I’ve always had friends that love cars. Going all the way back to high school in the 90s, My friend Johnny used to be all about the speed. Back then, he had this black, 96′ Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme that he used to drive like the entire world was trying to beat him in a race. It didn’t matter where you were going, you weren’t getting anywhere near there before Johnny was getting there. While not much of an anime head, Johnny had definitely made it around to watching Initial D, an animated show about Japanese street racers. Little did I know just how much this crazy, speed obsessed car racing show had an affect on my hard driving homeboy.
If you’ve seen Initial D, I had an attitude more like main character Takumi Fujiwara. At the start of the series Takumi didn’t care about the racing or know anything about cars himself, and during his first ride in the back seat of a street racer buddy, he screamed relentlessly on his way up the mountain for his first races. Little did anyone in Initial D know that Takumi had become an accomplished downhill drift driver delivering tofu for his family’s business. Naturally, the driving bit is where the similarities between Takumi and myself ended as I remain a pretty terrible driver to this day.
Johnny watched Initial D as soon as it came out. I remember seeing the tapes at his house. He tried to get me to watch it, but my disinterest in cars left me cold. Some cool box art with an old school flare despite being fairly new at the time. I just never was much of a speed demon and to this day find the going fast unnecessary and scary. Still, something clicked in my mind when I met my co-emcee here in Cambodia. A fellow speed demon in the same vein of Johnny only in actual Asia and on massive motorcycles as well, when the time came to create aliases for our band I called him Initial G. Even though I’d never seen a frame of it… Initial D had an effect on me. So finally, with some prodding I figured it was time to check it out first hand…
Boy… I wish I’d have gotten here sooner.
5 episodes in and Takumi has just stumbled into street racing. Despite being a driving prodigy from delivering tofu, Takumi has only recently gotten his license and sees driving as more of a way to help the family than as its own passionate pursuit. Still, he guns his dads old .86 through all the hairpin turns in order to make it through his run as fast as possible turning both the car and its mysterious, unknown driver into something of an urban legend in the area. With some prodding from his father, and the advances of an interested girl (that seems to have a much much older boyfrie….er…benefactor taking her around or something) Takumi turns up to race and begins building a legend of his own, igniting a passion for driving. Though he remains much more interested in getting a full tank of gas, than being the best driver out there, it’ll be interesting to see how this changes going forward.
Oh! The “D” is for Drift, isn’t it!?
Thanks to Initial D, I finally understand why Johnny later upgraded his Cutlass to the Prelude he had in college. He transitioned from reckless abandon in those early high school days to a much more calculated style of driving. I wasn’t particularly attentive about it, but now I can see it a bit better. After the first few years I was pretty used to the action. I was never around for any racing, but Houston, Texas seemed an awful lot smaller with Johnny behind the wheel. Little did I know how much of his fire for driving was stoked by magic of Initial D.
It’s a great watch and kind of reminds me of Scott Pilgrim in the way it takes teen characters and ratchets up the drama giving them sort of super powers behind the wheels of a car. It’s all rooted in a fantastic realism as far as the drifting and driving is concerned, but the motivation is as clear as glass. Boys like cars. Boys race cars. And Boys reputations while racing cars are sacrosanct. Being the best is the most important thing in the world Unless you’re Takumi… If you’re Takumi you don’t care about any of that; you just want that gas money so you can take your girl to the beach.