I finished Initial D over the weekend, ending a 13-year journey that started in 2004 and hopped, skipped, and drifted along with the never-ending march of technology.
For the uninitiated, Initial D is the story of a Takumi Fujiwara, a high school kid who becomes a street racing legend through his job delivering tofu for his father’s tofu shop in a ratty AE86 Corolla. Tofu, being the delicate thing it is, requires one to drift carefully and just-so around the mountain hairpins to avoid damage. Two highly skilled street racers waltz into town - the Takahashi brothers - and their tuned RX-7s are crushed by this AE86 driven by some no-name high-schooler.
Ryosuke Takahashi - the older Takahashi brother - then takes Takumi and Keisuke Takahashi - the younger brother - and trains them both into fearsome race car drivers, guys who show up to mountain passes across Japan and wipe the floor with everybody.
Can you see why a car-obsessed teenager would be into this? It’s the shit we dream of. Other people are building your awesome car for you and you’re a kick-ass driver.
In many ways Initial D was the defining anime of my teenage and early-adult years. It began with awkward not-quite 13-year-old me talking my mom into letting me rent the first two DVDs from Blockbuster after I played the arcade game, a huge leap forward since we always rented cheaper VHS tapes. I must have watched it ten times, from the god-awful, so-bad-I’m-glad-they-went-bankrupt Tokyopop version to the original Japanese version with the kick-ass Eurobeat songs.
Streaming in 2004 amounted to “what we could download on LimeWire” and the idea that I could stream thousands of shows at a moment’s notice was little more than a pipe dream since all I had was AOL dial-up. Back the DVDs went and my options were either buying the odd manga volume with my Christmas money or hopping on the library wait list and checking out whichever DVDs I could get my hands on. It wasn’t until 2011 that technology caught up to the point where I could sit down and watch what I could during my spare time until I finished Stage 4 in 2013. Licensing issues and life meant that I couldn’t find a decent (or even legal) release for the Final stage up until this previous weekend, a full 13 years after I started Stage 1.
At the same time in the mid-’00s, I was slowly developing my taste in cars beyond the “BIG FUCKING TURBO SUPRA WITH OVERNIGHT PARTS FROM JAPAN!” into a slightly more nuanced, “ERMAGERD DIS CAR IS GAAYYYYYY BECAUSE NURBURGRING TIMEZZZZZ” stance. With Initial D and the then-new Gran Turismo 4 - which came into my life a few months - my eyes were opened to Best Motoring and its sister Hot Version when I tried to see how much of this was real. Many afternoons were spent recreating Tsukuba battles in various sports or supercars in Gran Turismo. Who needs the outside when you could be wheeling a WRX STi around Tsukuba?
Of course, by the time I was an adult I stopped believing it was totally possible for an AE86 with autocross-level mods to utterly decimate the latest sports car or that I could somehow make my first car an AE86. Eventually the realities of adulthood kicked in and I ended up buying something completely different, though I did come close to buying an AE86. While I realized Initial D was fictional BS, at least it was entertaining BS - the best kind!
Still, it wasn’t until I actually tried some of the Initial D shit that I understood how ridiculous it is. No, I did not attempt to drift when I did get my first car - not like it was possible since it was an Integra GS-R. I did go for a late-night drive around Lake Berryessa before it was ravaged by the wildfires several years back. Terrifying is an understatement - nothing is scarier than a two-lane mountain road at night when a mistake means either falling into nothingness or flying into any one of the oncoming cars traveling at 45 mph around blind corners.
Looking back, it’s been a helluva journey and I still have yet to wrap my head around the fact that it took until I was a grown man to finish the series I started as a teenager. I went from wishing my first car could be a sick AE86 drift car with zero streetability to thinking “Oh I’d love to install this racing exhaust on my Miata but I don’t want to deal with the drone on the highway or wake my neighbors when I leave in the morning.”
In any case, a part of me will forever be wrapped up in the magic of watching a panda Trueno or a yellow RX-7 raise hell on mountain roads. I’ll still get the heart-pounding adrenaline rush every time I watch Takumi and Keisuke rip insane WRC-style drifts around corners at breakneck speed. I know in my heart there’s no way an AE86 could beat half the cars in Stage 4 without an act of God or a clever plot device to make it so. It’s not real. As the opening text reads, this is a work of fiction. The people, places, and organizes don’t exist. Stuffing a car into the wall is a lot messier in real life than it is on screen.
But I still want to believe.
After all, it’s why I never gave up on the show. Like the first ending, I never stopped raging my dream. /Eurobeat
Postscript: If you want to know how bad the Tokyopop version was, here’s the opening. F-that noise. It’s like the neighborhood cat trying to fight the other neighborhood cat while a Saliva song plays in the background.
Also I did eventually drift a car - it was my Toyota Camry. Just a dab of opposite lock and I was able to power through it through the snow. My passengers found it less entertaining than I did. Shame.