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Speed Racer w/ Mach 5

by yo go re

Sometimes the question of whether a toyline lives or dies is just one of timing. If Disney had decided to release The Muppet Show seasons in time for the show's 25th anniversary instead of the 30th, then Palisades' Muppets line would have had some added support, and wouldn't have had to survive on its own. And though the live-action Speed Racer movie has brought a ton of (so-so) merchandise with it, Art Asylum was doing the same thing a few years ago.

Art Asylum got the license in 2006, just before Speed Racer's 40th anniversary, and it was supposed to be in conjunction with a new animated series (that never seemed to materialize). There were large sets, die-cast cars, and even a pair of Minimates: we got both Speed Racer and the mysterious Racer X, each individually packaged with their respective cars.

Speed is dressed in his classic costume: white pants, blue shirt, yellow gloves (they should really be a darker tan leather color) and a red dickie. Not the manliest dresser, is our Speed. Actually, that's because of creator Yoshida Tatsuo's influences: he'd been watching popular American films, and was particularly interested in Viva Las Vegas - in which Elvis Presley played a racecar driver. Have you ever wondered why Speed Racer has a neckerchief and a black pompadour? There's your answer, fishbulb. Sadly, they skipped out on one piece that you might have considered a no-brainer: a removable race helmet.

In fact, the figure doesn't have any separate costume elements, instead relying on paint to create all the details. His upper body is molded in blue plastic, while the legs are molded in white - at last, an example where that works! His shoes should be brown (even if you can't see his red socks), not the same white as the rest of his legs. Is that AA cutting corners, or is it just an app that got missed? He'd benefit from some outlining at the tops of his gloves: the yellow on his hands and wrists is nearly indistinguishable from the pink of his skin. His face is simple - just big blue eyes, dark eyebrows and a thin mouth - but it works perfectly for the character. He's a cartoon, after all! His hair piece comes from Mr. Fantastic, but it looks much different without those gray temples.

If Speed's look came from Viva Las Vegas, his ride came from Goldfinger. Yoshida loved James Bond's gadget-filled car, and so the Mach 5 was loaded with gimmicks. Original plans, revealed on Art Asylum's message board back in the day, called for the cars to be constructable, kind of like the C3 sets. But when these figures were finally shown off at Toy Fair, the vehicles were molded plastic.

The Mach 5 has a very "super-deformed" look, as if it's been squashed all over - it measures 4¾" long, 2¼" wide and 1½" tall. Despite that, it has the memorable scooping hourglass shape, the three-pointed front end, the tailfins and even the little bump behind the driver's head. The wheels are plastic, and are connected in pairs by metal axles. The sculpt is better than it might have been - there's a bit of sculpted detail on the under-​carriage, the front and rear tires have slightly different hubcaps, and there are various seams on the body representing the doors, trunk and even the spot where the homing robot pops out. The seats are detailed slightly, but the steering wheel is smooth: no alphabetical control buttons for all those gadgets. And that's extra stupid, when you see there are gauges on the dash and even a glovebox. Weird choices.

Though the car looks appropriately "Minimate-y," but it's just a little too small. Speed barely fits in the cockpit by himself, so maybe it's a good thing Art Asylum never released the Trixie Minimate - she was shown in a four-pack with Speed, Racer X and Captain Terror. Speed's head and shoulders already stick out of the car, so there's no way this is an actual two-seater. If you want a better car, you can probably pick up one of the live-action Speed Racer movie sets from Lego: Speed has the C3 feet, so he'll integrate nicely.

In Japan, Speed Racer's name was Mifune Gō - thus the yellow "G" on his shirt. The M on the front of the car stood for Mifune Motors, not Mach 5, though that was still the vehicle's name - because in Japanese "go" is "five." So when the cartoon's title was Mach GoGoGo, it was actually a multi-lingual wordplay for Mach 5: Go, Mifune! The cartoon was also much more violent in Japan, but toned down for American families. It must have worked, though, because Speed Racer became the first anime property to really succeed in America, opening the doors for everything that's come since.

-- 05/12/08

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