What They Say:
When an unplanned street duel launches tofu delivery driver Takumi Fujiwara into the world of high stakes street racing, the competition isn’t going to know what hit them. The son of another legendary driver, the unassuming Takumi quickly becomes the downhill racing phenomenon to beat, with a line of challengers as long as the deadly Mt. Akina road itself! There’s no time to blink. No chance to second guess your strategy. The streets of Japan become a deadly arena for an incredible battle where if you have everything under control, you’re not moving fast enough! Hold onto your breath as the legendary series that introduced the sport of drift racing to the west is reinvented in a series of new feature films that will strip the surface from the blacktops!
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 beginning release in 2014, the transfer for this film trilogy is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. While the three films were done with separate releases/discs before, this collection places them all on one disc, which really does make this the definitive version and the best ease of use version. 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 Blu-ray-only release is kept simple with a good image used of the three cars racing down the hill with the lights swerving along with them. It’s a dark cover but it is what you expect and represents it well. I love the consistency of the logo over the years and it looks good here and we get a light and not as definitive as I’d like list of the features included along the bottom. The back cover keeps to a largely black background where the left has a few small shots from the films and a good summary of the premise in a very small font while the right breaks in with a good group character visual. The white strip across the cover lists that it has all three features and lists all the extras as well. The bottom half goes for a black background with white text 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 character artwork from the back cover used of the main cast set against the highway, which looks good 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. We get the individual feature selection and the full run of extras in the same section so it all comes together as a cohesive release and not just a slapped together work. 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 extras are minimal like the singles were with recaps for the first two films and previews for the second two, plus a preview for the film run in general. Add in the clean closing and it’s a light selection but it’s at least something.
Legend 1: Awakening: (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 wrapped up in 2016 with the third 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.
Legend 2: Racer: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
This middle act is one that works some decent things as Takumi is becoming more comfortable with the concept of being a racer, though it takes a bit for him to realize he is one. After spending so much time thinking of what he did as work and following his dad’s weird rules, the shift to seeing how useful it can be is a difficult one. But with the challenges starting to come in and those from the SpeedStars seeing him as a hope to bring them some respect, he’s grudgingly being drawn into it. And part of that is just a resistance to something that in the back of his mind he must realize that his father was a part of as well. The relationship with his father is certainly an awkward one and the more he realizes the kind of subtle training that he’s been given without realizing it, the more it’ll cause mixed reactions toward his father over it. But, beyond all of that, Takumi is starting to realize that he can truly enjoy all of this as well and he’s starting to embrace the challenge.
While there’s a little additional character material mixed in, and a touch on a potential date in the offing for Takumi, we get two races in this installment. The arrival of the NightKids is definitely fun as its leader, Nakazato, is a confident customer and he intends to put Takumi to shame because it’ll help him shame the Red Suns since Keisuke lost to Takumi. That’s a challenge that even Ryousuke knows will end badly for Nakazato when the two talk because he understands the differences not just in the cars but also the drivers. The 8-6 is easily mocked but it’s the kind of event that has to be seen to be understood and no words will cover it. The race is definitely fun for what we get between Takumi and Nakazato but it works better, I think, because it gives some focus to Keisuke and Ryousuke driving behind them to understand what it is from a different position, particularly for Keisuke, as to why he lost.
The other race deals with the fallout from Nakazato’s race as Shingo, a NightKids member who is eyeing the prize of heading the group, decides to challenge Takumi directly. This race has a different feeling about it because of how Shingo presents himself, more interested in ambition than the racing itself, and that’s radically different from the others – even Nakazato. They all have this deep love of the racing itself but Shingo sees it as a means to dominate and become more important through it. There’s some good stuff with how this race plays out, coming as it does after Shingo tries to make his point prior to the race in bumping Iketani’s car, and all of it just gives Takumi more reason to win. With some strong racers being faced off against already, he’s taking what he’s learned there and applying it here, which makes for a more engaging race because Shingo comes across as more unpredictable. And that goes a long way with the uncertainty of what he’ll do and how Takumi will react to it.
Legend 3: Dream(please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The third and final film in the series, Initial D brings is theatrical animated side to a close with the Dream feature. Originally out in 2016, the work is one that again reminds me of how frustrating it is to be a fan of this franchise. There’s a great look to it all here that I thoroughly enjoy but it’s just like the other two films in that we’ve seen it all before. Granted, that was without the same quality as we get here but the story is condensed and tightened but still the same. It simply lacks some of the breathing room to explore the characters. We get some great races but there’s also the nods to the races ahead, some of which have been animated before, but most of which have not. It’s frustrating to keep doing the same story material over and over.
The hour that this installment runs works through some fun material, particularly at the start as we get Takumi and Itsuki together in his 8-5 going down the mountain only to have to deal with the NightKids that are looking to cause trouble. A lot of racing is definitely the vehicle and what it can do and a lot of it is the person as well. When it comes to teens and just beyond, a lot of it tends to be the car. They can do a lot of things and they may have some talent but mostly it’s just a combination of both and a bit of luck that lets them stand out. The Takahashi brothers are different and a few others later in the run are as well, but the property has always made it clear that Takumi is both talented and well trained in addition to having a great car. So, seeing him in the 8-5 as he essentially dusts both of them with only a little bit of trouble is delightful because it reinforces just how good his skill is in eking out a greater performance from the vehicle.
The back half of the film gives us a much more engaging race to deal with in that it focuses on Ryosuke making his play to bring Takumi into the fold for his greater plans, which are only mostly alluded to here in that there’s a bigger world out there. The race itself is pretty exciting because Ryosuke is the one that’s most like Takumi but without the polish and molding that comes from his particular personality. This nighttime race definitely has a lot that it delivers on because of the power of both cars and the talents of each and it delights because of how well animated it is and the excitement of the back and forth battle between them. I’m still tied to the music of the original series so this doesn’t quite hit me in the same way but it’s visually a far more engaging race, one that brings things together well at the end with how it unfolds and what Takumi’s father is like in helping him deal with it.
One of the areas where the films falter more than the TV incarnation is in really fleshing out the cast. This film doesn’t do much to change that but I really like that we do get the romantic interlude for Takumi as he and Natsuki go out together for a bit. Again, it’s not deep or rich or anything but it’s wonderfully animated to give them some time together and really make it feel like a teenage romance with all that potential and fun with it. The lightness and the simplicity of just taking a drive is a great contrast to the intensity of the racing that we get most of the time but I also really just enjoyed the way that they quietly spent some time together that lead to that magical first kiss moment where it all really connected for them – enough so that nobody trusts Takumi to get to where he needs to be on time or in the right frame of mind.
The Initial D film trilogy is a strong one in that it delivers the basic ideas with some fantastic racing sequences. It’s a delight to watch and it delivers exactly what the bulk of the fans want, even if they’ve seen it all before. It’s a property that makes out well with a modern update but it left me frustrated in a “been there, seen that already” mindset. It’s very pretty and technically executed well but I wanted new material, not to revisit the same thing once again. It is, however, great to have these films in one collection and it is a different experience when you can watch straight through unlike waiting a couple of months between releases. Sentai’s release is solid here with a great looking encode, solid sound and dubbing having been produced, and a slick little package that’s just right for it. Hopefully, it exposes people to this property more and maybe someday we’ll get this series a “complete” adaptation of the source material. Until then, a great looking film trilogy is definitely worth having.
Japanese DTS-HD MA 5.1 Language, English DTS-HD MA 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Initial D Legend 2: Racer Recap, Japanese Preview
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: September 17th, 2019
Running Time: 1800 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
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.