Thirty-odd years ago, there was this cartoon on each weekday at 3pm (here in the Seattle area, anyway) called Speed Racer. It was unquestionably one of the worst cartoons ever committed to celluloid. The animation was abysmal, the plotlines ludicrous, the voice-acting nothing short of grating. And because it originated in Japan, there was a boatload of stunningly bad English translation in there to boot. Yup, Speed Racer was a real turd of a cartoon.
And yet it was my absolute favorite show on television. Hands down.
My reasons for not being bothered by things like a boy having an utterly regrettable name like “Speed” or a snot-nose kid hanging out with a chimpanzee without having his ears bitten off can be attributed to the fact that I was only eight years old. I had no idea at that age that Chim Chim would be prone to acts of sadistic violence and would, realistically, be more likely to viciously maul Spritle than put on overalls and do the kid’s bidding.
But it’s not just that I didn’t happen to mind the show’s glaring abundance of faults; as a point of fact, I thought Speed Racer was The Coolest Freaking Thing In Existence. It was better than food, as evidenced by my not needing my afternoon snack until 3:30. It was better than comfort, discernable by the fact that I had no problem accepting punishment for neglecting my chores to watch it. It was even better than air, since I’d sometimes hear the theme song starting and get so excited I’d forget to breathe.
But it was, as I said, an absolutely terrible cartoon. Looking back now, it’s clear to me that all my reasons for adoring this piece of crappy Japanimation* were centered around one singular aspect of the show…
The Mach 5
I never much cared for Speed as a hero. I thought he was sort of a sissy – not mysterious and badass like his brother Racer-X**. No, it was Speed’s car, the Mach 5, that did it for me. It stood out from all the other cars on the show, just as it was designed to do. With its pointy, super-low profile, sexy hourglass shape, and striking red “M” on the hood, the Mach 5 was without equal from an aesthetic standpoint.
But it also did things the other cars couldn’t. Nevermind that many of these things completely defied the laws of physics; eight year olds have no concept of physics beyond those aspects which cause the sudden, violent removal of skin and or teeth. Something like a racecar capable of delivering 20,000 horsepower to each wheel without spinning the tires is a perfectly acceptable concept.
The Mach 5 had these seven buttons on its steering wheel that activated various impossible gadgets. Labeled A through G, the buttons corresponded to complicated apparatuses which had silly names forced to fit the limited lettering scheme. Now, it never occurred to me when I was young that these devices made Speed an unapologetic cheater. When bad guys would try to knock Speed out of the race with their stiletto-lined hubcaps, I’d get all incensed, but I didn’t have a problem with Speed using his special tires and saw blades to take a snow-covered, heavily wooded shortcut.
I’m going to spare you an item-by-item rundown with pithy commentary for each of the physics-defying devices. I have all sorts of funny observations I could relate on each one of the asinine contrivances, but only one in every hundred of my readers would read them (in other words, nobody).
The point is that if not for the fabulous Mach 5, the cartoon known as Speed Racer might never have been the moderate phenomenon it was. It’s definitely what made the show my favorite thing for most of my pre-pubescence…
…which is why I was so consumed with childish excitement when I saw that a die-cast replica of the Mach 5 was included with the Speed Racer DVD I just got for Christmas! W00T!
Now, if I could just remember what I did with all my old Hot Wheels track, I’d be all set for an afternoon circa 1974. Well, except that my Green Machine won’t be waiting for me out in the garage for when the racing urge really overtakes me. *sigh*
*You anime buffs can put down your Masamunes. I’m deliberately using the term “Japanimation” as a derogatory term for bad anime. I’m fully aware of the proper terminology.
**Why did people have a hard time realizing Racer X was Speed’s brother? He had a big red M on his chest, for crying out loud!