I've been a huge fan of Speed Racer pretty much my whole life. I'm talking about the original anime and not just the recent movie (which I thought wasn't bad). I got the opportunity to talk to the legendary Peter Fernandez on the phone last month. In case you're not aware, Peter is the man responsible for the success of Speed Racer. He had worked on other projects (writing, directing, and translating) in the '60s and was asked if he wanted to take on a show being brought over to America from Japan. Originally given a budget for only three voice actors. Peter lined up Corinne Orr and Jack Curtis but knew he needed at least one more actor. He managed to convince his childhood friend/actor Jack Grimes work on half the salary (which Peter shared with him). Peter had the task of writing the episodes and dialogue even though most of the time he was only given a rough or incomplete translation of the original Mach Go Go Go episodes. He was also provided the voices of Speed Racer and Racer X.
It was an honor to have the chance to speak with Peter. G-Man:
You've probably been asked this before but how does it feel being the person responsible for introducing anime to America?
I had no idea at the time about anime. To me, it was just another cartoon. I had no idea it would become such a huge phenomenon. G-Man:
How long did it take you to write the theme song for Speed Racer?
I honestly don't remember. It just came to me.G-Man:
How come you weren't credited as one of the voice actors on the show?
I didn't want to be in the credits twice. It felt too egotistical. I regret it slightly.
Original Japanese opening
When you received the rough translations of the episodes, how much did you have to go with? How much freedom were you given when creating a story to go with the episode?
Lots. I had the most fun making up all the names of the characters.G-Man:
Were any of the episodes cut or edited to fit the English versions?
Just small bits. Usually just some visual gags that wouldn't translate.G-Man:
Did the episodes air in the same order?
I think so.
Will Speed ever know who Racer X is?
I ask because the 'final' confrontation between Speed and Racer X were different in the manga and anime. Do you know why the anime didn't give Speed a firm confirmation on that Racer X was Rex (instead of him punching Speed in the stomach)?
I like to believe that this was to tease you that there could be more.G-Man:
There seems to be a lot of grunting and moaning in the episodes. Was there a reason for this?
We were just trying to fit the facial expressions of the characters.
Now Comics in 1987
In the late 80s, the (defunct) publisher Now Comics put out a Speed Racer and later a Racer X series (both reprinted through IDW Publishing
). Were they given free reign to change the history? Speed was called Greg, Trixie was Millicent and Speed and Rex had been adopted by Pops.
They just made everything up. None of that come from the original source.G-Man:
That's good to know. In the episodes, did the characters talk fast in order to match the animation?
We were trying to get all the dialogue to match the mouth movements. We had to fit the story in with the episode.G-Man:
Where did the name of Racer X's car, the Shooting Star, come from?
I made everything up. I just had fun with it all.
"This secret film was filmed secretly."
Like lines such as "This secret film was filmed secretly."
Yes. It was all intentional.
Do you have a favorite episode?
No. I did really enjoy the Mammoth Car episode and playing (mobster) Cruncher Block (speaking with a low raspy voice
How did you become involved with Speed Racer: The Next Generation?
I was called and asked. I said yes. I play the adult Spritle. In the original, Corinne [Orr] did his voice. I get to tease her that now I'm doing the character.G-Man:
My five-year-old daughter is becoming a big fan too. She's loved the original episodes along with the Next Generation and the movie. She had a couple questions she wanted me to ask.
Was it fun to be in the Speed Racer [live-action] movie?
Yes. I was honored. I played a race announcer. It was nice being at the red carpet premiere in New York. The Wachowskis are great guys. They told me they used to rush home after school to watch the show. The only thing I didn't like was that it focused so much on the cars and not on the character of Speed.
Will we find out how Speed Racer disappeared in The Next Generation?
I don't know yet. Maybe if there's another season.
Speed Racer: The Complete Series
Speed Racer lasted 52 episodes. It was a huge success in syndication and had a later revival in the 80s when MTV started airing the episodes. I can't explain exactly what it is about Speed Racer that has always appealed to me. Whether it was the excitement of the race, the Mach 5 and all its gadgets or the kung fu fighting, Speed Racer will always be a favorite of mine.
The episodes are all available on DVD and Lionsgate has even released a nice gift set including every single episode. I've seen it selling for as low as $35. Great deal. Speed Racer: The Next Generation has a couple movie-length episodes on DVD and can be seen on Nick Toons.