Gentlemen, draw your swords… I mean start your engines.
While watching this, in many places, I got the impression that I was watching a Samurai film. Yes, cars have replaced the Katana, but the themes are still there. The honour and pride the combatants have in their skills and cars. The training of skills, the quest to become better than you were before. Revenge for past losses. And beating the tar out of your opponents.
A way of looking at the characters might be:
- Takumi – The Samurai with lots of natural talent, trained from an early age
- Itsuki – The friend with no real skill, but tries his best with all his ability
- Iketani – The knowledgeable samurai/friendly mentor
- Takumi’s Father – The mysterious Old Master
- Natsuki – The love interest
- The Takahashi Brothers – The impetuous younger Samurai and the calculating older Samurai rivals
The archetypes may be old, but the hardware is new. All the cars used in the series are hero cars in Japan. From the AE-86 Toyota Tureno (our Hero’s ride) the S13 Nissan Silvia (Iketani’s car), the series 6 and series 7 Mazda RX-7’s (driven by the Takahashi brothers), these are the cars that people drift on the streets and tracks of Japan. Cars featured later in the series include the R-32 Nissan Skyline GT-R, the Sil-eighty (which is the front of a Nissan Silvia with the rear of a Nissian 180SX) and the Honda EG Civic.
The story starts out a little slow, but the gradual introduction of characters and cars works well. Takumi is quite down-to-earth. Not the brightest student, a little tired all the time, but a nice guy. Not at all interested in cars. Has a crush on a girl (but being the standard guy, doesn’t admit it till a little later). Works at a petrol station, as well as helping his Dad out by delivering tofu to a hotel that is up the mountain that all the locals race on.
Iketani, the senior Petrol station attendant, is the head guy of the Akina Speedstars, the team that Takumi’s buddy Itsuki really, really, really wants to join. So he and Takumi go with Iketani one Saturday evening to watch the Speedstars strut their stuff. Enter the Akagi Redsuns. Gauntlets are thrown (in the spirit of “friendly” competition) and the Speedstars are shown how poor their skills are.
Soon Iketani is led to visit Takumi’s dad and tries to convince him to save the pride of all the street racers of Akina. Why? Takumi’s dad was a great street racer in his day, and is still (so we are told) the fastest on Mount Akina. Seems like racing is in Tak’s blood.
I found the characters in this series quite easy to relate to. You don’t have to be a motor-head to get into this series, though it does help. It is mostly about people who have a driving passion for their interests (cannot think of anyone who fits that, not at all).
The animation style took me a few moments to get used to, with its CG cars, and seemingly more traditional cell style for the people and locations. It may not to everyone’s tastes, but the blending between the two is really good, so that when someone closes a car door, they actually look like they are closing it, even though the character is 2D and the car is 3D. As it is a television series, the animation quality is not as good as a full-length movie, but it is quite watchable.
Initial D is an enjoyable ride of spills and thrills, with no kills (some near misses though).