Initial D Legend 1: Awakening (Cert 15)

1 Disc DVD / Blu-ray (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 64 minutes approx.

It seems to be the season for petrol heads as The Grand Tour has just finished on Amazon Prime and the ersatz reboot of Top Gear is back on the BBC. Not wanting to be left out, anime representation for all things car related comes courtesy of MVM with the first of a trio of films from the classic Initial D franchise.

Before, we proceed I must confess to knowing next to nothing about this series other than it exists and is about cars. I didn’t even know until researching this title that it is part of a reboot of the original storyline from the first anime TV series that first aired in 1998.

The begins with racer boy Keisuke Takahashi of the Akagi RedSuns driving through Mount Akina when he is challenged and beaten by another car referred to as an 8-6 (apparently a Toyota Sprinter Trueno AE86 according to Wikipedia). Keisuke doesn’t take this loss too well while the mystery of the car quickly becomes the talk of the racing community, as well as school friends Takumi Fujiwara and Itsuki Takeuchi, who work at the local garage.

Also working at the garage is Koichiro Iketani, member of Akina Speedstars, a group that end up in direct competition when the RedSuns declare a turf war for the mountain roads of Mount Akina. During a practice run for the race against Keisuke, Koichiro crashes and is injured leaving the Speedstars without a driver. But an unexpected saviour appears in the form of Takumi, driving his father’s car – the 8-6. 

Originally a manga by Shuichi Shigeno, Initial D first appeared in 1995 and became a successful anime series three years later that would beget a number of sequels, OVAs and feature length adjuncts, including a live-action film, made not in Japan but in Hong Kong instead.

If anime fans here in the UK got to experience the original TV series it would be through imports or other means, as I believe this release is the first time Initial D has officially graced our shores. Perhaps it is apt then that it should be with this reboot trilogy that starts at the beginning, but one look at the brisk 64-minute run time and it becomes apparent that this won’t be a comprehensive retelling.

The opening duel between Keisuke and the mysterious 8-6 (not driven by The Stig) is a great way to highlight the sort of action we can expect from this series, and let’s face it, just like any car/race related shows this is what people want to see. Including this one, there are three big races to enjoy, all fluidly animated and bolstered by excellent and accurate sound designs of the screeching tyres and overworked engines.

With the original being made in 1998 and CGI yet to be fully embraced for TV anime, I can’t imagine the animation would have been that smooth so this visual upgrade is bound to justify the existence of these films for some fans, whilst wining over some new converts to the genre. Story wise, this looks to be a different kettle of fish.

From the opening you’d suspect Keisuke to be the central protagonist but it is fact Takumi who assumes that role; rather ironic given that he has no interest in cars. This is made clear through the exasperation of best friend Itsuki, the portly car geek/comic relief prone to blowing a gasket whenever Takumi exhibits ignorance or disinterest in the very machines he works with in his after school job.

So, how does Takumi end up being such a skilled driver for someone who couldn’t care less? This isn’t really revealed in any great detail but we are led to believe that it might be a simple case of blessed genetics as Takumi’s father uses the 8-6 for delivering tofu and a cup of water is always present in the cup holder which is rarely spilled – a touch of Shaolin martial arts discipline there.

Otherwise, Takumi doesn’t cut a particularly impressive figure for the main character, leaving it up to Itsuki and token female/fan service bait Natsuki to add some personality to the proceedings. Even the antagonists the RedSuns are generic, one-dimensional thugs with the requisite sense of entitlement and brash ego to discern them from the “good guys” or else we’d never be able to tell anyone apart.

This naturally exposes the continuing folly of condensing extensive material into bit sized chunks for a quick buck that has blighted many an live-action adaptation of a successful and popular long running anime property. I obviously can’t presume how big the Initial D fandom is but I would wager the long-term die-hard fans wouldn’t appreciate the way the character development has been compromised in this outing.

It doesn’t matter that the ending makes it clear the story continues for Takumi and that he and 8-6 are going to be targets for other racing gangs – that is a given – but as far as being invested in Takumi the character, this film does not offer us the opportunity to do that. He is something of a blank slate, showing no real ambition or interest in anything, nor anything as subtle as being a driving savant – unless this is explored in the future films.

Without question this is visually a fun watch, and the driving sequences are exceptionally well observed and replicated with more authenticity than you might expect, with the barest minimum of exaggerated spins and swerves you’d see in more cartoony efforts. This will help the film appeal to newcomers although I have read that the original series employed a Eurobeat music soundtrack which has been supplanted here with rock music.

This first chapter in this Initial D resurrection project is less an Awakening, more a gentle stirring that leaves the next two films with the unenviable task of kicking things up a gear. Some nice action but a weak story so far.

 

Extras:

English Language 2.0

Japanese Language 2.0 w/ English Subtitles

Marathon Play

 

Initial D Legend 2: Racer preview

Trailers

 

Rating – ** ½

Man In Black

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