how adapative he is, able to jump up trees and swing from vines like a boss. His clothes gradually begin to come apart as well. When he's discovered by the natives, he's somehow become barefoot and the bottom sections of his pants as well as the lower part of his short sleeves. And when he goes out with the natives to battle the monster gorilla, they instead encounter a gigantic spider that Speed has a very impressive fight with (the animation on that spider is quite unusual and strange, by the way). The fight ends when the spider jumps on top of Speed and he impales it with a speer. After he pushes its carcass off of him, we see that the upper left section of his shirt has been torn off and his pants have basically been reduced to shorts. For the rest of the episode, he basically is Tarzan, something that you would next to see in a show called Speed Racer. In any case, the first part ends with Speed following a mysterious tank that he spots in the jungle to its hideout, which is an island that serves as the headquarters for those rebels and he finds himself surrounded by giant gorillas.

Part 1 was pretty good but Part 2 is just awesome, beginning with Speed dealing with those enormous gorillas that he was confronted with at the end of the first part. It's a great scene, with Speed having to use the vines and his physical skills to dodge the gorillas' throwing sections of trees at him and he also outwits them, having two crash into each other, causing one to step on the other's chest, and using vines to tie one's leg up and trip a couple of others (notice that throughout this fight, they can't seem to keep straight how big the gorillas are). From there, this part just goes without slowing down and has so many awesome aspects to it: the cackling Prof. Loon whom Carnivory is forced to work with; a pool full of piranhas that strip a lion to bones; Trixie and Spritle, who ended up on the island while looking for Speed, nearly being used as human test subjects for the machine that turns creatures into giants; Speed using the Mach Five to run from tanks that chase him across the island and eventually taking control of one himself to rescue his friends; and an explosive climax where Speed uses said tank to destroy the base and in the process, releases one of the giant gorillas from his cage who proceeds to finish the job for him. So basically, you take Speed Racer, Tarzan, and King Kong, put them together, and what do you have? You have one of the most ridiculous but enjoyable episodes of Speed Racer ever. This was one I saw a lot as a kid and I still enjoy it to this day.

The Terrifying Gambler: This is the Speed Racer episode that feels the most like a James Bond movie, in particular Goldfinger. After Speed and Trixie, while competing in a rally for an upcoming race, are forced by a gun-wielding stranger to take them to Monte Carlo, Speed suspects that Mr. Fastbucks, a wealthy man who is very lucky in casino gambling, is the culprit. His suspicions turn out to be right and the insane Fastbucks eventually takes Speed hostage, revealing to him his plan to increase the value of train stock by destroying all the oil and gasoline refineries on Earth. This is another fast-paced episode that's just awesome. Mr. Fastbucks is a memorable villain because of how loony he is and his plan, if you think about it, is quite similar to Auric Goldfinger's plan to increase the value of his gold in that film. Heck, there's even a scene where Fastbucks straps Speed to a revolving section of the wall in his hideout and soon fires a laser that slowly creeps towards him, much like the famous scene in Goldfinger. There's some other great stuff in this episode like Fastbucks telling Speed the similarities between roulette and racing (Fastbucks speaks so fast that in that scene that it's surreal), an entertaining fight between the two of them where Fastbucks shows off his martial arts skills (although Speed, for some reason, screws himself over by dodging a set of cards that Fastbucks flings at him at one point), and a fairly suspenseful sequence following that where Speed tries to escape from Fastbucks' hotel but the guy apparently has the entire place payed off because everyone, from the bellhops, cooks, waiters, and even the guy at the front desk, get out guns and chase after Speed! It all leads to an entertaining climax in Fastbucks' mountain hideout where Speed's friends come to save him and Spritle and Chim Chim end up causing havoc, especially Chim Chim who grabs a time bomb that Fastbucks had on him. Fastbucks' attempts to sweet-talk Chim Chim into giving him the bomb are just hilarious and so is a moment when Chim Chim bites his hand and he says, "Ooh, that hurt!" (He's supposed to be a tough guy.) The spinning closeup of Fastbucks' face when he gets blown up along with his base at the end is pretty funny too. Very entertaining episode this.

The Man Behind the Mask: You would expect this to be an episode about Racer X but no, while he is in this episode, the title character is Marc Meglaton, an insane man who hides behind an ugly man and kidnaps Speed and a professor to make them help him steal valuable works of art from around the world. This is another episode that has a very memorable villain. Meglaton's hideous mask looks something you'd see in a Picasso painting, with a misshapen nose, disproportioned eyes, arched eyebrows, and a big, Joker-like grin. He also comes across as fairly calm and collected at first but there are moments where he shows just crazy he is, like when he's keeping an eye on Speed while making him steal works of art, saying, "I'm watching you, Speed. Get to work!" and proceeds to laugh evilly. Plus, the idea of strapping Speed in the Mach Five with a bomb and forcing him rob art museums is quite messed up. The production values on this episode seem to be higher than normal, with brighter colors as well as some moments of natural-looking animation, particularly on Speed's face when he's nervous in some scenes. There are also some great sequences, like one where Racer X almost saves Speed from the booby-trapped Mach Five but ends up failing; a section where Pops and Racer X actually work together in saving Speed (this may be the only time in the series where they actually interact) which leads to a fight between the two of them and Meglaton's men that is quite entertaining because of the constant closeups that occur in the fight (you almost expect to see the POW! WHOP! and ZAM! word balloons from the 60's Batman show to pop up) and, of course, an explosive climax where Meglaton's base starts coming down and Speed and his friends are running like mad to escape (this is where Speed mows some bad guys down with a machine gun). You also have a last scene with Meglaton that shows how deranged he really is. After his identity is revealed (it's no big secret, trust me), he attempts to burn his stolen works of art so no one can have them and he starts cackling like an absolute madman. Speed then activates the system that puts out any fires in the room and Meglaton goes nuts, screaming, "No! Don't save them! Let them burn! Let them burn!" You really understand then just how crazy this guy is. In any case, this was another entertaining, fast-paced episode.

Car with a Brain: The episode featuring the Monster Car, this one is basically a monster movie and, being a big fan of those types of films, that's fine by me. The plot is as simple as you can get: an insane scientist brings to life the electronic brain of an enormous armored vehicle with lightning and lets it loose on the countryside of Scotland. Speed and his family, who are in Scotland so Speed can participate in a race, are enlisted to help the army destroy the Monster Car before it smashes all of Scotland. Like the Mammoth Car, the Monster Car lives up to its name. Nothing can stop this beast as it goes on a rampage throughout the countryside, destroying everything in its path. And like Godzilla, nothing the army throws at it even slows it down. Tanks, missiles, fighter planes, nothing hurts it and with its electronic brain, it knows how to defend itself as well as how to replinish its fuel supply. The scenes of the Monster Car rampaging through the countryside as well as in the middle of big cities is just as thrilling as what you get in Godzilla movies and there's a race against time at the end to stop it before it reaches the center of the country's military fortifications and blows itself up with a blast big enough to decimate half of Scotland. That last section, where Speed races to turn the Monster Car and lead it someplace where it can explode without harming anyone as well as to save a little girl that the car took inside itself for some reason is very thrilling. Maybe it's just because I love monster movies so much but I really enjoy this episode.

I must say that I'm not that big a fan of Race Around the World, the very last episode, as a whole. It's interesting to see Speed literally race across the entire world and it's also nice to see an episode about racing after so many that were about something else but the villains aren't that memorable and none of the action sequences caught my attention. That said, though, the ending, despite the interference of the narrator, freaking rocks. Speed wins the race, making him the world champion racer, and he and his family take part in a parade celebrating his greatest victory, with Racer X proudly looking on and thinking to himself that Speed deserves the championship. Speed then tells Sparky that there are more races to be won and this lead to an awesome final montage where he takes off for more adventures, driving through the city, through ruins in the middle of desert, and around a Greek temple. There's a shot where he breaks the fourth wall by looking into the camera, raising his helmet visor up, and smiling before proceeding to literally drive off into the sunset over a hill. This last scene of the entire series never fails to give me chills. It's just perfect. Those sunset-lit images of the ruins combined with Speed's amazing driving skills and the instrumental version of the theme playing at full blast give it all a very epic feeling, that we're truly seeing Speed in all of his glory and that, after all of his adventures and the lesson's he learned, he now is, once and for all, the world champion racing driver.

Before I end this, I want to say that I am aware that there have been other incarnations of Speed Racer over the years. There was Speed Racer: The Movie (which I actually saw the VHS for in a rental store in Destin, Florida when I was on vacation there at one point), which from what I hear was basically several episodes of the show, and I think footage from some other shows as well, edited together into a movie; The New Adventures of Speed Racer, a 1993 revival series that lasted only thirteen episodes and wasn't that well liked by anybody; Speed Racer X, a 1997 series that didn't even make it over here in America in its entirety due to an agreement between two licensing companies falling through; Speed Racer: The Next Generation, another revival series that was made to coincide with the release of the 2008 film by the Wachowskis' and from what I can tell, acted as a sort of sequel to the original series; and, finally, there's the 2008 live-action film that crashed at the box-office and didn't even do that well on DVD either. So, yes, I am aware that these things exist but I'm not interested in them one bit. The original series was what I grew up with, is what I like, and I don't really care for these attempts to modernize it. It should just be left alone, especially now that Peter Fernandez is no longer with us. And as for that 2008 movie, I've never seen it but that didn't even look from the previews I saw. It just looked way too overdone and flashy. It makes me want to say, "Guys, this isn't The Matrix." So, I don't really care about these other incarnations of Speed Racer. I'll just stick with the original series that I grew up with and leave it at that.

Speed Racer is a fun show that I have very fond memories and watching it nowadays, I still get a kick out of it. It's a very energetic, fast-moving show with likable characters, entertaining and over the top villains, good action and racing sequences, and some great music with a very memorable theme song. The animation may not be the best and some aspects of the show, from the plots to strange animation moments and so forth, don't stand up to scrutiny very well but even they add to the charm of this show. In conclusion, I think the best thing about this show is that it's a testament to the fact that sometimes, you just can't beat good, old-fashioned escapism. The creators as well as the people who brought this series to America weren't trying to make anything groundbreaking or thematically complex. They were just trying to make a really entertaining show and for my money, they succeeded. If it's not your cup of tea, that's fine. I, on the other hand, will love and enjoy this show to my dying day. And I don't think I can end this in any better way other than to say, "Go, Speed Racer! Go, Speed Racer! Go, Speed Racer, go!"