Initial D

December 9, 2006

I must have been pulling the greatest disappearing act whenever it comes to watching Initial D – The First Stage. What do I mean? Somehow when it’s time to watch the show, I’ll be out most of the time, thus missing it. So you can also say that my absentee record for the show is quite high. So much so if this were to happen to me in real life, I’d be on the warning list and probation period.
 
But I manage to catch a few episodes here and there, especially the last few episodes of the first season. However it wasn’t enough in general to draw a detailed and in-depth analysis (yeah, right) for the overall anime. And since I’ve read a few episode summaries and guides here and there over the internet, I think I’ll probably get by (yeah, right also). So this is what I’ve figured out. Besides, how bad could it be, since there’re only 26 episodes in the first season, right (yeah, yeah hopefully).
 
We’ve got this 17 year old high school goer named Takumi Fujiwara who has a hidden talent for mountain and drift racing. And maybe it’s not just talent, he’s probably a racing prodigy. Of course, at first he isn’t aware about it. Since his cigarette smoking father, Bunta, runs a tofu shop, Takumi has to help out with the deliveries that customers made by delivering tofu orders through the mountainous and steep curvy roads of Mt Akina in his Toyota AE86 Trueno.
 
Because of that and in a way, that is where he hone his driving skills. How can one improve their driving skills by just delivering tofus, you ask? Well, it’s like this. Since Takumi has to do his deliveries at night, he wants to finish the job fast so that he can go home early. And that means, he’s got to drive fast and power slide through every turn and corner on Mt Akina. Plus, since he’s doing it nearly every night, he’s already memorized each and every nook and corner of the road. Yeah, looks like he can drive with his eyes closed too. But too much of doing something isn’t good. Because of this, he gets bored with driving, thus that’s why he looks expressionless with that ‘boring’ look. So much so that even when he’s driving he drives with one hand on the steering while he rests his right elbow on the side door at the same time supporting his right cheek with his clenched right fist. And all that with no expression on his face while driving too. That boring, huh? Besides this job, Takumi also works part time as a gas station attendant along with some of his classmate buddies.
 
Another thing I find amusing which also helped Takumi improved his driving skills is where before he sets off for his delivery, his dad would usually put a cup of water in the cup holder as some sort of a ‘tofu indicator’. Meaning? According to him, the tofu in the boot is just like the water in the cup and if the water spills out during the journey, then the tofu is ‘broken’. Vice versa. One can safely assume that the tofu would still be in good condition if the water didn’t spill throughout the journey. Uh-huh. And Takumi has become so good at it, that whenever he takes a corner at high speed, he doesn’t even spill a tiny drop. That’s damn good.
 
Takumi’s mundane life is about to change on one fateful night when he inadvertently beats a mountain racer guy named Keisuke Takahashi in a Mazda RX-7 FD3S. And this isn’t a race either. So what do you think if someone from some racing team gets beaten by a tofu driver delivery boy? It goes beyond his ego and it would be quite embarrassing too. So he wants a rematch with the mysterious driver of AE86. Yup, at first the incident spread like wild fire about the amazing and superb skills of the AE86 driver and nobody knew who it was. Takumi didn’t even suspect himself because firstly he isn’t interested in racing stuffs and secondly… he didn’t know that the car he was driving is AE86. Yeah, he just know it’s a Toyota Trueno, that’s all. *Smack*.
 
News of this even reach Takumi’s buddies, the loud and obnoxious (sometimes show-off) Itsuki Takeuchi and Iketani Kouichiro, both whom are racing fanatics. These 2 didn’t think at first that Takumi’s the mysterious driver behind AE86 as he seems pretty ignorant about racing stuffs at first. But later on, they eventually find out it’s him, to their shock. At first, Takumi’s pretty much reluctant to accept race challenges because… he’s not interested. Yeah, he doesn’t care for all that racer pride and ego crap. Even when Keisuke offers a rematch, he’s pretty sure 100% that the AE86 driver will turn up for it eventhough there wasn’t any reply.
 
But I guess, Takumi eventually had to give in as his father ‘blackmails’ him about something about using the car for the weekend, with a filled up tank. Something like that. So no harm, to try out, right? Yup, and so slowly bit by bit Takumi will be drawn into the underground world of mountain racing. And from there as he learns from other race drivers and gains experience to hone his superb driving skills. Plus, there’s one time where Itsuki pretends to be the mysterious AE86 driver, only to get himself into trouble. Thus, Takumi has no choice but to help his best friend out.
 
Hey, wait a minute. Did I say Takumi needs to use the car for the weekend? Okay, he’s got a girl admirer too, Natsuki Mogi, who is also Takumi’s classmate and possibly love interest. I’m not pretty sure how their relationship develops throughout the series. The last time I remembered, it’s like they both kinda like each other but not to the extend that they knew the other party has a crush on him/her. Some subtle hints here and there that you know suggests that he/she likes him/her. That kind of situation. But I think, the 2 would eventually develop into a couple. Maybe. I heard she does ‘compensated dating’ whereby school girls get paid to date older men. I’m not sure about this part but I read, that’s part of her character role. It’s going to be tough when the truth’s revealed. But I’ll just leave it there.
 
Later on in the series too, Takumi unofficially becomes part of a 4 member team called the Akina Speedstars. Besides having having Iketani as the team leader and Itsuki, the other member of the team is Kenji, who is Iketani’s best friend. I think he’s a non-high school goer as I don’t see him in the same class as the other 3, plus he hangs out with the gang at the gas station. Also, the owner of the gas station, Yuuichi Tachibana, is a very close friend of Bunta, and just like the latter in their younger years, he used to be a racer too.
 
It may seem at first that Itsuki and Iketani relies on Takumi to do the ‘talking’ during races as they know he’s their secret and ultimate weapon for victory. But they too wanted to improve their skills and practice them whenever they have the chance to do so. Well, they may learn a thing a two from Takumi but it’s a reciprocal thing as Takumi too learns from them. I like the part in one of the early episode where Iketani’s all hyped up and excited as he’s gonna see first hand Takumi’s driving skills. Sitting next to the driver’s seat, as Takumi’s speeding and approaching the first corner, Iketani then becomes afraid as he’s going too fast. Waaaarrrgh!!! He’s in for the ride of his life. And that slide and drifting… so close to the railing. Iketani’s eyes must be popping out. Yeah, he can’t believe it. And by the 3rd turn, he’s already passed out. Haha. Looks like he chickened out. He’s got a long way to go if he’s gonna be a successful mountain racer.
 
Also, this is the same scenario as Bunta takes the AE86 out for spin with Yuuichi sitting next to him in a much later episode towards the end of the series. Hahaha. Also same thing but Yuuichi didn’t faint. He’s just got the fright of his life. Though Bunta’s old and retired already, his skills seems to remain intact. Hey, one thing I noticed is that since Bunta’s eyes is always closed most of the time, I wonder how he keeps his eyes on the road. Yeah, it’s pretty funny to see him driving with his ‘closed eyes’. And your driving instructor always tell you to keep your eyes peeled at all times on the road. So funny and weird. Maybe he knows every inch of the road in his head still. I think his name is derived ironically from the malay word ‘buta’ meaning blind. Hehehe. Just made that up.
 
Okay, now the races that Takumi tackled in the first season. As far as I’m concerned, he had 6 races in total. And to sum it all up, he won each one of them. Well, it wouldn’t be right if the hero loses, right? If so, then there wouldn’t be any other racers to challenge him since he lost and they would then want to challenge that racer who beat the AE86. Seems pretty logical to me.
 
So the first race Takumi raced with is of course the rematch between him and Keisuke, a member of the race team Akagi Redsuns. So it’s like this for this race and for the rest of the other races. As the 2 slide and drift from corner to corner, closely trailing each other, pursuing side by side, we see some in-depth race analysis from the racer’s point of view and sometimes predicting what his opponent is gonna do. Some close up on the driver’s face because there’s nothing else better to show other than the action from outside the car in a heated neck to neck battle. A lot of techno music to pump one’s adrenaline and get viewers into the mood.
 
And since it’s a long and winding road, there’re some sort of ‘reporters’ who report back through some walkie-talkie, to the main teams waiting at the start and finish line the current situation when the racers zoom past them. And in most races, Takumi is usually trailing his opponent from behind, watching and observing his every move. Then just a few turns before the finish line, Takumi would pull off some terror overtaking slidiing and drifting manoevure and overtake his opponent, or his opponent makes a little mistake which gives Takumi an opportunity to overtake, then the AE86 will accelarate straight home pass the chequered flag. And sometimes the opponent would be in a little shocked that they lost to the AE86 driver at first, but later acknowledges and respects his supreme and excellent driving skills. They would probably expect a lot from him in future races. And so that’s the case for Keisuke. Yup, he lost for the second time. Now Takumi’s reputation is fast growing among the world of the underground racers.
 
So Takumi’s next opponent is the leader of the racing team Myogi Night Kids, Takeshi Nakazato in a black Nissan Skyline GTR V-Spec II. Takeshi’s pretty surprised that such a talented Keisuke could lose to an unknown newcomer. Thus, he decides to challenge Takumi and defeat him. But you know what? The same thing. He lost too.
 
Then Takumi’s third opponent is also from Myogi Night Kids racing team. He is Shingo Shouji who is a skilfull but dangerous driver in his Honda Civic EG6. Although he is part of the Myogi Night Kids, he detests Takeshi and sees him unfit to be the leader of the team. Yup, he’s got his own agenda to be the leader of this racing team. And his gonna do it by proving that he can take down the AE86 driver in a handicapped race called the Death Match. Uh-huh, this guy thinks that racing normally uphill and downhill Mt Akina is boring so he suggests that they duct tape one of their hands to the steering wheel while they race throughout the racing duration. Of course this would limit the driver’s steering and turning capabilities, but Shingo finds it fun and exciting. Unfortunately, Takumi beats Shingo at his own game. Another win notched up for the AE86 and the Akina Speedstars.
 
The next opponent Takumi faced would be a little different. Why? Firstly, the opponent’s a female by the name of Mako Satou who drives a Nissan SilEighty. Secondly, they’re not racing at Mt Akina, but at Usui, which is Mako’s racing home ground. Actually, Takumi got into this because of Iketani in the first place. Yeah, that guy seems to like Mako and since Mako’s gonna retire from such racing, she wants to race with AE86 and beat him as her farewell gift. So Iketani tried to persuade Takumi to go race with her but eventually regretted his actions for being selfish. However Takumi said he wouldn’t mind as he wants to try out a different track.
 
Besides, Mako has a best friend which is her co-driver as well during races, Sayaka. I wonder why she’s bring along an extra passenger during races. I mean, don’t you think there’s a little unnecessary extra weight there? Inseparable best friends is one thing, but this? Dunno. Yeah, I also felt that Sayaka’s sometimes like a backseat driver, at times commenting on things, suggesting what Mako should do and from time to time critisizing her (just to lift her fighting spirits). So as expected, our dear Takumi manages to beat and amaze Mako and Sayaka at their home ground. This proves that Takumi can also learn and adapt quickly anywhere at any condition. See, he’s such a talented and expert racer.
 
By this time, Takumi must have already made his mark in the underground racing world and gained attention from other racers. So finally, the leader of the Akagi Redsuns racing team, Ryosuke Takahashi, who is also Keisuke’s older brother, offered his challenge to race with Takumi. Actually, he made his appearance quite early in the series when Keisuke’s battling Takumi. But he didn’t want to jump on the I-must-beat-that-AE86-driver bandwagon as he isn’t prepared yet. At least this guy’s thinking. This guy has also some terror reputation in the underground racing world, like he’s never lost a race before. Thus this race between him and Takumi is viewed as some ‘ultimate giant battle of the kings’ and fans of the sport wouldn’t miss the chance to watch them battle it out. Hey, even Natsuki’s there to watch the race.
 
But before this battle, we’ve got a little ‘side show’ battle between Keisuke and Takeshi. Yup, those 2 who were beaten by the AE86 decides to race to see who gets the right to have their rematch again with AE86 in the future. I think it’s like that lah. So for the first time, there’s no AE86 involved in the race. That’s why I say it’s a ‘side show’. Hehe. Anyway, Keisuke won the race. Takeshi says that he accepted his defeat to Keisuke this time because he was lucky. But Keisuke denied and told him that he won based on his skill and not luck.
 
As Takumi gets ready for the rest, he’s stopped by an aspiring young member of the Akagi Redsuns, Kenta Nakamura. He looks up and admires Keisuke a lot and he wants to prove his mark in the team by going up against Takumi by telling him that in order to have the right to race with Ryosuke, Takumi has to beat him first. So, this is Takumi’s fifth opponent, though most viewers won’t regard it as an actual race, but I do. That’s because, this race is the shortest and only lasts for 1 epsiode. Maybe even shorter than that.
 
But beware though, even though Kenta’s still an amateur driver in his Nissan Silvia S14, he’s specialized in rainy and wet conditions, because he believes such wet conditions wouldn’t wear his tyres out so easily. Yup, and just Takumi’s luck that it’s starting to drizzle that night. As mentioned, Takumi’s a fast learner and adapter when it comes to races. And since Kenta’s still a rookie, which mean that this race already belongs to Takumi, though Kenta made a good start at first.
 
And so the final race begins. But this race is a little different from the rest which made Takumi sweat and worried a little. Why? Could it be because he is the big boss of all bosses? Nope. As the roads of Mt Akina are narrow, you can’t actually race side by side for the entire duration. So it’s usually one car leading and the other chasing. Yup, for the first time, Takumi’s in front and Ryosuke in his Mazda Savanna FC3S is following him close by behind. Ryosuke’s at an advantage because he gets to watch, observe and analysis Takumi as he heads into each corner first. And that’s what’s Takumi’s been doing all these previous races. No more that boring expressionless look now, huh?
 
And maybe part of the tension caused Takumi to lose a little focus and he made a little mistake. This of course opened up an opportunity for Ryosuke to overtake him, which he did. Not only that, Takumi’s losing a little ground after that mistake and there’s a gap opening between them. Is Takumi gonna lose this one? Well, it ain’t over till the fat lady sings. After some self-encouragement and self-believing words and thoughts, Takumi manages to catch up once again and he did an impossible and unthinkable move (at least that’s what Ryosuke thinks) at the last corner and overtook him. As Takumi accelerates towards the finish line, Ryosuke knew he had been beaten already and decelerates even before he crosses the line.
 
Yahoo! The whole Akina Superstars are in ecstasy. They couldn’t believe it. They’ve won! They’ve beaten and overcome the toughest of their adversaries. And the underground racing world will now hail the new champion! With that, Ryosuke temporarily ‘retires’ from racing. Meaning he won’t be actively involved in races but will so in the background as he has faith in his younger brother to take the team to glory. After some ‘after race’ talk between Takumi and Ryosuke, they parted ways.
 
And this is just the beginning for Takumi. Yeah, there’ll be even more challengers who wants a piece of AE86 and beat him for ultimate success. I guess when you’re at the top, everybody wants to take you down. Probably it’s the faster way of achieving fame and glory by just beating the top guy rather than going through file and rank, beating lowly and inferior subordinates to mediocre henchmen to high end sub-bosses.
 
That’s the case as the series has gone to produce another tv series like the second stage and fourth stage, and even a full-length movie third stage. And there’re also the extra stage and battle stage as OVA. Plus, I’ve read somewhere that they’re even in production of the fifth stage and will soon be released somewhere in 2007. Wow! That’s a lot of races Takumi has to go through.
 
But my guess that Takumi is gonna win everyone of them. You know the reason, right? If there’s any race he lost, I’m sure it won’t be a significant one or there’s some catch to it. In addition, I don’t think the other stages will be entirely on Takumi, maybe a little focus on the other racers that Takumi has beaten and perhaps their battles with other new racers. I guess that’s how the main storyline will be.
 
However, I’m not planning to watch all those sequels and OVAs because since I’ve missed quite a lot here, most probably I won’t be able to understand things in the next. Though, in the first season, there’re are some detailed explanation of terms and stuffs about mountain racing and drifting, but I don’t seem to get it. Since, I’m not the kind of guy who’s into cars, so I guess everything here seems alien and too technical to me.
 
Music wise, though I’m not a fan of techno music, but I somehow felt that such music played during the races were quite appropriate. Yeah, each racing scene accompanied by those background techno music gets me a little excited to see the races. Hey, you can’t have slow country folk or blues music in such situation, can’t you? Besides, it’s a racer’s kind of music. Don’t you notice, those racer wannabes with modified cars, playing such loud bass thumping music that could almost shake the ground? Also some Japanese rap and rock songs here and there and slow ones during those non-racing moments. Nothing that memorable, though. The ending credits unlike many other animes, partly shows the band performing for that particular ending theme instead of the all-animation art throughout its duration.
 
As for the drawing, the series mixes 2D with 3D computer graphics. The latter is usually used for when the cars are duelling it out. It seems pretty cool and awesome though with those high speed chases and when the cars slide and drift into the corner. But as for the 2D drawing. It sucks. Sorry if the word seemed so strong. That’s because the characters here seemed ‘ugly’. Yeah, especially the girls. They just looked plain horrible. Even I think the prettiest one, Natsuki, doesn’t seem that pretty at all. Though the guys are better looking but they still look ugly. Must be the lips. And Itsuki looks more like a clown (in which case, his character’s supposed to be a clown, providing some comic relief). Even the Hong Kong movie production several years ago which stars Jay Chou, Chapman To, Edison Chen and Anne Suzuki looked much more handsome and prettier.
 
But I saw a few clips of the second stage and it looks like the drawing and art has improved a little. Though, generally the characters still have that ‘ugly’ look, but the drawing seems smoother and brighter as compared to the first stage. Also, the colouring here looks brighter and not too dark and dull as the previous one.
 
I can’t really say much about the character development as I didn’t stay and watch through every second of the series (okay, that was a little exaggerating). But by the end I could see that other than Takumi growing into a skilled driver, he seems find his calling and becomes excited again not only when he’s racing but as a spectator as well. And most probably in the sequels, we’ll get to see how Takumi and Natsuki’s relationship develops since Natsuki also accepts Takumi as a racer by the end of the first season. And maybe involvement of the other members of the Akina Superstars in mountain races. Their personal problems, their fight, their struggle, you know those things which made friends bond even closer.
 
So one final word though. DO NOT try and imitate or get into mountain or drift racing. No matter how interesting it looks or how talented you are, this is for entertainment purposes only. Just be a spectator and just watch the series. DO NOT get involve because IT IS ILLEGAL AND DANGEROUS. *Sighs*. Looks like I’m doing some community service here. Hehehe. But will people listen? Not when there’s so much ‘pride and ego’ on the line. Maybe. Maybe not.