Initial D Anime Review
頭文字D (イニシャル D)
Inisharu (Kashiramoji) D
US Release By
Car Racing Action
26 25-minute episodes
1998-04-18 - 1998-11-28
What's In It
- Violence: 1 (mild)
- Nudity: 1 (mild)
- Sex: 1 (mild)
- Language: 1 (mild)
Takumi isn't your average Japanese high school student. For one thing, he doesn't like cars. And doesn't really understand why his racer friends get all excited over going up and down the twisty and traitorous Mt. Akina road at breakneck speeds. That all changes when the renowned racing team "The Red Suns" issue a challenge to the local team on their own turf, Mt. Akina. When Takumi beats the Red Suns' number 2 driver using his dad's beat up old car, everyone, understandably, is shocked. Takumi just looks bored. Exactly how did Takumi, high school student, tofu delivery boy and part time gas station attendant, become such a good driver? And how come no one has ever heard of him before?
If you've ever seen any "sports" anime you'll know how this one goes. Determined young man beating the odds in his sport of choice in every episode while learning important lessons in life. Based on the manga of the same name, the sport in question here is car racing (downhill car racing to be exact; downhill drift racing to be even more exact), but the rest is accurate enough. That's not to say that Initial D isn't good of course.
With a formula like this it's all too easy to make a very shallow anime with shallow characters. Fortunately, Initial D manages not to fall too deeply into that quagmire. The characters are well formed and fairly three-dimensional. Some care is put into character development, too; Takumi in particular grows a lot during the series. Takumi doesn't hog the stage light either--other characters get their own chance at exposition and growth. While the focus of Initial D is on the races, it equally focuses on the racers themselves. Their motivations; their love lives; how racing changes their lives for better or worse.
But, of course, where Initial D really shines is the racing (wouldn't be much of a racing anime otherwise, would it?). While the characters are your regular hand-painted 2D animation, the cars and the race sequences are detailed 3D CGI. The pace is furious, and you can practically smell the adrenaline pumping, all enhanced by a dose of terrific racing music. The races manage to be exhilarating and still look quite realistic (no cars spinning 180 degrees, changing to reverse, and still maintaining top speed, thank you very much), and will definitely induce the highly impressionable to go down and take the ol' gas guzzler for a high-speed spin or two.
Which is another highlight of the series: realism. The techniques used are real. The cars are real, down to the noise they make. Even the race courses are real (although names were changed to stop fanboys from locating them and trying their hands at the real thing). The characters spout plenty of technical jargon, too, but thankfully the anime doesn't dwell on that too much, so even if you're just a novice and can't tell the difference between an inertia drift and grip style you'll still get along well. If you just like fast things that go zoom you'll get along particularly well.
Animation-wise this show is a bit of let down. While the races are 3D and quite well rendered for a TV series, the rest of the animation (people and non car-shaped objects) are decidedly ugly, especially the character designs which are faithful to the manga designs. The contrast gives Initial D an uneven look, which is a bit jarring, though it manages to grow on you in time.
On the other hand, Initial D's music is easily one of the series' main highlights--catchy, pulse-pounding, hard to forget, and suits the racing motif to a T, actively adding to the excitement of the races. Several well-known Japanese "Euro-beat" artists such as MOVE contribute to the wonderful soundtrack, including several ending themes.
A very important thing to note is that I'm reviewing the subtitled version, which everyone should watch as opposed to the dubbed version. While I'm quite neutral in regards to the infamous Dub vs. Sub Wars I feel I am justified in putting my foot down just this once. When Tokyo Pop acquired the rights to Initial D, they planned for it to be a TV release riding on the popularity of street racing culture in the US (i.e. "The Fast and the Furious"). If that doesn't make your Spidey danger senses tingle go see a doctor, you're a vegetable.
Names were of course changed to something more "American friendly," but I can always overlook that. It's just one of those lesser evils you learn to live with. What was an unforgivable crime was changing the whole soundtrack to more mainstream Hip Hop, replacing the wonderfully upbeat Euro Beat songs of the original. I've never understood the reasoning of Hip Hop as racing music. They also changed the engine noise to sound more beefy. Baffling. So just be a good anime Otaku and stick to the subs. Just this once.
One other thing. First Stage is Initial D's first season, which is what this review is covering. So far, it is followed by Second Stage (the 2nd season), Extra Stage (an OAV covering some of the secondary characters), Third Stage (movie) and Fourth Stage (the 4th season, which at the time of writing is still being aired I believe).
So to sum that all up, Initial D: First Stage is something of a clichéd anime. But it does what it sets out to do and does it very well. Nothing groundbreaking mind you. If the subject matter doesn't really interest you, then of course Initial D probably won't change your mind, although a little peek at the first episodes wouldn't hurt. Racing fans, on the other hand, will be in racing heaven (just smell that good ol' burning rubber in the air!). Just be sure to heed the warning that comes at the beginning of each episode: obey traffic laws and regulations! Excuse me while I take my car for a spin... or two.
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Notes and Trivia
The original title is written in Japanese using the characters for "Kashiramoji," meaning "initials," but it is captioned phonetically as if it is intended to be read as an English word "Initial D."
There is also a Chinese-produced live action movie of Initial D, slated for US release in early 2006.
US DVD Review
Tokyopop's DVDs have spiffy menus giving you access to the "classic import" version of the production (Japanese Dolby 5.1 audio and original video) and "Tricked Out" (English Dolby 5.1 audio and "enhanced" video that seems mainly to consist of replacing the original Japanese text with English). You can also mix and match using the menus, if you want. Extras include a showroom of the cars in the series with detailed specs, outtakes from the dub, and trailers.
In an act of creative math, you might notice that the discs claim to be 150 minutes long. While technically true if you count both versions of the video, they're really only 75 minutes by any reasonable way of counting three 25-minute episodes.
Of course there is the whole illegal racing culture motif, something to think about before showing it to the kiddies. Rated 13-up by Tokyopop.
Violence: 1 - Cars crash but no one is hurt beyond a few cuts and bruises.
Nudity: 1 - The occasional swimsuit but that's it.
Sex/Mature Themes: 1 - Very low key romance. Although there is the hint of more sinister goings on, nothing's explicit.
Language: 1 - Nothing worth mentioning.
Staff & Cast
Original Japanese Cast
Takumi Fujiwara: Shinichirou Miki
Bunta Fujiwara: Unshou Ishizuka
Itsuki Takeuchi: Mitsuo Iwata
Ryosuke Takahashi: Takehito Koyasu
Keisuke Takahashi: Tomokazu Seki
Natsuki Mogi: Ayako Kawasumi
Kouichirou Iketani: Kazuki Yao
Kenji: Wataru Takagi
Takeshi Nakazato: Nobuyuki Hiyama
Mako Satou: Michiko Neya
Sayuki: Yumi Kakazu
Kenta Nakamura: Kousuke Okano
Yuuichi Tachibana: Tomomichi Nishimura
Shingo Shouji: Keiji Fujiwara
Papa: Touru Furusawa
Announcer: Osamu Hosoi
Original Manga: Shuichi Shigeno
Director: Masami Hata, Noboru Mitsusawa