Racing Back to Akina
Delivering tofu has never been this gripping. A new Initial D movie provides an excuse to get aquainted with an old classic.
The Initial D series is a classic. That is, a lot of people have heard about it, but not as many have seen it. So how does a classic manga keep itself going? It creates an anime series, then sequels and spin-offs.
The latest child of the Initial D dynasty is the live action movie, hailing from Hong Kong. Jay Chou plays the thoroughly disinterested Takumi or Touhei, a driving prodigy who finds himself becoming famous as he beats every racer that he comes across down the swerving streets of Mt. Akina.
What's Takumi's secret? He's been driving through Akina since he was in seventh grade, delivering tofu for his dad in an old, but finely tuned Trueno AE.
One day, as he's going down his usual route, Takumi overtakes another driver. That driver just happens to be the leader of the Nightkids racing team, who immediately searches out the real "Racing God of Akina" to challenge him to a second race after "losing." From there on, it's race after race, until Takumi hits the final boss, Ryousuke Takahashi. Who wins? I bet that you can guess.
Initial D is predictable in almost every way. This is not a thinking man's movie, but more of the realization of a fantasy where you destroy your opponents effortlessly, and win chicks and respect along the way. It's a given that Takumi is going to win every race that he's in, and since he races down the same mountain every time, what can the movie do to keep things interesting?
Let's start with the track itself. Mt. Akina is a beautiful course with narrow streets and five consecutive hairpins near the bottom, and the cinematography does everything that it can to show this off. The entire movie would be less interesting if it had taken place somewhere else, but if you're a japanophile, it will be easy to ogle at the beautiful scenery as beautiful cars go racing through it.
The races don't disappoint either. If you know nothing about cars or even dislike them, watching professional drivers drifting all over the place is still tons of fun. Even though everyone in the movie is ranting about AE86s and rotary engines, all you really need to know is that not all cars are created equal. The movie stays light on the technical aspects of what is going on, choosing to dedicate itself to the more exciting aspect of the races themselves.
A lot of people were disappointed about the fact that a more hip hop soundtrack replaced the famous Europop of previous Initial D titles, but we have to face the music and realize that the first series was written in the early nineties, back when a techno soundtrack made a little more sense. Even though the soundtrack is mostly hip hop, with a few techno pop tracks thrown in, everything fits well with the movie. The opening tunes are catchy, but the music does lose some of its strength outside of the movie.
Above all of this is the humor in Initial D. Jay Chou himself is rather boring (although to his credit, the role calls for it.) Takumi's dad, Tofu-man and his old buddy, Gas-man are much more entertaining, and Takumi's best friend, Itsuki is so sad that you couldn't help but laugh at him. The things that he does and says just screams 'loser' all over the place, such as his undefeatable tactic of screeching out of the starting line at 'two.? In a movie that's swarming with pretty boys posing and saying "My stick shift is bigger than your stick shift," Itsuki and the older generation in the movie provide the much needed comic relief. It can be hard, however, for the humor to survive translation. While the subs at the movie theater were excellent, many fansubbed versions ruined the humor, and as a result, they ruined the movie. Now that the official DVDs are available, however, they will definitely give you the complete experience, humor and all.
Although Initial D is predictable and mindless, itís still entertaining and free of the plot holes or copouts that can destroy summer flicks, and it may inspire you to check out the anime version.
Initial D: First Stage is a twenty-six episode version of the movie, or rather, the movie is a recent version of this anime series. A few characters shift, and some are cut all together, but for the most part, the movie and the original series are the same. In the anime, Takumi remains decidedly disinterested in racing, Itsuki is a little more annoying and a little less funny, the races are more technical and varied, and the soundtrack is all techno, all the time.
The age of the first Initial D series is extremely apparent as you watch. The animation isn't very clean, and the sound feels like something from the early nineties. The CG rendering of the cars looks outdated, but the computer graphics in the races remains rather impressive overall.
After watching both the anime and the movie, it seems as if both were similar in where it counts, and the movie manages to update and adopt the feeling of the original anime series rather well. If you're not convinced that racing is interesting, or if The Fast and the Furious bored you to death, at least try the live action Initial D, and see if that will convert you. If it does, then check out the anime or manga, and enjoy a classic of the shonen genre. If you're already familiar with the previous versions of this story, be prepared to see what happens when you condense about two seasons of anime into about two hours.
Animefringe had the good luck of seeing Initial D on the big screen in Taiwan, but now that the DVDs are available, get reacquainted with Takumi and his AE86 at a TV near you.