Speed Racer: Mach Go Go Go Box Set Vol. #01 (Mania.com)
Review Date: Thursday, July 03, 2008
Release Date: Tuesday, April 01, 2008
Translated by:Joyce Aurino
What They Say
Celebrate Speed Racer's 40th anniversary with this two-volume hardcover collector's set. Speed Racer: Mach Go Go Go Box Set is the complete, unabridged version and contains stories available in the United States for the first time. Join Speed Racer, Racer X, Trixie, Spritle and Chim Chim in this face-paced thriller of action and intrigue.
The original manga adaptation of Speed Racer is available in a complete, deluxe English edition for the first time. This is the kind of tie-in we can always use a little more of.
Well, this is going to be the easiest dang packaging grade I'm going to assign all year. The two hardcover volumes come packed in a thick white chipboard box. The front of the box sports the hood of the Mach-5 outlined in blue with the big M in red. The back displays a few sample pages, the marketing copy, and an image of Speed running. The spine is minimalist: just the Speed Racer / Mach Go Go Go logo, an image of the Mach-5 in profile, the box set title, author's name and DMP logo, all on a plain white background. I love this box. I found myself picking it up just to hold it in my hand and feel how solid it is. It even has thumb-holes cut in to help you get the books out more easily.
The volumes themselves are tall, sturdy, dust-jacketed hardbacks, each about 300 pages in length. As if just having manga in large hardback form isn't enough, the folks at Digital Manga have gone out of their way to make these as good as they could possibly be. The dust jackets are wonderful - blue for the first volume, yellow for the second; but both have red spines so that they match when they're together in the box. Both feature great character artwork of Speed (volume one) and Racer X (volume two) in addition to nifty Speed Racer / Mach Go Go Go lettering (complete with speed-lines). Volume numbers are on the spine and front cover of each book for easy reference. And don't forget to look under the dust jackets for some nice extra artwork. The early part of each book use dead-on imitation sixties style, with a lot of orange and old-timey fonts. Past this we find glossy colour pages, some of them original covers and what seem to be posters. Of course the first pages of the comic are in colour too, and even after these we get a few red-tinted pages (still glossy). Once into the regular pages we still get a first-class production with excellent bright paper and fantastic print quality.
You'd think this would be quite enough, but Digital Manga still has some tricks up its sleeve with a couple of neat extras. The first is a forward by the voice of Speed himself, Mr. Peter Fernandez. Mr. Fernandez is a writer in his own right and shows it in two swift pages. There are a lot of neat tidbits within that fans should find wonderful reading. My favourite are the stories of how he came up with the names (at least one of which turned out to be eerily accurate) and how he managed to increase the vocal cast of the show from three actors to four. Winding it all up is creator Tatsuo Yoshida's profile information on each dust jacket's inside flap: the first volume covers his manga works, the second volume his founding of the Tatsunoko animation studio.
Just in case three paragraphs of description haven't given you an idea of how thrilled I am about this release, I'll spell it out for you. This presentation is beyond gorgeous. It is the single best packaging job I have seen for a U.S. manga release.
I enjoy this style of charater art: rounded, cartoonish, but neat and, in a way, elegant. I can imagine someone disliking the style in general, but those who have any taste for it at all will find this an outstanding example of the aesthetic that stands close enough to Astro Boy on one hand and American comics on the other to be influenced by both. It bodes well for the manga that it has an artist who knows exactly what to do with an action scene, whether it be a complicated race following multiple cars or a straightforward fistfight. The crashes and explosions are never anything less than thrilling. The simple designs can be deceptive. More panels than I'd care to count feature a remarkably high level of detail: stark, high-contrast night scenes, a cluster of trees on the side of the road, a crumbling cliff face, a lovingly intricate undercarriage or engine of an automobile. (The extra size of the book really helps here. I think some of these little effects would have been lost if the book had been printed on normal-sized B6 pages.) If you like the look of any early manga at all, you'll like this.
Good work here. For the majority of the lettering Digital Manga has gone with a "period" font that reminds me of some old Marvel reprints I've seen. It works well with the overall design and is always sized and placed correctly within the bubbles. I can't remember any typos either. Sound effects remain in Japanese with translations alongside - and, interestingly, we get the same with the original chapter titles. The names have been changed to match their Speed Racer equivalents, and that is a good thing. (All the same, the curious side of me would like a list of the originals.) The translation is a little free with the word "damn," which seems a little out of place in straight-arrow stories like these, but is otherwise very good. Translating simple dialogue without making it sound dumb is probably a lot tougher than it looks.
Contents: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Speed Racer has, of course, no need for an introduction from the likes of me. If you hadn't heard about it from the numerous TV reruns or hearing nostalgic accounts of it from family members, you have at least seen some of the movie hype. And to some degree, this release is part of that hype - or at least, something trying to use the hype to its own advantage. I am far from saying this in a spirit of condemnation. It was a shrewd move. Even movie hype can lead to good things sometimes. If it gave the opportunity to publish this title in a market that is unfriendly to sixties manga, and even sports manga in general, then the opportunity was worth seizing. And we can all be thankful that Digital Manga did seize it. They have given the English-speaking world a long-awaited work, and they have done it with style.
But is it any good? The answer is yes - but qualifications are necessary. Pencils out: it's time for a pop quiz.
1. Can you read any other sixties manga? (If you haven't read any sixties manga, silver age Marvel or DC reprints will do just as well for our purposes here.)
2. Have you seen the TV series? (A handful of episodes will suffice.) If so, do you remember it fondly?
If you answered yes to either of these questions, you'll be able to read these books. These are the boy's adventures of a simpler age, and they have all the attributes of their kind. Most of the chapters depend on the action scenes for their impact. These are generally races, of course, but Speed is also handy with his fists and is given plenty of chances to use them. Good guys and bad guys are clearly defined; Racer X introduces almost the only ambiguity. The enthusiasm for machines is infectious - the cars can do everything you wished your mom's station wagon could do when you were growing up, and more.
The stories tend toward the simplistic, but this is all to the good. Speed Racer is strongest when it keeps the plotting to a minimum and simply throws Speed and the Mach-5 into as many races, fights, cliffhangers and escapes that Yoshida can dream up. The best stories are the ones farthest from reality, as in the underground race through an active volcano, or Speed competing in a desert race while dealing with scorpions, sandstorms, tribal horsemen and a coup d'etat. It's unfortunate that some of the later chapters fall away from this and attempt stories where the plot is dragged to the forefront and made the center of attention. But the artist is much better as a showman than he is as a plotter. I have no doubt that the more elaborate stories appealed to him more as a writer; but they drew him away from his true talents and make for less interesting reading. But only less interesting - not uninteresting. Even the lesser episodes develop along clear and distinct lines. They are competent and brisk, never muddled or unintelligible.
Even with the series being front-wheel drive, so to speak (all but one of the best chapters are in the first book), this set won't have to rely on nostalgia for it's entertainment value. But as always, nostalgia won't hurt it any. In addition to the pleasure the manga itself gives, there's the added fun of being able to trace the whole Speed Racer phenomenon back to the same source as Battle of the Planets. And also enjoy it as a window looking back into a world where training, dedication, courage, clean living and fair play lead to victory every time. You don't have to remember Speed Racer from way back when to feel nostalgic about that.
If you're a long-time fan of Speed Racer who was disappointed by the movie, this release will likely be a good pick-me-up. To those like me who don't really know anything about the TV series but have a taste for the old-fashioned action comic, this is a set well worth looking into. There are several really good stories and no bad ones. It's not quite up to Phoenix: Future or Cyborg 009 or the best stories in Astro Boy, but it's about on a level with the second-tier Astro Boys: good, simple, involving action with an exciting visual flair. When I see the Mach-5 drive up a cliff or weave between streams of lava or go head-to-head against Racer X in a midnight race along mountain roads, I feel my mouth widening into that giddy grin I always get when I'm enjoying myself. On second thought, nostalgia be hanged. That kind of thing is always going to make good reading.
Note on the age rating: Apart from some scattered "damn"s there's nothing objectionable worth worrying about. There are a few deaths but all are non-explicit, most of them simply car crashes. This one is suitable for all ages. (I suspect this was originally written for children, but I don't know for sure.)
Mania Grade: B+
Art Rating: A
Packaging Rating: A++
Text/Translatin Rating: A
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Released By: Digital Manga Publishing
Size: 8.9" x 6.4"
Orientation: Right to Left
Series: Speed Racer: Mach Go Go Go