Initial D has always managed to entertain to some degree in spite of the myriad ways it attempts to turn its audience off. Seriously, both the anime and manga practically challenge me to dislike them on a regular basis, yet I keep coming back no matter how severe their distinct handicaps may be. I made it through about ten volumes of the manga, as well as select portions of the TV show, and now, thanks to FUNimation’s wrangling of the series, I can add the Third Stage feature to my shout-it-loud dismissal of all aesthetic common sense.
Lest I sound too down on the look of Initial D, it’s probably more fair to say that it’s an “acquired taste.” Shuichi Shigeno’s art has always been faithfully translated to animation, for better or worse, but getting past those mannequin stares—the frozen poses that make everyone look about 100% more awkward than they should—doesn’t take too long.
Even if the art style doesn’t make you flinch for a second, any hesitation from a newcomer to jump in with Third Stage is understandable. While it’s ideal to start from the beginning, this 100-minute flick is pretty solid as far as introductions are concerned. Near the beginning, the uninitiated are treated to wistful sunset recollections courtesy those near and dear to protagonist Takumi Fujiwara. This kicks off a succinct montage of Takumi’s victories, and establishes the progress he’s made since he started racing.
See, Takumi wasn’t always a drift racer; racing wasn’t even on his radar in the early days. However, he just so happens to make tofu deliveries for his father’s store, an occupation that brings with it the treacherous curves of Mt. Akina. Takumi grew to know the course so well, and can run the whole thing without even spilling a drop of water from an open container. Thus, he and his Toyota Trueno (referred to widely as the AE86, or simply the eight-six) were eventually thrust into the world of mountain racing, as if he had been working toward it all his life.
At this point Takumi is more well versed in the sport. He’s made some modifications to his Trueno’s engine, and can generally beat the pants off anyone that challenges him on his home turf. This is where former opponent Ryosuke Takahashi comes in. He wants to enlist Takumi on his racing team, which he plans to take all over, challenging racers on their own courses. Before Takumi can make this decision, he’s got a little more growing and learning to do, and that’s precisely what he does in Third Stage.
Originally released in 2001, Third Stage has pretty much everything one could ask for from an Initial D flick, and it does manage to look nicer than the TV series. This is especially true for the racing sequences, which I would consider one of the series’ eye-zapping crimes I mentioned in the opening paragraph. Not that I can blame them for going all-CG, as it beats having the folks at studios Pastel and OB Planning cut corners with a more traditional style. With this, we get the full shebang, even if it occasionally looks like you’re watching looped replays from a PS2 racing game.
Get past that and you have the racing equivalent of a sports series (is this a sports series? Sure, why not). Opponents are presented with requisite training quirks, such as the one that had his rise as a graduate of cart racing. Conditions get hazardous, like when one character points out the danger of the dry leaves blowing about the asphalt. At the end, as he says, what decides this race may be one of these dry leaves. His buddy chimes in with all the pontification of a west coast surfer dude: “The whimsy of a fallen leaf, huh?”
It also wouldn’t be complete without an abundance of thoughts spewing aloud from everyone even remotely connected to the action on screen, coupled with the chatter of their inner monologues. As Takumi blazes by in one sequence, we’re treated to my favorite line of the movie: “It’s like he’s got his finger on the pulse of the road!” It’s a sentiment that’s difficult to tire of in the world of Initial D.
Outside of the races, you’ll find characters that are oddly, perhaps refreshingly, frank about their feelings. Odd within the world of anime, at least, where protagonists (even cool ones like Hajime no Ippo‘s Ippo) are usually happy sheepishly and awkwardly scratching their heads in the presence of the opposite sex. That’s not to say that Takumi is a lead without issues, but there’s more to him than his blank, flat face would suggest.
If you like thumping music that sounds like it’s coming out of the cineplex’s biggest and loudest DDR machine, you’ll love Initial D. If you don’t like that, you’ll still dig it, I just thought that would be worth noting for those that like to stomp their feet while watching their favorite shows. My only real complaint about the movie is the presentation. Overall, Funimation’s DVD is solid, with the 5.1 (across both language options) adding to the experience considerably. I am disappointed that it isn’t presented in anamorphic widescreen. I’m not sure if anything in particular held this back, but it takes away from watching it on a 16×9 television.
Like many of the sports depicted by anime and manga, you don’t need to know anything about cars to enjoy Third Stage. Sure, it helps, but if you don’t understand what it is Takumi did to modify his engine, or just how his drifting techniques work, it doesn’t really matter. Just sit back, relax, and wonder why this series was so poorly handled back when it would have been most profitable.
© Shuichi Shigeno / Kodansha • avex entertainment • OB PLANNING