The White Comet: The spirit of the White Comet is as strong as ever, but can even the re-invigorated Ry Takahashi take down the Phantom Eight Six that, to this point, has remained unbeatable? The answer will change the face of Gunma racing forever. And if Tak does end up besting the best of Gunma, he’ll have to face the question posed by his best friend Iggy… “What’s next?” Any way you look at it, things are looking up for the Speed Stars, especially for their leader, Cole, who may yet fulfill his dream of meeting a woman with whom he can share his racing ambitions… even if she is a member of a rival team.
Initial D volume 5 continues the battle arc on Mount Akina, with Takumi taking on his strongest rival yet, the legendary Ryosuke of the fearsome RedSuns team. This time the Toyota Corolla AE86 squares off against the Mazda Savanna RX-7, once more making it the overwhelming underdog in this battle. And as per usual the spectators, race analysis and commentary is going to be all over the place. In addition to this, volume 5 also takes us on a bit of a side story trip involving Cole and a girl, all of which will eventually set us up for Takumi’s next upcoming battle (which I’m sure volume 6 will make as exciting as possible).
Now as a huge fan of the anime series (well at least up until the fourth season because from that point it kind of got predictably boring to an extent), I’m quite excited to touch on Shuichi Shigeno’s immensely popular manga that kicked it all off in the first place, despite the fact that I’m picking up Tokyopop’s heavily butchered English translated version, meaning many of the now well and truly instilled names like Takumi and Itsuki get bastardised to forms like Tak and Iggy, not to mention the various censhorship scenes that were enforced upon the translated release. However, enough of the original is obviously still there to keep it as enjoyable as it was when first released in its native tongue, and that said, Initial D the manga is pretty enjoyable indeed.
For those of you who don’t know anything regarding Initial D, essentially it is a car-racing manga (that became a bit of a phenomenon that spawned countless anime series, games and even a live-action movie) that focuses on Japan’s illegal street racing culture, particularly on the mountain pass downhill racing. Emphasis is placed on drifting (power-slides and the like) and the story revolves around Takumi Fujiwara, an introverted young man that doesn’t think much about driving and instead is content to just delivery his father’s tofu from their shop every morning in and out, something that eventually leads to him building great skill as a downhill racer. Against his will he is drawn into the world of street racing, using the shop’s old, beaten up Toyota Corolla AE86 to take on other racers driving far more powerful and exhilarating cars. The story chronicles Takumi’s growth as both a person and a racer, and slowly reveals how Takumi gets more and more taken by this racing bug. It’s the story of a nice guy driving a crappy car who gets thrust into an uncomfortable situation but who battles to come up on top against overwhelming odd – in other words, a winning story formula.
For this volume of the manga we get treated to a full length race and once again Shuichi demonstrates his car, driving and racing knowledge to perfection, leaving as much spec detail in as possible but at the same time balancing this perfectly out with the human story being told, making for an exciting battle which is the pinnacle to what the first four manga volumes have been leading up to. The race is gritty and exciting and leaves you in awe as the hidden conclusion is masterfully revealed at the end. On top of that Shuichi then manages to insert some great humour by switching hats to that of a romantic comedy genre and ties this in nicely with a bit of racing drama, building up to a rather unexpected final panel and leaving the reader panting for the next volume.
Of course, reading through this volume does fly by rather quickly, thanks to all the driving panels, but there is more than enough dialogue to satisfy a reader and as such it does make for a pretty entertaining read. Graphically, Shuichi once again proves that he certainly is no master of the human form or face, but his comical attempts at humans aren’t that bad once you get used to it, and thankfully his style does translate particularly well for the more comedic parts of the read, leading to quite a few guffaws based on exaggerated facial expressions alone! But on the car front he is once again unchallenged as an artist. Extreme attention to form and detail makes for very good looking racing scenes and it is quite a marvel to witness how he imparts a sense of speed into each and every one of his racing panels, from drifting to straight-line runs.
In summary, Initial D is an extremely entertaining read (if you can overlook Shuichi’s shortcomings when it comes to drawing human beings), even if you aren’t quite as into racing cars as the intended target audience might be. The story contains an excellent balance of action, adrenaline, drama, romance and even comedy and the attention of detail to the cars in both writing and drawing is something quite special to witness. If you’ve already seen the anime, then you probably don’t need to pick this up as naturally a story involving car racing will always be better when animated, but as it stands, Initial D the manga is cetainly well worth exploring further, particularly if you have any interest in our four-wheeled friends whatsoever! :P