Deluxe Mach 5 with Speed Racer

Anime might be popular today, but it was truly born in the same decade that I was - the 60's. The first was Kimba the White Lion, a show I hated even as kindergarten student. Yes, I said it - I hated Kimba. And when Speed Racer hit a year or two later, it did nothing to improve my opinion of anime.

Of course, it's come a long way since then. But those early shows still have a tremendous following, and the Wachowski Brothers, those wacky Matrix guys, have completed a live action movie for Warner Brothers. And like every great pseudo-kid's movie, there must be a line of toys.

Hot Wheels are the guys with their names on the boxes, which probably means something important internally at Mattel, but for most consumers it just means Mattel. Oh, and it also means you'll find the action figures in the car aisle instead of your usual hang out.

The small figures are popping up in both regular and deluxe sets, and there is a very cool large Mach 5 with what looked like a 6" scale Speed as well. The smaller figures come in two packs (usually Speed and another character with a small vehicle accessory) for $8, or the deluxe sets (which have a figure and a larger car) sell for $15. I came across them at Target first, but I'm sure other mass market retailers will be putting them out asap.

Tonight I'm just covering the deluxe set of Speed and his Mach 5 in 3 1/2" scale. While lots of lines are coming out in the 3 3/4" to 4" scale, Mattel decided to go smaller with these guys.  God only knows why.

Packaging - ***
If you're expecting collector friendly packaging, you'll be disappointed. Of course, since these are mass market kid's toys, I'm not sure you should be expecting collector friendly in the first place. I didn't, and I'm not knocking them for it.

However, I was a bit disappointed by the graphics and text on the back. The packaging is attractive enough, and it certainly catches your eye in the see of blue that normally dominates the car aisle. They've allowed for ways to push any buttons for the action features, and they show off the figure or vehicle well.

But the back of the packages lacks any info about the rest of the line, a big mistake I believe. For example, if you buy the deluxe Mach 5, you won't know that there's also a deluxe Racer X set. Likewise, none of the figure two packs have any reference to the other two packs in the wave. That's what brought the score for this category down for me.

Now, if that had been the end of the story, this package would have gotten **1/2 stars, rather than ***. So what helped pull it back up? An engineering innovation around the twisty ties, that's what. When was the last time you heard that sentence?

Instead of the twisties going through a simple plastic brace in back, and being tightly wound together, they go through a newly designed brace. This black plastic brace has little tabs on the end that the twisty wraps around, and it is MUCH easier to untie than the usual twisty. Even the figure is held in with unique plastic ties that have small, black tabs holding them in place, rather than being twisted together. That means it takes far less time to get this thing out of the package, and even your kids can do it quite easily on their own.

Sculpting - Speed **1/2; Mach 5 ***1/2
The movie Mach 5 is a bit different than the original cartoon version, with slightly different tail fins, a different back scoop, and minor other body differences. Therefore, those differences will also be present in this vehicle, but since this is based on the film, not the old show, that's not an issue.

In fact, this small toy version matches up exceedingly well to the movie version, at least from what I can remember of the car at last summer's SDCC, where it was on display. Because of the 'escape car' action feature, they had to make some minor modifications, but as toy versions go, this one is well designed.

There's no trunk here (the action features make that impossible), so Chim-Chim and Spritle ain't going to be stowing away.  There's also not a tremendous amount of detail - things like the famous buttons on the steering wheel are missing, for example.

Speed's sculpt isn't quite as good as the Mach 5, and is going to be a disappointment to anyone used to the quality in other slightly larger 3 3/4" lines. The head sculpt actually looks quite a bit like the Hirsch character, and if I were grading merely on that, this score would actually go up. But the work on the body is ill proportioned, and reminds me of the old Tonka action figures from the Eighties.  It's well below the quality we've come to expect from lines even like the Zizzle POTC.

The most obvious sculpt issue is the hugely oversized clear visor for the helmet, but thankfully it's removable. Lose it as soon as you can.

BTW, this particular Speed Racer figure is identical to one of the two pack versions, so he's pretty much a straight re-use here.

As I mentioned, Speed is only 3 1/2" tall, and not particularly chunky.  If you were hoping to put your Speed Racer figures with your Star Wars or Joes, fergitaboutit.

Paint - Mach 5 ***; Speed *1/2
Remember that we're talking mass market toys here, not specialty market low edition collector's items. The paint is usually the place that suffers, and it's no exception here.

The Mach 5 is solid, but there's very little paint. The white body appears to be molded in that color, and the '5' on either side is a sticker. The large M on the hood (not for Mach, but for Mifune Motors), appears to be a tampo, and it's very neat and clean. The rear view mirrors are silver, as are the rims, and they appear cast in that color, along with the black tires. It's a clean look, but not particularly difficult to do.

Poor Speed doesn't have the same work. There's slop in an number of areas, particularly around his white collar and blue vest. The belt buckle, the smallest paint detail outside of the eyes, looks blobbed on. There's paint marks and scratches all over the place (especially obvious in photos). And most unforgivable of all, the pegs for both the shoulders and the elbows are pure white, standing out against the blue shirt and tan arms. The elbows are the worst, since the peg goes all the way through the arm and shows on both sides, but the shoulders look bad whenever the arm is extended or when you look down on them from the top.

Articultion - ***
This isn't the most articulated small line we're going to see this year, but it does have a decent number of joints.

The neck is a cut joint, while the shoulders are ball joints. They are only jointed at the torso side though, and there are no cut joints of any kind on the arm or wrist. The elbows and knees are single pin joints, while the hips have the same style ball joints as the shoulders. However, because of the sculpting of the legs and butt, they only move out slightly to the side, working more like a T style hip joint. The legs do move forward far enough at the hip to allow him to sit easily within the car. There's no cut waist, no cut wrists, no cut joints on the ankles or thighs.

He can sit in the car, and even hold the stick or the steering wheel with some effort. But that's about all this articulation is going to allow for.

The wheels spin on the car of course, and you can turn the steering wheel.  The seat belt is designed to come loose at the top so that you can place the figure in the seat properly.

Accessories - ***
I'm not courting either the main Mach 5 or the Speed Racer figure as 'accessories', so what does that leave us? Hey, look! It's the Mach 5 golf cart!

One of the action features I'll be discussing in a minute is the 'emergency car' that pops out of the larger car. This small car is one of the accessories, and while it really is a nifty action feature, on it's own it doesn't make much of a car. It look exactly like a custom golf cart.

It does roll along on it's own though, and houses the other other main accessory, a gray missile that fires from the top of the passenger side of the seat, what little passenger side there is. You can also count the removable helmet and visor as accessories, and while the visor is awful (I believe I've already beat that dead horse), the helmet itself is very well scaled and fits perfectly. Lose the visor, keep the helmet.

Action Features - ***1/2
Usually I hate action features, largely because they often get in the way of the sculpt or articulation, and are rarely interesting or useful. Thankfully, Speed himself has no action feature, and they are confined to the vehicle. Action features work better with vehicles, particularly a gadget car like the Mach 5.

I already mentioned the missile which fires from the inside of the car. Push a button on the top and it pops up, then push a button on the side and it fires. If the smaller vehicle is inside the larger Mach 5 when you do this, it also lights up under the missile. The missile flies a decent distance, and works fairly smooth.

The smaller car pops out from inside the larger car by popping a wheelie with the Mach 5. There's a button on the bottom of the large car designed so that when you lift up the front of the car and push down on the back, it fires the smaller car right out from under the Mach 5. This is surprisingly well designed, and on a smooth surface worked quite well. Just make sure that the missile launcher is in the down position, otherwise the missile will hit the windshield and stop the smaller car from shooting out.  The one downside is that you can see the extra tires in the middle of the car from low angles.

Finally, there's a button on the hood of the car, just in front of the windshield. Press this one, and the front pops open, and a saw blade springs forward. This also works smoothly, and stays shut and out of the way fairly well. This button also causes another light to appear inside the engine compartment. Unfortunately, the clear plastic head lights don't light up, and I was a bit disappointed by that.

Fun Factor - ***
While Speed might not be the best looking, and there might be a few issues that collectors will find annoying, kids can have a lot of fun with these. The action features worked well, and are kept to the car, not the figure. Cars with good action features are always better than cars without, and since the gadgets of the Mach 5 have always been a key component of the show, it makes complete sense that they would build some of those fun aspects into the vehicle.  The figure actually hurts this score too though, since kids today are sophisticated enough to know crap when they see it.

The car is also going to handle most play, with a good quality construction. Even the axles running out through the tires are metal, and it would take quite a bit of effort for a child to put this vehicle completely out of commission.

Value - **1/2
The figure two packs (at just $8 each) are a great deal, and would pick up another half star in this category. The deluxe sets, with one figure and a decent sized vehicle with action features, are an  average value at $15. If the figure was better quality, I would have bumped this score another half star.

You can cut this score by a full star if you already own the two pack Speed in the blue shirt. If you're trying to get all the unique figures and the Mach 5, you'll be forced to buy this Speed twice.

Things to Watch Out For - 
Not much. Don't be surprised when the seatbelt pops out, since it's supposed to do that. It pops right back in once you have the figure in place. Oh, and accidentally lose that visor - quickly.

Overall - **1/2
If I were only grading the Speed figure, he wouldn't get off this lightly. If I were grading just the car, it would get another half star...if I were grading just the figure, it would lose another half star.  The car is the better half, particularly if you like toys, rather than 'collectibles'.  But if you're looking for an excellent reproduction of the movie car to place next to something like the 1/18th 1966 Batmobile, you need to look elsewhere.  If you're looking for a fun toy version (and don't mind the goofy figure), this is more in line.  

And lose the visor.

Score Recap:
Packaging - ***
Sculpt - Speed **1/2; Mach 5 ***1/2
Paint - Mach 5 ***; Speed *1/2
Articulation - ***
Accessories - ***
Action Feature ***1/2
Value - ***
Fun Factor - ***
Overall - **1/2

Where to Buy -
I picked mine up at Target, but I bet Toys R Us has them out by now too. If you don't see them in the action figure aisle, be sure to hit the die cast car aisle.

If you're looking for more classic Speed Racer items, check out Time and Space Toys, as they have a bunch of cool new items in stock based on the old show.

- Related Links -
Ertl produced an excellent version of the cartoon car.  I doubt I'll be picking up any more of the movie line though, at least not the small scale stuff.

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Figure from the collection of Michael Crawford.

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