Welcome, one and all, to another anime review. Today, I’m looking at an OVA reboot of a popular 90’s series. That’s right, it’s time to rev up those engines and check out Initial D, released in the UK by MVM Entertainment!
Title: Initial D Legend 1: Awakening!
Anime Studio: Sanzigen & Liden Films
Publisher: MVM Entertainment
Genre: Car Racing / Action / Drama
Released: March 26th 2018
Language: Japanese / English
Running Time: 60 mins
Extras: Initial D Legend 2: Racer Preview, Trailers
In Initial D Legend 1: Awakening, when aspiring racer Koichiro Iketani witnesses an unplanned street duel between Keisuke Takahashi, a member of a rival race team, and a mysterious Toyota Sprinter Trueno AE86, Koichiro’s totally blown away by the skill of the 86’s driver. What Koichiro doesn’t know is that the driver is fellow gas station attendant Takumi Fujiwara, who was making a late-night tofu delivery for his father, a legendary Mt. Akina driver himself.
Unforeseen events are about to springboard Takumi into the center of the street-racing world, turning the rivalry between Iketani’s Akina Speedsters and Takahashi’s Akagi Red Suns into an all-out street war! The legendary series that introduced the west to the sport of drift racing is reinvented in an all new feature film that’s even faster and more furious than ever before: NEW THEATRICAL MOVIE INITIAL D LEGEND 1: AWAKENING!
Okay, confession time. I never read the original Initial D manga, nor did I see the original anime series. The reason is … I was never that interested in cars. Now, I did watch the 2005 live action film, though in truth, I only bought that because I was a fan of Anthony Wong and Jordan Chan, who had both appeared in the Young and Dangerous triad films. So, I came into this with little to no expectations in terms of whether this would be any good or not.
As it happens, I found that there was a lot to like in the film. First up, we’re dropped straight into the middle of the action, with racing star Keisuke Takahashi engaging in an impromptu race with a mysterious older vehicle. These early moments not only preview the style of action to come, but also gives us a good run-through of some of the stronger parts of the film.
For starters, the visuals offered a lot of surprises for me. The character designs actually felt like they had a slightly Western influence to them, with the facial structures looking like a cross between a DC comic and some of the older anime titles like Fist of the North Star and Ninja Scroll. That makes sense when you consider the age of the source material. Still, a lot of the effect is achieved by the character’s eyes: they’re not quite as large as you’d see in a lot of modern anime, and there’s a good variety in shape. I also wanted to point out that the attention to detail in anatomy is also impressive here; hands in particular are immaculately drawn, and the older characters are given a lot of subtle touches (such as wrinkles around the eyes) to make them pop and add a layer of realism. On the flip side, some of the scenery seems a little more simplistic in style. That being said while the greenery and the roads may not be on par with some of the more picturesque anime of the modern era, they do still look good.
As you may expect though, it’s the car scenes that really shine for the show. The cars themselves are highly detailed and, despite (to my knowledge) being CG created, fit in nicely with the environment. When the races take place, everything runs at a blistering pace, with multiple – but appropriate – camera angle switches to highlight particular movements and events. Even without an interest in cars, the action is more than good enough to create enough excitement to get you invested in the races. They’re also pretty accurate in terms of how close they are to the source material, a point which is illustrated in the closing credits by some really nice comparison shots.
What surprised me the most though is the effect that the characters occasionally commentating on what’s happening had. They go into detail about the techniques being used, but rather than take the edge off the scenes and bogging them down with unnecessary detail, it enhances them, and helps create a sense of impact for the more dangerous moves. Meanwhile, the atmosphere is aided by a wonderfully fitting soundtrack that managed to feel modern while somehow still bringing about memories of watching cartoons like Pole Position in my youth. It fits well with the action on screen, and never drowns out the ambient sounds of the cars themselves. That’s a really good balance to achieve.
In terms of protagonists, Takumi Fujiwara is an interesting one. His general attitude is relatively subdued, and he comes across as very closed-off to those around him. Whether it be his initial lack of interest in racing or the being-led-by-events feel to his potential romance with Natsuki Mogi, it’s clear that Takumi is yet to find a spark in life. As such, the rivalry with Keisuke serves as a means to push him beyond his own self-imposed boundaries. Yes, it may seem to be fairly one-sided with Keisuke taking the lead in instigating it, but it’s an important driver to start Takumi opening up. Keisuke’s approach to it is also quite refreshing as, while he’s clearly very passionate, he takes a very logical (and almost friendly) route to how he treats Takumi.
With the short running time of sixty minutes, we’re not given an opportunity to get bored here either. The story hurtles along without letting up, and even the slower moments feel like they have purpose. The downside to this is that some of the characters aren’t given enough to really stand out. Takumi and Keisuke come out of it well, and both gas station worker Koichiro Iketani and tofu shop owner Bunta Fujiwara are fleshed out as much as they need to be. The rest of the cast though? Some of them barely get more than a brief mention of their name, if that. Itsuki Takeuchi feels like he should be providing comic relief but manages to come across as annoying more than anything. Natsuki on the other hand just felt off. Rather than being a foil for Takumi, she ends up being little more than an excuse for a beach scene and is left with her Velma Dinkley-esque run being her most interesting facet. Some of this is to be expected though, as with less time to play around with than the manga had, there is naturally less opportunity to build characters and relationships.
In summary, Initial D Legend 1: Awakening is not perfect. What it is though is an exciting, easy watch that makes good use of the time it’s been given. It’s fun, fast paced, and keeps you hooked with a hefty dose of style. I give this one a solid four out of five.