I've loved Speed Racer since I was a little kid. When Ted Turner's first television station, WTBS, Channel 13, started up in Georgia in the mid-70s, he had all the great old shows, The Munsters, The Brady Bunch, Get Smart, The Addams Family, I Dream of Jeannie, The Partridge Family....all part of his afternoon lineup. Speed Racer came on at 3 PM, Monday thru Friday. Every weekday for years I'd get out of school at 2:30, the bus would take me home, I'd rush into the house and turn on the TV just in time for the theme song. I never got tired of it.
(Just an interesting point of trivia - I think - in a book on Speed Racer I read the results of a survey where Speed fans were asked what they considered the single most important reason Speed Racer is so popular. The #1 answer: the theme song.)
I've seen some TV shows I loved as a kid, years later when they were released on video, and wondered how I ever could have enjoyed them. Being three years old is no excuse. The prime example being 8th Man. But I watch Speed Racer today, and while I'm well aware that, because of my history with the show, the fact it was such an important of my life while growing up, I love it perhaps more than can really be justified by what's there....some episodes still DO it for me. And that's pretty darn cool.
What in America we call Speed Racer actually began in the Sixties in Japan as a manga (comic book) called Maha Go Go Go. In America you'll usually see this partially translated as Mach Go Go Go so that's the terminology I'll use from here on. Grand prix auto racing was very popular in Japan at the time, almost a national obsession. To Tatsuo Yoshida, the creator/artist/writer of Mach Go Go Go, the opportunity presented by this situation was obvious: create a series about a teenage Grand Prix driver. I have reprints of several of the original manga. At least some of the anime episodes (more about which shortly) were adaptations of previously published manga stories.
The ....Go Go Go part of the title was a triple entendre. (1) "Go" means the number five in Japanese, it was a reference to the car's name, the Mach 5. (2) In the original manga and anime, the main character we call Speed Racer in the US was named Go Mifune (or Goh Mifune, I've seen it spelled both ways), a homage to Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune (Yoshida was a huge fan) which explains why "Speed" has a yellow G on his shirt and his support crew is called the Go Team. (3) The American word "Go," i.e. "Haul it, dude."
The big red M on the Mach 5's hood, which in America we commonly assumed stood for "Mach 5" was actually the emblem of Mifune Motors, Pops Racer's car company. Likewise this explains the M on Speed's helmet. Trixie had an M on her blouse because in the original manga/anime her name was Michi Shimura. Sparky lucked out; the S on his chest happened to match both his Japanese name, Sabu, and American renaming, as well.
One thing that never made any sense to me, when watching Speed Racer as a kid, was that Racer X had the "Mach 5 symbol" on his chest. It makes even less sense once you learn this is the Mifune Motors emblem. "Hello Speed, I'm secretly Kenichi Mifune, your older brother who ran away from home years ago. In order to hide this fact, I will....wear the emblem of the family business in foot high lettering on my chest!" Good plan. They'll never figure that one out. And of course, they didn't.
In the original manga - and this is something we never really got from the anime - Michi (Trixie) was the spoiled, willful, rich daughter of the head of a rival car company (which explains how she owns her own helicopter - something I always wondered about as a kid - and drives a Mercedes). She first met the Racers when she was sent to spy on them. Wouldn't she know it, she fell in love with Speed which kind of scotched that plan. In my early teens I couldn't understand what Speed saw in Trixie. It's only with adult sensibilities that I appreciate what a total little hottie Trixie really was.
Of course I hated the bratty kid brother. And the monkey! Don't get me started. WAY too much unneeded so-called comic relief in what should have been - and was - a really exciting, dramatic adventure series. I took my Speed Racer seriously. I could never understand how a guy as cool as Speed could have such a whiny little snot-nosed punk of a brother.
All 52 episodes of the original Mach Go Go Go anime were translated into English and in 1967 began airing in America as Speed Racer. The series is about equally split between stand alone eps and two-parters (there's only one three-part Speed Racer). The series has a very self-contained air, with a beginning, middle and an end. It begins with Speed's first professional race and ends when he wins the world championship. In the late 80s thru early 90s the entire series was released on video tape. I bought about half the series, all the tapes I could find, at that time. Just a few months ago the first 11 episodes were released on DVD. You better believe I bought that one. (Hopefully we'll eventually see all 52 episodes on DVD.) All the video tapes that were dupes of DVD eps I then turned around and gave to my next door neighbor's teenage son. Spreading the glory and majesty that is Speed Racer to a new generation. And he really liked them. Obviously there's hope for America's future, after all.