Initial D is a Japanese street racing manga series written and illustrated by Shuichi Shigeno. It was serialized in Weekly Young Magazine from 1995 to 2013, with the chapters collected into 48 tankōbon volumes by Kodansha. The story focuses on the world of illegal Japanese street racing, where all the action is concentrated in the mountain passes and rarely in cities or urban areas, and with the drifting racing style emphasized in particular. Professional race car driver and pioneer of drifting Keiichi Tsuchiya helped with editorial supervision. The story is centered on the prefecture of Gunma, more specifically on several mountains in the Kantō region and in their surrounding cities and towns. Although some of the names of the locations the characters race in have been fictionalized, all of the locations in the series are based on actual locations in Japan.
Initial D has been adapted into several anime television and original video animations series by OB Studio Comet, Studio Gallop, Pastel, A.C.G.T and SynergySP. A live action film by Avex and Media Asia was released in 2005. Both the manga and anime series were initially licensed for English-language distribution in North America by Tokyopop (2002–2009), however, the anime license has since been picked up by Funimation, while the manga was relicensed by Kodansha USA in 2019.
Avex has released the anime in several parts called Stages. One noticeable feature is that it uses Eurobeat music as background music in race scenes, especially by Italian singers.
- Initial D (referred to retroactively by fans as “First Stage”) — 26 episodes (1998)
- Initial D Second Stage — 13 episodes (1999)
- Initial D Extra Stage — 2-episode OVA side-story focusing on Impact Blue (2000)
- Initial D Third Stage — a 104-minute movie (2001)
- Initial D Fourth Stage — 24 episodes (2004–2006)
- Initial D Extra Stage 2 — a 50-minute OVA side-story focusing on Mako and Iketani (2008)
- Initial D Fifth Stage — 14 episodes (2012–2013)
- Initial D: Final Stage — 4 episodes (TV), compilation movie (DVD/Blu-ray) (2014)
- New Initial D the Movie – Legend 1: Awakening — feature movie (2014)
- New Initial D the Movie – Legend 2: Racer — feature movie (2015)
- New Initial D the Movie – Legend 3: Dream — feature movie (2016)
The Battle Stages are Musical Films serving as a compilation of the racing action scenes in the preceding series reanimated and remastered with more advanced CGI and stripped of all but minimal character dialog. It also features hidden battles that were only featured in the manga and not in the anime such as Keisuke’s race against Smiley,
- Initial D Battle Stage — a 50-minute movie (2002)
- Initial D Battle Stage 2 — a 1-hour movie (2007)
- Note that Battle Stage 2 is a compilation of races from Fourth Stage with unchanged CGI, even for the hidden battles.
In 1998, Initial D was adapted into an animated television series produced by OB Planning and Prime Direction. The first episode premièred on Fuji TV on April 8, 1998. The initial series ran for 26 weekly episodes with the finale airing on December 5, 1998.
The second series, named “Second Stage”, aired from October 14, 1999 to January 20, 2000 with a one-week break over the New Year period. This was followed by animated feature film in 2001 and an OVA documenting all battles from the previous three stages, with the battles from First Stage being re-animated.
Initial D: Third Stage was a feature film covering the story arcs between the second and fourth stage, released in Japan on January 13, 2001. It earned a distribution income of ¥520 million ($6.52 million) at the Japanese box office.
In 2004, Initial D: Fourth Stage aired on SkyPerfecTV’s pay-per-view service, airing two episodes back-to-back every two months. 24 episodes were made until the final episodes were aired in February 2006.
Following Second Stage in 2000, Initial D: Extra Stage was aired as a spinoff to the original series. This story focused on the all-female Impact Blue team of Usui Pass and their point of view of the recent events of Second Stage and the upcoming Third Stage movie. This was followed by Extra Stage 2 in 2008, which look at the relationship between Impact Blue’s Mako Sato and Iketani of the SpeedStars (following on from the original side-story in the manga).
Eight years after the release of “Fourth Stage” in 2004, Animax aired “Initial D: Fifth Stage”. Animax has aired the series on a pay-per-view basis on SKY PerfecTV!’s Perfect Choice Premier 1 channel. The first two episodes aired on November 9, 2012. The rest of the episodes were broadcast two per month till May 10, 2013.
In 2014, “Initial D: Final Stage” became the latest installment in the anime series. Animax has aired its first two episodes on a pay-per-view basis on its own brand new ANIMAX PLUS channel, on May 16, 2014, on its new subscription VOD service, which allows subscribers to watch all the latest anime series. Initial D Final Stage will start right after where Fifth Stage left off. There are a total of four episodes that makes up this mini stage. The final two episodes were broadcast on June 22, 2014.
Since the anime’s original run, Japanese musical group m.o.v.e has performed all of the opening and some ending themes of the series. This followed on from the success of one of their first hits, “Around the World”, which was used as the first opening of First Stage. Their latest single to be used in the series is called “Outsoar The Rainbow” and it is used as Final Stage’s opening. They had another recent unreleased song, “Days”. It was played on the finale of “Final Stage”.
Like in the manga, Tokyopop change elements of the anime to suit Western audiences. As well as changing the names and used western slang, the company also changed the anime’s music from the series’ staple eurobeat tracks to originally developed tracks of rap and hip-hop via Stu Levy (DJ Milky), the Tokyopop CEO and an in-house musician.
In 2006, Funimation Entertainment announced that it would be distributing the DVDs of the anime (since Tokyopop’s original distributor went bankrupt). This new distribution was marked by slightly revised packaging and two box sets corresponding to the licensed seasons Tokyopop had dubbed, although the DVDs themselves were exactly the same as the original Tokyopop release.
Tokyopop had completed an English dubbed version of Third Stage, and reportedly screened it at the Big Apple Anime Fest on August 29, 2003. They briefly mentioned that their version of Third Stage would retain the original Japanese soundtrack, in contrast to their treatment of the anime series. This version of the film was never released on DVD, nor was it ever mentioned by Tokyopop past the original announcement.
At the New York Anime Festival 2009, Funimation Entertainment announced that it would be re-releasing and re-dubbing Initial D: First Stage, Second Stage, Extra Stage, Third Stage, and Fourth Stage. Their release included a brand new English dub and retained the original music from the Japanese in an uncut format. Funimation released the series out of order, with the Third and Fourth Stages releasing before the First and Second Stages. Funimation has not specified whether or not they will dub and release Extra Stage 2 (the first Extra Stage was included in the Second Stage box set) or either of the Battle Stages, nor have they made a decision about 5th Stage and Final Stage.
A live-action film based on Initial D was released on June 23, 2005 in Asia. The movie was jointly produced by Japan’s Avex Inc. and Hong Kong’s Media Asia Group. It was directed by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak, whose credits include the 2002 Hong Kong blockbuster Infernal Affairs. The adaptation featured Taiwanese singer Jay Chou as Takumi Fujiwara and Hong Kong stars Edison Chen as Ryosuke Takahashi and Shawn Yue as Takeshi Nakazato. Despite many changes to the original story, the movie was met with critical acclaim and was nominated for multiple awards, including Best Picture, at the Hong Kong Film Awards and Golden Horse Awards, winning many of them.
A sequel has been in discussion since the following year after the movie has debuted. However, a concrete conclusion could not be reached due to several obstacles which includes the storyline, filming locations, casts, and safety reasons. As of March 2015, director and producer, Andrew Lau, has once again reconfirmed in an exclusive interview that a sequel will surely follow but is tight-lipped on the release date. Jay Chou and Edison Chen will reprise their roles in the sequel.
The protagonist, Takumi Fujiwara, is a student working as a gas station attendant with his best friend Itsuki. Itsuki is enthusiastically interested in being a street racer. The team he feels closest to and hopes to join is the Akina Speedstars, where the team leader Iketani Koichiro is also working at the same pump station. Unbeknownst to his colleagues, Takumi helps out his Father Bunta as a tofu delivery driver for his father’s store before sunrise each morning, passively building an impressive amount of skill of over 5 years behind the wheel of the family car, an aging Toyota Sprinter Trueno (AE86).
Shortly after the story begins, the Red Suns, a highly experienced racing team from Mount Akagi led by Ryosuke Takahashi, challenge the local Speedstars team to a set of races on Mount Akina. Dispirited after watching the Red Suns’ superior performance during a practice run, the Speedstars expect to lose. Later that night, the Red Suns’ #2 driver, Keisuke Takahashi, heading home after the last practice run, is defeated soundly by a mysterious Sprinter Trueno, despite driving a much more powerful Mazda RX-7(FD3S). An investigation into the identity of the driver leads to Bunta Fujiwara, Takumi’s father. While trying to do his best for the team on Mount Akina, Iketani suffers a crash and damages his car and injures himself. He is unable to take part in the race to represent his team. The Speedstars beg Bunta to help them defeat the Red Suns, and he initially refuses, later relenting to “maybe” show up at the race. At the same time, Takumi asks Bunta if he can borrow the car for a day to take a trip to the beach with a potential girlfriend (Natsuki Mogi), and Bunta seizes the moment by granting permission (plus a full tank of fuel) on the condition that Takumi defeats Keisuke.
On the night of the race, the Trueno does not show up, and the Speedstars enlist a backup driver (Kenji) for the first run. At the last moment before the race starts, the AE86 arrives. Takumi steps out of the car to the bewilderment of the Speedstars, who were expecting Bunta. He easily defeats Keisuke by utilizing a dangerous “Gutter run” (putting both the right/left tires into the gutters to prevent centrifugal force pushing the car outward) technique on the mountain road’s hairpin corners.
The Red Suns’ embarrassing defeat sets up the plot for the rest of the series: drivers from neighboring prefectures come to challenge Takumi and the “Legendary Eight-Six of Akina” and thus prove themselves as racers. Eventually, the plot moves away from Mount Akina as Takumi becomes bored with racing solely on that road. He joins an expedition racing team (Project.D) formed by the disbanded Red Suns and challenges more difficult opponents on their home courses in the pursuit of his dream to be “the fastest driver out there”.