Initial D Stage 4 Part 1 (of 2) (

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Thursday, May 13, 2010
Release Date: Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Project D continues to move right along as Fujiawara and Keisuke begin racing across multiple sites with an intriguing array of opponents.

What They Say

Nobody drives like Takumi; his instincts, confidence, and downhill expertise make him seem unbeatable. Now that he's joined the Project D racing crew, his reputation precedes him as the team travels the region, facing the competition on its own turf. Every challenger brings a unique style and each course holds its own dangers, but no matter the obstacle in Takumi's headlights, he'll do whatever it takes to put it in the rearview mirror. Because he knows when you're born to race and driven to be the best, it's not enough to be fast - Takumi won't take his eyes off the road until he's faster than everyone else.
Contains episodes 1-12

The Review!

The series gets a fairly standard release here with the original Japanese track in stereo encoded at 192kbps while the English 5.1 mix gets a bump up to 5.1 at 448kbps. The full impact of the 5.1 mix isn't really felt for a lot of it, but unlike the Third Stage movie, the music has a much stronger feeling and the audio in general feels more solid across the forward soundstage. The rear channels are nicely used throughout the action scenes though as the cars whip around the curves, making for a more immersive feeling that you'd normally have. Outside of the action, much of the feature feels like a center channel based piece when it comes to the dialogue, but it's decent with a clean and clear feeling that allows for it all to be heard clearly with no dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally released from 2004 through 2006, the transfer for this movie is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is not enhanced for anamorphic playback. The show is released acrss two discs with six episodes to a disc, but it’s worth noting that episode lengths are longer than usual as each episode clocks in at just around twenty-seven minutes as opposed to the usual twenty-three or twenty-four. With a few years between stages, the show has a much stronger look than the third stage and the transfer brings all of that out. The show does have some noise in the backgrounds with all the dark night time sequences and some of the CG for the cars shows it as well, but overall I was pretty pleased with how the show looked considering its relative age, budget and that it’s 16:9 but non-anamorphic. It’s a definite step up over the previous stage.
The Fourth Stage follows standard operating procedure from FUNimation with a slipcover that holds two clear thinpaks inside. The front cover gives us one of the red cars as the main image with the white trim going up along the left side with the name of the stage and that it’s the first part of it. Underneath the cars we get the Japanese logo with the cursive Fourth Stage piece and all of it ties well to the previous stage and hopefully the eventual second and first stages as well. The back cover has a fair bit of white as it uses an obscured view of the Eight-Six’s side as the main background. On top of that we get a few character shots on the right side while the left has a slick looking shot of several of the cars. The summary in the center is rather slim overall but it gets the basics across of the premise and a bit about this particular feature. The technical information is all laid out clearly and all the usual logos and other little bits of trivia are here. 
Inside we get the two clear thinpaks that us some of the basic layout designs as the slipcover, though the strip along the left side is without any text which is nice. The front covers showcase various vehicles from these episodes set against the gray and black background while the back cover has nothing on top of that background outside of the logo along the lower right. The reverse side of the covers features the side of the Eight-Six up close while the left side has the episode numbers and titles while the right has the logo along the top. No show related inserts are included in this release and while these thinpaks may be a bit meager, it does it right in my mind by showing off the cars without overdoing it too much.
The menus for this release are fairly disappointing considering the possibilities they had for a design as even the old TOKYOPOP menus were a lot better by a huge margin. The general approach here is that the full background is a small piece of the body of the Eight-Six with the navigation along the bottom done to a slight angle. There's a good metallic feeling to all of it but it's so bland overall with just the navigation and the logo there otherwise that it feels very weak and unappealing. I'd even rather have clips of the races playing behind the basic navigation over this which doesn't do anything to set the mood for the show. The submenus do load quickly and the navigation is quick and easy to use. The disc also follows the normal patter in not reading our players' language settings and defaulting to English language with the sign/song subtitle track.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
A couple of years after the third stage movie made it to theaters, the Fourth Stage arrived in early 2004 and ran through early 2006 with twenty-four episodes. The series isn’t like most shows, even at that time, as each episode runs for nearly twenty-seven minutes at a time when the majority are moving further and further to the twenty-three minute range in order to deal with the necessity of getting more advertisers on it. Those extra few minutes do help with this show though as more time is spent on the racing and the intensity of it all flows even better. Unlike our viewing of the first two stages, as those were three episodes discs spread over several months, we got to see the first half of this stage in the space of a day. And what a difference.
The Fourth Stage focuses on Takumi’s days upon joining Ryosuke’s Project D team as they’re setting about to do some big things with it. Of course, this is all while Ryosuke spends his days doing medical student things, hence his napping here and there and his usual kind of disconnect as he deals with everyone else. The focus though is almost solely on Takumi as he takes the bold step to being really into something with a passion. At least by Takumi’s standards. Ryosuke’s approach still stands as he uses the website to egg on other teams a bit by playing up their skills and how nobody will defeat them and showing off their stats. That help provide a psychological edge against their opponents, which is one of the many facets that Ryosuke uses to win.
As a member of the team, Takumi really changes a little in his overall approach to everything. The team maintains the car, though he’s getting more into participating with that and understanding what’s going on under the hood. He’s starting to get more complex instructions as the races go on from Ryosuke as well because he’s showing a much stronger grasp of the races, the locations and his opponents. Takumi is growing very well into the position that he has and he’s taking it very seriously because he doesn’t want to let Ryosuke down. He knows Ryosuke has a bigger plan in mind and he doesn’t want to impede that. Takumi is also a bit… young in a way I guess, as when Ryosuke does praise him at one point, it’s practically a surprise to him as he never expected it. Ryosuke is continually impressed by Takumi and it’s really starting to show outwardly how much Takumi is growing, especially when you have Ryosuke offering some form of praise.
The races for this set are really good, though admittedly they do start to blend heavily by the end of it if you watch it all at once. Takumi faces a number of opponents across different areas, with one of the best of them being a pro racer from the Toudou school who has lots his mojo a bit. After some of the Toudou students lose to Takumi on their home turn, the head of the school suggests it as a good way for the pro to get back into things, to find what he’s lost. Sometimes it all comes down to going up against someone with a very different set of preconceptions on how to race which can shake you up enough or even revitalize you with the reason of why you love to race. The one I enjoyed the most came towards the end as Takumi goes against a much lighter car than his and does a downhill in the rain where he’s having the hardest time he’s had in quite awhile. Each race is a challenge and they all offer different things to deal with which really does make them exciting.
While Natsuki is a complete no-show in this set, I was really pleased to see that Keisuke got some time to shine as well. One race has him going up against a female driver name Kiyoko who has fallen pretty hard for him after meeting him, thinking he may be the first one she could call a boyfriend. Keisuke is completely focused on racing and finds that thoughts of dating would only distract him, but as the small arc plays out there are some really nice scenes between the two. Kiyoko is obviously a but forward in some ways but hedges in others and Keisuke can be oblivious at times, but the two are the kind that seem to be ideally matched for each other, even down to the same types of cars. Romance is very much a minor point in this series, but moments like these along with the humanizing elements of Takumi’s friends or the subplot about his father’s new car help to give this just the right amount of life without taking away from the awesome racing sequences.
In Summary:
Initial D has been a favorite of mine ever since I started reading the manga when TOKYOPOP put that out. They managed to make racing something exciting to read about, which is just not something you think about. This season picks right up where things were left off before and moves Takumi forward with his skills, his life and his overall interest in racing. We get a pretty good varied mix of racers and Keisuke gets some time to shine as well. Little bits of background plot make it in, but by and large this is all about racing and it pays off in spades. Unlike a fighting show where the fights can get too drawn out and you tire of it, with this series the extended races are intense and exciting for the whole period it runs, whether it’s just for a single episode or crossing over into two. This is a rare show that I never thought I’d like before I read the manga and it’s one that I eagerly crave new material for. That the whole franchise has been rescued and we’re getting these “new” episodes is fantastic and exciting. Initial D is just a whole hell of a lot of fun.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles

Review Equipment

Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B
Packaging Rating: B
Menus Rating: C
Extras Rating: N/A
Age Rating: 13 and Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.
MSRP: 59.98
Running time: 280
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Initial D