This series has been on my radar for ages now, and I finally got the chance to watch it this weekend. This was especially easy for me since all the animes of Spring ’09 that I decided to watch (excluding FMA: Brotherhood and Cross Game) didn’t compel me in the least to continue watching them. Anime fatigue probably, which is why something as different as Initial D was the perfect thing to get me back on track. Racing is an integral part of Initial D, so there was not much room left for typical anime cliches.
Initial D focuses on the street racing scene in Japan where downhill (and uphill) drifting is all the rage. The anime is set in late 90’s mind you. Anyways, our protagonist is Takumi Fujiwara. A high schooler who’s been making hotel deliveries up in the Akina mountains for his dad’s tofu shop since the 7th grade. This was done at 5am every morning, so in order to get home quickly, he developed a downhill drifting style over the years that made him quite the skilled driver.
The crux of the anime is Takumi basically racing against top drivers of other racing teams in the surrounding areas, who all challenge him once they learn of the legendary AE86 of Akina. Without going into too much detail, I’ll just say that the AE86 is a 2 door, 1986 hatchback, Toyota Corolla with rear-wheel drive and a DOHC 1.6 litre engine. It’s light weight and rear-drive configuration makes it quite ideal for downhill drifting despite pushing out only 150-ish HP.
So that’s basically what the anime is all about, racing, and then people commenting on why each racer and his car is better or worse than Takumi’s AE86 and who should win. The drama in the races comes from the simple fact that Takumi has a seemingly weak car, and almost all his opponents have an upper hand on him in terms of power and course knowledge. So the fun part is seeing our protagonist win, despite all the odds being against him.
I will say that there is some high school drama as well, with typical misunderstandings and ruined relationships, as well as complicated feelings between couples. These things are nicely paced and at perfect intervals between the racing events. A good way of providing more depth to our main characters, but never intervening with what the anime is all about.
Speaking of which, the First Stage ran from Spring to Fall of 1998. Quite old, but the car animations, hand-drawn in most cases and 3D while racing, still holds up after 11 years. The same can’t be said for the Eurobeats in the background that are played during the races. They’re a real turnoff if you don’t like that kind of music. Apart from that, I don’t see any other flaw in the anime. Except that the characters look like fish. The unique character design is as integral to the series as the extremely well modeled cars. Come’s with the territory I suppose.
So in conclusion, Initial D First Stage is a brilliant anime, but not one for those who are not even remotely interested in cars. Series like Cross Game is enjoyable for me not because I love Baseball (I still don’t know much about it) but because of the drama and character development outside the games. While Initial D certainly has the latter, more screen time is focused on the cars and the drifting. So if that sounds like your cup of tea, and you haven’t watched Initial D yet, get it ASAP!
I’ll continue reviewing the rest of the seasons over the coming week, as and when I finish them. Until then…