When I was growing up, one of my favorite shows was Speed Racer. At the time I was too young to identify it as anime, but young me could tell the style and direction was very different from the other Saturday morning flare. It was fast, cool and had a monkey who liked to eat candy. But unlike most children, I rarely watched Speed Racer on television. Sure every now and then, it’d pop up on the Speed Channel, but I watched a lot of Speed Racer through VHS tapes during the 90’s.
My family lived down the street from a convenience store that rented out movies. It used to be weekend tradition for us to walk down to the store, pick out a movie for the night and return it the next morning. Three times out of ten, I’d walk out with a Speed Racer tape. Well, up until Pokemon exploded in popularity and then Speed Racer kinda got replaced. One of the tapes I’d end up renting so often that my parent eventually bought it for me was tape labeled, “Speed Racer: The Movie.”
If I was to make a list of my favorite anime VHS box covers, this one would easily make the top five. The cover is so basic, but instantly recognizable. It features Speed smiling in front the rising sun with his signature helmet and ascot as he’s giving a thumbs up. Below him is a shot of the front of the Mach 5 with Speed at the wheel and Trixie riding shotgun. Speed looks intense, gripping the steering wheel, eyes focused on winning the big race. Meanwhile, Trixie is sitting next to him with a smirk that says, “I’ve got the coolest boyfriend ever!” And she’s a hundred percent right. Who wouldn’t fall in love with that handsome face and those beautiful baby blue eyes? He even has the best car in all of nerdom. Batmobile ain’t got shit on the Mach 5 son! Anyhow, I’m getting off topic. This cover is awesome. Everything about it just screams charm, fun and adventure on the road ahead.
The back of the box is where things get a little odd. There’s a single image on the back of Speed in the Mach 5 driving away from the rising sun in the desert. Above the Mach 5 is the tape’s summary. The first line reads,
“SPEED RACER, space hero Colonel Bleep and all their friends join up for this exciting animated feature.”
I’m sure all of you long time Speed Racer fans are wondering the same thing by now. WHO THE HELL IS SPACE HERO COLONEL BLEEP?! For those not familiar with Speed Racer, there is no character named Colonel Bleep. He actually doesn’t even show up in actual movie. We’ll get to who this character is later in the “Additional Content” section of the article, but Colonel Bleep is one of the many things that sets this tape apart from your run-of-the-mill VHS tapes with collections of Speed Racer episodes.
The box goes on to describe the plot and throws in this line towards the end,
“All of this fun and excitement is interspersed with three wonderfully creative classic animated ‘words from our sponsor’ from the 1960’s.”
Yes, you’re reading that right. This movie is advertising that its been spliced together with ads. You know, for when you really want to watch a movie on cable, but don’t want to miss out on all of those zany commercials. Most people at the time were buying movies so they wouldn’t have to sit through ads while watching a highly censored version of Predator and here’s “Speed Racer: The Movie“ touting it’s ads as one of its selling points.
The last selling point is this bit of large font in bold which reads, “Also includes the exclusive, SPEED RACER Music Video!” Oh yes, there’s a music video. And it is delicious, but more on this later.
There are only two trailers on this VHS and both of them are Speed Racer related. The first trailer is for the original Speed Racer series being released on VHS by Family Home Entertainment. And great googly-moogly does it jam a bunch of information down your throat in 60 seconds. The first thing it advertises is Speed Racer: The Movie. You know, the very same tape your watching. This ad plays in front of the other F.H.E. Speed Racer tapes, but its always amusing watching an ad for the thing you already bought. For the low, low price of only $19.98 by the way.
The next bit of info is on four tapes which features episodes from the original series. Each tape includes two episodes from the “MTV broadcast” and a collectible trading card selling for $12.98 each. While I’ll talk about trading card in another article, but the MTV comment blew me away. Its hard to remember a time when the “M” in MTV stood for “Music.” Beyond that, its hard to even remember a time when MTV was cool enough to show anime like Lupin The Third and Gatchaman. This is said so causally too. As if we’d be stupid to think MTV would sink into reality tv nonsense and get rid of music videos all together. This also makes the Music Video comment on the back of the box makes a little more sense now. The 90’s were truly a different time for television.
Anyhow, the second and final trailer is a quick announcement for the upcoming broadcast release of “The New Adventures of Speed Racer.” This was a very American animated series that was supposed to be a continuation of the original. They redesigned the Mach 5 and Speed was now racing against furies in battle armor. The show’s a bit of a mess. Although, the oddest thing about the 20 second trailer was it didn’t give a year for when it was going to be released. All it says is, “Coming in May.” It sounds like a “hindsight is 20/20” thing to complain about, but if I picked this video up a year after it was released, the show would of come and gone. All it does is set viewers up for disappointment when they realize they won’t be able to watch it.
“Speed Race: The Movie” is going to be the first in a very long line of movies covered in this series were the phrase, “The Movie” actually means, “Here are a bunch of episodes edited together into one long video.” For this tape, it takes three episodes. The first is an episode called, “The Car Hater”, which is one of the goofiest titles ever. Then the tape includes the two parter, “The Mammoth Car.”
As soon as the film starts, instead of being greeted by the famous and timeless opening theme, it gets replaced by a techno-heavy remixed cover of the song. Complete with roaring car engines, evil villain laughter and Trixi shouting, “Go Speed Go.” As much as the old school classic purist in me absolutely hate that they took this perfect opening jingle and butchered it to sound like the techno Mortal Kombat theme, I still kinda love the cheesiness of it. Its fast, upbeat and exciting. If I was doing a video, this would be where I’d cut to myself dancing like an idiot with my shirt off to this song. While I prefer the classic theme, this one’s still a lot of fun.
After the new intro, the film gives us a quick run down of what gadgets the Mach 5 has. It is extremely brief and gives newcomers to the series an idea of what to expect from the action. Although, its kinda funny that the film tells us all of these things and cuts to an episode that has almost no action scenes in it. So it seems like they told you that the Mach 5 has the ability to run underwater for no real reason outside of giving another valid point as to why the Mach 5 is better than the Batmobile.
The first episode deals with Speed and Trixie meeting a girl named Janine. She wants to becomes a race car driver like Speed, but her father has forbidden her from getting into cars after Janine’s brother died in a car accident. Janine’s father has an explosive hatred for cars. He’s seen riding a horse throughout the entire episode and instantly attacks both Speed and the Mach 5 with a whip the moment he sees the car. His hatred for cars will not be quenched until very single car is turned into scrap metal. He even hires a gang of goons to sabotage a few cars to create more traffic accidents to prove his point on how dangerous they are. When Trixie and Janine get into an accident after the goons remove the breaks from their car, Speed proves to the father that all car’s aren’t evil by using the Mach 5 to take Janine to the hospital. The moral of the episode is about how cars are only as dangerous as their drivers. Not only that but how those cars are maintained also plays a role in how dangerous cars can be. Which isn’t a bad moral.
The episode is goofy, even for Speed Racer standards. Janine’s father is insane. He whips everyone, including his daughter, with an actual whip for even looking at a car. He’s causing more accidents just by riding his horse around town and expecting drivers to avoid him. You can’t sympathize with his character because he’s causing so much damage by lashing out at everyone. He does learn the error’s of his ways at the end of the episode and claims he’s even done a little jail time for his actions, but that doesn’t excuse what he did.
In my opinion, the second and third episodes, “The Mammoth Car Parts 1 &2,” are defining episodes for Speed Racer. The two parter is about Speed entering a cross country race where any car is allowed to take part. One of the other contestants is a team of drivers who work for the gangster, Cruncher Block. This team is driving a colossal car that’s roughly the size of a train. Speed is tipped off by another character, known as the Inspector Detector, that Cruncher Block has stolen a massive amount of gold and he believe he’s using this giant car and the race to transport the gold from one side of the country to the other. So its up to Speed to discover where the gold is located and stop the Mammoth car from leaving the country.
Its a fun two part that features all of the staples Speed Racer is known for. Exciting chases, a good use of the Mach 5’s gadgets, an over-the-top and insane plot. Even Racer X plays a small role in stopping the Mammoth Car. These episodes have everything that makes Speed Racer, Speed Racer. Sure, there are better episodes that have more character development and better plot lines, but it is still an incredibly fun adventure that holds up even to this day.
“I always get hungry when I’m up to Skullduggery.”
– Cruncher Block
As mentioned on the back of the box, this tape contains multiple additional things sprinkled throughout the video. These episodes are still edited like they were for television. This includes an episode title card at the beginning and the announcer shouting, “Tune in next time for more adventures with Speed Racer!” at the end. This also includes cuts to black whenever the broadcast needed to cut to commercial. So that’s what they did. Whenever it goes to black, a single animated ad from the 60’s appears and when the ad is finished, it goes back to the show.
There are four commercials in total. My favorite is for a product called, “Bondex,” which is a type of house paint. The commercial starts with a woman narrating about how she overheard her husband on the phone with who she thinks is another woman. The husband is “going to buy her the best coat money can buy” and what not. She instantly goes to the police to report that her husband is cheating on her. This seems like a complete waste of tax payer dollars that the two detectives interviewing her are even giving her the time of day. They escort the woman home and it turns out the husband was talking about a coat of paint for the house. One of the detectives, who looks like Rhett Butler, is giving the sales pitch for how great the product is. Meanwhile across the street, two robbers are running out of a bank with two sacks full of money. Without missing a beat, the detective pulls out his gun, fires a single shot, killing both robbers dead. Not even acknowledging he’s just taken two human lives, he continues with, “Bondex, its the best coat money can buy.”
The other three commercials are of a PSA featuring Smokey The Bear, who I swear is talking telepathy to this forgetful camper. Another is for a bug spray called “Flint” and it has a really catchy jingle: “You don’t need a direct hit with Flint.” The last ad is for “Pure Packaged Milk.” To give you an idea of how dated this ad is, they explain how their “new original cardboard milk carton” is just as efficient at pouring milk as a glass pitcher. “It also saves a bunch of space in your refrigerator.”
Oddly enough, these cuts feel completely natural. They never feel like they break the episode’s flow. Because these ads are roughly from around the same time period the show was originally created the ads feel like they are part of the show. It also helps that the advertisements are animated in the same style as Speed Racer. Because of this, “Speed Racer: The Movie” feels more like a time capsule of 70’s American television as opposed to it being the best of Speed Racer. It makes the tape feel unique.
In between the first and second episode is a five minute short for a series called, “Colonel Bleep.” Thought I forgotten bought him didn’t you? Colonel Bleep was a series created in the late 1950’s about an adventurous time-traveling alien who shares the title’s namesake. Colonel Bleep shares his adventures with a Caveman named Scratch and a Cowboy named Squeak. There were over a hundred episodes created for this series, but only less then half have survived today. Although of the episodes that have survived, most are available in the Public Domain. So if you’d want to watch this series for yourself, episodes can be found with a simple search on Archive.org. The episode on the tape is, “The Treacherous Pirate.” Its about a pirate kidnapping Scratch’s mother and the team having to rescue her.
I’m not going to sugarcoat this in anyway, these shorts from the 50’s do not age well. There’s no dialogue, only a single narrator, who I swear sounds like Adam West. The Narrator describes all of the action in the story not unlike like a golden age comic book. It also doesn’t help that there’s barely any actual animation in the short. It’s mostly still shots of the characters in a simple background. The action barely elevates beyond blinking or swinging a sword. But again, this series was made in the 1950’s with an incredibly small budget, even for television standards. I don’t want to say its bad. It is just a product of the time that hasn’t held up very well.
As for why this Colonel Bleep episode is included in this Speed Racer tape, it beats me. My only guess as to why this Colonel Bleep episode was included was (again) to have this tape act as a type of time capsule for that era of television. Let’s remember that most of these episodes of Colonel Bleep have been lost to the ages. This is pure speculation, but I can see someone sitting around in the office of F.H.E. who had fond memories for this series, those ads and Speed Racer and wanted to duplicate that experience he had as a child of watches these shows and ads on home video. He saw these things were beginning to disappear and wanted to save them.
The last additional feature on the tape is the music video which appears after the credits of the feature. The music video is for a full version of the remixed theme at the beginning of the film and its one of the most 90’s thing you’ll ever see in your life. Its hard to describe how bizarre it is. Its mostly just a group of shirtless men dancing next to a giant spinning metal wheel. On top of that, you’ve got a couple of cosplayers of Speed and Racer X dressed in the “New Adventure” series outfits striking poses while on spinning platforms. There’s also a clip of a woman in bikini dancing as the Speed Racer intro is projected on her body and I have to admit that it is a cool shot. This is cut with clips from an episode where Speed and Racer X are racing each other in a thunderstorm. My favorite shot out of all of these is this weird image of a dude dressed in a business suit with a retro tv on top of his head playing a clip from the show. Its all very strange to say the least and I recommend looking it up.
When I think of “F.H.E.’s Speed Race: The Movie,” it reminds me of how easily this could of been just another volume of Speed Racer tapes. They could of taken the easy route and throw three episodes on VHS, slapped “The Movie” on the box and used it as an excuse to charged an extra $7. But they went the extra mile to make something more unique and that deserves a lot of credit. I struggle to think of another tape like this one with so much additional content. This tape is truly one of a kind and it deserves to be in any Anime VHS Collection.
Oh man, that techno remix has a real soft spot in my heart because it got a lot of play at the local roller rink.
L-L-L-L-LET’S BREAK THAT SPEED RECORD!
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Why there were commercials and Colonel Bleep – read here: http://www.cartoonbrew.com/anime/speed-racer-and-me-5602.html
Thanks Jerry, you know where to direct people to!