Saturday, April 2, 2016

Video Backlog: “New Initial D the Movie: Legend 1: Awakening/Legend 2: Racer”

Publisher: Neo Films (Hong Kong)
Format: Region 3 DVD, NTSC, Japanese Dialogue with optional Cantonese dub and English and Chinese (Traditional) Subtitles.
Length: 62 minutes, 65 minutes
Production Date: 2014, 2015
Currently in Print (as of writing): Yes

For years Mount Akina in rural Japan in Gunma prefecture, north of Tokyo, has been battleground for young men to race each other drifting style down the mountain in their supped up cars. One of these young men, Koichiro Iketani of the local street racing team the Akina Speed Stars is driving over the mountain early one morning when he inadvertently witnesses a battle between a rival Akagi RedSuns member, Keisuke Takahashi and an old black and white Toyota Sprinter Trueno (aka AE86). The mysterious AE86 outmanoeuvres and easily beats Takahashi’s Mazda RX-7. Feeling humiliated by this, Takahashi decides to track down the AE86 for a rematch. At the town’s petrol station where Iketani works, Takahashi quizzes Iketani about the identity of the AE86, however Iketani admits that while the car is well known amongst the local street racers, no one knows who owns the car. Later Iketani invites his two co-workers, the aloof Takumi Fujiwara and the somewhat dorky but obsessed with street racing Itsuki Takeuchi to a meet on the mountain. However when they arrive that night, the two Takahashi brothers, Ryosuke and Keisuke arrive along with other members of the Akagi RedSuns.

Ryosuke, the leader of the Akagi RedSuns suggests to the Akina Speed Stars that they should practice together, but in fact this is a veiled challenge to them. Ryosuke and Keisuke’s goal is to dominate the Kanto region, and the first step is to defeat the Akina Speed Stars. The Akina Speed Stars are easily outmanoeuvred by the Akagi RedSuns. However Iketani attempts to keep up and pass them. This ends in complete disaster when he loses control when he hits a bump in the road and his Nissan Silvia and ends up crashing into the guard rail. Iketani wants to beat the Akagi RedSuns and searches for the owner of the AE86. His boss at the petrol station, Yuichi Tachibana, tells him the AE86 belongs to Bunta Fujiwara, the owner of a local tofu shop. Iketani pleads his case in order to get Bunta to race against Keisuke, but he declines saying he is too old to get involved in their races.

Meanwhile at high school, Natsuki Mogi whom Takumi has a bit of crush on, starts getting a bit friendly with him. She suggests they go out on a date to the beach together. Takumi asks his father, Bunta to borrow the car, the AE86, but he initially declines. Unbeknownst to just about everyone is that every morning around 4am, Takumi delivers tofu in the AE86 to a hotel on the other side of the mountain. In reality Takumi doesn’t really care about cars or street racing and only flies over the mount and back each morning to get the chores done. He unwittingly beat Keisuke Takahashi that day which accidently lead to the beef between the Akina Speed Stars and the Akagi RedSuns. Bunta has second thoughts about lending the car to Takumi. He makes a deal with him; if Takumi defeats Keisuke on Saturday night, he’ll lend him the AE86. Bunta tells Iketani to expect the AE86 to race, much to his relief.

On the evening of the race, people like the side of the road up Mount Akina. It looks like the AE86 won’t show and one of the other members of Akina Speed Stars nervously lines up to race Keisuke Takahashi. However at the last second the AE86 comes up the mountain. Much to the members of Akina Speed Stars’ horror, Takumi gets out of the car. Iketani realises that Takumi is the one who does all the deliveries for the tofu shop and it was him who originally beat Keisuke. Convinced that Takumi will beat Keisuke a second time, he gives him his blessing to race for the Akina Speed Stars.

You may remember “Initial D”. It was the hottest thing ever for a while in fandom in the very late 1990’s and into the early 2000’s. God, I even remember an “Initial D” arcade game at my local cinema in the very early 2000’s! The anime was a really weird combination of flat traditional animation meshed poorly with low resolution CG cars and dreadful Eurobeat music. Certainly I never got it at the time. It was sort of like a sports manga and certainly had all the hallmarks and clichés of the genre. I did not care for the car racing or the testosterone fuelled rivalry between the characters. The other strange element of the franchise was how bloody ugly the characters looked. Even the women looked like bloody horses. To this day I still don’t understand why it became so popular. Much to my surprise I discovered that the anime adaption has been pretty much going non-stop from 1998 to 2008, then a few years break when it was rebooted again in 2012. Since then we’ve had a few anime adaptions, with the manga eventually finishing in 2013.

In 2013 for the 35th anniversary of Young Magazine (who published the original manga) a three part retelling of the franchise was released in cinemas over 18 or so months. Surprisingly the first two films have been released in Hong Kong by Neo Films on DVD with English subtitles. From what I can gather, the first two films cover the first two and a half tankobon or the first 15 episodes of the original anime TV series. There is a lot of material cut out to fit the 60 minute or so runtime of each movie. The really glaring omission in my eyes is the truncation of the development of Takumi and Natsuki Mogi’s relationship, in particular her dabbling in enjo kosai (that dates the franchise right away, huh?), which is completed deleted in this adaptation (save for her comment about how little Takumi and Itsuki are paid for their work at the petrol station). I recall that my local anime club in 1999 refused to play the anime when I showed them due to the rather subtle hints at it in the first episode. I was flabbergasted and couldn’t believe how conservative they were. The other change is that Takumi tells Itsuki that he punched Natsuki’s ex-boyfriend which I don’t think was in the manga or the 1990’s anime adaption.

The voice cast was also completely replaced. Mostly I have no issue with this, but Mitsuo Iwata (Kaneda in “Akira”, Kintaro Oe in “Golden Boy”) is Itsuki Takeuchi. He does dumb enthusiasm so well, and the new actor for Itsuki, Minoru Shiraishi, is hardly as good. All modern day Japanese animation is at least digitally coloured, so the CG cars most certainly don’t stick out like dog’s balls as they did the in the original TV series. However the animation does look rather cheap. Most modern TV anime looks a lot flashier and better than this film. Having said that, the racing scenes in these films are incredibly tense and really well done. The animators really take advantage of the CG animation to create really interesting cinematography. The second film has quite a number of shots of internal shot of engines which looked quite amazing and night time shots included the glow of the car’s disc brakes. The only real negative in the CG is the use of speed line or cross hatching. I’m assuming that it’s there because it’s imitating the manga. However at times it looks like the cars are all scratched up.

Though I have previously bagged out the ugly character designs, to a degree they have improved them a bit for these new films. However Shingo Shoji in the second film in particular looks even uglier and deformed than ever before. The subtitles on the both films are OK. It seems that it’s a very literal translation and at times read very awkwardly. They certainly need a clean-up and revision. The signs and on screen text are also not translated in the first film. The second film’s subtitles do translate a lot but not all of the signs and on screen text. As per usual there are practically no extras on the discs. The exception is the first film which includes a making of, but it is only subtitled in Chinese.

I know I am not in this franchise’s demographic. I do not give a crap about drifting and am not a testosterone filled teenage boy. However the action sequences are pretty exhilarating. The film manages to look like its set in modern times even though it’s from a manga originally published 20 years ago which is kind of amazing. I suppose to a certain degree not much has changed in terms of kids and cars over that time. I do have to question why a remake was needed. It’s patently obvious they’re trying to get a new, younger audience into the franchise. I don’t know if it’ll be successful. While I’ve seen some online whinging about the removal of the Eurobeat music, I note that as with the original anime, the Avex Trax music label is still providing the music. All in all, the films aren’t all that bad. They aren’t all that great either, but the battle scenes on the mountain are quite amazing. The last film came out in February 2016, so we’ll see if Neo Films ends up releasing it. 6.5 out of 10.

Remaining Backlog: Two movies, also waiting for second parts for three shows to be released before viewing them.

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