This second of a projected 4-volume set collecting the entirety of the 1960s Speed Racer features several solid adventures and two of the character's very best. Speed Racer episodes are about evenly split between one- and two-parters. All the stuff here is two-parters: 12 eps, six stories.
"Race for Revenge" pits Speed against the radio controlled "ghost car," number X3, the Melange. A decent story but the weakest here, in my opinion.
In "The Dangerous Desert Race" Speed travels to the Middle Eastern country of Sandoland, there to race against the arrogant Kim Jugger and his Black Tiger. Unfortunately Part 1 of "TDDR" is a noticeable example of a problem that would haunt the middle episodes of Speed Racer: its artwork is much more simplistic and the animation quite limited versus the series' better eps. The good news is that in Part 2 things improve immensely.
"The Fire Race", though it doesn't have the aclaim of, say, "The Mammoth Car" is one of the best Speed Racers. The artwork and animation are among the finest we'll see in the series. It's also one of the most inventive storylines, complete with an entire underground (under-volcano) deserted ancient city, whirlpools hiding huge statues, a giant flesh eating plant, a pirahna-filled river and some fairly graphic - for a cartoon of its vintage - scenes of them stripping a leopard and man, corridor walls studded with a king's ransom in diamonds, the Mach 5 racing through the ribcage of a brontosaurus skeleton, and so on. It co-stars Racer X.
"The Girl Daredevil" is one of the most frustrating Speed Racers. The "girl daredevil," Twinkle Banks, is in many respects the perfect match for Speed. Not only is she drop dead gorgeous, she matches him in driving skill and overall guts. Twinkle makes Trixie look pale indeed. It may be silly to speak of "chemistry" between cartoon characters, but every moment Twinkle and Speed are together you get the feeling these two were made for each other. What irks me about this story is it's the premier example of one of the few real problems I have with the Speed Racer series, its underlying sexism. It's one thing to have Speed's occasional comments on what are and aren't appropriate actions for a "girl" (never a woman); at least they never really affect the storyline. In "The Girl Daredevil" however I found it absolutely unbelievable that Twinkle, who introduces herself by leaping off a skyscraper as a publicity stunt, would faint under stress while driving, requiring rescue by Speed. Even as a kid I said, "Oh, come ON."
"The Girl Daredevil" also has the most glaring example of a story point changed in the translation from Japanese to English. Twinkle says her lion tamer father's circus went bankrupt because he loved the animals so much he fed them only the best, most expensive food. (Blech!) Watching the pictures that go with the words, it's obvious he lost his nerve after being mauled by the big cats. This makes it far more dramatic when, late in the story, he must overcome that fear to save his life. Perhaps the English language crew thought the whole "mauled by lions" thing a bit too high octane for kiddies in 1967. Puzzling that, considering the scenes throughout the entire series of people being shot to death, crushed, beaten, killed in explosions, etc. but there it is.
"The Fastest Car On Earth" is one of the series' most fondly remembered adventures, in which Speed finds himself both behind the wheel of and also racing against the GRX, a car so fast it breaks the mind of anyone trying to drive it. As a kid I loathed the idea there could be any car faster than the Mach 5. But I have to admit I loved it when, late in the story, Speed, totally strung out and terror-stricken from the effects of drugs he's been given that allowed him to drive the GRX, has to overcome his fear and push the Mach 5 to the limit in a race. Not simply to win, but to prove to himself he's not a coward, that NOTHING can break him, not even the GRX. This story really highlighted what made Speed Racer, the character and the show, special.
In "Mach 5 Vs. Mach 5" Speed's opponent is armed with his own version of the Mach 5 - only instead of the homing robot it has a destructive ray beam, and it can fly. The whole ray beam thing was like, eh, okay, but the idea of a flying Mach 5....well let's just say I hated to admit it but I thought Mr. Cumulus' car was (gasp) even better than Speed's. Sacrilege, I know. Worth noting: in the 1997 Japanese revamp of the show, Speed's Mach 5 could fly, too. Obviously the makers of the '97 Mach Go, Go, Go remembered Mr. Cumulus' flying Mach 5 and how utterly cool it was.
Each new volume in the Speed Racer "Limited Collector's Edition" series has its own "gimmick packaging." Volume 1 had the rubber tire tread slipcover. For volume 2, when you press a certain spot on the slipcover, the Mach 5's headlights glow and part of the theme song plays. When I first heard about that, before I actually saw it, I thought it sounded cheesy as hell. Having now tried it, I think it's wonderfully fun. Every time I press that "secret spot," the Mach 5's headlights come on and I hear "Go Speed Racer, go Speed Racer, go Speed Racer go...." I can't help but smile. And that's pretty darn sweet.