by Tatsuo Yoshida
published by Digital Manga; $39.95 US
Review by Rob Vollmar
With the Speed Racer live-action movie imminent, the moment is right, it seems, for a relative deluge of Speed Racer comics and manga to hit the English-language market. Balanced precariously on the peak of a still-rising mountain of reprinted American Speed Racer comics from the 80s and various more recently licensed efforts comes the Mach Go Go Go boxset from Digital Manga Publishing (DMP), an unabridged reproduction of the original manga by series creator Tatsuo Yoshida in two hardcover volumes.
Like Speed himself, Yoshida is better known for his contributions to anime. In 1962, he founded Tatsunoko Studios with his brothers and eventually produced a number of classic anime series including the internationally distributed Speed Racer and Gatchaman (aka Battle of the Planets/G-Force). With only this material to judge his relative acumen as a mangaka, an argument can be made that the relative paucity of content needed to fill a thirty-minute cartoon (as opposed to serial manga) better highlighted his strengths as an infectious stylist if not a particularly imaginative storyteller.
For the six remaining people in North America who do not know, Speed Racer is a young race car driver who, along with his family who double as a pit crew, races his car, the Mach 5, in a variety of dangerous and exotic locations for progressively ridiculous reasons. The opening story, “The Great Plan”, establishes most of the recurring cast as well as a good chunk of the plot formulas that harshly govern these early Speed Racer manga. The introduction of Racer X adds some much needed narrative tension in the second installment, but later stories don’t so much build on it as they do recycle its more successful moments over and over until diluted beyond recognition.
The work is always at its strongest (both, I suspect, then and now) in those moments when the otherwise nonsensical plot insists on some outlandish racing and, gratefully, they come early and often. The early races are more visceral as Yoshida features his racers on the Japanese terrain he would know best. As the locales become more and more exotic (deserts, oceans, etc.), the Mach 5 threatens to draw attention away from Speed as it becomes laden with ever-more-complex technology to adapt to these new terrains. As an artist, Yoshida seems more comfortable (or more interested) drawing the cars than he does the people that inhabit them. His character design shows a tremendous debt of influence to Osamu Tezuka without exhibiting the nuance of character development for which Tezuka is widely celebrated.
Whatever its limitations might be, the Mach Go Go Go collection was an enjoyable read. To their credit, DMP did an excellent job with the design of this project that adds value to the presentation with its obvious reverence for the source material. While Yoshida’s Speed Racer manga may never exceed the narrative sophistication of your average Golden Age superhero comic, it is as undiluted of a glimpse as one is likely to get at his original vision of hyperstylized cars and racing that went on to inspire millions around the globe. And that, as they say, is something you just don’t see everyday.