The town of Akina is home to a mountain pass claimed by the local street racing team, the Akina Speedstars. Well, “team” is a strong word. They’re mostly just a group of friends who love cars and racing on the mountain. Their pride takes a blow though, when the Akagi Red Suns come to town intending to beat the best racers Akina has to offer and breaking every record on the pass. The Speedstars know they’re greatly outmatched by the legendary Takahashi brothers and the Red Suns, but they’ve recently heard tell of a Trueno 86–an old car that flies like a ghost down the mountain pass. The Eight-Six is their only hope. Problem is it’s driven by the wholly unmotivated Takumi Fujiwara–a high schooler who only drives the Trueno for his family’s tofu business. Takumi and the Eight-Six are a formidable pair, and if he can be convinced to get behind the wheel of his car and face the Red Suns, then an unmatched legend in the world of street racing may very well be born.
Initial D is probably the biggest sports series I’ve never delved into (Slam Dunk is also a top contender). I’m not entirely sure how I want to write about the franchise because I watched…a lot of it, and it seems almost wrong to break it down into different entries. So, I think I’m just gonna ramble about Initial D and why I love it so much.
Without further ado:
Takumi is great. My absolute favorite thing is he only agrees to race against Keisuke Takahashi when his dad promises to fill the Trueno’s tank, and Takumi has a hot date with Natsuki Mogi coming up. That is the most teenage boy thing ever, and I love seeing that in a sports series. I also appreciate there’s never any drama when it comes to his relationship(s) and racing. Well, one rarely affects the other. There’s always plenty of drama. Esepcially when Takumi finds out Natsuki is partaking in compensated dating (basically prostitution for minors) and has been doing so for quite some time. This leads Takumi to challenging a guy he’s nowhere near ready for, and Takumi gets stomped. No one counts it as an actual loss, but it’s something that never leaves Takumi.
See, Takumi starts as a lackadaisical teen who doesn’t see why driving is so special, but he gradually becomes a driven (pun intended) competitor and one of the most respected drivers on the mountain passes once he joins the Takahashi brothers. And when I say gradually, I do mean gradually. The bug bites him early, but it takes a while for Takumi to finally decide he’s now racing to be the fastest on Japan’s mountains. He’s a solid lead, and man, I need a toy of the Eight-Six.
But, what’s a sports protagonist without his rivals?
Obviously, the Takahashi brothers, Ryousuke and Keisuke, are the most prominent. They’re the ones who spur Takumi on into the world of street racing, and they’re the ones who keep tabs on him and bring him into Project D later on. Keisuke is his most prominent rival even though they only race once (think Ippo and Miyata from Hajime no Ippo). The growth of one motivates the other not only in skill but also as individuals. Which is what Ryousuke always wanted. He’s arguably the best driver in the series, but his whole goal is to groom his brother and Takumi into becoming greater than he ever had the chance to be.
The other teams Takumi goes up against like the Night Kids, Emperor, Impact Blue, Purple Shadow, and Sidewinder often make for exciting racers. I legitimately never knew if Takumi would be able to come out on top. I mean, there are other teams, but those are the most notable. And really, Takumi’s greatest rival is his own dad–Bunta Fujiwara.
Bunta and Takumi only have one incredibly short unofficial race, but Takumi gets absolutely dusted by his old man. See, the reason the Eight-Six is such a beast on the downhills is because Bunta was once a street racer and has kept his baby in top form. Bunta’s secretly been training his son for years to become a racer, and Takumi never really noticed. Bunta’s a stoic figure often seen smoking and commenting on his son’s races, but Takumi would love nothing more than to overtake his dad as the true greatest driver of the Trueno 86.
Takumi also has a couple of love interests throughout the series. Natsuki is the first and–I mean no offense to Mika Uehara–most interesting. I mentioned the compensated dating earlier. It’s a pretty big thing since I can’t think of anything else I’ve watched or read where that’s a major plot point in the main romance. The show does condemn Natsuki’s actions, but it’s mainly because she kept doing it while she was courting Takumi. In her defense, it was just a way to earn money to her, and she decided to call it off when she realized how much Takumi meant to her. And the anime clearly portrays Takumi being in the wrong when he flies off the handle and races Kyoichi Sudo–the aforementioned first loss. I was legitimately sad when they broke up and Natsuki moved to Tokyo to find herself. As much as I like Mika, my headcanon is Takumi and Natsuki meet back up years down the road and rekindle their relationship.
Mika’s fine in her own way. She debuts by slapping Takumi across the face thinking he broke her friend’s heart. She’s decent enough to realize her mistake and make up for it though. It’s easy to see how they hit it off. She’s something of a high school golf prodigy thanks to her dad’s training, and Takumi’s a monster on the downhills thanks to Bunta’s machinations. The two have clearly defined dreams, and they admire that in each other.
Takumi’s circle of friends–the Speedstars–I can really either take or leave. I like Iketani and Kenji, but they’re rarely more than “Those Two Guys.” Granted, Iketani gets a decent amount of screentime thanks to his tragic-ish romance with the driver of Impact Blue Mako Satou, but he never comes off as that great a character. Itsuki, on the other hand, is a true ride or die brother, and I love that guy. He has Takumi’s back from day one and always supports his dude.
Lonely Drive for life.
Extra Stage 2
I know I’m mainly focusing on the characters here, but that’s mainly because I don’t think I’d be able to do the races justice. Despite my love of car-related movies and shows (Fast and Furious is actually my sh*t), I know next to nothing about cars. Whenever they start talking about the suspension, traction, and all that rigamaroll, I just kinda had to grin and accept it. I’m sure it’s all quite technical and accurate, but I couldn’t confirm it. The races are hella fun though. Like I said earlier, I was taken in by most of them. There are a few where you never doubt the outcome, but even then, you love seeing Takumi and Project D doing their thing.
And man, dat soundtrack. Genuinely one of my favorite soundtracks in all of anime.
If you’re looking to get into Initial D, there are a couple of big hurdles. The first, most evident of these is the look of the show. First Stage premiered in 1998–just the right time for wonky-ass CG cars to reign supreme. I’m not one of those who’s immediately put off by something if it doesn’t look great, but man, that late ’90s CG can get rough. The characters also don’t have appealing designs at the outset, but after one or two episodes in, they grew on me. I’m a fan of the art style now. The other massive hurdle is availability.
Funimation has the rights to the first four “stages” and the first Extra Stage. You can easily check those out on the awful Funimation app or purchase the DVDs legally in the United States. That’s all well and good, but there’s still Extra Stage 2, Fifth Stage, and Final Stage after that. And the Battle Stage compilations with some extra Keisuke races, but I didn’t watch those so I don’t really count them. Still though, that’s a decent chunk of the series that just hasn’t been licensed. A friend of mine was very generous in getting me those last stages on a jump drive so I could finish the anime. I am 100% against piracy if it’s legally available, but I was left with no other means. I really hope Funimation gets on the ball here.
It took 16 years, multiple TV series, movies, and OVAs, but Initial D did wrap up in 2014. Even after all this, however, I’m not done with the franchise. There are still the three movies adapting First Stage, the PS3 game Extreme Stage, the live action film starring Jay Chou, the manga, and even the TokyoPop dub for the early stages I still plan on checking out. Hell, Shuuichi Shigeno–Initial D‘s creator–is even working on a sequel series now. It really is the gift that keeps on giving.
And that’s gonna do it for the 2019 Summer of Anime…in the middle of fall…just in time for me to dread writing about the current season.
- First Stage–9/10
- Second Stage–9/10
- Extra Stage–7/10
- Third Stage–8/10
- Fourth Stage–8/10
- Extra Stage 2–7/10
- Fifth Stage–8/10
- Final Stage–9/10