FERB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (12)
February 8, 2021
One in a series of 25 enthusiastic posts, contributed by 25 HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of our favorite animated TV series.
SPEED RACER | TATSUO YOSHIDA | 1966–1968
“Here he comes / Here comes Speed Racer / He’s a demon on wheels. / He’s a demon and he’s gonna be chasin’ after someone.”
We weren’t allowed to watch much TV, when I was a kid — and we were forbidden, in particular, to watch reruns of Speed Racer. My mother, who to this day has an uncanny ability to walk into the room during a normally unobjectionable TV show’s one cringe-worthy moment, overheard Speed Racer (voiced in English by the cartoon’s US producer, who also wrote the earworm-y theme song‘s English-language lyrics) tell his teammate, Trixie, that she can’t drive the Mach 5 racecar “because you’re a girl.” From then on, I was only able to catch glimpses of the show furtively, often at friend’s houses.
“He’s gainin’ on you so you better look alive. / He’s busy revvin’ up the powerful… Mach 5!”
Along with Astro Boy and Kimba the White Lion, Speed Racer popularized anime in the US. In 1975, I didn’t know this. What I knew was that Speed’s blue shirt with the orange “G” and white helmet with the orange “M” (the initials, I later discovered, stand for his Japanese name, Gō Mifune) were awesome. The Mach 5, whose steering wheel-mounted buttons produced rotary saws, released a drone, transformed the car into a submarine, and so forth, thus suggesting the absurdly perilous nature of Speed’s races — was awesome. Speed’s family and friends (his kid brother Spritle, the chimp Chim-Chim, Sparky the mechanic) were awesome; and though indeed misunderestimated by her sexist colleagues, the helicopter-piloting Trixie was the awesome-est.
“And when the odds are against him / And there’s dangerous work to do / You bet your life Speed Racer / Will see it through.”
What makes this cartoon so particularly memorable, though, is its Gothic “mytharc” related to Racer X. A mysterious, masked figure — the greatest racecar driver alive, one whom Speed is determined to defeat — Racer X is always depicted alone, brooding, observing Speed’s tight-knit crew from various clifftops. He belongs to no team; he is a mercenary. Yet time and again he sacrifices his own chances to win a race in order to come to Speed’s assistance. One was led to believe that this Byronic hero and Speed’s presumed-dead brother, Rex Racer, were one and the same. However, if the Racer family was ever reunited, I wouldn’t know…
Because I wasn’t allowed to watch Speed Racer.
FERB YOUR ENTHUSIASM: SERIES INTRODUCTION by Josh Glenn | Miranda Mellis on STEVEN UNIVERSE | Luc Sante on TOP CAT | Peggy Nelson on PINK PANTHER | Charlie Mitchell on COWBOY BEBOP | Mimi Lipson on THE FLINTSTONES | Sam Glenn on BIG MOUTH | Mandy Keifetz on ROAD RUNNER | Ramona Lyons on SHE-RA | Holly Interlandi on DRAGON BALL Z | Max Glenn on ADVENTURE TIME | Joe Alterio on REN & STIMPY | Josh Glenn on SPEED RACER | Adam McGovern on KIMBA THE WHITE LION | Jonathan Pinchera on SAMURAI JACK | Lynn Peril on JONNY QUEST | Stephanie Burt on X-MEN THE ANIMATED SERIES and X-MEN: EVOLUTION | Elizabeth Foy Larsen on THE JETSONS | Adam Netburn on NARUTO | Madeline Ashby on AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER | Tom Nealon on TRANSFORMERS | Sara Ryan on BOJACK HORSEMAN | Michael Grasso on COSMIC CLOCK | Erin M. Routson on BEAVIS & BUTTHEAD | Deborah Wassertzug on DARIA | Lydia Millet on BOB’S BURGERS.
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