"Arrow Emblem: Hawk Of The Grand Prix" (Arrow Emblem Grand Prix no Taka), is a 44-episode animated TV series that ran in Japan from 1977-78 and traces the rise of Todoroki Takaya, an aspiring auto racer who is determined to pursue his dream of becoming a Formula One racer. Although he manages to find a backer at Kuruma Motors, a Japanese car maker, Takaya has many setbacks along the way and threatens to quit after each one. But he keeps rallying and eventually races in the Monte Carlo Road Rally. His mentor is a mysterious unnamed man in a ski mask who gets him set up in different situations and monitors his progress, going so far as to slap some sense into him when he needs it.
This series has never been released in its entirety in the U.S. There is a 92-minute feature-length compilation that condenses four distinct story arcs from the series and has been released in an English-dubbed version on home video. I have this version in two formats under different titles: a VHS edition called "Crash Corrigan: One More Chance" and a DVD called "Super Grand Prix." The big difference between the two is that the DVD version has credits on it (mostly for the English dubbing crew) and the VHS version doesn't. The English dubbing isn't as bad as some I've heard, with extensive narration explaining the nuts and bolts of road rallies and specific racing techniques. One key problem with the dub is the new name and nationality bestowed on the lead character. In the dubbed version, Takaya becomes Sean Corrigan, the son of a military officer who was stationed in Japan but vanished at sea during a training flight. Because of his frequent crack-ups, Sean is given the nickname "Crash" Corrigan by his Japanese rivals. (The name Crash Corrigan may have been chosen as a reference to a onetime cowboy star known by that name.)
I was only able to watch the English-dubbed compilation for my review. It opens with Sean's first race on the speedway, which he loses after his car crashes and burns. Discouraged and depressed, he seems ready to give up when the masked man enters his hospital room and offers him a chance to race again. He puts Sean up at a country retreat where he meets assorted teammates and crew members, including the helpful teenage girl (and mechanic) Millie; a boy named Joji; another driver (and rival) named "Aces" Tanaka; and Sumiko, the beautiful daughter of the head of Kuruma Motors. After participating in Japan's Alpine Road Rally, which results in another temporary loss of confidence, Sean is given free reign at Kuruma Motors to design and build his own race car from discarded autos and scrap heaps. His antics frequently irritate the team members and company employees around him, but eventually he gets a chance to prove himself and win back their respect and admiration, helped along by the patience and steady loyalty of Millie and Joji, who become his sidekicks. One spectacular scene has Sean testing his newly-built car by racing through the snow on Mount Fuji as Mr. Kuruma and the other sponsors watch with binoculars from the Kuruma Plant. In the big finale, we see him compete in the Monte Carlo Road Rally.
One problem with the compilation is the lack of enough clues to figure out if Sean develops a romantic relationship with either of the two women featured in the series proper. He certainly gets close to Millie, who seems awfully devoted to him, while Sumiko spends most of her time with Sean's rival, Aces Tanaka. Alas, I have no way of knowing if that changes at any point in the 44 episodes. I also don't know if the masked man's identity is ever revealed or what his prior relationship to Sean might have been.
While the auto racing storyline may not appeal to all anime fans, the real value of this series is in the quality of the animation, particularly in the racing scenes, where cars are delineated in minute detail and backgrounds are rendered with a kind of rich texture (created by carefully applied water color washes) rarely seen in TV animation. One can tolerate the simple character design and stiff character movement in the dialogue scenes knowing that once the racing starts and the cars get moving over rugged terrain, the artwork gets more meticulous, the action more intricate, and the animation more fluid. The big setpieces are the Japanese road rally, the test drive in the snow on Mount Fuji, and the climactic Monte Carlo Rally.
The series can be seen as something of a missing link between two much more well-known anime racing series, "Speed Racer" (1967) and "Initial D" (1998). It doesn't have the action/adventure plots of "Speed Racer," but it has a group of characters not unlike those in Speed's entourage, including a teenage girl and a rambunctious boy who are counterparts of Trixie and Spritle from "Speed Racer" and a mysterious masked man reminiscent of Racer X. "Arrow Emblem" has much more realistic racing scenes than "Speed Racer" and places a greater emphasis on the fine tuning of one's car to meet the demands of the road rallies and the techniques necessary to survive difficult driving conditions. As such, it looks forward to "Initial D" (which I've reviewed on this site), which had a similar emphasis, but one directed to the practice of "drifting," a technique employed in races down curving mountain roads.
I doubt we'll ever see more of this series in the U.S. There was a Japanese-only box set at some point, but it's probably out of print now, since I couldn't find it listed on CDJapan. I would like to have seen some complete episodes of the series, even if they're untranslated.
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