Comic Book Curious

The Anime that Made Us: Initial D

April 15, 2022

Drifting in hot with some Euro beats and adrenaline comes the anime Seinen series Initial D, a series revolving around the illegal world of Japanese street racing. These races mostly take place in the mountains of Japan, where the racers whip around the various tight mountainsides to their heart's content (while trying to hide from the police). The series was so inspirational that many drifting clubs, teams, and racing centers started sprouting up in Japan during its run. Yes! There are authentic places where you can go and learn to drift; check them here. It also inspired generations of car fanatics worldwide to get their fix of speed and push their cars to their limits. In fact, a good example would be my brother. He's not an anime fan, but even he will often use the series to help explain to me what modifications he's done on his own car.

A photo of Shuichi Shigeno, the creator of Initial D.

Credit: Shuichi Shigeno

Written by Shuichi Shigeno, the original run of the series went from 1995 to 2013, being serialized in Kodansha's Weekly Young Magazine. It accumulated 48 total volumes over its 18 year history. Its accuracy and attention to detail helped it stand out, which helped attract and create a massive car fanatic following. From the settings to the cars shown in the series, proper car terminology, racing slang, and even description of various racing maneuvers! Much of the series' accuracy in racing, drifting, and car culture can be accredited to the editorial supervisor, Keiichi Tsuchiya!

The editorial supervisor, Keiichi Tsuchiya, reviewed the series accuracy

Credit: Keiichi Tsuchiya

In addition to being the editorial supervisor, Keiichi was a professional race car driver and a pioneer in drifting, eventually being titled: The Drift King. Now, where did the series actually take place, you ask? It's centered around the prefecture of Gunma and the mountains within the Kanto region. As for anyone who knows of the Kanto area, or just any form of extreme racing in general, that area is well known for its racing circuits, steep mountains, and tight turns. It's an actual car enthusiast's dream.

Main character of Initial D leaning against a car.

Credit: Shuichi Shigeno

The plot revolves around a high school student named Takumi Fujiwara wanting to become a drift-racing legend. He works alongside his friend Itsuki at a gas station. Itsuki would often talk about his mutual desire to be a street racer. The gas station isn't the only place where Takumi works.

The tofu restaurant from Initial D

Credit: Shuichi Shigeno

He helps his father, Bunta as a tofu delivery driver. Takumi has been working as a delivery driver for over 5 years, often using the family's aging Toyota Sprinter Trueno (AE86). With 5 years of driving experience under his belt, learning how to weave and bob in the Kanto mountainside doing deliveries, he has gained quite the experience! And thus, with this newfound knowledge, our story begins! Shortly after they decide to try and break into the scene, a local racing team led by Ryosuke Takahashi is all somewhat defeated after noticing another team's practice run. However, a member of Ryosuke's team gets injured, and Takumi jumps into the situation, wagering a bet that he can borrow a car and win a full gas tank if he beats Keisuke (another racer). After a heated race, Takumi comes out the victor and soon starts his racing career!

Towards the end of the series, he moves away from road races. Instead, he joins a proper racing team-also founded by Ryosuke Takahashi called Project D.

A scene from the show Initial D

Credit: Shuichi Shigeno

His notoriety as a racer becomes even more renowned. Eventually, he meets another racer who seems somewhat similar in his racing style. They ultimately square off in a winner take all showdown. Sadly, Takumi's engine blows right at the start; however, he still wins by an exciting feat: rolling backward over the finish line.

Close up of a character in his car.

Credit: Shuichi Shigeno

Words have power, but only if people will listen. When they won't, actions speak loud enough for anyone.

-Ryosuke Takahashi, founder of Project D

Shortly after, Ryosuke disbands Project D, and Takumi leaves the drifting scene to continue delivering tofu with his father's Impreza.

The cover for the first season of Initial D

Credit: Shuichi Shigeno

While the manga itself has seen a reasonably simple release: it released 48 volumes and coincidentally sold over 48 million copies. In addition, however, it has seen many multimedia adaptations outside of the manga realm. Starting with the anime adaptation, the series was produced by Avex and has been released in several stages, as being noted below:

The main storyline consists of six major stages-starting with Initial D and referred to by fans as "First Stage ."It consisted of 26 episodes and premiered in 1998. The next stage was merely called "Second Stage," released in 1999. The following stages (or properly: seasons) were named the same: the Third Stage, the fourth stage, etc., with each season ranging from 4 to 24 episodes. The third stage was the only stage that didn't do episodes, yet did a 104minute movie, released in 2001. The series also had 2 OVAs, one releasing in 2000 as a two-episode story focusing on Impact Blue and the other in 2008. The 2008 OVA was a 50minute side story focusing on Mako and Iketani. The series also had 3 official movies:

  • New Initial D the Movie Legend 1: Awakening, 2014
  • New Initial D the Movie - Legend 2: Racer, 2015
  • New Initial D the Movie - Legend 3: Dream, 2016

and also seen numerous video game adaptations:

  • Initial D Gaiden, released in 1998 for the Game Boy
  • Initial D releasing in 1999 for the Sega Saturn
  • Initial D releasing in 1999 for the PS1
  • Initial D: Ryosuke Takahashi's Fastest Typing-theory released in 2001 for the PS2
  • Initial D Arcade Stage / Initial D releasing in 2002 for the Arcade NAOMI 2
  • Initial D Another Stage releasing in 2002 for the GBA
  • Initial D Arcade Stage Ver.2 / Initial D Ver.2 releasing in 2003 for the Arcade NAOMI 2o Initial D Collectible Card Game releasing in 2003 as a Collectible Card Game
  • Initial D: Special Stage released in 2003 for the PS2
  • Initial D Mountain Vengeance releasing in 2004 for the P.C.
  • Initial D Arcade Stage 3 / Initial D Version 3 was released in 2004 for the Arcade NAOMI 2
  • Initial D Arcade Stage 4 / Initial D 4 releasing in 2006 for the Arcade
  • Initial D: Street Stage releasing in 2006 for the PSP
  • Initial D Arcade Stage 4 Limited releasing in 2007 for the Arcade (Lindbergh)
  • Initial D Arcade Stage 4 Kai releasing in 2008 for the Arcade (Lindbergh)
  • Initial D Extreme Stage releasing in 2008 for the PS3
  • Initial D Arcade Stage 5 releasing in 2009 for the Arcade (Lindbergh)
  • Initial D Arcade Stage 6 A.A. releasing in 2011 for the Arcade (RingEdge)
  • Initial D Arcade Stage 7 AAX releasing in 2012 for the Arcade (RingEdge)
  • Initial D Arcade Stage 8 ∞ (Infinity) releasing in 2014 for the Arcade (RingEdge / RingEdge 2)
  • Initial D: Perfect Shift Online was released in 2014 for the Nintendo 3DS eShop (free-to-play)
  • Initial D Arcade Stage Zero releasing in 2017 for the Arcade (Sega Nu2)
  • Initial D RPG releasing on Sony Ericsson mobile phone
  • Initial D Pachislot releasing in 2021 - Arcade
  • Initial D The Arcade releasing in 2021 for the Arcade (ALLS)

Lastly, it has also seen a live-action adaptation, released in 2005. It was met with critical acclaim and nominated for multiple awards, including Best Picture, at the Hong Kong Film Awards and Golden Horse Awards, winning many of them. You can actually watch the trailer here; (I'd recommend it if you want a good early 00's adrenaline film!)

Going back to the car craze and the many car heads who draw inspiration from the series, the Initial D has, without a doubt, kept a solid standing over the years. The import car scene in the U.S. was gaining traction around the show's initial release alongside the low prices on reliable-yet-sporty Japanese cars of the 80s and 90s also helped with the initial generation of car fanatics.

The release of The Fast and The Furious film at the time also gave Initial D a popularity boost, as the film drew some inspiration from the series. Even having Keiichi (the famous car racer and series editorial supervisor) appeared in the movie! Car fans were enthralled with the series and drew new crowds, for example: people in the U.S. also took up drifting thanks to the series. The show attracted many young car enthusiasts who wouldn't otherwise be interested in anime. Furthermore, not only did people become interested in both anime and cars, but many people also went to Japan just to race. In fact, one YouTuber I follow documented his journey, which you can find him here: Noriyaro.

While the craze of having the infamous AE86 may have calmed down, the show's influence in the years that followed did not. In fact, many people would argue competitive motorsport drifting wouldn't be where it is today without the mask. Instead, it's an exciting show where two completely different niches, car heads and anime fans, come together for one cause: geeking out over a fantastic series. Not only that, but a series about a high schooler determined to be the best drifter out there.

We'll now speed our way out of the 90s and into the 21st century, where we'll swap our car for a moped! Next week, FLCL!

The cover for FLCL

Credit: Yōji Enokido


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