Type: TV (24 episodes)
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Initial D S5
Initial D: Stage 4
The previous summer Takumi had gone from a nobody, to being the infamous driver of the 86 around Gunma prefecture. Having graduated high school, he wasn't clear what direction he wanted to go with his life. He did know that he wanted to continue racing, and that if he wanted to improve, fumbling around as he had been doing wouldn't cut it sooner or later. That's where Project D headed by Ryosuke Takahashi comes in. Ryosuke put together a team with the best racing talent around in order to push the limits on street racing, and taking the races to other parts of Japan. The racing is more intense then ever before, and Takumi feels even more pressure due to his rivalry with Kesuke who's also on the team. What's even more stressful than that is realizing just how outdated the 86 really is compared to more modern cars, especially once Takumi ends up driving one.
If you make it to stage 4, you're either an Initial D fan, or like me have become one of those rabid Initial D fans. Maybe you've even gotten a ticket or two driving while listening to the soundtrack. Stage 4 comes a few years after the last TV season, and while many things could have changed, Stage 4 sicks to the formula that made it popular. The difference is that Stage 4 looks really good compared to all the previous stuff, and the results are awesome! This season comes post Fast and Furious. While not the zenith of film making, F&F did spark a slew of stylized racing films, and many techniques were adapted back into Initial D, like blurred tail lights to emphasize breaking. Character designs strike a nice balance staying true to the sub par source material, while looking decent in anime form. The 3D CGI is a big style change, and instead of the crazy contrast, the cars now use muted colors which allows them to blend seamlessly with the rest of the animation. An interesting change over the years considering the characters looked better than the cars when the series began. Package all of this together with the music this series is known for, and Initial D becomes everything someone could want from a racing anime. But wait, what about the story?
The story has progressed from only being about Takumi racing people with the trick of the week. In Stage 1 he established himself, in Stage 2 he moved beyond Akina, in Stage 3.. he got his woman back. Now he's a member of a racing team known as Project D, and this highlights the pressure of a team environment as well as his rivalry with fellow team mate Kesuke Takahashi.
My biggest issue with Stage 4 is where Initial D's shounen roots rears its ugly head in the relationship between Kesuke and Kyoko. I had really sympathized with many of the guy's woman issues throughout the series. Even though I had always thought of Kesuke as a punk, it was pretty bad this time around with his "I can't concentrate on anything but racing" badass posturing, coupled with Kyoko's warrentless affections towards him. I mean a hot girl with an awesome car that claims her perfect guy has to drive a rotary... you don't date that girl you MARRY HER.
I also had a problem with the final race battles against the Purple Shadow Team. The races were cool to watch, and I really loved the two "old" jiggers that are in it for the fun but more than have the skills to back it up. They're probably some of my favorite opponents yet. The problem is that each race takes 3 episodes, for a total of 6. Six races at the same site and just felt way too long for me.
Stage 4 ends after basically just another race, instead of Takumi clearing another hurdle in his quest to become a better racer. That's more open ended than I would have liked. Everything finally came together with the animation, designs, and music, but I think Initial D had the most magic with Stage 1 racing and story wise. While I feel fulfilled with stage 4, I also admit the series is beginning to feel long in the tooth. Fans (like me) will of course eat up anything Initial D, but I'm wondering how long it will stretch before it wears out its welcome, but perhaps with enough time between stage 4 and 5 (whenever they make one) this won't happen. Right now the series is in a good position, and there is of course the (unlikely) possibility the series could really shake itself up before getting into a rut.
Bunta: If you don't spread your wings, you hit the ground.
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