When it comes to culturally significant, iconic media, purists are often concerned that any origin story or adaptations run the risk of trying too hard to reinvent the wheel. Initial D is no exception to this rule. The Legend Trilogy has faced a considerable amount of criticism. Much of this was focused on the removal of Eurobeat from the score and soundtrack, and it was argued that it took away the essence that was Initial D. I will argue tooth-and-nail against that because the final installment of the Legend Trilogy proved that the essence of Initial D is the character development of relatable hometown heroes.
As far as origins stories are concerned, the Legend Trilogy is a phenomenal example of a modern adaptation that is in keeping with the origin story while appropriately improving the visuals and highlighting nuance of character that wasn’t shared with viewers before.
The story follows Takumi Fujiwara on his ascension to street racing greatness. Instead of glossing over his complex personality, or the nuanced relationships he has with others around him, Mugen dives head first into the intricacies of a young man’s life and how he deals with the ever-changing landscape of his world. Fujiwara finds himself embracing who he’s becoming as a street racer and forces him to confront the reality of the future beyond driving without a care in the world on his home course. Through this, he bonds with his father; a relationship that has shown little depth in both the original manga and anime adaptation. We, as viewers, get a front-row seat and better understanding of the romance he has with his then-love interest. While his friendship with his Akina Speed Star brethren remains as consistent as it always was, Fujiwara’s budding friendship and appreciation for his street racing constituency is explored in a way it has never been before. As Fujiwara grows, we get a true glimpse of how observant he is of his surroundings and his knowledge of self.
Artistically, Initial D has always grown with the times. As technology improves, as does the artwork of Initial D-related media. Gone are the days of poorly constructed 3D models of classic Japanese automobiles. Vehicles look real in the Legend Trilogy because they are. Advanced cell-shading techniques have given way to an immersive experience that truly shows off the direction of anime for the future. The characters’ facial expressions are individual to their personalities and add a layer of depth and understanding to who they are as individuals. Picking up where Final Stage left off, the roads and the surrounding landscapes look absolutely stunning, even during the street races in the twilight hours. The original storyline was done justice with this modernization.
The voice acting is solid, but foreign. Viewers have grown accustomed to 16 years of consistent, recognizable talent. Having new actors, though talented, makes a few of the characters feel foreign. With the lack of Eurobeat, the Legend Trilogy feels like a separate story entirely, at times. I have no personal qualms with replacing Eurobeat for Japanese alternative rock, however, the score feels flat and uninspired. In fact, many Initial D inspired audio that can be found in far corners of Soundcloud tend to favor instrumental, jazzy hiphop, often inspired by the vibes of the late, great Nujabes. However, the quality isn’t bad, but the choice in music simply feels out of place. Thankfully, the car sounds are as genuine as it can possibly get. You can easily distinguish the sounds from 13BT, 4AGE, and RB26DETT engines. The tire sounds are also accurate with how the characters are driving. In its production, there was an exceptional amount of attention to detail that went into the racing experience.
As mentioned before, the Legend Trilogy has taken character development in Initial D to an entirely new level. Instead of sullen melancholia, near-comical seriousness, and uncomfortable comic relief; we get a range of human emotion that allows us to fall in love with personalities, as opposed to simply the common underdog story. We see Fujiwara falling in love. We see him praise the opponents he’s beaten on Akina. We see him struggle with his own identity in finding his place in this world he was suddenly thrust upon. Even better, we get much-needed backstory on the RedSuns and Takahashi Ryosuke. Previously, these things were mentioned in passing and it was left up to readers of the manga to interpret these nuances in context. For anime watchers, such details may have been missed. Additionally, Takumi’s father, Bunta, shows a considerable amount of compassion and respect for his son during this period of growth. They even share a moment or two of shared stubbornness that only happens between father and son.
The enjoyment factor of Initial D has changed. The story itself has long ended so longtime fans may lack the excitement of finding out what happens next. One could argue that the enjoyment factor has now become the satisfaction of knowing. For individual viewers, some may feel relief in knowing details that went unmentioned previously. Others may develop a new respect for certain characters. Or, like me, you could fall in love with the underdog story all over again as the Legend Trilogy offers new perspectives. What’s most pleasing is that it can be equally enjoyable for both longtime fans and new viewers alike. Overall, Initial D is Initial D. It’s a cultural staple. A legend in itself. It’s responsible for many pilgrimages to Gunma Prefecture, Japan. It’s the reason why an cheap, fuel-efficient, economy car from the 1980s gained unthinkable popularity since production ceased nearly 30 years ago. It’s the ridiculously esoteric, and still personally relatable story of a teenage boy from a single-parent household finding himself and growing into a man with goals and ambition. It’s the dream we see become a reality.
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".