by James Alsup III
In my first “Because I Said So” column, I used the proposed changes in Initial D as an example of a “new age” in anime fandom.
A couple months later, our esteemed Editor-in-Chief e-mailed the staff. Tim said that he received the Initial D DVD from Tokyopop for review. I sent him a short, to the point e-mail:
“You want me to do this review. You NEED me to do this review.”
You see, I like cars. Cars are in my blood. My grandfather used to own a stock car. Him and his driver “Deathgrip” used to race on the smaller circuits. While I don’t have a super-fast car (my anime, toy, shoe, and cigar addictions make it difficult to afford anything more luxurious than a Pinto), I know about and appreciate a good race.
I also love rap music. I own Kurtis Blow’s “The Breaks” on vinyl. I used to follow my older cousin around, trying to learn how to break dance. I still have a couple moves.
So that made me the most qualified reviewer on staff.
Initial D tells the story of high school student Takumi. He loafs around and generally seems disinterested with everything, including a cute girl at school named Natsuki. He works for his dad, delivering fried tofu to hotels around Mt. Akagi early every morning. As the series begins, Takumi and his friend Itsuki have summer jobs at the local gas station. Itsuki wants to save his money for a car. You see, Itsuki is a gear head. He wants to join the Akina Speed Stars, the local street racing team.
Iketani, the leader of the Akina Speed Stars, works with Takumi and Itsuki. Itsuki convinces Keisuke to take him and Takumi along during a Speed Stars downhill run on Mt. Akina. Unfortunately the Speed Stars meet up with the Akagi Red Suns, a rival racing team lead by the Rotary Brothers, Ryosuke and Keisuke. The Red Suns challenge the Speed Stars to a race the next weekend. The Speed Stars and Red Suns do free races downhill, and the Red Sun second stringers soundly beat the best drivers the Speed Stars have to offer. The Rotary Brothers decide that the next weekend, they’re going to set the downhill racing record so high, that no one will be able to beat it.
Later that night, as Keisuke practices on Mt. Akina, he notices a car in his rear view mirror. As the car draws closer, Keisuke decides to allow the car to draw closer to him and notices it’s a Trueno 86 (that’s a Toyota Corolla, for the uninitiated). Keisuke’s highly tuned FD can’t shake the ordinary Panda 86 and eventually loses, leaving Keisuke wondering “Who’s the driver of that car?”
The next day, Keisuke visits the gas station that Iketani, Itsuki, and Takumi work at, asking about the driver of the 86. Keisuke leaves, telling the trio that he won’t lose again to the Trueno.
Mr. Tachibana, the owner of the gas station, tells Iketani that the best driver in Akina is a tofu shop owner named Bunta. In fact, Tachibana saw him racing down the mountain the other day in an 86. Iketani decides at that point that the only shot the Speed Stars have to win is to convince Bunta to ride with the Speed Stars...
Initial D originally aired in Japan in 1998. The transfer is grainy at times, reminding me of the transfers on the ADV Robotech discs. Perhaps if Tokyopop remastered the video instead of wasting money on so-called musical talent…I’ll stop. I’m getting ahead of myself.
Man, did this sound good. The Japanese audio was encoded in 5.1. Audio is very important in this series. But more on that later. The directional panning works well with the racing. Voices were crisp, and the sound effects didn’t drown out the music or dialogue.
The English audio encountered some problems. The dub music would sometimes interfere with characters’ speech. That should have been a sign…
Die-hard fans howled about the name changes last summer. Takumi became Tak (not bad), Itsuki became Iggy (I can see it), Iketani became Cole (huh?).
Tokyopop is clearly trying to go after the mainstream crowd. They’d probably have problems pronouncing the names. Think about it. How many mispronunciations are there for Ryu (Ree-yoo)? I’ve heard Roo, R-eye-oo, and countless others. I forgive them for altering the names.
What can’t be forgiven is the new music.
Now, I’m no big fan of eurobeat. In fact, I hate eurobeat. It sounds like the musician dug up an old 1980s-era Casio keyboard and went to work. Then, they got their friend to rap over the electronic sounds.
As much as I loathe eurobeat, I hate this crap even more.
The opening theme has been changed from a eurobeat song to a wannabe Limp Biskit painfully crooning the song “Initialize”. I knew the song had to be called “Initialize” before watching the end credits because this so-called musical number consisted of the lead singer warbling “Initalize!” “Customize!” “Energize!” Over and over and over again. He sounded like a cat in heat being rubbed down with sandpaper.
The music goes downhill from there. We hear some bootleg Missy Elliot, a wannabe Alien Ant Farm, and a song by a low-rent version of 50 Cent. I would quote my notes on the music directly, but this is a family magazine. Suffice it to say that the new music is so bad that it actually takes away from the series.
This marketing ploy by Tokyopop will backfire. The music will be a huge turnoff with the unwashed masses. Tokyopop is trying to capture the feel of the street racing scene vis-a-vis the movies“The Fast and the Furious” and “Torque”. One of the attractions to those films was their soundtracks. Amateur-sounding acts like the ones Tokyopop hired to do the new songs for Initial D won’t get it done.
All is not lost. There’s still time to make the music better for Initial D Second Stage and Third stage. Tokyopop should enter into a partnership with a rap label like Def Jam or a popular trance/drum and bass DJ. I’m not saying that Tokyopop should break the bank on getting performers like Eminem, Goldie, Ludacris, or Daft Punk. The 80’s show “Photon” showed us that signing on big-name talent to a long TV show is the kiss of death. “Photon” was a weekly show based on the popular laser game. An early project of Haim Saban and Shuky Levy, “Photon” featured the number one song on Top-40 radio every week. Viewers got to see battles fought to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”, Kenny Loggins’ “Footloose,” and Phil Collins’ “Sussudio.” The license money is one of the reasons the show tanked. But I digress.
Signing lesser-named talent to do the music for the dub would go a long way towards attracting mainstream attention. Using poor substitutes is cheap, and the masses will fart on it. I’d love to see the eurobeat replaced as well, but I’m afraid that if Tokyopop did that, legions of anime fans would storm their headquarters.
The “Enhanced” mode is just plain dumb. Tokyopop added unnecessary transitions and special effects. For example, during a racing scene in “original” mode, you’d see the 86 and FD whipping down the road. In “Enhanced”, the same scene would feature a transition that had the screen split into four sections, each showing the FD/86 duel. The transitions were very jarring. It was easy to tell that they weren’t part of the original footage.
The dub was well done, aside from a couple affectations used to make the characters seem cool. When Iggy used the phrase “major bankage” I cringed. That’s something some geek came up with. No self-respecting teen would use that phrase. Besides those few anomalies, the voice actors were very capable and their performances were good.
I’m a fan of the manga, so the anime was familiar to me. I didn’t like the fact that the Speed Stars/Red Sun race was stretched over 3 episodes when it took one in the manga; if I want long, drawn-out battles in my anime, I’ll watch DragonBall Z. But I’d recommend Initial D. The characters are interesting, and the races keep you involved.