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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Initial D: Fourth Stage, Part 2
Initial D: Fourth Stage, Part 2
FUNimation // Unrated // June 29, 2010
List Price: $59.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by John Sinnott | posted July 2, 2010 | E-mail the Author
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The Series:
FUNimation wraps up the latest Initial D TV series with Initial D - Fourth Stage Part Two.  These final 12 episodes don't quite wrap up the story but brings a nice close to the TV series.  (There's also a compilation special and a one-shot that aired on PPV in Japan that haven't been released in the US.)  This time around Project D battles two other schools, one with some of the best non-pro drivers in the country and another that isn't nearly as skilled.  The latter team makes up for lack of driving acumen with an impressive arsenal of dirty tricks and out and out cheating.   Unfortunately the show still has the same video problems that the last set had, making it a marginal buy.
Series Background:
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.  Every day he wakes up in the middle of the night to deliver fresh tofu to a restaurant on top of Mount Akagi.  Even though he just got his driver's license, he's really been driving up and down the curving mountain road, every day, for five years.  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. 
Over the course of the first two seasons, Takumi took on all comers and became a local hero by beating them just about everyone who wanted to race.  Even drivers with better cars or more finely tuned engines couldn't out-race the young kid.  Every time things would look desperate, Takumi would learn something new about his car or driving itself and pull out a win.  In the third 'stage' (a feature-length film) Takumi is offered the chance to race on an amateur team a local racer is putting together.
In the first set of the Fourth Stage, local racing genius Ryosuke Takahashi created a traveling racing team, Project D and he's let Takumi join as their downhill racer.  Ryosuke's brother Keisuke handles the uphill portion.  The group travels all over Japan challenging the locals to races on their own turf, and not only beating them but often setting new course records in the process.  But it's not always easy.  Each new road is unique and has its own advantages and disadvantages and the locals know the course like the back of their hand. 
The teams they challenge aren't quite random however.  Ryosuke is very smart, and he's developed a theory on racing and what it takes to win.  He's carefully selected each course to train one (or both) of his drivers in some aspect of racing.  Some are picked to hone a technical skill, such as accelerating gradually but consistently, while others are chosen to give the drivers general knowledge about the way their cars run in different circumstances.
Fourth Stage:
These last 12 episodes have Project D facing off against two new racing teams.  The first is a team with limited skills.  The shop that works on their cars has agreed to pay them a hefty sum of money if they win this race, figuring that if the notoriety of beating the lossless Project D will bring the garage a lot of business.  With the added incentive of a pay day if they with the home team resorts to cheating.  First they spread oil across the road when Keisuke is doing a practice runs which causes him to wreck, and then they let Takumi know that a group of thugs have been hired to beat the members of Project D if they win. 
The second half of this set concerns the match with Purple Shadow, a team from Ibaraki prefecture.  Project D's reputation has grown so much that the two founding members of the challenged team come out of retirement to race:  God Foot and God Arm.  Yeah, Project D is good, but can they compete with drivers who have "God" in their nicknames?
I enjoyed this set, but at the same time the series started to become a bit repetitive.  There are only so many last minute come-from-behind wins that the series can have before they become expected.  The races don't have the excitement that they once did, mainly because there aren't any more big tricks for Takumi to pull out of his hat.  The racing techniques that they are now employing are too subtle to make a big splash on the screen and even the writer seems to realize this.  The last person Takumi races has the special ability of being able to drive with one hand on the steering wheel.  Granted this is supposed to illustrate his skill, but it seems a little stupid, and doesn't come across as an advantage at all.
They did focus a lot on Takumi's teammate Keisuke in this set of shows, in a valiant effort to mix things up a bit.  It worked to a certain extent, it was fun hearing what was going through another racer's mind and getting the know Keisuke's style, but it didn't make a huge difference in the show.
One aspect I really like is the off-the-street drama with Takumi and his friends.  If they could balance out that with the multi-episode races a bit more it would make the show stronger.
The great news about this release is that the English dub gets the names right, and the music has not been replaced.  When Tokyopop released the show they changed many of the Japanese names to make them sound less foreign to American viewers.  Takumi was changed to "Tak" and Itsuki became "Iggy".  Yuk.  FUNimation has not made that mistake and though fans who only screened the dubbed versions might be confused, that will only last for a brief moment.
Like the first season, this set of episodes has 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.
The DVD:

This set offers viewers the choice of 5.1 audio tracks in either the original Japanese or in English.  Fans of the English dub may be disappointed to find out that the voice cast has been replaced with new actors.  I was never a fan of the Tokyo Pop dub, so I checked this one out and found that it was fine, but I still preferred the Japanese track.  One area where the English dub is superior is the use of the soundstage.  Unfortunately the Japanese track is only stereo and the 5.1 English track has some impressive aural moments.  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.  The Japanese track does a good job with what there is to work with too.  The track opens up the soundstage with a lot of nicely timed panning.  When a car drives across the screen, the engine sounds follow it from one speaker to the next, which sounds pretty cool.  Overall this was a good sounding show with no distortion or background noise.
Arrgh.  I was terribly disappointed that the 1.78:1 widescreen image was not anamorphically enhanced.  With widescreen sets being so readily available today, there's no reason for a widescreen show not to have an anamorphic transfer, but this one didn't (even though the cover claims it is.)  Aside from that major flaw, the show looks okay.  The image was on the soft side, but the colors were satisfactory and the contrast was fine.   It's just too bad the image is both letterboxed and window boxed on a widescreen TV.
There are no extras included with this set, just a set of FUNimation trailers.
Final Thoughts:
This is a nice ending to a good series.  It's stopping at the right point.  I was never bored watching this show, but when it was over I wasn't sad.  Unfotunatly the non-anamorphic transfer is a real pain and lessens the value of the set.  Even so, it comes recommended, these last two racing challenges are worth sticking around for.
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