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Anime Discovery V2: Initial D (The WHOLE Saga)
This review both covers First Stage & Second Stage. I’ll try not to spoil as much as possible.
Well, for me, this is a rarity for an anime series where the subject involves street racing although it is not strange in Japan since the concept of that is known in 8 countries and the fact that street racing has been involved in other parts of media including videogames like Midnight Club, some elements of street racing have been shoved in Grand Theft Auto & later iterations of Need For Speed franchise and also in the cinema, which I will bring up later in the review.
Anyway, it is based off the manga series created by Shuichi Shigeno and it’s been serialized in Kodanasha’s Young Magazine. The story focuses on the world of illegal Japanese street racing, where all the action is concentrated in the mountain passes and rarely in cities nor urban areas, and the drift racing style (a driving technique where the driver intentionally oversteers, causing loss of traction in the rear wheels, while maintaining control from entry to exit of a corner is emphasized in particular.
In the first stage of the series, it focuses on high school student Takumi Fujiwara, who works at a gas station attendant by day but at night he’s a delivery boy (since 7th grade) for his father’s tofu shop. His father is Bunta Fujiwara, a street racer with a great reputation in his younger days and was known as “The Ghost of Akina”. What little did Takumi knew, he does have an inherent sense for drifting on local mountain roads and is a natural expert yet he never seem interested doing that until a local race team called the Akina Speed Stars, who is in need of a replacement driver after the last one had an accident, is going up against reigning skilled street racers the RedSuns.
In the second stage of the series, a team from the Tochigi Prefecture called Team Emperor and their leader Kyoichi Sudo challenges every racing team in the Gunma area and does come out victorious and once they heard of The Akina Eight-Six and they see what it can do, the tension around there raises not only for the Akina SpeedStars but for all of the racers in the Gunma area.
As for characters, while Takumi seems like it doesn’t give a damn about street racing, later in the series, he starts to understand the pride of a street racer and does begins accepting challenges, despite the car he was being a Toyota Sprinter Trueno AE86, which is considered inferior towards the other racer’s cars and when Takumi outshines them in the races, even though, what he’s got wasn’t up to current standards, it makes me ask this question………does he have the touch?
Okay, that was a bit stupid.
As for the his team, his friend Itsuki is the comic relief of the show and yes, he is loud and obnoxious and won’t staple his mouth shut for a while but he does play the role of being confident in Takumi and his racing skills. Iketani is the leader of the Akina SpeedStars and while he is an average driver, he fits the leadership at a few times and Kenji, best friend of Iketani and possibly one of the level-headed members of the group (Iketani is a close second).
I would mention Natsuki Mogi, the love interest of Takumi, and they do have this subplot of him and her hanging out and eventually ending up together but her part doesn’t get bigger until the 2nd stage, where we (but mostly Takumi) also learned that she’s engaged in enjo kosai to make some extra cash on the side but Takumi isn’t the only one with love in the brain. Iketani does have a crush on this girl named Mako Sato, who is part of the racing duo Impact Blue with her as the driver and her partner Sayuki as the navigator, but that relationship also have dire consequences during that course and Itsuki did have…….or had a relationship with this girl but that part is very unimportant to the plot of the series.
Now, originally I thought this series was going to be a rip-off of The Fast and The Furious movies but that’s due to the fact that when TokyoPop originally got the license of the anime and the manga, they would Americanize the characters’ names and some did reflect the changes Sega pushed when they implanted into the Western releases of the video games following (Iggy, Tak, Natalie, Maya, Simone, Cole), throw in some street slang which to attract the younger audiences and where the original had some Eurobeat music mixed in, they replaced with some (IMO) very generic rock and hip hop music done by the CEO of TokyoPop, Stu Levy or better yet, his stage name DJ Milky (Really? DJ Milky? I thought Plies was a worst name for a rapper and/or producer). That result just seem like they want this to be like The Fast and The Furious when it’s not. Unlike those movies, the plot of the series actually involves racing and so far it sticks to it and I’m a guy that actually likes Fast Five……and possibly a bit of Tokyo Drift but I see why want to cash in with those movies and it’s a horrible reason nevertheless a reason.
Also, the music in the original Japanese and Funimation dub was alright but it never drawn that much attention from me, although the first opening and ending songs was good, the later ones I could care less about. The music just seem like videogame music for Dance Dance Revolution rather than anything to do with racing but hey, I think it fits more into the series than the other music. The TokyoPop songs were honestly too corny and too self-reliant on grunge rock and hip hop to sell to Western audiences and possibly that and the awful excuse of a rap song from the 4Kids dub of One Piece are mostly the reason why sometimes anime and hip hop don’t mix that well together (except for Samurai Champloo and Afro Samurai, those actually go well together).
The animation for both series is proved to be dated, considering the anime was made in the late 90s, some character designs were a bit crude but it is realistic and differs from the traditional anime look. The CG racing cars does clash with the 2D animation and it is not a good sight but the animation does improve during the second stage with the character designs being less crude-looking but still retains its realistic look.
FINAL VERDICT: The anime is actually good and I didn’t have any high or great expectations of this but this one actually surprised me. It actually focuses on its prime objective and doesn’t glamourize the life of being a street racer (i.e. drugs, parties, women at the palm of your hands) and while it does show illegal street racing (albeit only on mountain passes), the show does advise you to only do this at safe locations like a track where you won’t run over somebody and takes what lessons about drifting seriously, as in, this is nothing to joke about. I would recommend if you are somebody that expected more from the you-know-what movies, this is your treat. The 2nd stage of the series actually covers more of the plot without putting much filler episodes like in the previous one.
Also, for the ones who are prefer dubs like me, stick to the FUNimation dub. The TokyoPop dub may have voice actors you like but honestly, this dub does no justice to them.
Therefore, the scores of both series:
INITIAL D: FIRST STAGE – 8/10
Planet Tyro Rating: Solid B.
INITIAL D: SECOND STAGE – 9/10
Planet Tyro Rating: First Class
But before that, I’m going to give a short but sweet look into the Extra Stage OVA.
It’s basically a spin-off that features Impact Blue, the female racers that Takumi encountered before in the 1st stage. The story deals with the dynamic of Mako & Sayuki, rather than the usual main cast (although they do appear in the OVA sans Takumi) facing a challenge with one of the racers of Team Emperor, who were the challengers from 2nd Stage and at the time was reigning over the Myogi Night Kids, while Mako is dealing with the breakup between her and Iketani.
This is a…….alright edition to the story. I don’t know how it will affect the later editions but it is good to focus the series on another main character with their backstory and the Impact Blue girls does seem interesting to focus on to, although some problems I have with the OVA is the challenger (or antagonist of the first half) they faced with. I’m not sure of his name but he is mostly a generic, sexist with the “girls can’t do what we do” attitude and the arrogance of him just reeks of annoyance and blandness. WE GET IT!!! It’s just so f***ing annoying. The second half deals with the relationship and while it is emotional and shows how Mako will eventually have to settle this soon, I just lost interest half-way through the OVA.
Now onto to the Third Stage……
Ryosuke has been putting together a racing team featuring the best racers of the Gunma prefecture, and would like Takumi to join. Takumi doesn't want to decide whether or not to accept the proposal until he settles his score with Team Emperor Leader Sudou Kyouichi, who had looked down on the AE86 because of the car's age and had seriously damaged Takumi's confidence in the AE86 after being defeated by him. Meanwhile, the drama between Natsuki and Takumi is at highs since he found out she was doing enjo kosai in order to make some extra money.
Now, on that latter subject, she did quit the business and got herself a fast-food job in order to move away from her past and at some times, Takumi can be kind of a dick. Yes, she never told him about what she did then but she did gave it up to pursue a relationship with him and yet, he keeps on phasing her out and not bother to listen to her.
As for the main story, well, it’s the usual story as like the past entries. Somebody challenges Takumi to a race, thinks his car can’t handle their car, they race and eventually he will either win by doing what others thought he couldn’t do.
Also, it really felt like 4 ½ episodes condensed into one movie with their usual basics of the series.
The animation studios switched from Pastel, who did the work on Extra Stage and the past stages to Studio Deen, who contributed to the 3rd Stage and the animation is superior to its successors, which I said before, will happen every time and everything from the movement of the characters and the racing scenes are gradually more enhanced and doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb. The music…….well, it’s there and that’s it. It’s okay but I really don’t have anything interesting to say about it because it isn’t interesting. Some people will like this and most of it is just not my taste but it’s there.
FINAL VERDICT: Both entries are passable at the least but I really don’t consider them as being entirely different than each other. They are more of a rental than actually owning them.
Therefore, the final scores:
EXTRA STAGE – 6/10 – Vanilla
THIRD STAGE – 7/10 – Watchable
I’m starting to get why I don’t review series that last beyond 26 episodes (I watched them, mind you, but takes a lot of time to review) and as much as the first 2 editions of Initial D were pretty good and the third stage movie was…..okay to say the least but I starting to think like in any of the Dragon Ball series, the story and the races do tend to drag (no pun intended) as they go along.
This series focuses on the exploits of the new team founded by Ryosuke, Project.D, which is composed of Ryosuke (leader and strategist), downhill specialist Takumi, uphill specialist Keisuke, and a staff consisting primarily of members of the Akagi Red Suns. The team travels the region, challenging other teams and posting the results of the battles on their website. Each race is intended by Ryosuke to develop a specific area of his drivers' skills. By this time, Takumi matures slowly into a more confident and knowledgeable street racer, while Keisuke improves on his technical driving skills.
In the series, the main drivers and their racing skills do develop as they race against the opponents they’re matched with and could make their better drivers, but as normal people and in my opinion, they are flawed (which is a good thing) but they are crazy to think that racing is the only thing that fulfill their lives. For example, Keisuke has this girl named Kyoko Iwase, who is a fellow Mazda RX-7 FD driver and uphill ace racing for the Northern Saitama Alliance, has a crush on him as she admires his racing techniques and he does like her but he doesn’t want her to interfere with his racing, even though she said she wasn’t going to. Look, I get not being distracted during your time of racing but are you seriously going to say that it’s more important than a girl who has some interest in you because of your talent? Okay, maybe it could be distracting but still after hearing enough crap about that “lonely driver” thing from Takumi’s crew (friends who we never see race anyone BTW) during the first three stages and soon they realize what they been saying is a bunch of bulls**t.
As for the main story, it’s the same as always. People think the Eight-Six can’t race worth jack squat, they challenge him, they race which lasts about 2-3 episodes, they think they are about to win until Takumi tries this stunt that makes it impossible for the opponents to believe, they do the same thing and mess up and Takumi wins……only this time, it also happens to the other racers on Project D. It’s basically the same story with a few different story elements thrown in and some of the other drivers in Project D doing the same thing.
As for the animation, it’s done by another anime studio. Remember Studio ACGT (or Adenine Cytosine Guanine Thymine), the same studio that did the formerly reviewed Koi Kaze? Well, of course in this series, the animation is still better than what it used to be and ACGT definitely animated this better than the other aforementioned anime. The music is slightly better with the first opening theme, “Dogfight” by move, which is the better opening theme in either one of the Initial D series but, however, that theme only lasts for 10 episodes and the other one, “Noizy Tribe” also by move, is very lackluster at best. The ending theme songs you can just skip to the next episode since there is no next episode clip as they do in most anime.
But before I get to the final verdict on this one, EXTRA STAGE 2 gets a brief check-out:
The plot of the sequel to the first OVA provides a closure on the relationship between Iketani and Mako. This story took place during the time Project D battled the Toudo school. Iketani finally met up with Mako Sato and apologized for not being able to meet her 6 months ago. Mako told Iketani she had something to tell him and asked him to meet her again.
It’s just like the first Extra Stage with the same elements that I mentioned in the first review of this only added-in more stupidity from the Akina Crew, especially in the end of it. Nothing new is added into this and maybe they should’ve added this into the 4th stage series because it would have edged up the racing monotony that it’s been suffering from.
FINAL VERDICT: 4th stage is the weakest of the series and it shows with shifting pace on storyline from turtle-like slow to roadrunner fast. At some parts, you will know what’s going to happen during the show. It’s becoming too predictable for its own good and doesn’t care about the other situations going on at the same time. The characters are merely just there and only motivate on one thing and make themselves look like robotic and stiff. I would say to watch it only to continue the saga but frankly, while doing that, just skip over the parts that you can guess already.
Judgment of both series:
FOURTH STAGE – 6/10
EXTRA STAGE 2 – 5/10
Both are very……VANILLA.
Oh, and as for the Battle Stage 1 & 2 and their rating…….An Acquired Taste – both 4.5/10
We all know about many movies based or adapted from original works and on how it can be truthful to the source material and not screwed it up or it can be one big disaster after the next. The same thing can be said about live-action film adaptations of anime. Yes, I know of the only ones released in the U.S. was Dragonball Evolution & Speed Racer, although the latter was actually an alright movie but the majority of films like that actually comes from the eastern side of the world.
Producers Andy Lau & Alan Mak, responsible for directing the Hong Kong crime-thriller movie, Internal Affairs, brought the franchise onto the big screen in China and it’s also known it was the debut acting gig for Taiwanese musician Jay Chou and that was 5-6 years prior before he came to American audiences, when he played Kato opposite Seth Rogen on The Green Hornet directed by Michel Gondry.
The plot of the movie is eighteen-year-old Takumi is never late for a tofu delivery, and though he speeds the tofu to its destinations with the velocity of a landlocked stealth plane, his true aspiration in life is to follow in the footsteps of his formerly fast-driving father (Anthony Wong) -- an ex-adrenaline junkie who eventually gave up the race track for the restaurant business. In his five years delivering meals from his father's restaurant Takumi has learned the streets of his hometown like the back of his hand, and he can take every corner with the needle planted firmly on the right. The trick to Takumi's amazing driving skills is a technique known as "drifting," and in a world where high-risk racing has spilled out of the tracks and onto the streets, this daring driver is about to become a legend.
From the plot synopsis, it sounds like its actually taken notes from the anime & manga that make it seem like it was faithful to the source material but like those, there were some changes and they are significant and very noticeable. For example, Itsuki in the film is portrayed as a spoiled brat/prick that’s also the Gas Station manager’s son and is the de facto leader of the Akina Speed Stars when in the anime Iketani is the leader and Itsuki isn’t really related to the gas station manager and this version of Itsuki is more annoying in the film than in the anime, because at least at first Itsuki seems like the best friend who was annoying but still likable in the first 2 seasons but here, he’s a typical douchebag friend like the one on Project X. (And yes, I HATED Project X.)
The father Bunta Fujiwara went from being a wise and secretive father who knew of Takumi’s gift of racing to being an abusive, angry and alcoholic womanizer who drew Takumi’s mother away. Why would you make a character that can be harsh but tactful into this sleazy boozebag? That and also one scene where he told if Takumi spill a single drop of water, he’ll be kicked out of the house, although in the anime, that last part wasn’t implied nor was it needed. Some of the other characters like Keisuke Takahashi, Kenji & Iketani either don’t appear or they play just a background character into the story.
The quality of the film looks like it was released direct-to-DVD rather than in the cinema and the editing on here is really awful from doing frame drops or choppy scene transitions that make it seems like your DVD player wasn’t working right or if the disc is scratchy or If you stream it, your connection will suffer. Jay Chou’s performance was a exactly like the character of Takumi, an aloof racer who doesn’t seem to give a damn about his racing skills no matter how good he is and when a girl is saying she’s going to put on a skimpy swimsuit and just has this blank stare in his face instead of thinking that but keeping his cool. Yeah, his performance was equivalent to the anime.
FINAL VERDICT: I would say that this movie did not stay faithful to the original source but saying that would be repeating the same thing said about the other adaptations. It wasn’t the worst movie but it did prove to disappoint some people who follow the series and the manga. Sadly, I would not recommend this to anyone who likes the anime and manga. This shouldn’t even be called “Initial D” but rather be called, “Young Kids Drift and Drama Ensues”.
And now for the ratings:
Planet Tyro Rating: Not Feeling This
And until then, I’m MAK2.0 aka HybridMedia, bringing all the elements in one format…….and he’s finally glad he is done with Initial D.
INITIAL D - animation by PASTEL / STUDIO ACTG / STUDIO TULIP / STUDIO DEEN & distributed by FUNIMATION (formerly TOKYOPOP)
INITIAL D (2005 Live Action Movie) – courtesy of Media Asia Distribution / Media Asia FIlms
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