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Movies & Series 14 August 2023, 12:50

This Average Anime Has Changed The World

If you think that only Dragon Ball created cultural and social phenomena, you are mistaken. Every once in a while, the Japanese manage to release an anime that turns an entire generation on to some phenomenon. For example, iconic Initial D!

When asked about the most influential anime of all time, Dragon Ball probably comes to most minds. Although uneven, at times even silly, the show is engaging enough to dominate the imagination of... well, at least half the world. One, we'll never get rid of Goku from pop culture, and two, not many series have driven kids into martial arts and the gym so effectively. But this isn't an isolated case. Japan has given us several titles that have forever changed motorsport and car culture. One of them was the worn-out, but iconic Initial D. I have the impression that without this far-from-perfect series, the youth of millennials would have looked a bit different.

First lap

Drifting is quite a common these days. Sportsmen are drifting, Fast and Furious stars (and their stuntmen) are drifting, kids are drifting, drifters and casual drivers are drifting as well. If everyone, then everyone, so grandma too. Although it's quite a tricky art and it's easy to lose control and wreck the good old 1.6-liter BMW. Nonetheless, we try. Because it looks super-cool, it pumps adrenaline of both spectators (including those who are converting this maneuver to fine expressed in dollars...) and drivers. But drifting around corners wasn't always so popular. It was the Japanese who lifted it to the status of art and then pushed this image around the world.

It all started with Keiichi Tsuchiya, a street racer and rascal, who conquered Japanese races like a monstrous Mercedes CLK DTM group, and also showed the world what he could do. However, Tsuchiya stood out among his peers, and his story resembles the typical road "from zero to hero.” He honed his skills as a street racer, hurtling up and down Japanese mountain hairpins (known as “touge driving”). Illegally, in a Spartan way. The street turned out to be a pretty good school of life and driving, because when Tsuchiya got into sports – he was unstoppable. In his class, he won the Le Mans twice. He won the championship of Japan in 2001.

But above all, we remember him not for the titles, but for the driving style that revolutionized the approach to the sport. Winning and riding in a "normal" way around the track seemed too boring to our champion. He also believed that fans deserved a real show, so, using his experiences in climbs and downhills, he simply drifted his way to subsequent victories. By popularizing this maneuver in sport, he changed the face of the discipline. About the history of Tsuchiya a really good series could have been made (I recommend this material for starters), but the changes that the guy had already made were supported by popculture.

Suichi Shigeno, a manga creator currently working on a new comic, asked the Japanese master for a consultation. The series was called Initial D. If at the sound of this title, joyful eurobeat songs resonate in your head, and under your eyelids, you see an AE 86 Trueno Toyota coming out of a corner flat-out, welcome home. If you have been on the Internet even for a week, you did not have to watch the series or read the manga – the impact was felt by everyone who has a contact with the meme zone.

Second lap – a tour of pop culture

In the West, Initial D had hit a wave and still resonates today with the power of racing engines. It's really interesting because subsequent seasons were released several years apart, and the last series in came in 2014. In addition to this, we still got special episodes held between "stages" of the full-length series within the franchise itself, and after the end of the series, we also got three movies retelling the origins of the story in a more compact way. This was accompanied by a movie production and video games. Movie, however, didn't impress the fans. There will also be a sequel with a new character, MF Ghost, coming (I'm talking about the TV series, the manga is already underway)....

As if that wasn't enough, there are also memes. A ton of memes with a Toyota AE 86 coming out of corners like a rushing beast. Personally, I have a soft spot for YouTube comments under videos from real races and games, which are like "And now imagine that these pimped out cars are being overtaken by a young tofu salesman in a trustworthy Toyota." What's not to love here...?

This Initial D is responsible for the pop-culture plague that is eurobeat. This quirky – and paradoxically quite sophisticated musically – combination of Italodisco, techno, and occasional rock gets into your brain just like the opening of Duck Tales. That's why, even if you haven't watched the racing anime, you've heard some of it in one way or another. Because around 90% of the soundtrack consists eurobeat. Let me point, perfectly selected eurobeat, which has become stock music for all videos or social media clips showcasing races, especially drifts.

And indeed, Initial D had a strong impact on the real world, long before the arrival of mega franchises like Fast and Furious (they, actually, bowed to Initial D with Tokyo Drift – Tsuchiya was doing consulting work and allowed himself a small cameo). The TV show, and earlier also the manga, contributed to the popularity of drifting worldwide, especially in the United States. Thanks to anime and comics, kids quickly discovered their inner speed demon, joined clubs, looked for some community, and also expanded their knowledge (because Initial D itself provided a lot of it – both in manga and in the anime).

Sure, it caused a rash of adolescent road lunatics in crooked cars. The second thing is that drift from driving techniques has evolved into a separate field of motorsport with growing popularity. It's enough to say that such internet celebrities as Kickster MotoznaFca, for example, have taken up drifting competitions. And aside from illegal and legal competition – learning how to control a slide and how to get out of it, even if only in a desolate parking lot at night in the rain, is a skill that has saved the lives of many a drivers on magnificent, well-maintained and well-marked roads. Sorry, a small digression. Simply when a pop culture product hits reality at so many levels, it means that the creators have achieved something.

From zero to hero

So, is it an outstanding anime? Is it worthy enough to stand next to Cowboy Bebop, Full Metal Alchemist or Berserk? Not at all! This TV series is very average. It has moments where it squashes you into your seat, but the second one drags it down like a blown headhasket.

The plot is rather pretext and leads to single or multi-episode races. In the manga and the series, we're getting familiar with Takumi Fujiwara, a simple and scatterbrained boy, who delivers tofu from his father's shop every morning. And there would be nothing unusual about it, if he didn't drive a modest, little Toyota, and he didn't do it on mountain serpentine roads. In this way, he honed an extraordinary talent as a driver and drifter. At first, he is reluctant about racing, but ultimately he gets drawn into their world – this nocturnal and illegal one. At this moment, the path to the top of the unofficial ladder of pursuers begins for the boy.

Takumi Fujiwara has to fight with other victory-hungry drivers, his / his car limitations. As well as with emotions and feelings towards women,. He also tries to reconcile all this with school life and his first job. Is a simple, classic zero-to-hero story a recipe for success? And indeed, but used very clumsily.

The first thing that catches the eye is rather ugly, crude drawing and so-so animation. It's clear that this is an archaic, cheap series. Admittedly, the wagons were drawn with love when the budget allowed it, but everything else, including the characters' postures, were at best mediocre. What’s more, every few seasons the production's graphic style has to change – and not always for the better, even though theoretically there were more details. The combination of two-dimensional scenes of people with races in clunky CGI also turned out differently. You can watch it, but if you're reaching for Initial D for the first time to face the legend – know what you're signing up for. Quite poor visual experience.

And the plot itself... the series follows a simple scheme – from race to race. Along the way, everyone wonders how Takumi can be so excellent (with a failure or two – across six seasons and several special episodes). Later, at most, we wonder how Fujiwara will fool his enemy on the track. Somewhere in the course, there happens some romance involving the protagonist and friends, but it usually comes off awkwardly.

So, the whole thing works schematically and appropriately with occasional slopes downhill (on the other hand, with two moral threads can surprise and move), but... when the series wants to, it manages to evoke authentic emotions, engage in the races as if it were the finale of a real competition. Damn, even the visual metaphors used then hit the mark.

The characters are likeable (Takumi's father is the quiet MVP of this series). I watched the last season almost welded to my seat (the fact that the artwork and CGI had improved somewhat) and really wasn't sure how the race would end. No, you have to admit, at the end both the screenwriters and the filmmakers really showed off. I think that the more engaged viewers might have felt a slight emotional stir at the end.

All the creators' steam went into the passion for cars. The rest is about adding a better or worse human factor – enough for the viewer to identify with something – and even get a bit inspired because Fujiwara is somewhat one of us, and somewhat a nervy version of Tsuchiya (seriously, check out this driver's accomplishments list). However, the races... yes, their plot is kind of default, and at the same time the CGI gives the impression that it's a struggle between two three-dimensional boxes, but this is accompanied by a genuine enthusiasm for cars. This can be seen in the pietism with which the cars are depicted, in how the characters talk about them. This can be seen in the visuals of how the engine works, in the sound design of the cars. Everywhere that matters to car enthusiasts, attention to detail is evident.

That was enough. It was enough for all those people who became interested in cars and racing thanks to the series. It was enough for everyone who started clubs, met at gatherings. It was enough to inspire other tv series.

Well, clearly, to inspire the world, you don't have to be the best at everything. It's enough to be good at one thing and faithfully stick to it. And hit the right moment, on fertile ground. Well, when I think about it, the plot still amuses me with its pretentiousness mixed with occasional flashes of genius. But when I hear eurobeat and see snippets from races, I feel like jumping into my old Vauxhall and driving to the parking lot. Shopping, of course – what did you think?

Hubert Sosnowski | Gamepressure.com

Hubert Sosnowski

Hubert Sosnowski

A raccoon in disguise. Had his head blown by Baldur's Gate, Todd McFarlane, Paul Verhoeven, Steven Erikson and J. Michael Straczynski. He wrote for the Polish Playboy, published a couple of short stories in magazines and books.


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