Car Racing Anime article published in Animerica Extra Vol. 3, No. 2, January 2000
This article was written by and is copyrighted to Patricia Duffield and may not be reproduced in part or whole without permission.

There's something endemic about racing, some part of the human psyche fascinated by speed. We race anything and everything, from bikes to boats and cars to camels. If it moves, it's likely been clocked, compared and competed against. Considering the diversity of Japanese comics and animation, it's not surprising to find a long series of racing titles. There have been stories about horse racing, marathons, biking, and more. Understandably, the most common and famous titles have been about car racing, for what vehicle better represents the industrial countries of this century? Not only is Japan an industrialized society, but it's also one which participates in the world of auto racing. Anyone who has ever been to a racing circuit, felt the power and thrill of man and machine working together to reach amazing speeds, should understand how the drama of car racing might appeal to a writer.

Probably the first racing show which comes to mind is Mach GoGoGo (Speed Racer) which premiered in April of 1967. The action packed adventures of Go Mifune (Speed) and his friends have found global and multi-generational fame. Though it was the first racing show to be animated, and the only one of its generation, the concept of a racing story was hardly a unique idea at the time. Likely published as a means of promoting the show, the Speed Racer comic was created by the brothers Tatsuo Yoshida and Ippei Kuri, who had earlier penned the racing titles Mach Sanshiro, Pilot Ace, and Hayabusa Q-chan. They also created Tatsunoko Productions, which would go on to become one of animation's giants.

After the success of Space Ace, Tatsunoko's first animated series, Speed Racer was carefully crafted to be a hit. Heavily influenced by the pair's earlier work, Speed Racer shares many traits --mechanical genius fathers, spy intrigues, mysterious men who are really long lost relatives-- with its predecessors and owes its success to them. But Yoshida and Kuri weren't the only people writing racing comics at the time. Practically every shonen anthology of the 60's had at least one, with more than a dozen titles seeing print between 1960 and 1970.

Despite the popularity of Speed Racer and similar stories of its time, it took nearly a decade before another racing show made its way to television. Toei released the animated series Machine Hayabusa in 1976, which was quickly followed by four more super-car titles in 1977: Arrow Emblem Grand Prix no Taka (Arrow Emblem. Hawk of the Grand Prix), Cho-Super Car Gattiger, Tobidase! Machine Hiryu (Take Flight! Machine Hiryu), and Gekiso Rubenkaizer (Speedy Rubenkaizer). These series maintained the Speed Racer tradition of action-packed racing combined with futuristic, gadgety cars, however, here were a few new variations on the theme. Gattiger resembled Gatchaman, with a team of heroes whose cars combined to make the Ultra-Super Car, Gattiger. Not wanting to miss out on the racing revival, Tatsunoko joined forces with Toei to co-produce Machine Hiryu, which was an odd synthesis of Speed Racer heroes and campy Time Bokan villains. It took a few years for audiences and the industry to recover from the traffic jam.

The 80's saw the themes of racing shows change gears. Released in 1984, the first was another Tatsunoko show, Yoroshiku Mechadoc (Please Take Care of It, Mechadoc). Instead of centering around a charismatic, outgoing driver, the main character, Jun Kazami, was a mild mannered roving mechanic, or "mechanical doctor." In a setting more contemporary than the fanciful series of the past, Jun would fix not only people's cars but their diverse problems as well.

In 1986, Noboru Rokuda's award winning comic F (which stands for "formula") drove onto the scene. Gunma, the main character, was completely different from his predecessors. Instead of a heroic, team-oriented character, Gunma was pretentious, bad-mouthed and selfish. Unlike the stories which came before it, F was plainly a title meant for adults. Gone were the mysterious men and spy dramas of earlier racing titles in exchange for ruthless politicians and abusive family relationships. Racing comics had grown up. Animated in spring of 1988, F was initially placed in the timeslot following Dragonball. Its healthy ratings grew steadily until a one-month hiatus that fall, partially the result of the end of the baseball season. Coupled with this lengthy break was a change in scheduling which the series never recovered from. The F animated series ended dramatically after only 31 episodes, though the comic continued for a respectable 28 volumes.

The 90's saw three new racing series ...well two and a remake, actually. Tatsunoko released a new Speed Racer in 1997. The revamped character and mechanical designs and less episodic stories did little to garner ratings success for the series, especially after a detrimental schedule change half way through the series. In hopes of salvaging the show, the plot took an unexpected turn back to the future. When the Mach (Mach 5) reached 555 kph, it was capable of time travel. Speed and his friends had to try and stop evil aliens from possessing the time-hopping Ezekiel Wheel, which would provide the power to conquer all of time. Go, Speed Racer, GO!

That same year, Bakuso Kyodai Let's & Go!! (Acceleration Brothers Let's & Go!!) started up. Based on the comic of the same name, the story was about the adventures of a pair of brothers, Retsu and Go (long o), who raced remote-control cars. The cars may have been in miniature, but the story had all the action and drama of other racing series and was very popular with younger audiences. It's popularity resulted in a movie, Bakuso Kyodai Let's & Go!! WGP and a sequel series, Bakuso Kyodai Let's & Go!! MAX.

Although it has only found a limited following among U.S. fans, Future Grand Prix Cyber Formula has been nothing short of a phenomena in Japan and around Asia. With the irresistible character designs of Mutsumi Inomata (Windaria, Brain Powred, Weathering Continent*) and the dynamic mechanical designs of Shoji Kawamori (Gundam 0083, Macross, Macross Plus*), it's easy to understand the mass appeal of this show. Set in the near future, the story revolves around Hayato Kazami, driver of Asurada, team Sugo Asurada's prototype racing vehicle. At fourteen years old, Hayato becomes Sugo's unlikely ace in a Gundamesque plot twist. People intent on stopping the Sugo team try to steal Asurada en route to the tenth Cyber Formula World Grand Prix (GPX). Hayato has no choice but to drive the car out of harm's way. Asurada is an intelligent vehicle programmed to adapt to a single driver. Since young Hayato is the first person to drive the car, he's the one to whom Asurada adapts. Unlike many other racing heroes, young Hayato has no innate driving skill, but with a great deal of hard work and practice, Hayato and Asurada become a top-notch racing team.

Although the original series only ran for 37 episodes in 1991, it has currently spawned 4 video series, totaling 27 episodes. Their release has transversed the 90's, making Cyber Formula, chronologically, the longest running racing title ever and rivaling Speed Racer for the popularity pole position.

If racing weren't exciting, it wouldn't be a regular theme of video games. If it weren't capable of diversity, there wouldn't be racing episodes in series ranging from Gatchaman to Dragonball Z. Whether you prefer the secret agent intrigue of shows like Speed Racer or the human interest stories of titles like Mechadoc, racing series have a lot to offer. Thanks this lasting tradition, as long as people drive cars, there will be racing comics and animation to offer audiences turbo-charged entertainment.

 

NOTES
Can you double check on the spelling of Brain Powred? No two of my resources spell it the same way.
He's done a -ton- of other stuff. If multiple Macross' don't work for you, maybe Patolabor 2, instead?


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