I once tried to convince two people, my friend’s father and a car technician I worked with, to teach me how to drift, but they both refused. It’s probably for the best because I can’t drive a stick shift anyway.
When I think back to all the roads I’ve traveled as both a driver and passenger, I can definitively say I preferred straightaways as opposed to curves and switchbacks. Straightaways always allowed me to enjoy the scenery as a driver and passenger, but also gave me the chance to, as my uncle once did in Nevada, bury the needle. However, there’s certainly an allure to taking a corner at top speed and pushing one’s luck. Since I’ve moved to Japan, though, I’ve stopped driving and when I’m in a car I’m scared for my life. Sure, I believe a few of my Japanese friends are competent drivers, but it’s the other drivers in Japan that scare the bejesus out of me—my grandfather always told me to watch out for them. Thus, because I both don’t drive anymore and only have faith in a handful of Japanese drivers, I have to drive vicariously through different forms of media. And, one of the best in the anime and manga industry is certainly the Initial D series.
While I certainly enjoyed the first installment of the Initial D Legend franchise, I found the second, Initial D Legend 2 Tōsō (新劇場版頭文字D Legend 2-闘走–) a bit more exhilarating. Where the first installment slowly built up to an exciting climax, here we were treated to two different races in the first and second half of the installment. This may seem like a divergence from the wonderful pacing seen in Legend 1, but this actually set the tone for the character development in Legend 2 quite well. There was much more technical speak in this installment as well and though it was interesting to listen to, without a proper knowledge of cars, car racing, and car ephemera, one will certainly be lost. Granted, the characters’ dialog mitigated this to a degree with explanations for laypeople, but unlike the previous installment, it delved much deeper into the mechanics of cars and driving technique. Additionally, even though it may be a small sample of people, I’m sure some viewers wondered why the setting is a rural town and not a major city like Tokyo. While I can only speculate about the reason for this, I believe it has to do with how crowded Japanese city streets and highways are compared to the mountainous and winding roads of Japanese rural communities.
One of the more interesting aspects of Initial D Legend 1 was how well it was revealed to the supporting characters who the driver of the Toyota Sprinter Trueno GT-APEX Coupe AE86 3-door Liftback was. As viewers, because we knew it was the protagonist, Tatsumi Fujiwara, this added a great deal of suspense to a film primarily about car racing. However, once this was revealed I was worried the series would begin down the path of other drivers challenging Tatsumi to races. Granted, it appears as though the entire Initial D franchise is predicated on this concept, still Initial D Legend 2 took this format and used it as a method to, pardon the pun, drive the character development of Tatsumi. What I mean by this is where we had a wonderful introduction to the setting and characters in the first installment, here we saw how Tatsumi grew not only as a character, but as a driver as well.
For example, in Initial D Legend 1 Tatsumi was far more reluctant to race against Keisuke Takahashi of the racing team Akagi RedSuns. Though he was eventually cudgeled into it and enjoyed it to a degree, there was a sense he had no interest in car racing whatsoever. Yet, in Initial D Legend 2 we saw a shift in his personality. This was sparked through the two different races he partook in, which, quite honestly, added far more to his character than one might expect. Looking at each race individually, during the first we saw him race Takeshi Nakazato and his Nissan Skyline GT-R V-Spec II (BNR32). While I will address what made this race exciting later in this article, it’s the change in Takumi’s attitude prior to the race that was interesting in terms of character growth. As I stated, he hardly felt the need to race in the first installment and though this carried through to this installment, the conversations with both his boss and father displayed that change quite well. Both suggested to Takumi that if he decided to race Takeshi, he would be into it far over his head and could even lose. Takumi’s father, Bunta, though, went so far as to say that if he, himself, were driving he could beat a Nissan Skyline GT-R, but Takumi could not. As such, this put an idea in Takumi’s head he couldn’t comprehend, loosing—and certainly the lack of accepting one’s own limitations is a common trait among teenagers. While it’s not a forced change in Takumi’s personality, we saw how this ate away at his psyche before the race.
It’s the second race, between Takumi and Shingo Shoji and his Honda Civic Sir-II (EG6) where we saw far more development in Takumi’s character and love of racing. Where it slowly developed into a pastime after the race with Takeshi, the race with Shingo saw a distinct change in how Takumi approached racing and those who insulted the members of the Akina Speed Stars. Thus, what amounted to a sense of obligation in the race against Keisuke in Legend 1 and curiosity in his second race against Takeshi in Legend 2, the race with Shingo resulted from a sense of duty Takumi felt in response to his friends and comrades being insulted. It was clearly illustrated in Takumi’s inner monologue as it became far more heated during the race, but more so in how he was determined not to lose the race based on his new-found principle of protecting the honor of his companions. Seeing this growth in Takumi made Initial D Legend 2 far more interesting and the two races much more exhilarating, to say the least.
The exhilaration of the races, particularly the first, came in how they were a clash of racing theories and ideals, though. Looking at the second race first, we saw more or less the same idea of Keisuke wanting to win as in the race from Legend 1, but with Shingo we also had the backdrop of his ambitions to become the leader of his racing group, the Myogi NightKids. While fascinating from a narrative perspective, it was the first race in this installment that was far more interesting. Here we saw how Takeshi was determined to prove the superiority of grip driving cornering to drifting. For those not familiar with grip driving, such as myself, it’s a type of cornering that uses the overall traction of the tire to corner, rather than the loss of traction as seen in drifting. This is a subject of debate among car racing enthusiasts and an interesting subject for a series like Initial D. For example, Takeshi can be seen multiple times in both Initial D Legend 1 and Legend 2 saying drifting is a performance trick that has little to no bearing on cornering speed. While I feel there is some truth to this comment, we can find real-world examples where drifting is faster than grip cornering. Thus, as a topic of narrative conflict in Initial D Legend 2, it was mesmerizing and one to surely create a debate among car lovers.
However, there was a major downfall to the first race of Initial D Legend 2. Granted, it was certainly far more exciting than Takumi’s race against Shingo, but there were far too many technical terms thrown about for the average viewer to truly comprehend the nuances of the competition. For example, even though I have some understanding of grip driving, I’m still confused about the principle and how one can tune one’s car to optimize it for grip cornering, despite Takeshi’s explanation. This was an issue during the race as it took me out of the excitement and forced me to realize just how much I didn’t understand about cars, racing, and car ephemera. The same was true when Takumi’s father was talking about a car’s suspension with Takumi’s boss. While it’s clearly laid out for the viewers, after the technical talk in Takumi’s race with Takeshi, I’m sure many will still be at a loss as to what they were saying. It’s very much like a foreign language and because of this what could have been a far more riveting experience was more or less a lesson in car mechanics.
One thing some viewers may question about the Initial D franchise is the rural setting. While it wouldn’t surprise me if racing occurred in the Tokyo Metropolitan area and other large cities in Japan, when considering the number of winding mountainous roads in many rural areas in Japan, the fictional town of Akina was a far more suitable setting. Granted, there are a number of winding highways in metropolitan areas, Tokyo in particular, but there is a certain mystique about racing in the mountains of Japan. One has to understand the sheer amount of traffic in many of the major cities in Japan as well. Looking at Tokyo, if only because it’s the largest city in the world, many of the roads are never completely empty. In fact, when looking at one of the major intersections in Shibuya, there is only a small window in the early morning hours when there are no vehicles to be seen. Thus, if Tokyo were used as a setting, it would require Takumi and the other characters to navigate traffic, the law, and other factors of city driving. In contrast, when examining Gunma Prefecture, as opposed to the other two northern Kanto prefectures, Ibaraki and Tochigi, it’s relatively close to Tokyo, fairly secluded, has two urban centers, and a there are number of mountain roads located within it. So, while Tokyo would have been a far more glamorous setting, I can understand why the author of the source material chose a more secluded area.
Initial D Legend 2 Tōsō was by far more exciting than the previous installment as it featured two races and wonderful character development for Takumi. Yet, the number of technical terms did upset the viewing experience a bit. Of course, including those technical terms gave viewers, especially those who are not mired in cars, racing, and car ephemera, a better idea of the racing philosophies of the different characters and the mechanics involved with their respective cars. I felt this was the case with the eternal argument between grip driving versus drifting seen in the first half of the film. Though I’m sure many fans of the series understand why a rural area in Gunma Prefecture was chosen for the setting as opposed to Tokyo, for those who may not, the relative secluded nature of mountainous roads made it the ideal setting for the type of racing on display in the series. As with the first installment, there were also some beautiful visuals that added to the viewing experience. Those who enjoyed Initial D Legend 1 will certainly enjoy Initial D Legend 2. As for me, I am excited there is going to be a third installment of the Initial D Legend series.