Mania Grade: A
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- Audio Rating: A+
- Video Rating: A-
- Packaging Rating: A+
- Menus Rating: B
- Extras Rating: A+
- Age Rating: All
- Region: 2 - Japan
- Released By: Avex
- MSRP: ¥44100
- Running time: 684
- Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
- Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
- Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
- Series: Initial D
Initial D: First Stage Box Set
Initial D: First Stage Box Set
What They Say
**Initial pressing only limited release** Consists of 7 discs containing all 26 episodes of enormously popular "Initial D - First Stage" with 5.1 surround channel. Special bonus features are expected to include a special DVD stand shaped like an Initial D wheel. The Review!
Long anticipated by fans, this series has finally been picked up by an American distributor. What better time to review the entire first season in the form of this R2 limited edition dvd boxset? Based on a manga serial about Japanese street racing, this TV series is pure, unadulterated adrenaline that is as exciting to watch today as when it first aired over three years ago.
This dvd boxset has truly surpassed the norm with the inclusion of a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track, something almost unheard of in TV series. The use of surround sound is par excellence, with excellent 5.1 mixes of the pulse-pounding techno soundtrack starting things off on the right foot. Next up, we have amazing clarity and directionality in the vocal tracks. In a show of good judgement and subtlety, the background music and ambient noise never compete with the spoken dialogue. However, the absolute show-stealer is the fantastic use of the surround format in the car races, where the squealing of the tires and the roar of the engines is utilised to the utmost to propel the viewers' sense of excitement. Not only are the car sounds absolutely spot-on (they were painstakingly recorded from the real things), but the surround effects are utilised to their full potential in the gut-wrenching car races. Not only can you clearly hear the roars (or whines in the case of the rotaries!
of the engines, you can even make out the trajectories of each car as they pass you. For those not privileged to have a 5.1 setup, the stereo track still has some pretty good pro-logic encoding. Amazing stuff.
The transfer is pretty much up to expectations for an R2 release, being hampered only by the quality of the source material. In the first 2 episodes, the transfer quality of the hand-drawn frames is a little below the standard of the rest of the set, with some cross-colouration evident. It appears as if the first two episodes may have been mastered from the laserdisc. However, things improve dramatically for the rest of the series, with much improved transfer and bitrates. For example, the first disc has an average bitrate of 7.30 MB/s (still above average compared to many R1 TV anime discs) compared to the last disc which has 9.11 MB/s. The transfer of the CGI scenes is impeccable in all the discs.
The boxset comes in an elegant black box with a ressuring weightiness that hints at goodness within. Sure enough, enclosed is a metal dvd stand in the shape of a pair of racing wheels that accomodates all the discs with room to spare for the second season (currently also available).
In addition to the 7 discs housing the show, there is a bonus eighth disc with a 45-minute documentary recapping most of the races in the first season and with insights into the making of the show. A highlight of this documentary is the guest appearance of Tsuchiya Keiichi, the "drift king" of Japan, who discusses the various races in the show and explains the strengths and weaknesses of the various competitors. An absolute must-see is footage of Tsuchiya-san performing drift techniques in his Hachi-Roku, often with a terrified voice-actor from the show in the passenger seat. Lastly, this bonus disc also contains creditless openings and endings for the entire first season, as well as several TV commercials for the show and the dvd set.
Several years after first watching it, Initial D still manages to evoke a feeling of excitement every time I watch it. However, it is not only the thrill of the car races that draws me back to the series, but the affable and eminently human characters.
The show starts with a (very sensible) warning not to try and emulate the driving techniques portrayed. It then begins with an episode eccentrically titled: "Ultimate Tofu Drift Guy". We see a seemingly pedestrian panda AE-86 (Toyota Corolla) with decals proclaiming it to be from the "Fujiwara Tofu Shop". It is travelling downhill at insane speed, and drifts dramatically through the curvy mountain road, which is deserted in the wee hours of the morning. It passes a man driving to work in his car, who notices the car and smiles, saying, "same as ever".
We then cut to our main characters in the show, later on in the day. Fujiwara Takumi and his best friend Itsuki are two high school students who have just turned eighteen. For Itsuki, this means one thing: cars (the legal age for driving in Japan is 18). He is avidly keen on obtaining a Hachi-Roku (the Toyota AE-86 Corolla), but doesn't have enough money to buy one. For the sleepy-eyed Takumi however, cars are the last thing on his mind. He has absolutely no interest in cars or driving, which infuriates Itsuki to no end.
Takumi and Itsuki both work part-time at a service station, and their senior co-worker Iketani is the leader of the local street racing gang, the Akina SpeedStars. They get themselves invited to the slopes of Mt Akina in the evening, where the locals gather to race. Shortly after they get there, a rival team from Akagi, the RedSuns, appear and challenge them to a battle next week. During the warm-up session with the RedSuns, Iketani realises that his team is hopelessly outclassed. His only hope lies with the rumour he hears that the fastest driver at Akina can be found driving a Hachi-Roku from a tofu shop...
Thus begins Takumi's induction into the world of street racing. He has no interest in racing, as he has been helping his father's tofu shop for the past five years by delivering tofu in the family car at 4 am every morning. However, when his father (in a transparent bid for Most Responsible Parent of the Year) coerces him into racing on Saturday, a legend is born...
Initial D, is as you may have guessed, mainly about racing. However, this belies a genuinely likeable cast of characters and a highly enjoyable show that has equal parts comedy, fun and sheer nail-biting, seat-gripping excitement. The main focus of the show is around Takumi and his group of friends. Itsuki steals the show with his over-the top performance, being a bit of a loon, and Takumi is the polar opposite of his best friend, being somewhat reserved and always sleepy (YOU try delivering tofu every morning at 4 am and see how sprightly you are). The rest of the cast is rounded up by Takumi's dad Bunta, the station manager Yuichi, and Takumi's love-interest fellow schoolmate Mogi, who has some dark skeletons in her closet.
Rounding up the supporting cast are Takumi's various challengers, who defy tradition by not necessarily being villains, and who often become genuinely likeable.
Central to the show are the car races, which are done with computer animation that may be jarring to some viewers but which strikes me as the perfect medium to convey the speed and fluidity of street racing. The detail of the computer rendered cars is a little primitive, but the animation is top-notch, and you soon forget any visual shortcomings and are drawn into the excitement of the race. Aiding immensely to this immersion are the pulse-pounding techno soundtrack and highly skilful editing, which capture just the right balance of excitement and anticipation. When you see an episode end at the cliffhanger to a race (which is a staple for the show), you know you just can't wait to see how it ends.
Takumi always seems hopelessly outmatched by his opponents, as he has to race his Toyota Corolla against RX-7s, Nissan Skylines, Silvias etc. It is a credit to the creators that they can continue to present Takumi (and the audience) with seemingly unsurmountable challenges and/or numerous close calls. In case you were wondering (for those who haven't seen the whole series and movie), Takumi doesn't necessarily win every race. 'Nuff said (grin).
For a truly exciting show that nonetheless manages to tell an enjoyable story with a likeable cast of characters, you can't go wrong with Initial D. It is definitely one of my favourite shows and is likely to remain so for many years to come.
5.1 DD Japanese Track,Stereo (Prologic encoded) Japanese Track,Battle Retrospective & Making of Initial D video,Textless Openings (x2) and Endings(x3),Metal DVD Stand in shape of Racing Wheels (accommodates 1st and 2nd Stage DVD's)
Loewe Xemixx5006D Player (RGB), Grundig Xentia 82cm Flatscreen 16:9 TV, Soyny HTK-215 Surround System