DTV Heaven: Acceleracers Part Two: The actual series

Well, last time, we reviewed Hot Wheels World Race, and I mentioned that it was just okay. Not great, but still solid enough to not send me into a murderous rage. I also mentioned that there was a sequel. And that sequel… surpasses the original production in every way possible.

A few quick facts before we jump in. AcceleRacers is a direct sequel to World Race, featuring a number of characters from it, as well as a continuing plot. It was released in 2005, two years after the first, and appears to take place about two to three years after the original movie. Like the previous movie, it was shown on Toonami, but since it was already four hour long episodes, it was not broken apart in any special manner like the first movie.

Starting off, we have a scene reminiscent of the opening of World Race, with a first-person view from the eyes of our old friend Peter Tezla, attempting to reach the Wheel of Power, and failing. Already, this is a significant improvement. The robots, now called Racing Drones, are much less humanoid than before, particularly Gelorum, whose face is split open partly with green metal lines. Tezla manages to escape from the drones, but he is severely injured by the ordeal. We cut to some punk driving his car on the curved mountain road near the coast of California, and waiting at the top are a group of drivers. The white suited drivers are the Teku street racing team, with familiar faces Vert and Kurt hanging around. Long way from Grand Prix to illegal street racing, but whatever. Newcomers are Karma and Nolo, the former being somewhat of a Proud Warrior, looking for a good race, and the other seeking vengeance after a tragedy has thrust leadership of the team to him. Oh, and there’s Shirako, who is just all kinds of cool. The other team is the Metal Maniacs, whose cars are a bit more rough around the edges, compared to the Teku’s almost pristine appearance. Our returning member this time is Taro, who, again, should probably be doing better things with his time and talent. New members include Monkey, a spastic, wormy sidekick kinda guy with a decent personality, and Tone, a guy who looks like he could beat down just about everyone we’ve seen so far at once with one hand.

Bad blood exists between Tone and Nolo, and the two are out here to settle a score, but another returning cast member isn’t having that. The punk from the hill earlier is Wylde. As in, Mark Wylde. Yeah, the wide-eyed rookie is now a total punkish asshole, having spent some of the intervening time in a fine American correctional facility. He interrupts and ruins the race, but ends up coming across Dr. Tezla’s drone sidekick, Gig. Gig informs the former World Race drivers that Tezla need their help, so they follow him back to the hideout. The hideout is abandoned, save for one last returning cast member, Kadeem. Kadeem leads all the returning characters, along with Karma and Monkey, to the Acceledrome, a name so laughable you have to wonder how many of the toys of it sold after the fact. Lani has returned, but she isn’t driving this time. The racers ready their cars with some Nitrox after learning a very tiny bit of info about what happened to the Wheel of Power. After they have entered a new portal to a new track, Lani expresses regret over keeping them in the dark about an obvious time limit.

Yeah, I know I haven’t talked much about specifics yet, but this is a really good show, so I don’t want to ruin it. Beyond that, there is a good balance in each episode: All the episodes feature two Racing Realms, each one taking about half the episode minus a few minutes for outside snippets. So much of this show is darker than the original, which usually comes off feeling cheap. Then again, remember that this is Mainframe Entertainment. After the serious tonal shift in ReBoot in the post-ABC era, we know they can do this well. The racing is exciting, but more fundamental this time around. The Drones use weapons, the human drivers use wits and a few pieces of equipment. And the humans get their asses summarily kicked by the drones on the first race. And most of the other races. In fact, out of 14 on screen races, the good guys only win four, while the drones win at least three before the good guys even start racing.

In any case, the team enters the first realm, and the entire track is floating inside the most ridiculous storm cloud ever. The team races along, though they don’t come across the drones right away. When they do, however, the team quickly learns that the drone’s cars can do really impossible stuff, like teleport short distances, or become two-dimensional and pass between two cars. Worst of all for them, Kadeem’s car is sent falling from the track, with Vert failing to save him from plummeting to his apparent doom. Oh, who are we kidding. We all know he’ll show up again later, perfectly fine. They always do. In any case, the team fails and learns of the time limit, which ends up costing Vert the back half of his car.

Before the next race, Tezla finally shows up, showing off how badly the drones injured him with an entire metal frame suit that allows him to walk. Soon after that, the other drivers from the two teams arrive, called by Kurt and Monkey. Nolo and Shirako show up, as does Tork. However, another member of the Metal Maniacs arrives. We get to meet Porkchop, whose real name is the even stupider Diesel Riggs. And, of course, he shows up in an 18-wheeler, hauling three more cars with him. Pretty smart, as the team will need to replace vehicles numerous times throughout the series. Soon enough, the next realm opens.

The Swamp realm might very well be the most important realm in the story, as it hints at a number of thiings we will see develop over the story. I’ll leave most of it out, but the ending involves Nolo discovering the purpose of the realm. He manages to win the race by figuring out how to maximize his car’s traction on the mossy track. Luckily, Karma figures out the truth about the realms by the beginning on the next episode.

The big theme of character development here is Vert’s discovery of not needing to be the best to be useful. He suffers from his constant failures after his victory in the World Race, but his character growth is a bit iffy near the end of the series. In any case, the second movie continues the very solid development of the other cast member, while also dropping a new bombshell: a third faction of racers appear. Called the Silencers, their cars are made of image-warping metal, letting them look like any of the cars on the track. The drivers literally have the cars build around them, and their skills aren’t just in subterfuge but also in racing. After their arrival, they win the most races out of the factions.

There’s also a lot of development around Tork and Nolo, pertaining to both Nolo’s brother, and Mark Wylde’s problematic attitude. Tork comes across as a gentle giant in the later episodes, fiercely loyal and intimidating, but ultimately kind and wrecked by guilt. Nolo, in contrast, is impulsive, but actually has quite a bit of skill. However, it isn’t until the end of the story that he really confronts what happened to his brother in the race with Tork. This bodes well when we think about pacing. The story takes about four hours, and it does a great job with pacing itself. Vert’s issues cause him to actually be away from the races for two in-episode races, as well as two between-episode races. Also, when he comes back determined to do better, he actually fails, though at least he finishes the races from that point on.

Tezla is as interesting as he was in the first movie. He’s a man with issues, but at the same time, ultimately good, though his curiosity trumps all within his life. He has, in effect, not learned from the previous story, despite having a perfect opportunity to do so. His relationship with Lani as her superior is actually well done, with Lani following his orders only reluctantly and trying to place the drivers’ safety above everything else. Tezla is also paranoid to a fault, costing the team dearly in the final episode, though he does try to make up for it by almost making the ultimate sacrifice in the last episode.

Moving to the last episode, though, we get some really impressive twists and turns that make this something truly great, though also maddening in one case. First off, the final episode begins with a daring plan to rescue Mark, who had been kidnapped by the drones last episode. Vert explains the plan to Tezla, effectively confronting him for his behavior. The team commandeers a drone vehicle, and enters the drone base. Upon arriving, they hear a familiar voice. It seems that Kadeem has predictably survived his near death experience, but we soon see that he is not himself anymore. At that time, we see the Silencers’ main driver has entered Tezla’s base and, using Gig, has almost gotten the Accelechargers. In the end, however, Gelorum arrives and takes them all, opening the final race. Vert is the only driver available, so he chases her into the Ultimate Race, which encompasses parts of every realm, but segments so brief that only someone who has learned all the lessons can make it though. The race ends with Vert victorious, but only on a technicality. Some bad stuff goes down back at the Acceledrome, and Vert manages to be saved by the Silencers after returning. The final scene of the series is, sadly, a cliffhanger, with Vert’s father revealing himself to be one of the Silencers. No conclusion has yet been made, and no conclusion is likely.

As I said earlier, I left a LOT out of this review, because I want people to see this series. AcceleRacers is, strangely enough, still available in a box set on Amazon, and all of the episodes are available for viewing on Youtube if you want to check them out. I highly recommend the series for people who want to see how sometimes, something really basic can be so fantastically complex. Oh, and fans of things like the new Hot Wheel’s series, Battle Force 5, or even the anime Initial D.

Stay tuned for next time, because I’m gonna review *gasp* a non-sequel DTV movie that sucks horrifically.  Yes, they exist.  Especially within one specific little meta-genre…

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