Initial D Stage 1 Part 1 (of 2) (

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Wednesday, October 06, 2010
Release Date: Tuesday, September 21, 2010

When Takumi discovers that his true talent is downhill racing, his humdrum life becomes exhilarating – in a very controlled Japanese way.

What They Say
Takumi's nights working as the delivery boy for his dad's tofu shop have turned him into one of the most formidable drivers around. Behind the wheel of his modified Eight-Six, he's one with the road - and his life shifts into high gear when the underground street racing world takes notice. Local legend Keisuke, a member of the infamous Red Suns racing team, wants to take Takumi on. He's not alone; drivers from across the region are lining up for a shot at the new guy. One challenger after the next, Takumi schools the competition with his amazing drifting technique and downhill expertise. But it's not enough to simply rack up the victories - Takumi's out to prove he's the best. Contains episodes 1-13.

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 though 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 1998 to 1999, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. The series released across two discs in a standard seven/six layout that gives it plenty of space to work with. Initial D was not a high quality project at this stage, and really, not with later stages as well, so it has a very rough and almost raw feel to it at times. The show has a very murky look with much of it taking place at night and there's a fair bit of noise to the backgrounds in general, though it manages to avoid problematic blocking. The CG aspect of the show is definitely showing its age as well and it stands out, but there aren't any encoding issues with it. The gradients stand out a fair bit though. Initial D was never a great looking show but it's serviceable here and gets the job done.
The First Stage follows standard operating procedure from FUNimation with a slipcover that holds two clear thinpaks inside. The front cover gives us Takumi's Eight-Six as the only focus with a good shot of it with a schematic style version of it slightly behind it. The white trim going up along the left side with the name of the stage and that it’s the first part of it ties it all together. Underneath the Trueno we get the Japanese logo with the cursive First Stage piece and all of it ties well to the other stages. 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 showcases the Eight-Six with one cover showing the front and the other one the back side of it 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.
The only extras included in this set is the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Initial D has finally returned to the market with FUNimation bringing out the first two stages after getting the long time fans the previously unreleased seasons. Initial D was brought out by TOKYOPOP quite a few years ago, not without a fair bit of controversy that no longer exists with this set, but they never made it past the second set. FUNimation's acquisition of the franchise had them giving us those seasons first and now going back to the first two, though with one huge change; it now has a proper un-tricked out dub. The new dub is pretty solid, as we've seen from the previous releases of the later seasons, so what we get here is pretty consistent overall.
Initial D is a series that captured me from the first episode as it introduces us to eighteen year old Takumi. Takumi's the son of Bunta Fujisawa who owns a tofu shop and has made his son drive the night time deliveries up and down Mount Akina every night. While pretty much illegal, especially since Takumi just formally got his license, it's been an experience that has slowly given Takumi a massive amount of skills that he's completely unaware of. The time spent on the mountain has him knowing every nook and cranny about it, but he's also been subtly trained by his father with different methods because he used to be a famous street racer himself in his youth, not that Takumi knows this.
What changes things is when Takumi finds himself caught up in events where friends from school and his work at a gas station are part of a downhill racing team called the Akina Speed Stars. They're challenged by the Red Suns, a group traveling around the different prefectures challenging race teams with a larger plan in mind. Takumi has no clue about racing, but his skills get noticed and the challenges start rolling in and he finds himself wrapped up in a world he knew nothing about. What becomes interesting about is that Takum is pretty mellow in general and comes across as average at best, but he realizes that when he's driving like this, when it's not a job for his father, it's something that's invigorating and makes him feel alive like never before.
The first half of this season in this set largely covers Takumi's introduction to the world of street racing while bringing in a series of opponents that will having varying impact on his life. Through these first few races, he gets that taste of this larger world and wants more of it, though he's battling himself internally about it. While this is a large part of it, we also get a good feel for some of his friends that populates his life. Itsuki is his best friend, a guy who doesn't have the best look and kind of okay looks who has the feeling that things often work against him. He's the comedic relief of the show since he's desperately trying to find his place in the world while doing his best to become more like Takumi as well. Add in the friends from the Speed Stars and a potential romantic interest in a girl named Natsuki who has a bit of a sordid past.
Initial D excels at bringing intense racing scenes to the screen while making it accessible. There's a fair bit of car love going into this, but it's not detrimental to the enjoyment of the show because Takumi is pretty oblivious to it all. As he's educated, we become educated and they manage to do it without bludgeoning it over the viewers head. There's also a lot of love given to the actual races, done through the kind of awkward CG, in which it avoids the heavy cuts and edits to make it more intense than it is. Instead, we get the good long shots of the races, the camera follows it throughout and the quick cuts bring us to the characters and their internal dialogue about what they're doing or their view of their opponent. Combine it all with really good music that gives it a whole lot more excitement and it's something that comes together in an almost intoxicating way as the show builds on each new race.
In Summary:
FUNimation had a no win situation in a way with releasing this series since making fans who bought in the first time around wait would have been problematic and getting new fans by starting with the Third Stage movie doesn't help either. Add in that it's a show that's had an incomplete release for several years, unattractive animation, highly dated CG and a difficult reputation and it's a hard sell. Yet Initial D manages to overcome all of it because it's an addictive work, one that lets you into the world of downhill racing. Going back to this season after not seeing it since the old “tricked out” version, it's just as much fun as I remembered and the characters come to life in a great way. FUNimation has done well by the show overall and it's one that I wish got more attention, but it's a hard sell across the board but one that's worth the effort. In a world where we get so much that's the same, Initial D is refreshingly different and very engaging.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing

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: B-
Age Rating: 13 and Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.
MSRP: 39.98
Running time: 300
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Initial D