The challenges only become more intense as Project D takes Saitama down completely.
What They Say Project D hasn't lost a race yet, but the pressures of competition are starting to take a toll, and the team's spotless record and growing reputation are in serious jeopardy. Downhill specialist Takumi struggles with a major confidence crisis when a mysterious Impreza has its way with his Eight-Six. Meanwhile, uphill ace Keisuke fights to control his reckless intensity in the face of his brother's expectations.
Both drivers know that cool nerves of steel can mean the difference between a fiery crash and a first place finish. For Project D to stay on top, they'll need to get their eyes back on the road and focus on what they do best: going faster than everyone else.
Contains episodes 13-24.
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, but unlike the Third Stage movie, 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 2004 through 2006, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is not enhanced for anamorphic playback. The show is released across two discs with six episodes to a disc, but it’s worth noting that episode lengths are longer than usual as each episode clocks in at just around twenty-seven minutes as opposed to the usual twenty-three or twenty-four. With a few years between stages, the show has a much stronger look than the third stage and the transfer brings all of that out. The show does have some noise in the backgrounds with all the dark night time sequences and some of the CG for the cars shows it as well, but overall I was pretty pleased with how the show looked considering its relative age, budget and that it’s 16:9 but non-anamorphic. It’s a definite step up over the previous stage.
The Fourth Stage follows standard operating procedure from FUNimation with a slipcover that holds two clear thinpaks inside. The front cover gives us one of the Purple Shadow's 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 the second part of it. Underneath the cars we get the Japanese logo with the cursive Fourth Stage piece and all of it ties well to the previous stage and hopefully the eventual second and first stages as well. 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 showcase various vehicles from these episodes 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.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Getting back into Initial D this year with the Third Stage movie and then the first half of this season has been really enjoyable. Initial D isn't a show I can classify as a guilty pleasure because there's no guilt about it. It's really just a pleasure because it deals so easily and beautifully with its main focus while teasing around the edges with other things. This is really all about the racing and the challenges the drivers have to face in themselves, the road and others. It touches upon some personal issues here and there, but they never dominate and they don't distract from the core situations at hand. They accent it nicely at times, but even that is pretty mild overall in the grand scheme of things.
With the focus on the racing, the show covers a fair amount of them across the twelve episodes here, even if they do spread a couple of them across two episodes on occasion. Ryousuke continues to work Project D through quite a few varied races as he's trying to challenge them both, tease out of them their true potential through matches that will be ones they should be able to win if they're able to climb over a particular wall that one of them represents. That the elder Takahashi brother is able to figure out how to move though the Saitama groups and manipulate everything is really the most impressive part of the show. As skilled and natural as Takumi is, seeing how Ryousuke manages all of this and with the kind of calm he has really elevates him to an amazing level. One that Keisuke continues to admire intensely.
Each of the races has its own flavor and style to it. One of the races involves a group of rather shady racers who are doing the whole thing for money, though they don't have the talent to actually pull it off. Instead they end up using a bit of trickery, such as taking down Keisuke's car before he can actually race by spreading oil along the road. That puts a nice twist on the race as Keisuke won't sit back and just accept it, so he takes the race even more personally than he usually does. The best moment with this race comes from the way he deals with it at the end when the shady characters have some biker gang friends come by to help rough up the Project D folks but it doesn't go anything like anyone expected.
The best races in this set though involves the team facing off against a rather unlikely pair of racers when they travel past Saitama. The two men are in their forties and have been racing for a couple of decades, something that's almost unheard of. When we have racers in the mid mid twenties in awe of Takumi at being nineteen, it's a whole different perspective with these two. They go into the races with a sense of honor and fun about them, but the races invariably turn into something more intense as the young upstarts show they have potential and are up to the challenge of reminding these elder racers, both of which have impressive styles about them, that there is definitely promise in the next generation.
As much fun as the races are, the character drama throughout is really well done as well. There's generally a big focus on Takumi as he's growing and changing. His father is pushing through these changes in sometimes less than subtle ways, such as forcing him into trying a FWD vehicle on alternate nights from the Eight-Six. Through his father's commentary at scattered points throughout the set, we continue to see the way he's trying to nudge Takumi over the hurdles he must face. Takumi's father is really one of the most intriguing characters of the series, the one you want to see a whole lot more done with in order to understand him. He's the other half of the equation along with Ryousuke in creating the path for Takumi to follow in order to truly unlock what he can be.
Equally as fun is watching the actual teenage relationships come into play throughout this set. Keisuke finds himself still being sought out by Kyoko, though she is playing it very safe and keeping her distance as she just wants to be able to watch him from afar and admire that. Keisuke deals with her in a rather unpleasant way overall, but he was honest about it before with her and he tries to find another way to send her along. He has his most telling statement in saying that the way she's being restrained is something that doesn't sit well with him as he finds people that do that tend to not live their lives to the fullest. We also get a bit of fun with Itsuki as he's doing his best to get closer to Kazumi, but that whole situation starts to play out really well only to flame out in a way that's wholly appropriate – and unfortunate – for Itsuki.
The end of the Fourth Stage of Initial D is bittersweet as we had some great stories and races told here throughout. The show has so much more material to work through, and hopefully we will see the Fifth Stage come to fruition in Japan and release here. Initial D is a show that just deals so well with the technical side of street racing while infusing it with characters that you enjoy and an incredible amount of tension in each race where the outcome truly is constantly in doubt. This season overall was a lot of fun to watch, to see how the animation and style has changed over the years and yet to find that it all still comes together in a way that makes it exciting and thrilling. Initial D is certainly not a title for everyone, but it's the kind of show that I'm glad beyond words that exists and has managed to have new installments made over the years with significant gaps between them. Definitely one of those shows that stands out from the pack that I was eager to have in my collection.
Features Japanese 2.0 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.
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