Tropes in Initial D
“In current usage, "trope" often means a common or overused theme or device: cliché.” (Merriam Webster) While tropes are often seen as the cliches and stereotypes of a medium, they serve an important purpose: they allow the director to shape the perceptions of characters and events. For example, the trope “Kicking the Dog”, in which the writer/director has a character casually perform an evil act, such as kicking a puppy, to communicate to the audience that the character is certifiably evil or otherwise untrustworthy. In Initial D, tropes are heavily used to define and shape the audience perception of the characters, with many characters filling the generic roles found in many other anime series.
At the beginning of the story, Takumi, the main character, is introduced not as a masterful street racer, or any racer at all, but as a simple high school student. This trope is present in many shows targeted at teenagers/young adults, so that the audience can easily associate with the characters. The mystery of who drives the Eighty-Six also heightens the intrigue of the first couple of episodes, building interest in the viewers to continue watching the series. Even after Takumi is revealed as the Eighty-Six's driver, he doesn't consider himself a racer until much later in the season, claiming that he is only driving how he normally does.
In order to explain Takumi's exceptional skill at handling a vehicle, especially since he only gets his driver's license just before the start of the series, it is revealed that he had been tasked by his father to deliver tofu up the local mountain every day for the previous five years. In this “Training from Hell” type scenario, Takumi had been tasked with delivering tofu through a mountain pass every morning, while carrying a cup of water in the car's holder and not spilling a single drop. This trope is commonly used by writers to give a somewhat plausible explanation to an otherwise implausible level of skill, and examples of this trope can be seen in variety of shows/films, especially in the training sequences from the movie 300 as well as any of the training sequences from Dragon Ball Z.
Takumi's friend Itsuki also fills a very standard role. Whereas Takumi is very removed and reserved, Itsuki provides a counterbalance to the audience, being very excitable and energetic, as well as being the nearly complete opposite of Takumi in terms of skill. Itsuki also serves to advance the plot, creating an excuse for Takumi to race when Takumi had no interest in continuing to drive in street battles.
One of the most obvious examples of tropes, using the afore-mentioned “Kicking the Dog” can be found in the character of Shingo. Throughout the first half of the first season, Takumi was mostly unwilling to race, seeing it as boring and pointless. To give Takumi a reason to fight, Shingo was played up as a rather evil character, the only “villain” of the series. The actual kicking of the dog occurs when Shingo runs Takumi's friend Itsuki off of the road, putting him in the hospital. This event is used to provide justification to an otherwise unnecessarily dangerous event, the “Gum-Tape Death Match”.
Writers often use tropes as devices to influence the perception of a character, or to advance the plot, and the tropes present in Initial D are no exception. In the series, through characters like Itsuki and Shingo, as well as Takumi, we can see how the writers used tropes to characterize many of the characters, as well explain some of the more unbelievable aspects of the show.