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Initial D Season 1 Complete Collection Anime DVD Review

12 min read

Fast and furious, but all downhill…

What They Say
Who is the Ghost of Akina?

When Keisuke Takahasi of the infamous Red Suns racing team accidentally witnesses normal, everyday tofu delivery boy Takumi Fujiwara’s, expert drift technique, Takumi’s life shifts into high gear. Keisuke challenges him to a racing battle and the race reasults in Takumi plunging headlights first into the white-knuckle, adrenaline rushing world of underground mountain-pass street racing.

The Review!
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in English. The audio is a huge part of this show and it across well. The 5.1 track is also very well used in providing forward soundstage directionality with the car engines and movements. Dialogue throughout this is crisp and clear and we had no issues. We did sample some of the Japanese audio in the series and noticed that the music mix is significantly different. From this reviewer’s perspective, the English music mix provided a greater sense of intensity and drama during the driving sequences.

Originally airing back in 1998, Initial D has a decent looking transfer that makes the best of the materials. The show uses a mix of traditional animation and computer graphic effects. The CG is primarily used with the cars and racing sequences. Frame jitter was noticeable during the various scene transitions. This occurs when the CG switches over to cell animation and vise versa. For a series that was one of the first pioneers to combine CG and cell animation, I can excuse the jitters. There’s a touch of cross coloration in a few scenes and a very light amount of aliasing. Overall, the colors look good if somewhat dull by design.

The thickpack collection (it’s thick because it contains 9 discs) is packaged in a folded jacket that folds into a box and has a cardboard sheath to keep the contents secure. The front of the sheath displays the Initial D logo in English and Japanese. The cover also shows Takumi Fujiwara on front with CG images of the fastest cars in the series, including his Toyota Eight-Six. The back of the sheath features a brief description of the episodes. The foldable jacket that houses the 9 discs uses the disc-on-disc (or two discs per plastic housing) stacking design. You get a brief description of the drivers and their cars when you remove the discs from their respective panels. This was a nice design, but I think it could have been packaged better by using the thinpack design that is commonly used with whole series releases.

The menus here are a really slick, courtesy of the excellent designs by Nightjar. Splitting up the screen a bit, the top three quarters of the screen has several race scenes from the show playing done in a colored filter that looks great while playing the sound effects to it as opposed to music. The bottom half of the discs provide a nice shot of one of the featured cars (ie. Eight-Six, Skyline GTR, etc…) along with the selection options. Submenus load quickly and access times are nice and fast. When the disc first loads, it lets you choose which version you want to play (via a license plate style format for Classic and Enhanced) and you can readjust it later in the settings menu, including the video choice.

The extras provided with this collection are a great way for a newbie to learn about all of the technical jargon used in downhill racing and to acclimate oneself to all of the cars in the show. The owner’s manual in the collection is a neat addition that outlines that main characters, voice cast, history of the manga, and the music in both the Classic and Enhanced versions. There are some plugs for additional Initial D merchandise that are available. Each disc contains many of the extras that are included on the individual DVD releases. The video clip footage featuring Mount Akagi, one of the actual locations for which Initial D: First Stage is based off of was a great treat. The roads are just as treacherous in real life as they are depicted in the anime. It’s interesting to see how they’ve modified the road to handle all the people who race down it. Other extras that have transitioned over from the single releases are the dub outtakes as well as the vehicle showcase galleries that provide a detailed look at the cars and technical terms. It’s nice to see that many of the extras and features in the single releases were not withheld from the collection.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers).
Predating the Fast and the Furious movies, Initial D is a show that will appeal to those who love fast cars, illegal racing, with just the right touch of teenage drama.
Unbeknownst to this reviewer, Initial D is an anime series that sparks just as much excitement for a number of fans as it does dread for others. This is a series where it appears that nobody goes down the middle of the road in how they feel about it. This is especially true when it comes to the two versions (Classic and Enhanced). The controversy appears to grow bigger and bigger the more I researched the topic, especially when you add in changes to the manga and the hardcore Initial D fans.

Previous reviews of the series have focused on the Classic rendition of the anime voiced in its original Japanese format. Therefore, this reviewer has chosen to take the road less traveled and has delved into reviewing Initial D from the controversial dubbed version, or Enhanced version, in an attempt to share a fresh perspective that may appeal to the anime fan that has not experienced this classic in anime. In no means is this review to establish grounds for judging which format is the best. Take it for face value and see for yourself which version you like best.

Initial D, is a surprisingly addictive and fun story to watch that does not require the viewer to cerebrally analyze the plot and each character’s purpose in life. Simply put, Initial D is about fast cars and racing. Set against the backdrop of Mt. Akina and the city below it, we’re introduced to high school student Takumi “Tak” Fujiwara and his best friend Itsuki “Iggy” Takeuchi. Iggy is a major car fanatic that longs for the day he can buy his own car. Tak doesn’t care much particularly. In fact, Tak is the kind of person who has that laid-back, almost nearly asleep, look on his face that causes people to be unsure if he’s paying attention.

With Iggy’s love of racing and Mt. Akina having its own local heroes in a downhill racing team, the Speed Stars, it’s not long before Iggy convinces Tak to go with him to a Saturday night race. It happens that one of their co-workers, Koichiro “Cole” Iketani, at the gas station is actually the leader of the Speed Stars. Just about everyone who works at the gas station is into cars and downhill racing, including the older owner who used to do a fair bit of it in his youth. Tak is so disconnected from the car world that when he’s actually there at the race, he’s pretty oblivious to most of the details and lingo. Iggy’s continual rambling about racing, day in and day out, has obviously had little effect on Tak’s racing knowledge. Iggy is one of those characters that is loud and gets excited about everything. It makes one wonder how Tak puts up with him. The opening event at Mt. Akina doesn’t go well for Speed Stars when they are challenged by a surprise visit from the Akagi Red Suns. After getting completely blown away by the second stringers of the team, the Speed Stars are in shock. To make things worse, the Takahashi brothers, the Red Suns’ top drivers, decide that they want to do a formal downhill race the following weekend in order to claim the all-time downhill record for Mt. Akina.

Keisuke “K.T.” Takahashi spends time later that same night becoming familiar with the Mt. Akina roads. Unexpectedly, he finds himself dueling against a mysterious car that comes out of nowhere. His car, a Mazda RX-7, is specialized for downhill racing so it’s only more shocking when he discovers that he’s racing against a Toyota Eight-Six, a car that’s easily ten years or more out of date. A humiliating loss brings about a real sense of anticipation for the next race as K.T. is sure that the driver must be a Speed Star.

Of course, it’s easy to figure out that the driver was actually Tak. As we learn, even though he just received his license, Tak has been driving for his father’s tofu shop for the past five years. His father is actually one of the legends of racing in the area and has been using his own subtle methods to teach Tak proper downhill driving. Tak’s father uses a rather crude, but effective teaching technique by having Tak make tofu deliveries in a certain amount of time. Tak is also challenged with not spilling a full cup of water that rests in the console drinking cup holder. By sloshing the water, Tak would, in essence, be damaging the tofu that is to be delivered. Tak is so dense that he doesn’t take in any of the technical sides of driving, but rather treats it as something he has to do in order to make his old man happy. It’s nothing special for him, but what he does is amazing to others. This is something that most would spend their entire lives trying to acquire. As one would expect, Tak beats K.T. in his first race as a member of the Speed Stars, of course at the urging of Cole and Iggy, who quickly discovered Tak’s hidden ability. Thus, a racing star and an ensuing rivalry develop between Tak and K.T. along with numerous others.

Downhill racing is the central theme of Initial D. However, there is a significant amount of solid character development going on. Tak begins to take interest in a fellow classmate, Natsuki “Natalie” Mogi. There’s more than meets the eye when it comes Natalie and her background. She likes expensive things and fast cars. Natalie has a mystery about her that is complex. Their relationship development grows deeper as the series progresses, even to a point where it appears to affect Tak’s focus on the races. Tak’s relationship with his father begins to take on more of teacher/student relationship as Tak begins to slowly develop an interest in becoming a downhill racer much like his infamous father. Tak’s father even begins to covertly modify the Eight-Six for Tak’s upcoming races as he is challenged by more and more experienced racers.

Tak’s resolve is not for attaining glory, but to finish first in every race he participates. Often, Tak is seen driving away from the finish line while his buddies gloat about his victory. Tak is a guy who takes life as it hits him while Iggy lives for the moment and tries in every way to be like Tak. He even purchases a Toyota Eight-Five, which looks almost exactly like Tak’s Eight-Six. Cole is the character that has the worst luck of any guy. If Cole didn’t have bad luck, he wouldn’t have any luck at all. His love for racing takes second chair to Tak’s better racing skills. Cole falls for a girl, Mako “Maya” Sato, whom he unexpectedly meets in a parking lot. It just so happens that Maya is a member of the “Angels of Usui”. Maya and her best friend/navigator, Syuki “Simone” are the fastest on Mt. Usui. Cole and Maya hit it off great and share a common interest in cars and racing. And though Maya does like him, she’s really only thinking about being able to get Cole to do what she wants, and that’s to use him to persuade Tak to accept her challenge to a race on Mount Usui. Maya gets her wish, but is defeated by the Ghost of Akina. A botched up date between Cole and Maya leaves the viewer wondering if they will ever get back together.

Much like fight in an atypical shounen anime series, Initial D, takes the fight to the finish line across several episodes. Many of the races are “nail biters” as each one Tak participates takes on a significant increase in difficulty and danger. Rival racing teams such as the Red Suns, Night Kids, and the Angels of Usui, pose a greater threat to Tak’s undefeatable record. The dreaded “Duct Tape Death Match” race with Shingo, of the Night Kids, puts Tak up against all odds as he narrowly escapes defeat. Win after win makes the viewer begin to wonder who can come close to matching Tak’s skills as a downhill racer? The answer is undoubtedly none other than Ryosuke “Ry” Takahashi of the Red Suns. The end of the first stage culminates in a two-episode downhill race in Akina where Tak pits his skills against the undefeated Ry, who is definitely one of the best racers in the area. Ry studies long and hard to understand how to defeat his adversaries. He’s worked years to perfect his theory on what kind of driver can be the invincible type and he’s finally found this ideal in Tak. Will perseverance and hard work overcome intuition and natural ability? Hop in, sit down, and shut up during the most exciting race yet of this stage along with a nitrous teaser for the second stage of Initial D.

Classic Version:
After watching the enhanced version in its entirety, I decided to watch some of the Classic Version. While I respect the Classic Version’s artistic originality, I believe that the Enhanced Version does a descent job of portraying the look and feel of Initial D. This reviewer typically prefers to view dubbed anime that closely resembles the original artist’s work. I understand the intricacies, difficulties, business decisions, etc… that play a significant role in how anime is distributed and produced in the United States.

Overall I believe that the Enhanced version will appeal to anime viewers who have not been exposed to the original Initial D anime and manga. The music choices, while different from the original, felt appropriate and matched the scenes. The enhanced visual effects also felt appropriate and added a sense of coolness to an otherwise dated use of CG effects. Overall, the name changes were not completely annoying but could have been omitted as they did not seem to enhance the feel for the storyline. Most seasoned anime viewers have grown beyond the need for Americanized names.

Regardless of viewing format, Classic or Enhanced, Initial D is a fun ride and the overall storyline is well preserved.

Initial D is a ride by the seat of your pants show that is fun and easy to kick back and enjoy. The storyline is simple, yet the character development is solid. There is a good balance of action, plot, and character development with just the right touch of suspense. The combination of cell animation and CG is a little bit choppy as compared to today’s standards. The technical aspects of downhill racing provide a basic education in illegal road racing fun. The two format options warrant a second viewing of this series due to the differences in their flavor. Bottom line, this is a recommended choice for your anime library.

Japanese Language, English Language, English Subtitles, Exclusive Footage from Mount Akagi, Bonus Episode: Season 2 Episode 1, Clean Opening and Ending Credits, Sixteen Page Owners Manual, Akina Speed Stars Window Sticker

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

Released By: Funimation
Release Date: March 13th, 2007
MSRP: $74.98
Running Time: 625 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

Review Equipment:
Hitachi 62VS69 62″ UltraVision LCD Projection HDTV, XBOX 360 DVD player, XBOX 360 Component HDAV Cable with Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound.

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