Mania Grade: B
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- Audio Rating: B+
- Video Rating: C+
- Packaging Rating: B+
- Menus Rating: B-
- Extras Rating: N/A
- Age Rating: 13 and Up
- Region: 1 - North America
- Released By: FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.
- MSRP: 29.98
- Running time: 100
- Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
- Disc Resolution: 480i/p
- Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
- Series: Initial D
Initial D Stage 3 Movie
Initial D Stage 3 Movie DVD Review
By Chris Beveridge
April 27, 2010
Release Date: May 11, 2010
Initial D Stage 3 Movie
School's almost over and Takumi has to decide what he really wants to do as a very tasty offer is now in front of him.
What They Say
Anyone can drive fast. Only one driver can be the fastest. It takes nerve, skill, and the right car - and Takumi's got all three. His rep as a dominating downhill racer is growing, but when he's invited to drive for an all-star team that could change the face of local racing, Takumi's got to beat his stiffest competition before he'll join their ranks: himself.
With graduation approaching, his classmates drift toward uncertain futures. For Takumi, looking ahead means putting as many challengers in his rearview mirror as he can. If he can prove to himself that he's ready, the next stage is waiting, and it's all downhill from there.
Initial D gets a solid bilingual presentation here as the original Japanese language track was in 5.1 back in 2001 and the English one mirrors at well, both of which are encoded at 448kbps. The full impact of the 5.1 mix isn't really felt for a lot of it, though it's worth noting that the music comes across weaker than you'd expect, but it fits well because they have used it in a way so as to not overpower the dialogue itself. That gives it a slightly muted feeling during many of the big driving sequences where the internal monologues are going on. The rear channels are nicely used throughout these scenes though as the cars whip aruond 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 in 2001, 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's visual certainly aren't the kind to lend to a really strong looking presentation, both the character animation and the CG for the races, and this non-anamorphic release has a hard time looking good. In fact, there's even a fair amount of scratches and dirt visible throughout the film that feels really unusual after so many years of clean prints from digitally animated shows. The main issue outside of the non-anamorphic aspect is that there's a fair bit of grain noise here which has both backgrounds and foreground character animation feeling rather alive. It's essentially what was expected for this franchise which was never gorgeous to begin with so there really aren't any surprises here.
The Third Stage gets a cardboard slipcover that replicates the actual cover artwork while adding something that stands out a bit more because of the nature of the cardboard and the coloring on it. It certainly looks more vibrant and eye-catching than what you get underneath the shrinkwrap. The front cover gives us a couple of the 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 a feature length film. Underneath the cars we get the Japanese logo with the cursive Third Stage piece and there's also a burst sticker here that talks about it having a new cast and being “the creator's original vision,” since that tricked out edition is nowhere to be found here. 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 Eight-Six takes prominence at the bottom though as well it should. 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 the reverse side has a shot of the side of the Eight-Six with the logo along the upper left to tie it all together.
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)
It's been almost five years since we saw the last new release of something from Initial D with the fourteenth volume of the anime from TOKYOPOP. FUNimation stepped up to handle distribution of the series in a couple of sets in 2007 and 2008, but it's been forever since we've had anything new from the franchise. Thankfully, FUNimation has decided to take on the title personally now by bringing over the third and fourth stages of the show while also planning to re-dub and re-work the first two stages for later release. Knowing that the die hard fans want new material, they've kicked off their releases with the first of the unreleased pieces, the Third Stage, which is a movie that took place in the middle of the TV seasons.
Unlike a lot of movies from franchise, especially established ones like Initial D which was a phenomenon in Japan in manga form, this movie picks up where the TV series ended and carries the story forward. It's not a side story or something out of place in the universe or even a re-telling from a different perspective. The story here takes us to the time in the life of Takumi where his school days are almost over and he has to figure out what it is he really wants to do with his life. He's discovered a love of downhill racing in the last six months as he's ended up causing quite the stir among the locals on Mount Akina. Takumi's never professionally raced or even tried racing itself, but it turned out that his father was tuning his car, the infamous Eight-Six, and teaching him the right things all this time as he handles the driving for his father's tofu store. All of it has paid off as Takumi is as much of a gifted driver as his father was in his youth, if not more so. What he lacks is experience with other racers and knowledge of the workings of cars and their weaknesses and strengths. But for someone like Takumi, it's not really necessary as he has such innate skill.
Where things slowly start to change for Takumi, and makes up the main background storyline of this feature, is that after his time racing against the Red Suns and the Takahashi brothers themselves, he's now being offered a position on the team that they intend to roll out the following spring. There's a real push to make something big and amazing with this time and Ryosuke wants Takumi to be a key part of it because of his natural talents. There are incentives to be a part of it as it looks as though Ryosuke is intent on monetizing it, something that's definitely necessary considering the expense of the vehicles and maintenance, and the whole deal is entirely attractive to Takumi. He does handle it in his very laid back manner which befits him and wants to take time to think about it because it is such a departure from what he's been like. He hasn't given much thought to his life overall, just going through the days and the motions, that finding something like this has him pausing to really be sure it's what he wants.
The personal side of the film tends to deal with the relationship between Takumi and Natsuki, which had been going fairly well in the series as she was getting closer to him and the two even shared a kiss on the lake. What has thrown things off is that Takumi sees her driving off with an older man in a Benz and he realizes she's dealing in compensated dating with the guy. The realization is a complete turnoff for him and he becomes very cold and distant toward her, no matter how much she tries to talk to him. It's a bit heartbreaking watching this as she's so earnest in trying to set the record straight with him but she avoids being overly emotional or clingy about it. She's not demanding or over the top with it, nor is she crying off in a corner constantly. It's a fairly realistic approach to things that I found worked very well.
A good portion of the film is dedicated to the racing though, which is definitely a great part. It's been five years since I last saw one of these races and I had forgotten how enjoyable they were. There does feel to be a bit less tension to the ones here though, particularly the first one against Suduo of Team Emperor, and I can't be quite certain why. It does pick up considerably more though with the later race that's brought up from the past as the son of a racer Takumi's dad used to go against has surfaced and challenged the infamous Eight-Six. This puts Takumi on a new course with someone that has intimate knowledge of it and a bit of a trick up his sleeve as well. This race proved to be the most exciting of the feature and was filled with the money shots, including the cars making leaps into the air which I'll admit I did not expect.
Initial D still has two big hurdles to deal with, though they're not ones that I ever thought really bothered me. The first is that since this is from 2001, the race scenes obviously are pretty dated CG, though it was rather good for its time and budget. I like the feel of it, but I have a history with it and I love seeing the races I read in the manga animated in any form and I do believe that the CG versions are the best way to do it. The other is the character designs which are most definitely not the norm out there, yesteryear or this year. It's very easy to call a lot of them ugly, but they hew to the source material very well and I have come to love those as well over time with as many volumes of the manga as I read. It definitely gives it a bit more character and it avoids having all the same-looking characters we do get for a lot of other series.
While the feature hasn't held up as well as I would have hoped, or perhaps the TV series is simply more exciting with its shorter form to tell the races in more detail, I thoroughly enjoyed re-engaging myself in the world of Initial D. This show is the kind that should always have done better than it has and been pushed more because it's the kind of show that does go outside the norms in a lot of ways. Getting back in sync with these characters and their ways was a whole lot of fun and by the time the big race at the end comes around, everything is flowing perfectly. While I would have liked to have seen the new versions of the first two seasons first, to properly get into the full groove, I've got no complaints about FUNimation launching with unreleased material first. This show is just a whole lot of fun and I can't wait to sink my teeth into the Fourth Stage TV season.
Japanese 5.1 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles
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.