Initial D 1st Stage (26 episodes)
Initial D 2nd Stage (13 episodes)
Initial D 3rd Stage (The Movie)
Initial D Extra Stage (Impact Blue Side Story)
"Initial D" is an anime about street car racing and is based on a very popular manga by Shigeno Shuichi. The story is focused on Takumi Fujiwara, a 18 year old high school student who works part time at a gas station with his best friend, Itsuki. Their co-worker, Iketani, is a member of the Akina SpeedStar racers at Mt. Akina and while Itsuki is hyped learning about street racing, Takumi is disinterested.
One day, the Takahashi brothers Ryousuke and Keisuke of the RedSuns team challenge the Akina SpeedStars to a race on Mt. Akina. After seeing them in practice, Iketani realizes that no one in the SpeedStars are in the same league. His boss tells him that a mysterious driver driving an old Trueno 86 (Toyota) car has been seen every late night at Mt. Akina and that its skills are unbelievably fast.
This racer turns out to be Takumi. Takumi's father owns a tofu shop and has made Takumi deliver tofu at night in their Trueno 86 car ever since he was in middle school. Unknown to the unenthusiastic Takumi, his father has been training him to become a highly skilled drift technique driver. Takumi only agrees to race for the SpeedStars when his father promises him a full tank of gas the next day for his date with Natsuki Mogi, a girl he has feelings for. This is the mark of Takumi's racing days.
"Initial D" is definitely catered for car lovers, as a lot of the technical terms can be confusing. However, the racer's excitement is contagious and you'll find yourself watching along at each race with a similar excitement at the outcome.
Takumi is your typical Japanese hero though, he doesn't like to talk much, seems stoned out most of the time, and disinterested, yet has excellent potential and skills. There is also not much character development, except maybe with Takumi, Mogi, Iketani and Itsuki.
All the girls pretty much make the first moves as the guys are either too shy or scared or confused to show their own interest. You notice this in a lot of Japanese animations and games, where the girls are openly flirting or declaring their interest while the guy is still hopelessly confused. A certain gripe I have with "Initial D" is definitely the mysterious relationship between Mogi and her "Papa" which is becomes the cause for her and Takumi's breakup in Stage 2. At the beginning, you think that this is Mogi's father, and that perhaps her parents are divorced, which is why she sees him only 3 times a month. We know that he gives her money too every time she sees him but one just thought that he's giving her allowance money. Then later on, Takumi keeps getting notes in his locker that Mogi is dating someone who drives a Benz. Scenes with Mogi telling her "Papa" that she can't see him anymore because she's interested in Takumi is even more confusing. You don't know whether she's just really naive and innocent about her real father or that it is suggesting something nefarious, such as incest or prostitution. All this confusion just makes one think that this is getting more perverted. Takumi does come to a sort of resolution with Mogi at Stage 3, the movie though.
The progress of the plot is a bit disappointing as Takumi's character seemed a bit less likable when he becomes more interested in racing. The ending of Stage 2 also seems unresolved and unfinished, since Stage 3 is where it all comes together. One might be put off at first too by the analogies of street car racing similar to martial arts battles.
Animation-wise, the characters are hand drawn and do not look very attractive at first glance, as it's 2D, but it does grow on you after a while. The racing scenes are done with CG rendering which is a better. The graphics improve by much in Stage 2, as you can visibly see shadowing and sharper images. The soundtrack for this series is also very nice, with Japanese pop and rock.
All in all, this is mostly a car lover's anime but the story is engaging enough for non-car lovers to enjoy too. Development of romantic relationships are not well-drawn out and you would be left hanging and wondering what will come of the situation. But then, that's how teenage love is.