Oh, hi there. You probably came here to read a review for Initial D Fourth Stage, but before you get to it maybe you should begin by reading the review for the first stage. It’s okay, I’ll be here fine-tuning my ’93 Ford station wagon into a beastly road racer. That’s my girl, purr for me, purr.
No, don’t make that noise. What did I tell you about setting yourself on fire? Bad car.
It’s been some time since the events of First Stage. Takumi is still the racing champion of Mount Akina and has joined a racing team, Project D, with former rivals from Team RedStar, the Takahashi Brothers, in an effort to challenge more teams to races on their home turf.
Really, that’s pretty much all the story you’re going to get. In Fourth Stage, there’s a pretty set formula: Project D challenges a new group to a race, we get one episode to set up the rival racers, cover potential challenges in the upcoming race, tease out the solution to those potential challenges and then the start of the race, which builds anticipation for the next episode — the race proper. In this one, our heroes always win at the last possible moment after finally applying the hard-won technique for defeating the other side, usually involving either an internal soliloquy from the driver or an expositional discussion by the team leader (and brains of the operation) Takahashi Ryosuke and another member of the team. Rinse and repeat for a while and you’ve got a series.
I liked the First Stage mainly because it balanced wonderfully the macho meathead car racing with fun comedic moments and some nice coming-of-age drama moments, but most of that has been stripped away in this series. Now it’s rare to see Takumi’s old racing team and his dad, apart from little cameos here and there that usually don’t add anything to the story.
Another issue I have is the role of women in the show: I have only seen two female characters that lasted more than one scene. One was a girlfriend to a rival racer that made him promise to quit racing if he lost, effectively destroying his hopes and dreams of being a great racer (given his inevitable defealt by our heroes). The other was a rival female racer, which sounds promising for gender equality in theory. In practice, this gave us a racer who wasn’t incompetent, but did seem to have her mind fixed romantically on Keisuke Takahashi. If there was even an attempt to portray her as a serious racer that could put aside her romantic feelings while she was behind the wheel, instead of the love-struck girl that can’t think of anything but the boy that she’s fallen for, she would have been a stronger character, more of a threat to the team of Project D, and more believable.
The approach of animating the cars in 3D CGI and then placing them into scenes of traditional 2D animation is still present, but with advances developed over time it doesn’t look as gimmicky and jarring as it did with the first stage. What threw me for the first few episodes were the character designs: they’ve changed from the way they looked in the earlier series into a harsher, almost scratchy look. Maybe it’s meant to show a greater maturity to the characters, but that’s more credit than I want to give the show right now.
What’s changed between the First Stage and the Fourth? Not much, but what they did change has made it less enjoyable for me. In the first stage, at least when it wasn’t being boofy, macho-pride hour in the races, it had some nice drama between the action. In Fourth Stage, it feels like the scenes/episodes between races are only used to exposition dump for the next race. What’s left is just cars and racing, which gets old quickly for those that aren’t into cars and racing.