Review for Initial D Legend 2: Racer
The first Initial D Legend movie, the 21st Century remake of the opening arc of the series certainly impressed me with its production values, the quality of the animation, which completely blew the original series away. I couldn’t say the same for the story or the character development though, which had to be pared down for the start of the story to fit into the brief, hour long runtime. If you were hoping that the second movie would rectify that situation, it doesn’t seem likely with another mere hour devoted to its story arc.
Takumi Fujiwara is a high school student who lives with his dad near Mount Akina, and helps him run his tofu shop. His other part time job is with his best friend Itsuki at the local petrol station, and while Itsuki talks endlessly and fantasises about finally owning a car, Takumi remains hopelessly ill informed on the subject, setting himself up as the target of his friends' teasing. His friends don't know that while he may not know the terminology or the finer points of auto-mechanics, he's been driving for years for his dad, delivering tofu to the other side of Mount Akina in the early hours of the morning when the roads are empty. They're rarely empty on Akina though, as late night the mountain becomes the haven of street racers looking to test themselves against its hazardous hairpins and thrilling straights. Takumi has been driving so long that he's utterly bored with it, and can do Mount Akina in his sleep. Little does he know that the mountain road leads to his destiny.
By defeating Keisuke Takahashi, Takumi Fujiwara has made a reputation for himself, and now others are coming to Mount Akina to challenge this upstart in the 8-6. The Myougi Night Kids are in town, and their leader Takeshi Nakazato wants to test his grip approach to racing against Takumi’s drift skills. And if that isn’t enough, the Night Kids number 2, Shingo Shogo is apt to play nasty if he races. Akina Speed Stars rep is on the line again thanks to Itsuki’s big mouth, but the problem is that Takumi doesn’t even think that he’s a racer.
The second Initial D Legend movie gets a 1.78:1 anamorphic NTSC transfer on this single layer disc (the film is only 64 minutes long). It’s a nice, progressive transfer as well, smooth and fluid, which makes the race sequences look even stronger when you play the disc on compatible equipment. What a difference fifteen years makes. No longer the clumsy amalgam of plasticky CG cars with 2D cel-animated characters, Initial D really looks the part in this feature film, with the vehicles brilliantly detailed and blending into their environment. Initial D was never the prettiest of manga when it came to the characters, and that downright ugly look carried through to the anime. This feature film retains that awkward design style, but tones it down a bit, softening the character designs to a more modern aesthetic. Where the film really shines is the character animation, which is rich and detailed, no longer the static budget saving animation of the series. There are a couple of problems apparent here, digital banding for one, and some aliasing and shimmer on fine line art detail, that might make the Blu-ray release the preferable option.
You have the choice of DD 5.1 English and Japanese with translated subtitles and signs, locked to the appropriate track. You only get the original music on this anime, although I have to admit that it lacked the ‘Beasty Shout’ to really appeal to me. While the music may be nondescript, the surround really does come alive to bring across the action of the race sequences. You’ll be hearing tyre squeal and engine roar from all of your speakers. One thing that I did miss was the rev limiter warning chime on the 8-6, which was memorable from the original series. The subtitles are timed accurately and free of typos.
The disc presents its content with static menus, a jacket picture, and a translated English credit reel after the film.
On the disc, you’ll find a recap of the first movie, Awakening, and a short preview of the third movie, Initial D Legend 3: Dream. You get the clean closing, and you’ll also find trailers for The Dragon Dentist, Children Who Chase Lost Voices, The Life of Budori Gusuko, and The Garden of Words.
I gave the first movie the benefit of the doubt. I enjoyed it a lot, it was nice to see the characters animated well (even if the character designs hadn’t changed much) and the cars and the racing sequences were much improved from what had been done before. But I was fully aware that it was just skimming the surface of the story, and that it worked best as a companion piece to the manga, or indeed the first anime series. Now that this second movie is here, and does exactly the same thing, I can no longer blinker myself to the fact that the new Initial D movies are pretty much pointless for anyone who isn’t a long term fan of the franchise. The animators have thrown all their money and effort behind getting the racing sequences just right, and have let character and story fade away into the background, to the point that at times it feels like watching a Formula 1 race without a Murray Walker commentary. I stopped watching Formula 1 after Murray Walker retired as the whole thing became boring.
What the second movie does is focus on the races. The story isn’t much more than what I wrote in the synopsis. Takumi has a rep, but doesn’t believe he’s a racer, so when the Night Kids come looking to challenge him, it takes some reverse psychology to get him into his car. Itsuki and the rest of the Speed Stars have a panic until he decides to do so. The first race against Takeshi Nakazato is a clash of racing philosophies, as Nakazato believes in grip and speed, and thinks drifting is just show-boating. The race against Shingo is the one with some actual drama to it, as Shingo basically is a cheat, the kind of person who’d rather crash both cars out than see the other guy win.
In terms of character development, what we see is Takumi’s ability to adapt to new situations on the fly. The first movie had him established as mastering the Mount Akina downhill through years of tofu delivery, but in his race against Nakazato, his father changes the setup of the car, so he has to develop a new driving style on the fly. Against Shingo, he’s challenged to a duct tape race, in that his right hand is taped to the steering wheel, restricting the extent to which he can steer, so once again he has to adapt quickly. But that’s your lot. Otherwise Itsuki gets to be annoying again, and love interest Mogi shows up at the end to flaunt her bellybutton, but that’s it. This arc even cuts out the comedic ‘training run’ that Speed Stars captain Iketani asks for from Takumi.
The animation may be great, three generations more advanced than the original anime, but by leaving the story and character on the cutting room floor, Initial D Legend 2: Racer is actually quite dull to watch. It certainly is no way to attract new fans to the franchise. Once again, it works best as a companion piece to the original manga, or the first anime series.