Artisan presents Speed Racer in its original broadcast ratio of 1.33:1 and the image doesn’t seem to have improved much with age. While I’m not sure whether or not Artisan went to any trouble restoring the picture, it doesn’t really look like they did and considering the rather small audience for the DVD, it was probably the best decision they could have made, as I doubt too many folks are clamoring for perfectly restored Speed Racer episodes.
I don’t really have a whole lot to say about the transfer, as it is as colorful as any other cartoon you’ve seen on a Saturday morning. While not as flashy as cartoons that have come out in the past decade or so, the hues found in Speed Racer are still somewhat bright and vibrant. The transfer displayed a good amount of print flaws in the form of scratches, dirt, flakes, and flecks, but that was to be expected and fans of the show won’t find themselves distracted in the least. I noted a few jaggies on occasion, but they were probably as much a manifestation of the rough animation used, as they were actually related to the transfer. Flaws such as edge enhancement and compression artifacting were never noted at any time across all 11 episodes.
Artisan doesn’t seem to have done much other than transfer the episodes from whatever master they existed on and moved them straight to DVD. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as it adds somewhat to the “old school-ness” of the show and those familiar with it probably won’t care anyway. The transfer is fitting for the material at hand and the show is definitely in no worse shape than you remember.
Artisan has given Speed Racer a Dolby Digital Monaural audio transfer that isn’t really a huge improvement over what I heard years ago in front of my parents’ old, single-speaker television Monday-Friday mornings living in New Orleans.
The show is severely limited by it source material and is given a very, very restricted soundstage to work in. The roaring engines sound flat – squealing tires sound thin – and crashes don’t emit much more than a dull thud. However, considering it’s mono and considering it’s over 30+ years old, I doubt those of you familiar with the show expected much more. Dialogue was easily understood throughout the all of the episodes and there were only a few occasions were background hisses or pops could be heard. These issues were not overly distracting and were almost expected given the age of the series.
Artisan has included no subtitles or alternate language tracks to supplement Speed Racer.
While Artisan has failed to include anything substantive in the extras department, I’ve got to hand it to ‘em for their innovative slipcase cover for the set. By now, most of you know that the front of the DVD slipcase is made of real tire rubber – tire tracks embedded in it and all. There’s also a very colorful picture of Speed Racer etched into the front cover that looks quite striking as well. I can honestly say that I’ve never seen anything like it and it is definitely one of the more impressive uses of a slipcase I’ve seen in quite some time. The DVD contains a nice four-page Insert Booklet that gives us some good information on the original translation of the Japanese theme song, as well as some information about the episodes featured on the disc.
Now on to our extras – with the vast majority of them being text-based – and starting with Production. Broken down into four sub-selections, we learn a little bit about the show and how it found its way to American shores. Under “Tatsunoko Productions” (5 pages), we learn about the Japanese animation house of the same name, how it was founded, and a little bit about their early work. “US Translation” (3 pages) fills us in on how Peter Fernandez (translator/writer/voice actor) had three days to work up a translated script and then only one day to do the American voice dubs! Next up is “Theme Song” (3 pages) and here we learn that the militaristic version of the Japanese song had to be shortened (to allow for commercials) and jazzed up a bit for American audiences. “US Cast” (4-5 pages per actor) is next and gives us some biographical information on Peter Fernandez, Corrinne Orr, Jack Grimes and Jack Curtis. Good information for sure, but a featurette … or more information … would have been nice.
Mach 5 is next and is an interactive tour of all of the gizmos and gadgets included on the car. Using the steering wheel as our focal point, we are given the same selections Speed Racer is when he needs to activate one of them. Once we make our selection and press –ENTER-, we see a sketch/diagram of the gadget and are given the option to view a clip from the series showing off the particular gadget’s capability. In order, the selections are “A” (Auto Jacks), “B” (Grip Tires), “C” (Rotary Saws), “D” (Deflector), “E” (Illumination), “F” (Oxygen and Periscope), and “G” (Homing Robot).
A Villains’ Gallery is next and includes quick biographical sketches on “Ace Ducey”, “Mr. Fixer”, “Tongue Blaggard”, “Cruncher Block”, “Captain Terror”, “Mr. Van Ruffle”, “Mr. Wiley” and “Snake Oiler”. Each character sketch also includes the option to view a clip from an episode in which they were featured.
Last up is Speed Lives On! and here we can check out “Sequels and Spin Offs” which includes a clip from the 1993 series, ‘The New Adventures of Speed Racer’, as well as a text-based description of a Volkswagen commercial from 1996. Also, under “Speed Merchandise”, we see various products from the Speed Racer line including a Mach 5 die-cast car, a tissue holder, a racing set, a teddy bear, and a lunchbox. Woo Hoo …
Not much here and it’s unfortunate that the vast majority of it is text only. While there are some decent little tidbits gleaned from the few supplements that are included, hardcore fans of the show will find themselves hugely disappointed by what isn’t here.
I enjoyed the show as a 5 and 6-year-old kid, but sadly, that didn’t translate to me enjoying the series on DVD. However, Speed Racer does have quite a following and I’m sure there are quite a few people excited about its release on DVD.
The show looks and sounds exactly as it did 30+ years ago and the lack of any substantive supplements makes this a hard set to recommend to anyone other than hardcore fans of the show. I would highly suggest that this set not be purchased sight unseen by anyone unfamiliar with the show, although those who are familiar with it and enjoyed it should appreciate Artisan’s hard work.