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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Initial D: Fourth Stage, Part 1
Initial D: Fourth Stage, Part 1
FUNimation // Unrated // May 11, 2010
List Price: $59.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by John Sinnott | posted May 21, 2010 | E-mail the Author
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The Series:
Takumi Fujiwara is back behind the wheel of his old Trueno 'eight-six' wiping up the competition in Initial D - Fourth Stage Part One.  The young racer has joined a group of very serious amateurs and in doing so has challenged himself even more.  Filled with exciting races and just a touch of drama, the series is still firing on all cylinders.  With the original music left in tact and the names reverting to their original Japanese versions, FUNimation has done this series right at last.  It's only disappointing that the video quality isn't better.  

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.
Fourth Stage:
Local racing genius Ryosuke Takahashi has 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.
Under Ryosuke's tutelage Takumi quickly grows as a racer, intuitively picking up new skills and learning what it takes to be a serious racer.  Which is the reason he's so surprised when he's driving home on his old training ground and he's passes by a mysterious car with no trouble at all.
Like the seasons (and movie) that preceded it, this set of shows is a lot of fun.  There are more races and close calls, but even if you don't know anything about street racing (I certainly don't) the show makes it interesting.  It does a good job of explaining the finer points of each race.  At some point before or during every competition someone will ask "Does Takumi have a chance?" and then another person 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. 
With Takumi's girl friend off in Tokyo at school, there's not a lot of romantic sub-plots with the young racer this time, but there is with his team mate Keisuke.  A girl from Impact Blue, a racing team that appeared in an earlier series, see's the uphill driver perform and gets smitten by his good looks and driving skill.  The only problem is that Keisuke doesn't have time for a girl.  He knows that Takumi is getting better every day, and if he lets up for a second the younger racer will pass him in ability and prestige. 
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:
Even with the non-anamorphic transfer this was a fun series to watch. They creators manage to put Takumi in some interesting positions and it's always fun to see how he works his way out to them.  If you've enjoyed the earlier installments, you'll like these too.  Recommended. 
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