Tokyo Pop has recently agreed to a distribution deal with FUNimation which involves the later company releasing some of the anime titles that Tokyo Pop has licensed. One of the first shows to be released under this new agreement is Initial D, an exciting racing anime that has many fans on both sides of the Pacific. Previously released as single volumes and as a limited edition set of the first 15 episodes, this is the first time that the entire first season is available in one nice package.
Takumi Fujiwara is your average high school student. He goes to school, works at a gas station, and helps his father out with his tofu business. To help dad, Takumi wakes up in the middle of the night every day to deliver fresh tofu to a restaurant on top of Mount Akagi. Even though he just got his driver's license, Takumi's really been driving up and down the curving mountain road for the past five years on a daily basis. It's a long and boring drive, so Takumi started seeing how fast he could fly down the road on his way home. He became faster and faster and started drifting (letting the back end of the car slide out in the direction of the curve) to increase his speed.
After passing a street racer on the mountain road one night, Takumi finds himself the talk of the town. Everyone wants to see him race again, even though he doesn't want to. Was it a fluke that his father's ten year old Toyota Trueno "eight-six" actually beat a souped up GTR? The local street racing gang, the Akina Speed Stars, are desperate to find the mysterious driver and recruit him for their team, and the driver of the GTR desperately wants a rematch, but Takumi isn't really interested in street racing. Subtly pressured by his father, and ex-racer himself, to accept the challenge, Takumi takes on the #2 driver of the Red Suns racing team and wins. This is only the beginning of his troubles however because now every racer in the district wants to be the one to take down the white eight-six.
The show isn't just about racing however. There's also Takumi hanging out with his friends Koichiro (the leader of the Speed Stars) and Itsuki (comic relief) and the problems the three of them have with members of the opposite sex. The most interesting of these stories is with Takumi and the girl he likes Natsuki. Though she likes him a lot, she spends a lot of time with a mysterious older man who likes to buy her expensive things. This plot didn't work itself out in this season and I'm eager to see where they take it. For such a simple story there's a good amount of characterization. Each of the main characters grows and matures over the course of this first season.
This was a good, exciting show. I have no interest in car racing myself, but like all sports anime, this series did a good job of explaining the finer points of the contest. At some point before or during every race someone will ask "Does Takumi have a chance?" and then someone else will calmly explain the disadvantage that he's racing under. The program does a good job of upping the stakes for each race without making it ever seem ridiculous.
The show was made in 1998 and is a mix of CGI and traditional animation. The cars for the most part are computer generated and though these CGI elements don't stick out like they do in some shows, they are only semi-successful at blending with the rest of the show. The cars don't look like they are part of the picture; it looks more like a superimposed image. This isn't terribly distracting though and doesn't interfere with enjoying the show.
One thing that does hamper one's enjoyment of this program are some of the fancy effects they use during the race scenes. Two cars will be approaching a curve and then all of a sudden they'll break the screen into four quadrants all showing the same (small) image. It's like you're suddenly in the multi-player version of Diddy Kong Racing. Other times the left and right halves of the screen will be mirror images of each other. These distract from the action and become yawn inspiring pretty quickly. Luckily they are used less frequently as the series progresses.
This season set seems to be the individual volumes presented in new packaging. The twenty-six episodes that make up the first season come on nine DVDs. (The first episode of the second season is also included.) The discs are housed in one of those horrid fold-out cases, two discs to a page. The disc overlap each other about half way, with one disc raised up higher than the other. The fold-out book is held together with a thin pressboard sleeve. Not the greatest packaging ever, but it does the job.
This set offers viewers the choice of 5.1 audio tracks in either the original Japanese or in English. I alternated audio tracks through the first handful of episodes before I gave up on the English dub. The English voice actors do a good job, but the original music track has been replaced with some horrible rap music that really got on my nerves. It didn't fit in with the rest of the show and was really distracting. Ugh. The music on the Japanese track is much more appealing.
Both tracks made good use of the full sound stage. The rears really come alive during the race scenes and that adds a lot to the atmosphere of the show. Unfortunately when the races are over the show collapses into what is basically a stereo mix. Even that sounds good though as there is a lot of panning. When a car drives across the screen, the engine sounds follow it from one speaker to the next. Overall this was a good sounding show with no distortion or background noise.
The full frame image was fine but not outstanding. The picture was on the soft side, with lines being just a little blurry and not as distinct as I would have liked them. Aliasing also was a problem, with fine lines in the background having a stair-step effect and jittering when the camera passed over them. Cross colorization was also present though not to a great extent. The colors used on the show were a bit dull, but that may have been the look the creators were going for. Aside from those rather minor complaints that picture looks fine.
The set has a fairly standard set of extras spread across the nine discs. Each DVD has a "showroom" section were text pages discuss some of the driving moves in more detail. Most of the discs also have an outtake section full of the English voice actors flubbing their lines. The bonus item that was most interesting was the two part trip up the real Mount Akagi. The host stops at a diner and gets some ramen and talks to people about Initial D before running down the mountain itself. There is also a clean opening and closing sequence.
In the package itself is a 16-page "owner's manual" which includes a list of the Japanese voice actors and their previous work, notes about the manga, a list of songs in the US and Japanese versions, and a selection of Initial D merchandise. Finally there is an Akina Speed Stars window sticker that is pretty cool. It'll look bitchin' in the side window of my 1995 Nissan Altima. Ohhh baby.
This is a fun show. Takumi is an enjoyable character, and he's
a bit different than other characters in sports anime. He's someone
who has a lot of natural ability and has practiced a lot, but doesn't want
to be a star. He's content to pump gas at the station where he works
and only has a limited interest in racing at the beginning of the series.
The races themselves are exciting and the show never goes wanting for action.
Well worth picking up especially in this nice season set. Recommended.