The range of challengers coming to take on Takumi increases, which leads to some of the most intense racing yet.
What They Say Takumi's nights working as 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 RedSuns 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 rack up the victories - Takumi's out to prove he's the best. Contains episodes 14-26.
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 one of Takumi’s opponents 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 car 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 different cars that Takumi gets to face off against 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)
Revisiting the first season of Initial D after so many years, and after watching the third and fourth stages recently, really has been a great experience. The second half of this season moves us through a few more races, races that continue to challenge Takumi, which is slowly but surely forging him as a gifted and talented street racer. The races we get in this set really start to expand the world of street racing, but we also get some solid character development pieces as well for not just Takumi but some of the others as well.
Takumi's races cover a bit of variety here and it all leads up the very important race that does show just how far Takumi has come and how amazing his gift really is. After his victory of both Keisuke and Nakazato in the first set, Takumi has more and more challengers coming out of the woodwork. The challenge that carries over from the first set is with Shingo who gets creative with how he wants to take down Takumi, doing something that will really embarrass him. A duct tape death match isn't exactly what you'd expect, but it's something that feels very in character for Shingo since he wants to make such a striking statement. The race is one of the more creative ones in the series, but it's also one that feels like it's pushing the limits a bit. It's an interesting challenge for Takumi since he agrees to it without thinking it through and has to cope with that realization in a bad way.
Where Initial D does things a little different is with the race that fills out the middle part of this set. Iketani finds himself meeting a woman who has an interest in racing, though he doesn't realize it at first since she doesn't say much, but as it turns out, Mako is actually quite the racer herself with a specialized car that she uses with her best friend Sayuri. Mako gets close to Iketani initially so she can set up a race against Takumi, but she sweetens it in an interesting way by offering him her virginity. There's some layers to this as Iketani starts to get to know her and some of her past and what motivates her. It's frustrating at the same time because Iketani keeps so much of his feelings and concerns to himself and a lot of what's eating at him are things that you can't hide, that you have to actually communicate and would do so in most real life situations. I like how it plays out overall, but there are some groan inducing moments to be had with this part of the show.
There's a lot going on in this set as it's all focused on pushing Takumi towards new experiences as his father is slowly tweaking the car and adjusting things so he can maximize his potential with each new race. While his father is fairly hands off in a personal way, he's definitely been training his son and we see that in each race. The race against Kenta in the rain just exemplifies all of this as we see what daily training has done to help get him into the right mindset to handle any kind of situation. Seeing how Takumi has grown and the interest he's gained in racing, going from someone who was essentially listless and not terribly interested in anything to what he is now is very enjoyable. It's not often you find something you really feel in tune with in life but Takumi has found it here.
What's almost a requirement for this season is to see Ryosuke take to the streets again and race. He's been set up from nearly the beginning as the big wall that Takumi has to take down in order to pass through the Akina circuit. Every racer starts with his home turf and he has to learn it, master it and then defend it from all comers. The Red Suns policy has always been to challenge others since that's where they'll find their most difficult races, ones that will challenge themselves as well. Takumi has really grown since he first went against Keisuke and everything has moved towards this confrontation that has Ryosuke putting all of his math and research together to prove what he believes is his invincible racer theory. I love the parallels these two young men have as Takumi is all about instinct, instinct that needs to be honed and trained, while Ryosuke is about the raw talent that has been molded and focused like a laser for quite some time. Both have the same potential, but they're just opposite sides of the coin. Bringing them together, especially after Keisuke's defeat, is inevitable but it's also really the most intense, exciting and thrilling race of the set and of the season overall.
I loved Initial D when I first saw it and I still think it holds up well overall though the animation of course looks dated. But even when it first came out it wasn't exactly the hottest thing out there with character designs and the CG was clunky in its own way. Yet it manages to overcome all of this because it's so intense, it draws you in so well, that you can overlook all of it. What we get here is the first stage of Takumi's life as a street racer and it's an amazing experience. With great music and races that really keep you on the edge of your seat, there's a lot to love here and worth every minute. It's the kind of show that stands apart from the rest as there's really nothing else like it. Few shows can manage a new season every few years, specials and promise of more even now, but Initial D achieves it because it is just that good. Definitely recommended
Features Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
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.
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