Influences of Initial D
Unlike other modern mangas that are character and story-based, Initial D relies on more than just the basics of storytelling to appeal to audiences. Incorporating an in depth background of cars, actual locations and a look into the underground street racing lifestyle, Shuichi Shigeno’s Initial D is considered an accurate portrayal of the Japanese drift style.
Shuichi Shigeno (5/8/1958-present), creator of Initial D, made his “mangaka” debut in 1981 with Oretachi Zekkouchou (translates to “Alive and Kicking”). He first incorporated his love of vehicles in the 1983 manga Bari Bari Densetsu (“Motorcycle Legend”). The series ran for 38 volumes and was followed up by Dopkan and Tunnel Nuketara Sky Blue (“First Love in Summer”).
In 1995 Kodansha – well known publisher of manga magazines such as Weekly Shonen Jump- was searching for a title to fill a gap between two popular manga runnings. This is when Initial D first appeared on the scene as a “parody based on a Toyota Trueno AE86 with a driver who delivered tofu for a living” (Initial D real-life, para. 2). Unexpectedly, rather than being a short-lived filler Initial D became a regular weekly feature.
The anime premiered in April of 1998 and continued through a sequence of movies until 2008. Following translation errors and inaccurate technical references, Funimation Entertainment announced in 2009 the re-release and re-dub of the series. This version will retain the original music from the Japanese series in an uncut format. The live action version, Initial D Drift Racer premiered in 2005 and was well received by Japanese audiences, considering the cast was made up of names from Taiwanese and Hong Kong cinema.
Being an owner of a panda Trueno and a steel blue Mica (just like the characters Takumi and his father Bunta) it is fair to say Shuichi Shigeno was deeply inspired by actual street racing of the time. The element of drifting was added partially due to “exploits of Keiichi Tsuchiya, Japan’s ‘Drift King’, who favors a Toyota AE86 Trueno” (Fan listing, para. 3).
Tsuchiya (1/30/1956-present) is credited with developing numerous drifting techniques that helped to popularize the sport. Unlike his fellow drivers, he earned his reputation through illegal street races until finally becoming a professional in 1977. Throughout his career he used a number of cars including the Nissan Skyline GT-R and Silvia, Honda Civic and NSX, Toyota GT-One and, of course, AE86 Sprinter Trueno (also referred to as “Hachi-Roku” which translates to “eight six”).
Keiichi Tsuchiya retired at age 47 and became Team Director for the GT500 Class ARTA JGTC (All-Japan Grand Touring Car Championship). He continues to judge the D1 Grand Prix drift championship and also serves as an editorial supervisor for the Initial D anime.
With all of this background information pertaining to the anime, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to discover all of the featured locations are based on actual settings in Japan. The story takes place mainly in the Gunma prefecture and the surrounding mountains in the Kanto area. Gunma is located in the northwest corner of the Kanto region on Honshu Island.
Major mountains include the “Three Mountains of Jomo” all of which appear in Initial D: Mount Akagi (the home course of the team Akagi Red Suns), Mount Haruna (referred to as Mount Akina where Takumi delivers tofu) and Mount Myogi. Also mentioned is one of the main transportation routes in Japan located between Nagano and the Gunma prefectures, Usui Pass. This is also the home course of Keiichi Tsuchiya.
Specific references such as these are the key to much of Initial D’_s success. True, this makes it focus on an entirely new audience. Rather than the typical otaku Shigeno reached out to racing fans whose “interest lies more in the cars themselves than the anime side of the series” (Initial D real-life, para. 4). In comparison to big names like _Cowboy Bebop the artwork and early CGI work of Initial D seems rather crude, simplistic and non-traditional. However, what this has done for the overall audience is heighten their awareness of underground culture and given them an understanding of the passion for cars. Even cosplaying, which normally emcompasses anime and video game characters, has expanded to include actual vehicles featured in Initial D. Those perfect replicas rarely go unrecognized by anime fans alike.
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