A brand new direction and subtitle for this Stage that were foreshadowed before now take the lead.
Ryosuke’s Project D is finally revealed. His plan is to create a team of two members-one a downhill specialist and the other uphill and to tour the other providences in order to challenge all the locals and beat them all while setting new records before dissolving. Of course Ryosuke has an a few hidden motivations as well which are hinted at rather than just deciding to conquer the street racing scene just for the sake of doing it. To this end he has established Project D with Takumi as the downhill force and his brother Keisuke as the uphill one and made the project out to be brash villains to guarantee that they provoke the most passion out of their opponents.
When Stage Four begins Project D has already begun to establish itself and the focus of the first two episodes is on the team that Project D will be racing against. The audience is introduced to Tohru and Naho who have been dating for six years but she fears for their lack of a future as Tohru spends all his money on his car. In exchange for loaning him the money to get new tires Naho makes him promise to give up racing if he loses his next race which he has no intention or desire to do. As the local team Seven Star Leaf is assembled at the top of the course Project D arrives and their professional set up is immediately apparent as they bring three minivans full of various parts and their own maintenance team to accompany them. While the members of Seven Star Leaf are assuring themselves their knowledge of the course gives them superiority Ryosuke is reviewing the plans he has made for the course. He also is making sure that Takumi is being brought in on the mechanical side of tuning his car in order to get him to advance his knowledge in that area. It turns out Project D has recorded the course and now are going to try to match those images and real practice together. A brief intermission shows that the members of the Akina Speed Stars will not be left out of the ongoing events as Itsuke is shown at work talking about Project D’s success. The Third Stage is also remembered as Takumi is shown remembering his parting with Natsuki at the end of the film while daydreaming at his delivery job.
The episode then advances with Takumi walking the course and examining its particular quirks while his father and friend discuss how Takumi has grown since Project D started. As the night of the race fall the anticipation is high among the galleries who have assembled themselves along the course to watch. Since the pass is narrow the cars will be starting in a lead-chase formation. Tohru chose to take the lead spot so as not to have his pace thrown off and his area of expertise is tackling curves. His plan backfires though as Takumi is also an expert at corners and as the battle progresses the pressure on Tohru mounts as he is pressed further than he ever has before and when Takumi chooses a seemingly impossible path will he be able to adapt or are his racing days finished?
The next episodes have Takumi returning to talk to his friends at the gas station as he has a day off from work and nothing else to do. He reveals that Project D’s next opponent is the Toudou School which is famous for having an ex-rally racer as its president. The school was founded to capitalize on the popularity of street racing-particularly drifting-and they have graduated a number of drivers who have dominated on the street level as well as drivers who have turned pro. Ryosuke chose the challenge to help the drivers advance themselves to the next level. The time is split between watching Project D preparing themselves and Daiki of the Toudou School trying to motivate himself into facing a car he believes is inferior. The challenge turns out to be greater than Daiki thought as Takumi is racing with Ryosuke’s battle plan and laying a trap. Will Daiki figure it out in time or will the Project D team gain another victory?
After the results of the previous race the Toudou School approaches one of its graduates who is racing on the pro-circuit and is a graduate of the school named Tomo. It turns out that Tomo is having his own problems on the pro side and Toudou is bringing him in to try to help snap him out of his problems. At this point some stress in Project D is starting to show its face as Keisuke starting to feel jealous of Takumi and Ryosuke is showing hesitation in his plans for the first time. The outcome of the race helps solve a few problems but the growing one of jealousy is exacerbated at the same time. From here the series progresses forward introducing new rivals and showing both Takumi and Keisuke that they still have much to learn while taking time to bring back a few older characters and introducing a brand new challenge to Takumi in the final episodes on this disc-putting him into a race where he is now in the car that is faster on straight away but losing ground on the corners.
Stage Four does a nice job of picking up where the movie left off and throwing the viewer into a work in progress rather than starting as Project D is making their beginning. It also introduces some nice new characters who will likely play a larger role in the future as well as bringing a formal rival back. On the down side many of the previous characters get pushed to the side or left behind and at times the nature of the battles seem to almost dip into the realm of opponent of the (every two) weeks but enough variety is given to the challenges of the courses that it doesn’t reach a highly repetitive nature. The only two real downsides for me are that I loved the previous Stage’s music and this one’s just aren’t clicking the same way with me and that when I heard about the Project D team idea I hoped some of the other racers that have been introduced along the way would make it onto it.
Initial D Stage Four part 1 does the job of continuing what its predecessors started while making enough changes that the stories and races don’t fall into the trap of making the viewer think they have seen these episodes before. It is a tad lighter on character development than I would have liked but that is partially due to the nature of the show changing in how the Project D team is now visiting different areas. Oddly at times the show can seem to have both too many and too few characters but this feels most due to the nature of having the three main leads versus some other characters that will have a much more limited over all role. It is still a fun series and the races are better animated and paced than ever before so fans of the previous Stages need to give Four a spin as well.
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