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Speed Racer is more than just car races. Really! A lot of effort was put into developing the characters and plotlines so that not only was the show action packed but also shared the warmth and frustrations encountered in every family. In response to a rec.arts.anime question asking how the new Speed Racer series compares to the old, Winston Smith responded by describing the original series as only a longtime fan could.
In my opinion the "new Speedracer" really has nothing to do with the "Speed Racer" of the 1960's. It has the characters and a car, but has very little to do with the original. The "new Speedracer" is spiritually closer to the animation of "James Bond Junior", which is funny since "James Bond Junior" has more of the "Speed Racer" feel to it than the "new Speedracer". I would consider it "James Bond Junior, PART VI" with racing cars. There are none of the emotional social dynamics that make up the original. Either the creators are intimidated by the original, or they have no concept of what the idea of "family" means. It is more like a series of adult divorced people running around and masquerading as a family.
The original Speed Racer of the 1960's included a mysterious character known as RACER-X. Racer-X, also known as The Masked Racer, functions as a "Guardian Angel" figure for Speed. Whenever Speed is about to celebrate a great victory Racer-X is seen to appear mysteriously in the stands, high above the crowd. Whenever Speed suffers a terrible defeat and is near the point of giving up, Racer-X mysteriously appears by his side to offer him moral support or the aid of a car. Racer-X, unbeknownst to Speed is Speed's older brother Rex, who abandoned the family when Speed was younger. Racer-X, unknown by anyone else, is also a secret agent. (The mid-1960's was at the height of the "secret agent" craze of televison.) His secret agent itinerary provides him with a schedule where he travels around the world, and he uses his skills as a racing driver for a cover. Although it is never spelled out in the series, it can be surmised that Rex Racer is a thrill seeker for whom the idea of settling down and running the family automotive engineering firm held no appeal. Likewise it can be surmised that the thrill of auto racing for Rex Racer was largely empty and hollow. He seems to be in search of the ultimate thrill, where he can play the most dangerous game, and where the risks he takes will have importance to the world as a whole, rather than be wasted on something as trivial as the allure of fast cars. Naturally Rex could not risk the lives of his family, so he had to go away. Rex's desire to be more than simply the world's best racing car driver has had consequences that have shattered the family, and Speed has been forbidden to race professionally. Speed, however, demands his legacy, and proves himself a professional racer against his fathers wishes, taking hold of the family legacy and Rex's birthright by sheer guts, skill, and talent.
In the original you could tell that these people cared about each other. You could tell that Rex was the family favorite and that Pops was scarred by the battle and the subsequent family breakup. Speed had tremendous insecurities and was kind of the "Jack Kennedy" character who drove himself to prove to his father that he was good enough to handle the family legacy that would have been Rex's. Speed was always trying to prove himself to his father. Trixie was there for Speed to give him unconditional love and support. While flying above the race, (was she a television reporter? I was never very clear on this point...) whenever Speed was about to enter a difficult spot, they would go through this ritual where she would call down, "Be careful Speed!", or whatever, and he would call back something like, "Don't be such a girl!" to show that he was no longer frightened (meanwhile the sweat was pouring off his face...). Spritel was always exuberant and looked up to his brother as some sort of god-hero. This made things all that more tragic since it poignantly highlighted Speed's similar feelings for Rex that were betrayed and crushed. Spritel is the embodiment of the hope that the family will come back together and trust will be restored. Sparky is there to remind Speed that he is indeed not alone, that there is a --TEAM-- of people backing the Mach Five. He is there to be the brother that Speed had needed, but was denied. Sparky is a realist who is there to give mister idealistic hero a kick in the teeth when he needs it and remind him that if they don't get the engine overhauled by tomorrow, "hero boy" will have to go out and rescue the girl and fight the villain while hopping on a pogostick. Even Mrs. Racer was desperately trying to restore a sense of family and get Pops to open up a bit and come out of his depression.
The "new Speedracer" takes this great mythic tragedy, this hero story from right out of the Kennedy era, and turns it into some sort of sick running joke. Speed comes running in... PANT! PANT! PANT!, "Racer X, are you my brother?" Racer X goes running out... WHIR! WHIR! WHIR!, "Sorry Speed, I can't answer that right now. I am too busy." (How many latch-key kids have heard --THAT-- excuse, I wonder!) The original "Speed Racer" was true "anime". The "new Speedracer" is just a cartoon. (It is a good cartoon. It is very imaginative. However, it doesn't approach the level of "anime". Compare it to "EXO Squad", for example.)
In the old series, Speed was always out there fighting for respect. He would take on the land speed record. He would take on the car that no one could drive. He would take on the race course that was cursed. He would take on a Mad Scientist and the car designed to hurt. He would take on people who were trying to demean the entire sport of auto-racing. He would take on the very globe of the earth, itself, in an attempt race around it and tame the untamable. The new industrial Japan and Mister Sony were fighting for these very same things in the 1960's. They were trying to win the respect of the world. What does this "new" Speed stand for or embody, I ask you? He seems to stand only for himself. Where did all of that responsibility to prove himself go? It is a sick comment on our times I guess. <* Sigh! *>
Last modified: March 7, 1996