Recently, I’ve been watching episodes of the original Speed Racer. Not Mach Go Go Go, and even if presented with the option, I would try to watch episodes of both. Speed Racer is one of those shows that attracted a lot of fans for a multitude of reasons, primarily the car, and having never really watched entire episodes of Speed Racer, I wanted to see what was, as the kids say, “up.”
In addition to the show aging surprisingly well, I noticed something somewhat peculiar about Speed Racer: its voice-acting is actually very good. These days, when the subject of older voice acting comes to mind, it’s usually the ridiculous dubs of 80s and 90s, or the transition away from Saban for the dub of Dragon Ball Z. Older dubs are associated with being poorly acted and often stilted, while newer dubs have a frequent problem of being too wooden or “sounding like anime dubs.” This isn’t the case with Speed Racer at all, and after seeing Peter Fernandez get congratulated so many times for his voice work as Speed, I can finally see that he gets the credit he deserves, not to mention the rest of the cast including minor characters. It has the right amount of radio-show-style acting without going overboard like the old Symphony of the Night dub. Batman: The Animated Series’ voice actors were told to act out their roles as if they were in a radio show. Maybe there’s something to that after all, something that more dubs could learn to use.
I’ve seen a significantly older show receive a curiously impressive dub before in the form of Gigantor. Not a surprise to see that Fernandez had a role in the Gigantor dub as well. Is it just that he’s got talent and it bled through to everything else in recording? Perhaps, but there’s one factor which I think contributes to the quality of these old dubs, and it’s actually the result of a limitation.
In these old shows, especially with Gigantor which had a low budget even for its time. When Jimmy Sparks says a few lines, his mouth moves maybe 5 or 10 times. The voice actors did not try to match the lip flaps because that would have been impossible, and I think it’s this non-adherence to mouth movements which freed up the dubs to have more natural and vibrant-sounding characters, even if the dialogue itself was still kind of awkward in that stereotypical way everyone makes fun of Speed Racer for.
You can hear Peter Fernandez as a grown-up Spritle in that new Speed Racer cartoon, but I wouldn’t recommend watching it.
the radio show thing is head on. a lot of japanese dubs are just like their corresponding radio shows…
Incidentally, while he is a great mofo, having written and directed most of the old episodes that got me over here in Japan (Speed Race, Marine Boy), he also did us a great disservice. After Star Blazers did well, he was hired to produce the third season, the Bolar Wars. Because he didn’t know the voice acting staff from the first two seasons — which stands as one of the best English dubbs ever — he fired them all and hired other people. Hence, season 3 of SB is unwatchable and we are robbed of something that could have been nice.
I met his wife at BAAF last year, or rather noticed her last name, and on a hunch said, “Mrs. Speed Race, I presume?” She got a kick out of that.
Here is my post on the Speed Racer service centers in Japan from a couple of days ago.