Initial D Vol. #01 - Mania.com



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Mania Grade: B+

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Info:

  • Audio Rating: A-
  • Video Rating: B
  • Packaging Rating: B+
  • Menus Rating: A-
  • Extras Rating: B
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: TOKYOPOP
  • MSRP: 19.98
  • Running time: 75
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Initial D

Initial D Vol. #01

By Chris Beveridge     August 31, 2003
Release Date: September 16, 2003


Initial D Vol. #01
© TOKYOPOP


What They Say
Episode 1
The Ultimate Tofu Store Drift
As Tak Fujiwara helps deliver tofu for his dad over the years, he unconsciously acquires racing skills. At the same time, the #2 driver of the Red Suns racing team, K.T. Takahashi, accidentally meets Tak and challenges him to a racing battle.

Episode 2
Revenge! The Rumbling Turbo
Team Speed Stars accepts the Red Suns' challenge and the ace of the Speed Stars, Cole, struggles to find the Eight Six that defeated K.T. Takahashi to become a legend of Akina.

Episode 3
The Downhill Specialist Appears
Cole learns about Tak's father, Bunta, and how he's the fastest driver on Mount Akina. Cole injures himself in a car accident, so he asks Bunta to drive for his team against the Red Suns but ...

The Review!
One of the more controversial releases of the past couple of years, Initial D has finally made its way over here.

Please Note: For review purposes, the technical section will cover only the “Classic” version of the release. The “Enhanced” version will be covered at the end of the content section. All grades listed above cover only the Classic Version.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese, which is also encoded in 5.1 from the original Japanese release. The audio is a huge part of this show and it comes across beautifully here. While there doesn’t seem to be a ton of sounds going to the rear speakers, they’re well used for various directional effects. The 5.1 track is also very well used in providing forward soundstage directionality with the car engines and movements. Dialogue throughout this is crisp and clear and we had no issues with it at all. Add in the music mix to this and you’ve got one fantastic sounding release.

Video:
Originally airing back in 1998, Initial D has a decent looking transfer that makes the best of the materials. The show is a mix of traditional animation and CG effects, with the CG mostly used for the cars. The main problem that will bother some people more than others is the frame jitter during scene transitions; this occurs more doing the anime -> anime transitions than an anime -> CG or vice versa. It’s very prominent during the opening couple of minutes of the first episode before it settles down some, but it’s noticeable throughout all three episodes. There’s a touch of cross coloration in a few scenes and a very light amount of aliasing. Colors look good if somewhat dull by design. The opening and ending sequences are left in their original form with the Japanese text and completely untranslated.

Packaging:
With the Japanese release, they used each cover to showcase a different car from the series. So far, it looks like the same may happen here albeit with different artwork. The front cover for this volume has a nice CG style shot of the Eight-Six with some light motions behind it. Shots from the manga are lined along the bottom and we get the usual bar along the left for the TOKYOPOP logo. The front cover and the spine both sport the volume number, a plus for me, and the back lists the episode numbers and titles. There’s a few animation shots on the back cover as well as a brief summary of the premise. The discs features and technical aspects are clearly listed, though it’s impossible to really explain the two video versions included on the cover. I do think it’s very wrong however to list the running time as 150 minutes when, even though there’s two versions, it’s essentially the same thing. The insert provides another shot of the front cover and opens to provide a panel on various street racer terms which are pretty version-neutral. The other panel provides a brief breakdown of four of the main characters. Also included in this first volume is one of the CCG cards from the upcoming game release. I got the Skyline GT-R SE.

Menu:
The menus here are a really neat piece and in full 5.1 at that, courtesy of the excellent designs by Nightjar. Splitting up the screen a bit, the top three quarters of the screen has several race scenes from the show playing done in a colored filter that looks great while playing the sound effects to it as opposed to music. The bottom have provides a nice shot of the Eight-Six and provides the selections. Submenus load quickly and access times are nice and fast. When the disc first loads, it lets you choose which version you want to play (though a nice license plate style) and you can readjust it later in the settings menu, including the video choice.

Extras:
The extras for this release are pretty minimal, with just under two minutes worth of dub outtakes (which I expect to hear a lot of for this series when they use the technical car terms). There’s also a section that provides a “character gallery” style piece for a number of cars that show up in this volume.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
When first announced, Initial D sparked the excitement of a number of fans and dread for others. This is a series where I haven’t really seen anyone go down the middle of the road in how they feel about it. Then when there was the news of there being two versions, the controversy about the title only grew bigger. Add in changes to the manga as well and the hardcore Initial D fan was not feeling much love.

Initial D, in the first three episodes here, sets the stage for what I think is a surprisingly addictive and fun story. Set against the backdrop of Mt. Akina and the city below it, we’re introduced to high school student Takumi and his best friend Itsuki. Itsuki is turning into a major car fanatic and is longing for the day he can buy his own car, though his funds will keep him from being able to do that for a long time. Takumi doesn’t care much particularly. In fact, Takumi is the kind of person who has that almost eternally near-sleep look on his face that causes people to be unsure if he’s paying attention. It’s an cute trait that runs in the family.

With Itsuki’s love of racing and Mt. Akina having its own local heroes in a downhill racing team known as the Speed Stars, it’s not long before Itsuki manages to convince Takumi to go with him to one of the Saturday night meetings. It happens that one of their co-workers at the gas station is actually the leader of the Speed Stars, so they even get to ride up with him for it. Just about everyone who works at the gas station is very into cars and racing, including the older owner who used to do a fair bit of it in his youth.

Takumi’s so disconnected from the car world that when he’s actually there at the race, he’s pretty oblivious to most of the details about. Itsuki’s continually going on about it, day in and day out, that it’s little wonder. In fact, Itsuki is kind of like that loud friend that gets excited about everything that you really wonder how you’re friends with after awhile. Takumi’s so laid back though that it’s easy to see him being able to deal with the near frantic nature of someone like Itsuki at times.

The opening event at Mt. Akina doesn’t go quite as well as the Speed Stars hope when they’re challenged by a surprise visit from the Akagi Red Suns. After getting completely blown away by the second stringers of the team, the Speed Stars are in shock at what happened. The two brothers who are the top drivers of the Red Suns decide to still do a formal downhill race the following weekend though, so that they can claim the all time record that none in the Speed Stars could ever beat, thereby spreading their name further across the land.

What one of the brothers, Keisuke, spends time later that same night getting familiar with the road for the upcoming battle, he finds himself dueling against a mysterious car that came out of nowhere. His car is naturally pretty specialized and modern so it’s only more shocking when he finds out that he’s going against an Eight-Six, a car that’s easily ten years or more out of date and doesn’t look like anything more than a stock version at that. His eventual loss is humiliating to him, but it brings about a real sense of anticipation for the next race as he’s sure that the driver must have been a Speed Star.

Of course, it’s easy to figure out that the driver was actually Takumi. As we learn, even though he only got his license a month or two prior, he’s been driving for his fathers tofu shop for the past five years. His father is actually one of the legends of racing in the area and has been using his own subtle methods to teach Takumi proper driving over that time, such as making sure he does the deliveries in a certain amount of time and not spilling a water cup among others. Takumi doesn’t take in any of the technical sides of driving but rather just lives it as something he has to do. It’s nothing special for him, but what he does is amazing for others, something that some spend entire lives trying to acquire. With Takumi’s sleeping look, this can only infuriate those he beats.

While racing is central part of the show, there’s a lot of solid character material going on here. Takumi’s blossoming romance with fellow schoolgirl Natsuki looks to have something of a darker past between the two that we catch briefly in flashback. Iketani, the leader of the Speed Stars, develops a relationship with Takumi’s father in trying to discern who the real driver is and there’s all kinds of interesting bits going on with the various drivers that come to challenge. There’s also an interesting side piece going on early on about Natsuki and her sugardaddy (who you clearly hear called “papa” in the audio, but is toned down so much in the subtitles that it’s invisible) that becomes more important later in the series.

With some bad looking CG at times, the race scenes manage to still capture my attention, particularly since I’ve been suffering through the altered manga for awhile and enjoying those sequences a lot. There’s definitely some noticeable improvement in the quality of the CG as the episodes progress here, though there’s enough here that will turn a number of people off I’m sure. The overall combination of things here between the racing, the cast and the basic plot is very addictive. Tied with a very engaging and well themed soundtrack, it's a rush a lot of moments to watch.

Enhanced Version:
After watching the classic version in its entirety, I decided to watch through the Enhanced Version. I managed to make it about five minutes into it before realizing that what was done here is absolutely awful. It’s rare that I’ll actually use a term like that, but what was done is what long time anime fans despise seeing happen to a show. The Enhanced Version does a number of things different. One of them is changes to the names. Takumi becomes Tak, which isn’t bad. Itsuki becomes Iggy. Others get shortened to initials, some get other strange changes. All of this happened in the manga after the first volume and the same names are used here. Name changes like this is something that I thought we had finally gotten past unless you were releasing a show through WB or some other TV only version.

Another change is in the music. I absolutely fell in love with the music in the Classic Version. The opening and ending songs were great, the mixes used in the show itself were great and all of them really worked the scenes perfectly. After the show was over, it’s the kind of soundtrack you realize you must go purchase as soon as possible. The Enhanced Version removes all of that and uses all new music, mostly in a hip hop style that’s supposedly still popular. This is another aspect I thought we were done with. What’s worse is that the music, while fitting the scene, changes the mood entirely for many scenes. Where one sequence in the Classic provides a fun feel to the driving sequence, the Enhanced feels more foreboding and dreadful.

And a far worse offense is that the music actually overpowers the dialogue in many scenes.

Another change is the video is enhanced. During one sequence you’ll see the Eight-Six coming down the road and the Enhanced version will then split it into a four screen view of the same thing. Or a scene will end and it will all go to pixels and fade. New wipes and fades are added, all in the name of “tricking it out” to appeal to people more. Toss me into the over the hill crowd, but I think it ruins the dynamic of the races and pulls away from the long shots and pans, which really work you into the feel of the show, to provide these cute little additions.

With the ending sequence containing video from the group who sings it, a new ending sequence is done up that features all CG racing from the series. It ends up looking positively silly though since they put the credits on the right and basically split the screen in half and squish the video. The CG cars now look like Matchbox cars spinning around. The end credits are also the only place to get translated credits for the Japanese voice actors and for the production team. The end credits on this version are treated like just about any other release in that regard.

Summary:
I rather enjoy Initial D and find it strangely addictive. The episodes actually feel longer than they are and in a good way. Being already familiar with these characters help, as well as knowing some of what’s to come, but it plays out great here. The character designs are somewhat ugly at times and the CG is funky in places, but Initial D just has that something that I can’t explain that makes me enjoy it. It’s almost like a guilty pleasure.

We’ll definitely be reviewing future volumes, but this volume is all we’re going to comment on the Enhanced Version. That particular “thing” is what most fans that I know dread seeing anime become. It’s unfortunate that dub fans won’t be able to enjoy the show as it was, instead having to deal with name changes, added cussing and hard to hear dialogue. Fans of the show as originally aired will find themselves in a bind about picking this up and giving the impression of the Enhanced Version being popular. With the low price, it’s hard to pass up. In the end, I think TOKYOPOP missed the boat on this one with the three episode count and the changes made that are alienating its core fans.

Features
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Enhanced Video Option,Car Gallery,Trading Card Game - How-To

Review Equipment
Toshiba TW40X81 40" HDTV, Panasonic RP-82 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Sony speakers.


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