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Initial D Legend 1: Awakening Blu-ray Anime Review

8 min read

A simple life is about to explode into a whole new world.

What They Say:
In Initial D Legend 1: Awakening, when aspiring racer Koichiro Iketani witnesses an unplanned street duel between Keisuke Takahashi, a member of a rival race team, and a mysterious Toyota Sprinter Trueno AE86, Koichiro’s totally blown away by the skill of the 86’s driver. What Koichiro doesn’t know is that the driver is fellow gas station attendant Takumi Fujiwara, who was making a late-night tofu delivery for his father, a legendary Mt. Akina driver himself.

Unforeseen events are about to springboard Takumi into the center of the street-racing world, turning the rivalry between Iketani’s Akina Speedsters and Takahashi’s Akagi Red Suns into an all-out street war! The legendary series that introduced the west to the sport of drift racing is reinvented in an all new feature film that’s even faster and more furious than ever before: NEW THEATRICAL MOVIE INITIAL D LEGEND 1: AWAKENING!

The Review:
The audio presentation for this film brings us the original Japanese language track in 5.1 as well as the English language dub, both of which are encoded using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec. The mix here is one that works really well for the show in that the focus on the racing and the machines is top-notch. The dialogue is well-handled as needed but that’s fairly pedestrian. The racing side, however, really needs it to step up in capturing the sound of both the engines and the road and it does that very well with great placement and sense of depth and accuracy to it. Where it’s not quite up to speed, however, is with the music. Part of it is that I don’t think it could recreate the lightning in a bottle that the first TV series was so it’s going to seem underserved in contrast to it. What they do here with the music is solid and it works well enough but I know I’m just too connected to the past mix for it to match or exceed it.

Originally released in 2014, the transfer for this film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. Animated by Sanzigen and Liden Films, I really like the look of the work here as it feels like it captures the tone and designs of the manga from Shuichi Shigeno while giving it a slick and more modern feeling – all while still being fully of the time period in which it takes place since it’s not reworked into the present day. The cars get the most attention with some great looking curves and motion when in action going through the streets and I love the detail to the interiors of it as well. The character designs are where things get a bit trickier as they were always “ugly” but they found a good way to keep them true to the original designs while smoothing out the flaws a bit so they feel more like reality in a way. The encoding captures all of this very well with a great look to the colors that are rich and solid throughout and hold up perfectly during the high motion sequences.

The packaging for this DVD/BD combo release is kept simple with the black strip along the top listing the two formats while the rest of it is given over to the artwork. It uses a good layered approach with the logo through the middle so that the bottom has the two main cars from this one while the top gives us the headshot block of the cast set against Akina. It’s something that may feel a little off but it seems to work for me in a way that I can’t pin down as there’s almost a nostalgia of sorts to it all. The back cover does a split with the top half using a black background as we get a look at the design of the 8-6 along with a few shots from the film and a good summary of the premise. The bottom half goes for a red background and breaks out the technical information for both formats clearly and accurately as well as having a section for the production information. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.

The menu design for this release goes with a static image that replicates the cover artwork reworked a bit in terms of layout. The background of Akina is definitely a good piece to use here with the sunrise coming through it and just the layered look as it works well in contrast to the character artwork in front of it. The designs are going to be off-putting to some but there’s a charm to them that I like and getting it affirmed here at the start sets the tone well. The navigation strip along the left is using some elements of car design that while I do think works it also looks funky and wonky as hell to the point where I question whether it works. There’s little to the release beyond the film itself but the navigation is a breeze and everything is easy to set up and move around in.

The only extra for this release is the preview of the second feature.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The TV series incarnation of Initial D was a huge thing for me when it hit as it got me into the europop music for a while and it came with the arrival of properly released manga that included this series. Being able to burn through a lot of that manga and enjoy the show all while having the music bleed into the reading experience just made the whole thing a kind of unique thing on its own. So when a new film series was announced that kicked off in 2014 and is set to finish in 2018 with the fourth part I was both excited and nervous. It’s a chance for the property to get a slick modern treatment but it’s also revisiting the property from the beginning again when I really wanted more new material.

In a somewhat shortened way, the film introduces us to eighteen year old Takumi, the son of Bunta Fujisawa that owns a tofu shop and has made his son drive the night time deliveries up and down Mount Akina every night. While pretty much illegal, especially since Takumi just formally got his license, it’s been an experience that has slowly given Takumi a massive amount of skills that he’s completely unaware of. The time spent on the mountain has him knowing every nook and cranny about it, but he’s also been subtly trained by his father with different methods because he used to be a famous street racer himself in his youth, not that Takumi knows this.

What changes things is when Takumi finds himself caught up in events where friends from school and his part-time job at a gas station are part of a downhill racing team called the Akina Speed Stars. They’re challenged by the Red Suns, a group traveling around the different prefectures challenging race teams with a larger plan in mind. Takumi’s blissfully unaware of pretty much everything related to this but Keisuke of the Red Suns had a run-in with him without Takumi even realizing it and that has them looking to bring him in to go against the Red Suns. Not that they know it’s Takumi as initially it’s believed to be Bunta. That brings a smile to the old man’s face and it’s amusing how he sets things in motion to push his son into this world to see if it’s something that he’ll want to pursue. The idea behind it is that you can imagine Takumi would resist following his old man into something like this and he had to be introduced to it in a subtle and kind of tricky way, to discover it on his own..

A lot of that starts to show up more later in the property as a whole but the seeds are definitely here. The opening film just focuses on the initial one-sided battle that occurs between Takumi and Keisuke and then with the Red Suns coming back for a more formal challenge and some exploration of the course in order to be ready for it. The races themselves are definitely engaging and capture all the right things from the manga but at the same time it’s something that just comes across as a more condensed thing. The TV series naturally had more time to linger in different areas and more of the quiet driving that Takumi had to do to show what he’s capable of unknowingly and we had more of the others racing before it got really serious. So there’s a different feeling to how it unfolds and this comes across as tighter and a bit more tense but at the same time it doesn’t have the breadth of character and racing to really let it connect strongly. I suspect some of that will change when you can marathon the film series as a whole but it’s almost a frustrating single-film experience since it clocks in at just an hour.

In Summary:
Initial D is a property that I love but have been disconnected from for a long time with the manga out of print and the TV anime side having fallen off as it has not aged well in most regards. This new film series definitely captures the racing and character side well even though it lacks the room to breathe so that it would be a richer experience. This is a more streamlined approach but one that doesn’t barrel through things to get to the bigger moments and that’s important. The hour that it runs is a solid and engaging experience that looks great, sounds great, and reminds me why I fell in love with this work to begin with. Definitely a very solid release.

Japanese DTS-HD MA 5.1 Language, English DTS-HD MA 5.1 Language, English Subtitles

Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: A
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: N/A

Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: December 5th, 2017
MSRP: $39.98
Running Time: 60 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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