Initial D is a story about young street racers in the mountains of central Japan. Don’t get the wrong idea though, there are no hot chicks waiting at the start line in mini-skirts, no neon lights painting the ground green and no crazy police chases. The story follows a pair of high school students and a local race team, the Akina Speed Stars as they defend their home “course”.
Released in Japan in 1995 Initial D is a Japanese graphic novel commonly known as a manga. Like so many stories for young men and boys it does follow a “monster of the week” formula in this case the “monster” being a new type of car, driver or course to take on. The illustrations of the cars in action are very realistic and exciting. You get the feeling that you are looking at a photograph from a circuit race because the artist captures exactly what is happening. Conversely the character animations are sub-par which seems to prove just how important the author feels the cars are to the plot.
By themselves some of the cars are very much characters in the series. They grow and change throughout the story and even have loss. Despite the lacking character illustrations the stories attached to the characters themselves are interesting. Because you care about the characters you care what happens to them. This is a basic storytelling foundation lost on so many modern writers.
In 2002, hoping to cash in on the “Fast and Furious” trend Tokyopop released and re-translated the series for American readers. While the main story remained largely unchanged there were some critical scenes cut or edited, names changed and mis-translations made from the original Japanese version. There have been movies, a television series, video games, toys and merchandise of all types associated with the Initial D franchise making it arguably the most successful racing manga in history. Shuichi Shigeno continues to release volumes of the series to this day including a recent release in July of 2011.
What sets this story apart from being just a tale about people who race cars is the lesson aspect. As the story progresses certain types of vehicles, equipment and techniques are discussed. At some point a character will explain why this or that has advantages or disadvantages. It is an excellent way for someone who knows very little about cars and racing to get a great primer on the lingo. It takes a couple of volumes to get the story really rolling but the slow burn is worth it. I recommend this series to anyone who likes racing, cars or wants to learn more about either in a fun way.
The Tokyopop license for distributing this series expired some years ago so it may be difficult to find this in brick-and-mortar stores anymore. However thanks to Amazon, Ebay and used book stores it can be had with little fuss. In addition, since the US distribution license expiration there are now several websites such as Mangafox.com that offer it in electronic form.