Initial D Vol. 3 - Challenge: Night Kids
Here we are, three discs into Initial D, so I've decided to give everyone who hasn't been following this exciting show a quick summary. Takumi Fujiwara has recently discovered that years of delivering tofu over the twisty-turny Mount Akina have honed his driving skills to an incredible degree of talent. After casually beating the fenders off of a major street racer driving a technically superior car on a late night tofu run, everyone in the area has also just discovered how amazing his abilities are. In the first two DVDs, Takumi participated in his first actual street race. On this disc, he accepts a second challenge, but we're left mid-race by the time the final episode rolls by.
Luckily, there are some good characters in this show that help fill the void left by the somewhat slowly progressing story. Nine episodes have gone by in this racing anime, and so far, we haven't quite finished two races.
This wouldn't be a problem if there were more episodes included on the disc. However, it seems as if TOKYOPOP is sticking to the three episodes per disc plan for Initial D. With shows like this, it's much better to wait until multiple DVDs are available before you sit down and watch them. Otherwise, the excitement and anticipation of one episode will have dwindled to the emotional equivalent of a pet rock by the time you get around to seeing the next.
Now, I don't mean to suggest that Initial D isn't worth getting. It is, in fact, a very entertaining show. True, there are only 3 episodes per disc, but I wouldn't care about the episode count if I didn't want to see more of it - I'd just be glad that I only had to suffer through the little that was offered. Also, in defense of the short running time, the MSRP is really low on this series. I didn't pay any more than $17 for the first two volumes, and I found the third for only $14.99 at Best Buy. With the right sales at Animenation or The Right Stuf, I'm sure you can get it even cheaper if you time it right. So, in truth, this isn't too bad of a value for the money, though I would greatly appreciate a higher episode count.
The story does move a bit slowly, but there's quite a bit going on there. The history of Takumi's father as a former street racer, the budding romance between Natsumi and Takumi, the entertaining friendship between the lame Itsuki and the hero of the story - it's all addictive.
Visually, I wouldn't say the show is very attractive. The character designs feature big, thick eyebrows, bland expressions, and some weird lip illustrations. It's not very colorful either. Most of the car animation is performed with computer graphics that aren't even on par with the quality you'd see in any modern racing video game. The CG animation is smooth from frame to frame, but the models aren't especially detailed, nor is there much variety in the backgrounds. Perhaps it was more eye-catching when the Nintendo 64 represented the home-standard for 3D graphics, but nowadays, I want to see true reflection mapping, real-time deformity of the tires, and all of the other fancy stuff that a $69 video card can do for me on my home PC. Yet, it is rather distinct, and the whole of the show ends up being more entertaining than the sum of its parts.
There are two different ways to watch this show. When the disc loads, TOKYOPOP offers the "Classic Import" or "Tricked Out" version of Initial D. The first choice is essentially the way the show was released in Japan. On-screen text is left untranslated, and the show is in Japanese with English subtitles. Other than that, I didn't notice any visual differences.
However, the "Tricked Out" version is possibly the most annoying domestication of any anime series I've ever seen. It's not the voice acting that bothers me - I'm always hard to satisfy when I hear English voice actors in anime. It's the actual rewriting of the script. It's the changing of the characters' names into really stupid English variations. For the English dub, Takumi becomes Tak. That's not bad, though, is it? Well, how about switching Itsuki to Iggy, Natsumi to Natalie, Koichiro to Cole, Ryosuke to Ry, Keisuke to K.T., and Takeshi to Zack? Where the hell did those names come from?
This is, of course, not a new issue with the series. Initial D was the first TOKYOPOP manga I purchased in their 100% authentic lineup when I found it in a bookstore. I thought it was great, but then they changed the names of the manga version to match the loopy changes in the anime release. After that, I can say that the only manga series I don't buy from TOKYOPOP is Initial D.
If the only edition I was allowed to watch was the "Tricked Out" mix of the show, then I couldn't enjoy the show unless I was laughing hysterically at it. I mean, come on, there's nothing like hearing kids in Japan call their friends "my homey", "bro", "dude", or any other completely unnatural-sounding, culturally awkward term of endearment. At least they aren't pretending to be in California - they just all sound like they are. It bothers me when I hear American cartoons use forced slang in order to attempt to nab some imaginary demographic - as much as I love the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Hearing it in anime only reminds me why I prefer Japanese animation to the limp stuff we're subjected to over here all too often.
I can overlook bad translations, poor quality control issues, or technical difficulties so long as the company isn't doing it purposefully. In my eyes, however, this sort of butchery of something that didn't need the alterations in the first place is really disappointing. It's so disturbing, in fact, that I've decided to tackle it in this month's "Life on the Fringe".
Luckily, TOKYOPOP saved itself by offering a choice between the goofy English edition and the untouched original version.
Again, this wouldn't be an issue for me if I didn't like the show, but I do. Seeing it mishandled by the publisher that inarguably helped make manga the explosive force in the book industry that it is today - by offering authentic, unchanged, respectful domestications of foreign comics - is rather confusing. In any case, that's a topic for another article.
The key fact here is that TOKYOPOP is giving us a series that is undeniably fun to watch, despite all of its minor flaws. Yes, hardcore fans are going to enjoy the "Tricked Out" version as much as they appreciated this year's Oscar nominations for Best Animated Feature (which is to say, they'll ignore it altogether), but the original version is still there. The price isn't bad, the Japanese mix is in 5.1 surround sound, and each volume includes a card for use in the Initial D card game, so despite my ranting and raving about the domestication of the series, it's really worth your while. Even if you don't like cars, racing, or tofu, Initial D will grow on you, whether or not the dub does.