Since the reviews here are all extremely positive, and since I watched the last two seasons back to back, I'm gonna review them both.
First of all, for anyone who has not yet watched the series:
The first 2 seasons are amazing, and the third one (movie) is very good!
After that the quality drops quickly though.
Where in earlier seasons the anime revels in showing drifts, and mixing up closeups on the steering wheel and pedals with shots of drifting tires and the rear of the car coming very close to the guardrails, all while awesome eurobeat music is playing,
in the last
two seasons, less and less attention was put into these cool moments.
Where in the earlier seasons the commentary from former rivals on the roadside was ecstatic and interesting, hyping up the race even more,
in the last two seasons, it is monotone and boring, and much more about pseudo-philosophy than about technique.
The animation quality dropped extremely over the course of the series, after peaking in the second and third season.
This is probably due to harsh budget constraints,
since the Anime was serialized in a very unusual pay-per-view way in the last two seasons.
The clunky 3D-animated cars of the first season are something I longed for all throughout the last three seasons, since it allowed for long, smooth shots of drifting cars, but even this seems to have been above the budget of the series at this point.
Last but not least, the pacing of the races:
Where in the first two seasons there were normal races mixed in with bunny races, starting with the Third Stage, the series was all-bunny race all the way, and it shows in the uncreative ways the races end.
After this point 90% of the races seem to be decided by spin-out, which made every race's conclusion more boring than the one's before.
This coupled with less and less interesting opponents, lead to the last two seasons in particular becoming a drag to watch.
It took a lot of willpower to not drop the series after the fifth season,
but it took even more to not drop it within the sixth one, or skip to the last episode.
When an anime I used to enjoy immensely changes into something I need willpower to sit down and watch, I cannot give it a better score.
Taking place where 4th stage leaves off, Takumi on his deliveries is practicing at the one-handed steering technique of his final opponent from the last season. Though he is progressing, he still is trying to figure things out. At the same time, his father is giving him props for trying such a technique and acknowledges his progress. So where does this leave Project D after beating the Purple Mountain? Their next conquest leads them to Kanagawa, a prefecture south of Tokyo which is known for having the best street racers in the nation to the point that some of the drivers are trained and active
professionals, and its up to Ryosuke, Keisuke, and Takumi to show that there is a world of difference between the track circuits and the mountain passes.
To some extent, you can say this is more or less an extension of 4th stage since the focus is still on Project D. Their new rivals take racing seriously and express the same passion to a more distinct extent than previous rival teams. Because of this, the races are harder with the higher level of competition and harsher course conditions, so Ryosuke always thinks of ways in which they can and will win. Even if the chances are at a small percentage, he will bank everything on it.
I understand the characters from the other teams have more elaboration in the manga, but the anime does enough to express how this character compares and contrasts with either Ryosuke, Keisuke and Takumi. I just feel that they don’t have enough individual exploration and seem to be only used as a comparison tool to our main characters. I guess in context to the anime, it does its job, and this has been somewhat of an issue in previous installments. My only exposure of the manga is through the arcade, PS2, and PS3 games and when I see what is different in how the characters are more fleshed out, it really surprises me.
The rest of the cast for the most part is back. Most of the development is focused on Takumi, Keisuke, and Ryosuke and Ryosuke gets his own brief story arc. As for Iketani, Kenji, and Itsuki, they are still around and they do serve their roles in their own way. But I feel that their purpose is to now show how much Takumi has developed and is beyond them in context to expressing how he understands cars and the physics of racing. But I think at some point, they will get further development. But I think manga readers will tell me I am wrong. Some other past characters do show up and some of these brief returning characters do serve a significant purpose which I really thought did an excellent job for a certain new character.
In addition, Takumi now has a new love interest, Mika, a high school golf star. She is a real interesting character and I personally feels she is better than Natsuki. I feel she connects to Takumi more effectively because of her background and I like her out-going personality a lot more. I am pretty sure the manga at this point already has, but I hope when I watch future anime installments, they develop that relationship more. I thought the anime does its job building a good foundation to that relationship and I look forward to how it develops.
In terms of character design, the most significant change is Ryosuke’s. His hair is more shaggy and is not as well kept as it always has been. I don’t recall his hair looking like that in the manga based on my exposure through the games during that part of the story arc. Then again, this isn’t the first time, they changed Ryosuke’s hair style. In second stage, his hair color was changed to light brown from black and then changed back to black in 3rd and 4th stages. I thought his hair was fine. I guess my concern is on the basis that Ryosuke is my favorite character, but his fashion sense and his facial design and expressions are more or less the same. For the other characters, there are no other alterations to their designs.
The quality is not too different from 4th stage but has brighter resolution with the colors. The races are more back to a CG feel in comparison to the more cel-shaded feel of 4th stage and excellently does its job of bringing out the intensity and excitement of the races.
As for the races, the races are still done in a cat and mouse set of rules like in 4th stage. They do bring a sense of danger and risk to a higher level than previous installments, but I don’t think it’s to the level of that in Wangan Midnight or Shigeno-sensei’s previous manga, Bari Bari Densetsu. I suppose with a street racing manga, you want those factors, but in considerations to how well they organize and coordinate the street races, they can limit those risks so those factors justify that lack of them. I know accidents have happened in previous installments, but I just didn’t feel that danger. But this time, they do bring in weather and course conditions into a more specific and emphatic level in comparison to previous races and how they can appropriately customize the cars to prepare as well as actual physics to race in such conditions.
The races are planned with very intricate strategies that takes every possibility into account which is what I like about them. Even though this was also done in 4th stage, this quality is taken to a new level of technicalities in this season. The game plans Ryosuke comes up with is what makes touge racing very distinctive and makes me interested in it in a realistic point of view. For example, when Takumi invented his blind attack in 4th stage, this tactic is further elaborated and developed in a physics point of view. Also, some races focus more on effective breaking, and some are emphasized on carefully planned accelerating. Also, they do bring in very clever game planning which you may think is playing dirty, but considering this is the street, anything goes. But even though I don’t feel the danger, these new qualities does make it refreshingly exciting and educational. For that, I give the art and animation.
If you have been following my reviews of Initial D, then you know I always give the music and voice acting a 10/10. The voice cast is still the same and still bring their respective qualities to the same excellent performance they always have. Takumi is becoming nearly as articulate is Ryosuke and Miki Shinichiro does a great job of giving us that. The new voice actors also do a great job of capturing their characters. The music, the reason why I became an Initial D fan, is still unchanged. MOVE still does the songs though the hook is more of heavy guitars which perfectly reflects the more intense atmosphere of this installment. And if there is just one song that justifies my perfect score, it is the song “Wait for You” the Dancefloor mix by Ace from episode 11. It is just an amazing song you just have to hear. I can listen to this song over and over. It’s that song that makes you wish you were with that special someone in your life and it fits the mood of when the song was used. It is probably on my top 10 Initial D songs if i were to make one. So look that song up when you can I promise you’ll love it.
And the ending of the series perfectly sets up the last stage.
*Spoiler-Free for the entire Initial D seires* *Meant-to-be-short-but-fun review :P*
See, I am a fan of the Initial D series. So why have I given this one just a 7? It's not all bad depending on how you take it. You'll get what I mean:
(1) This stage is more dedicated to the development and growth of Keisuke. Since Takumi's unpredictable talent and dynamic races was what I loved, I felt a bit bored now and then. Not that Keisuke's races weren't interesting, they were all pretty good....but I guess you can't compare any other racers with Takumi. I did enjoy his character development. (Also Keisuke looked
rather ugly this season but he comes back to normal in Final ;-P)
(2) Thankfully there weren't any cheesy love-drama-heartbreak idiocy this season and just when you think things will be normal, a different side of the enigmatic Ryousuke's life is shown, which was actually quite interesting. So you get to see Ryousuke race once more.
(3)The opening song was pretty fun and the ending song was just \m/ awesome; and then -_- they were like, lets put a slow-love-ish-boring-sugar-fairy-princess-singing-no-one's-even-going-to-bother ending song that sounds like evERY OTHER SLOW-LOVE-ISH-BORING-SUGAR-FAIRY-PRINCESS-SINGING SONG IN A FRIGGIN' FAST-PACED RACING ANIME!!!
*ahem (4) THIS demotivated me even further coz now, I had to drag myself to the next episode. Although, I was able to keep patience during an episode. It's not as bad as it sounds. Plus, the curiosity of wanting to know 'who's gonna win?' will always be there. All-in-all it's good. (Anyway, anything is better than that horrendous third stage :P)
(5) I guess I should see Fifth and Final Stage as one because this stage is entirely a build-up for Takumi's race. And Boy! is that a race!! My review for Final Stage is filled with exclamation marks XD
All I will say is that, if you wanna get to the really good part, you can sit through this one.
(Actually, if you wanna, just skip this season because story-wise it doesn't really matter. All they are doing is racing every group in the Kanagawa prefecture. Final Stage is just a single race of 4 episodes.)
Your Choice ;P
Gone are the days of experts sitting on the sidelines discussing technique, strategy, and the characteristics of the road that Takemi is racing on. Gone is the under-dog feel. The Speed Stars side cast have been discarded for a bunch of guys who shop at hot topic and put more money into hair gel than they do car parts.
It's like someone took all the race theory that was great about the previous installments and threw them away; then took the story and put a bird on it. Holy Moley, I'm surprised they didn't put undercarriage neon lights and flashers on the AE-86
in the process of this anime.
And what the hell is up with Ryosuke's past? This is a complete character re-write. I hate how much they've fumbled the character development and interaction.
The art is the only saving grace, and even then it isn't as fun or exciting to watch the races as previous installments. This series should have ended with God-Hand and God-Foot being beaten by a younger generation of racers.
Nothing gets the blood pumping like a high-intensity race, be it in a car, bike, or even mecha suit. Youthful passion and energy fuel these shows about drivers, pilots and athletes all striving for that #1 spot. As Ricky Bobby once famously said, "If you ain't first, you're last".