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Initial D: First Stage
Reviewer: Rowena Lim Lei 01/03/2002

Initial D is basically the story of a young man and his father's Toyota Trueno AE86 (known in the US as a Toyota Corolla). 18-year old Takumi Fujiwara has been delivering tofu every single day down Mt. Akina with his dad's car ever since he was in middle school. It's not exactly something he likes to do, but in the whole process he unwittingly masters a lot of advanced driving techniques which makes him the fastest driver down Mt. Akina. Soon Takumi catches the attention of street racers, and he gets challenged to races down Mt. Akina time and time again -- which he always manages to win. But Takumi's ultimate challenge comes in the person of Ryosuke Takahashi, Japan's number one street racer. Ryosuke has devoted a lot of time and effort in coming up with a foolproof strategy to beat Takumi, and he's got everything riding on their final showdown.
Being the car buff that he is, my hubby just couldn't resist picking up Initial D. The timing couldn't be more perfect -- we had just gotten Gran Turismo 3 for the Playstation 2 and the first car we bought in the game was a Toyota Trueno AE86, just like Takumi's!
Racing aside, Initial D focuses on Takumi's development as a character. He eventually realizes that he really does love driving, and that racing thrills him. Needless to say, the cars and the races are portrayed with great detail and accuracy. A lot of technical driving terms are used, and the characters refer to the cars in terms that only car enthusiasts would readily understand. You'll come across sentences such as "My FC can outrun his 86," or "His drifting technique is an artform,". The whole experience can be likened to putting a story behind a car game such as Gran Turismo. I'm not into cars by any measure but Initial D kept me on the edge of my seat episode after episode. The characters' excitement and anticipation are contagious, and I actually looked forward to watching every race. Of course, it helped that my hubby explained certain car-related things as we went along.
The art and animation are okay. The series utilizes a combination of cel and computer-generated animation. The characters are hand-drawn, but the cars and the racing sequences are predominantly rendered via computer. The character designs aren't exactly all that attractive at first glance, but they grow on you after a few eps. The CGs are not unlike those you'd see in older console racing games such as Gran Turismo or Ridge Racer Revolution. They look a bit awkward, but they effectively serve their purpose.
Although Initial D is a series that's clearly for car and racing buffs, its appeal is not limited to that niche. As I've mentioned earlier, I'm not really into cars or racing but I had an awesome experience all the same. There is a loose end in the person of Mogi, Takumi's girlfriend of sorts. It is not fully revealed what kind of person she really is, or why a certain older man in a Mercedes Benz gives her money whenever they see each other. We can only speculate at this point.
There's also an Initial D OAV series, special episode, and movie.

Initial D: First Stage
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Review Title:
Initial D: First Stage
Alternative Titles:
650 Minutes
General Rating:
4 out of 5 stars
Suitable For:
Comedy, Drama, Shounen,
Slice of Life, Sports
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