Fujiwara Takumi looks just like any ordinary 18 year old. He and his best friend Natsuki have just got their driving licenses, but unlike most teenagers his age Takumi hates driving and racing altogether (much to the surprise of his friends). However, when the leader of the Akina Speed Stars is involved in an accident, Takumi is forced to replace him in a downhill race against the renowned Red Suns. Exhibiting unparalleled skill that amazes even the best of the Red Suns, Takumi wins the race...with his father's tofu delivery car. What is the reason for Takumi's skill? How does his father factor into the equation? Can Takumi actually be the best racer in the whole of Japan? How many more racer-wannabes is this anime going to spawn?
Mention Initial D to most racing fans (especially in East Asia) and you'll see their eyes light up with the orange glow of overheated brake pads. This anime is the latest trend among racer-wannabes and has spawned video games, car models, merchandise, car stickers and plenty of testosterone-fueled guys who have trouble leaving the gas pedal up (hereby termed "boyracers").
Basically, the story revolves around Takumi and his driving skills using his father's humble Toyota Trueno AE86 (called a Corolla in the States). This car isn't a very fast car, but due to Takumi's mysterious ability to race down the Akina hill at dangerous speeds, he slowly becomes a racer that everyone wants to challenge. The reasons behind his skills are explained along the way, but mentioning it here will probably spoil the surprise for most people.
Takumi isn't a very outstanding character, though. He's what I would call "blur" - slow to grasp the situation, looks dopey and is laid back (just like his father). He works at a gas station owned by his father's old friend and this is where most of the challengers come to find him. His friends (and fellow racers) work or hang out here as well, and try their best to drag Takumi into the "wonderful" world of being a racer.
This anime is one of the first few racing titles to make use of CG rendered cars for all the racing scenes. Each car is rendered well enough to recognize the make, model and some of the little racing decals on the side. Most of the other scenes are not, though. The characters are based on the original manga, and this shows in the form of crudely drawn (and sometimes downright ugly) faces.
But that's not the point - this whole anime is about RACING. Well, *drifting* in this case. Drifting is a racing style where the driver slides the car sideways into corners (like a skid) and is a characteristic of many Japanese track races, or in dirt rally. Most of the racers in this anime make use of drifts and the tension is enhanced by their races taking place on narrow mountain roads. The thing that sets Takumi apart from other racers is that he is resourceful, and uses rather unorthodox techniques to sway the race in his favor. He also receives guidance from his father, the chain-smoking Bunta. Bunta was a legendary racer in his heyday, but now runs a tofu shop (well *that* is the Career Move of the Year). Unbeknownst to Takumi, his father discreetly manipulates situations (and equipment) to steer him towards racing greatness (no pun intended).
Besides the racing action, the characters also spout some rather technical terms here and there, like tire pressure, shifting techniques and so on. This will appeal to the more technical people who enjoy messing around with car settings or like to analyze driving techniques. Unfortunately, some races do seem a bit artificial and the cars don't exactly exhibit real-life physics either (think Daytona) but if you want realism, then you've got the sports channel, right?
The plot does involve a little romance with a few characters involved, but you'd hardly think that people watching a racing-themed anime would bother about anything else. If anything, it does add some personality to the otherwise two-dimensional characters. Otherwise, it's just racing, racing and racing.
The soundtrack is techno/dance all the way, and pumps your blood through all the racing scenes. While it's quite exciting when used properly, it does get a bit generic at times and when listened to repeatedly will effectively replace Grandpa's pacemaker.
Initial D will definitely have its appeal to racing fans, especially in the US who are used to different other forms of races like drag racing or NASCAR ovals. There is hardly anything objectionable in this anime besides breaking speed limits and boyracers having too much testosterone for their own good, so this is theoretically watchable by all ages. However, this is an all-out racing title, so the interest would probably lie with those who actually have driving licenses or their own car.
It's exciting, if not a little distant from real-life physics. Poor art quality and limited scope of potential audience prevent it from getting a have had a traffic light duel before, then you can add a star. Or just remember how Editor-In-Chief Carlos Ross summed it all up: "Watch cars drift." — Enoch Lau
Recommended Audience: As mentioned earlier, the only objectionable parts would be the tendency to ignore speed limits and dangerous driving, so if you're a parent and your kid is going to take his driving test soon, wait until *after* the test before letting him watch it.
Version(s) Viewed: Asian TV, Cantonese dub; R1 DVD
Review Status: Full (26/26)
Initial D © 1998 Shuichi Shigeno / Kodansha / prime direction / OB PLANNING
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