By on August 6, 2013

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Kodansha has released the final installment of the popular action comic Initial D in its August 6th edition of “Young Magazine” which hit store shelves at the end of July. For those of us in the United States who have followed Takumi Fujiwara’s story through the anime series via Netflix or Hulu, it matters little as we have not seen any new material in some time, but for readers of the comic, this marks the end of an epic 18 year run. Whether or not you are a fan, this is a series that has had a huge impact on car culture all over the world and so its passing is worthy of note.

If you have somehow managed to remain blissfully unaware of the world of Japanese comics, known as manga, some explanation is probably required. The first thing you need to know is that, unlike American comic books which are sold as individual books usually a just few dozen pages long, Japanese manga are huge blocks of recycled paper that appear to have more in common than a telephone book than they do a comic book. The pages are generally made of a grey newsprint that feels coarse under your fingers and the art, most of which is done in simple black and white, is easily smudged. Each publication has dozens of competing titles running in any given issue and only the most popular manage to work their way onto the cover or even into the foremost pages where they might, on occasion, be rewarded with a third color, red. Like the old fashioned American pulp fiction magazines of the 1930s and 40s, manga are mass marketed items that are cheap, quick to read and easily disposed of.

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The Japanese marketplace is jam packed with manga and virtually every convenience store, train station kiosk and book seller has dozens of fresh titles on display each week. Their titles are almost always printed in bold fonts and garish colors to attract the eye and their covers are filled with risqué images intended to tempt young men into laying down their hard earned Yen. Although it is a little slicker than some of the competition, Kodansha’s “Young Magazine” is no different than the norm, really, perhaps a little thinner than most but offering a few more full color pages up front, pages on slick paper that usually feature photos of young “idols” with vulnerable expressions wearing skimpy swimsuits and showing surprising amounts of cleavage. Following these pages, in the back of the book, stories about sports, gangsters or the romantic entanglements of teens give the readers something only a touch more cerebral when they have exhausted the possibilities of those earlier pages. As I am not really a fan of Japanese manga anymore, and have never been a regular reader of this particular comic anyhow, it is hard for me to judge the quality or popularity of any of the series currently on offer; most seem unremarkable, but it is from these humble origins that Initial D arose, just one story in an already saturated marketplace.

That the series became a runaway hit and eventually an international phenomenon says something about the attention to detail involved in its creation. I say “creation” because unlike American comics, Japanese manga is not the sole work of one artist, but is instead the product of many combined talents. There is always the creator, the one who sits down and conceives the idea, determines the story line, exerts artistic control and manages the effort, but behind him or her are the artists, each a specialized part of the team, draftsmen to draw the buildings in the background, technical artists to ensure the accurate representation of the various vehicles in play, character artists to bring life to the people, letterers, inkers, shaders and probably dozens of other artists I have no idea about. The success or failure of the product ultimately depends upon each of these people, and it is safe to say that the artists involved with Initial D are all top notch.

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To those of us who are auto enthusiasts, what makes Initial D special is the fact that the technical artists have got the cars right. We can look at a single panel and tell exactly the kinds of cars that are pitted against one another as they battle their way up or down a mountain road. Our eyes are drawn to the details and the way the cars are depicted in Initial D is usually spot-on as well, the suspension on one wheel squatting as the car’s weight shifts in a hard turn or the sweep of a tachometer frozen in time at the edge of a panel as we look over the driver’s shoulder and out through the windshield at the road rushing towards us. But Initial D is deeper than just that, it features characters that are more-or-less believable, guys who want to be heroes but who struggle with their own limitations, young men who suffer life’s trials both on and off the road. Moreover, the situations depicted are familiar to many of the kids who actually read the book, the reality of dead end jobs, life with drunken, abusive fathers, a girlfriend who has an “arrangement” with an older guy on the side, and all of the generally stupid, reckless things that guys will do in the pursuit of excitement. It is an unflinching look into a working class Japanese world that despite its harshness remains filled with an odd, forlorn sort of glory; something that few of us in the West ever get the chance to see.

Now, it has ended. To be certain there are plans for another movie and still another anime series to bring everything to a close, but the ending of the manga means the end of original creative work taking place with the characters. Looking back, I can see that Initial D was a product of its time. That special time in the mid 1990s when the great Japanese cars of the late 80s/early 90s were just beginning to outlive their usefulness to their original owners and were hitting the used market in ever increasing numbers. A time when the youth of Japan were really beginning to absorb the fact that no matter how well educated or hardworking they were that, thanks to the economic crash at the beginning of the decade, they would likely never be as successful or as wealthy as their parents. It spoke to those kids, drove countless numbers of them into the car hobby and gave them hope. Although it continues to draw new fans, I wonder if the reason that Initial D is ending has anything to do with the fact that so many of us who were young when it made its debut have now outgrown it. Still, it will always be a part of our youth and it’s fitting, I think, that it ends in the 8/6 edition. Its been a hell of a ride.

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Thomas M Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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24 Comments on “Initial D Manga Ceases Publication With “Final Stage”...”


  • avatar
    Freddy M

    Never read the Manga of Initial D (or any other Manga for that matter) but I have been a fan of the Anime as my brother is a HUGE anime and manga fan and once he showed me Initial D I was instantly hooked.

    Although I can’t say that the announcement of the end of the Manga is a shocking tragedy to me (I actually assumed it ended a long time ago) I do recognize it as an end of an era. I suppose.

    And despite the fact I’m not a true bonkers fan of Initial D, I still jump up and down like an idiot and scream “Fujiwara’s 86!!!” whenever I see a classic 86 on the road done up in the panda paint scheme complete with the tofu store signage on the door. Or even a bright yellow FD for that matter.

  • avatar
    hoff02

    I think my love of Initial D has already been documented in previous postings, but this is a sad but likely appropriate ending to the saga of Takumi Fujiwara. Thomas is spot on with his analysis of the anime. I noticed the show on Netflix with a 4.5 star rating and looked at its original run date in the 90′s. When a show with some age manages to maintain such a high rating – I take note and try to give those a shot. Anime has provided a wealth of incredible story-telling (See: Full Metal Alchemist, Howl’s Moving Castle, Princess Mononoke, perhaps Dragonball if that’s your thing, etc.), and I started Initial D just to take a peek based upon the experiences with those. What I found was a show that paid incredible attention to technical detail in both artistry and dialogue. The characters take time to develop, but the detail had me hooked. I even went on Wikipedia to check the show out and sure enough in true Japanese tedious fashion, they had professional drifters involved with the show for consultation. As with most great anime’s, underlying its backbone is a great manga and while I have not had the chance to read the Initial D manga – its humble roots and rise to noteriety should be an indication of the quality within. It is certainly a product of an era, and as the era has passed – it was inevitable the tales of Takumi would have to end as well. A very note-worthy passing Thomas! Thank you!

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    This is bad news :(. My little one has also caught the fever and is starting to sing the songs while in the car.

    I haven’t had the chance to watch the 5th season (via youtube) but certainly hope it’s not the last. Although, the anime should end where the manga ends.

    On the other end of the spectrum there is Midnight Wangan.

    • 0 avatar

      I got into a Manga series known as “F” by Noburo Rokuda back in the 80s. I’m fairly sure I own the entire collection in books. I think it is still one of th ebest racing comics going, with plenty of silly moments and lots of seriouis drama as well.

  • avatar
    ringomon

    Nice write-up Thomas.

    I’ve never read Initial-D, but I’ve always been meaning to.

    The thing I love about Japanese comics is that they have more normal life stuff like this. There’s a strerotype of anime/manga being all huge eyed pixie girl manic stuff, but in reality there’s a much larger variety of topics and themes in Japanese comics than superhero dominated American comics (yes I know there’s non-superhero stuff too, but the superhero stuff still dominates). Whether it be car racing, sports, food, mah-jong, politics, etc. My favorite comic is about a high-school basketball team called “Slamdunk”.

    • 0 avatar
      ringomon

      I should add anyone interested in reading the comics they are available in translation- search the books section of amazon.

      Or you can search for free fan-translation scans on google (this is a black market thing- if you enjoy what you see then buy some of the books).

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      You might also enjoy King of Tennis, which shares a special distinction alongside the Sakura Taisen series to be only 1 of 2 properties to spawn television shows, OVAs (direct to video for those encountering that term for the first time), print media, video games, numerous soundtracks and character vocal collections, theatrical releases and a popular live stage show. Not even the mighty FF can boast the latter achievement.

      One of my all-time favorite stories to come out of Japan is Mitsuru Adachi’s “Touch”, involving a young girl and 2 brothers who are so close to each other, the neighboring families built a separate play house for them to straddle the property line. A continuing life story set against the backdrop of varsity baseball, it contains dramatic moments every bit as good as anything put in print or on video elsewhere, which I refuse to even hint at since it’s still readily available in both formats.

      Oh dear, Touch has a BD reissue now as does Rumiko’s Maison Ikkoku; my finances will be shot to hell for the remainder of this year.

  • avatar

    Generally I prefer stories that are complete, and so I’m glad the creators are able to end the series in an orderly fashion.

    I’m not familar with the finale yet, but the cover illustration of the last volume appears to depict the magical shota (whose balls dropped at the sight of Mako’s slender legs) following Takumi rather closely, which gives us hope for an exciting battle and perhaps some revelations.

    One funny thing about the passage of time in Initial D, albeit in anime continuity, was how the trackside teams used VHF radios in First and Second stages, then suddenly switched to cellphones (first open-face ones, then clamshells). Although only months passed for the characters, it was years between anime releases and the world has changed.

  • avatar
    carlisimo

    This show might be what got me into cars. I missed the whole craze in high school because I couldn’t afford one, but watching the anime in college combined with a $300 MT Sentra was a fateful combination.

    A lot of people unfamiliar with it expect something like the first Fast and the Furious. It really isn’t. The high schoolers look and act like high schoolers (yet come up with far more philosophical quotes than F&F). That can be frustrating if you’re outside of that age group, but it means the characters aren’t far from plausibility. The driving might be, but the show toned down the drift angles as the characters’ skill levels improved.

    It’s been fun. Farewell, Takumi-kun!

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    I have enjoyed the animated Initial D series in imported volumes for many years and refrained from TP’s domestic release on the correct assumption that their “new and improved” soundtrack was anything but that. As ADV’s execrable domestic release of the revamped Area 88 show demonstrated, when you don’t license the music for an Avex TV series, you’ve only purchased half the product.

    You forgot to mention the most important metric of how significant and huge Japan’s comics/manga business is in relation to its economy: for many years, the number 1 spot on Japan’s publicly available individual income tax records belonged to artist and story teller Rumiko Takahashi, an artist whose career may well be older than most visitors to this site.

    I was enamored of The One and Only, simply because the first “what the heck was that” moment involved some blow-dried hotshot having the wind knocked out of his sails by a young kid driving a Toyota Crown station wagon.

    It’s ZOIDS week for me; the special edition BD box set arrived yesterday along with all 3 volumes of original concept art (complete with English captions in the pages, yippee!), so while it’s bittersweet, it’s nice to read about another series ending before it becomes boring and tiresome, which happened to Dragon Ball right when the producers okayed a fight scene which ran for 13 episodes.

    • 0 avatar

      Rumiko Takahashi is a creative genius who has been making some of the most popular Manga series since the late 1970s. The vast, vast majority of my manga collection is her stuff and I have full sets of Urusei Yatsura and Ranma 1/2 on the shelf. (I actually have two full sets of Urusei Yatsura as once they had released all the compiliations in a small format, the re-released them in a wide format and I bought those as well.) I had no idea that this Inuyasha the kids were so obsessed with just a few years ago was her stuff too – she just keeps going and going.

      I also have a lot of posters of her stuff that I collected in Asia and brought back when I was in the Merchant Marines mounted and framed behined glass. My wife thinks that only pedos hang that kind of cutie pie stuff up and so it has all been consigned to a closet for the last decade. I thought maybe she’d let me put it in the kids’ rooms when they got to be about the right age but, no.

      Anyone who might be interested in purchasing it should contact me…

      • 0 avatar
        Felis Concolor

        Alright, message sent. Oh dear, I missed the DVD release of F; it looks like I’ll just need to keep track of when the BD volume ships as amazon.jp does not like to involve 3rd parties in overseas shipments. Gaah, it looks like all my favorite animated racing series are releasing now or soon on BD; at this rate I’ll never get my other projects finished.

  • avatar
    lzaffuto

    Oh man. I’ve never gotten into the manga but I love the anime.

    On the gearhead level, the cars and their associated modifications and such are real. The roads and places are real. The shop talk is real. The only thing that isn’t real is the physics of the racing. We all know drifting may be the fastest way around one specific corner on one specific course, but isn’t the fastest way around a track. But I can forgive it that because the series captures the excitement of racing better than almost anything I’ve ever seen. The shots of the cars setting up for a corner, the weight transfer, the shifting and clutch work, the engines revving, and the cool shots where you follow the camera through the turbo, into the engine, and then out the exhaust.

    The show hit a lot of the right spots on the human level too. I got into Initial D when I just got my first car, graduating high school. Just like the main characters. The issues they deal with, the joy and thrill of owning your first ride, the anxiety of what you are going to do with your life when you graduate, the troubles with relationships with the opposite sex… these were all identifiable on a very personal level.

    The quality of the show dropped off after the third stage movie somewhat when it started focusing more on just the racing instead of the racing and the characters and relationships equally. I will still miss it quite a bit.

    • 0 avatar
      carlisimo

      Could drifting make sense on a twisty downhill, though? You’re scrubbing off speed, which is bad for acceleration out of the corner – but that may not matter if there isn’t much of a straight after the next turn. It’s akin to braking later. And you’re dealing with less rear traction than on flat ground.

      That said, the series itself realized it and greatly reduced the amount of drifting later on.

      For what it’s worth, fifth season has brought back a little bit of the character development. Not as much as at the beginning, but enough that it’s more interesting than 4th season.

      • 0 avatar

        No way, man, Fourth Stage was way better. The whole Shinigami and Dead Girlfriend junk was beyond dumb. They redeemed themselves somewhat by reusing Mako properly after a few side animes trampled her into mud, but that was but a little part.

        • 0 avatar
          luvmyv8

          I agree that the whole ‘dead girlfriend’ thing seemed silly and tacked on, especially the ‘resolution’ which I will not spoil here, but I disagree on the Shinigami himself. I also loved his ominious theme, easily on par with Takeshi Nakazato’s R32 GT-R theme.

          Don’t get me started on his R32 GT-R either- that essentially is my dream car. Except for his brakes, he should have upgraded them to cope with his 500+ hp RB26 lurking under that hood.

      • 0 avatar
        AKADriver

        The style of driving arose in the early seventies when they were driving typical Japanese cars of the era with tiny tires and brakes. If you watch clips of Japanese GT racing from the period, they used a lot more slip angle even on the track than you’d ever see in GT car racing today.

        I’ve seen a segment from Best MOTORing (I think) where their pro driver drives the same downhill course drifting once and then with a more traditional racing line. With a modern car the racing line is unquestionably faster. But it’s less dramatic. It wouldn’t be as fun to read or watch without Takumi hanging his inside front tire over the gutter, would it?

  • avatar
    kuponoodles

    The creator, Shuichi Shigeno, also did a motorcycle manga that was turned into an OVA, prior to Initial D.

    Bari Bari Densetsu (バリバリ伝説?, “Motorcycle Legend”) some one uploaded it on u-tube, FYI.
    Less goofy, more classic 70’s 80’s Anime style and infinitely sadder and more adult.. It was not as good in terms technical accuracy (braking mid turn). The bikes were drawn BEAUTIFULLY though. And I never thought a Suzuki Katana could be cool until I saw this.

    Initial D did lead me to my ’89 240sx, which I couldn’t afford to mod or buy tires for, much less pretend to drift.
    Funtimes in the rain with the hand brakes though.
    And it helped me sell said 240sx at a $1000, after I pretty much wrecked it.

    And it makes me laugh and cry when you look for a Corolla SR5 and people want $5000 for them.

    PS the Hong Kong market created a “live-action” movie version if Initial D. Don’t bother.

    *spoiler alert*
    *spoiler alert*
    *spoiler alert*
    As for Initial D, I gave up. It was way too drawn out and I couldn’t stand Takumi’s character after a while. I mean, dude…your dad, the coolest character ever, pretty much gave you 2 cars, multiple engines…. Who cares about your little wh0re girlfriend… go find another one. Deal with it b!atch.

    There were previous TTAC articles on teaching the next generation about car culture. Initial D would not be a good tool IMHO, but at least it captures their interest and makes them think.

    • 0 avatar
      AKADriver

      Initial D wouldn’t have been interesting to me as a teenager myself if I didn’t “find” it (the intro/outro sequences from the First Stage anime were posted on club4AG sometime around 1997). If someone told me to go watch it and learn, I’d have rolled my eyes at it.

    • 0 avatar
      carlisimo

      Takumi does eventually move on.

  • avatar

    Holy crap! Thanks for all the Facebook recommendations.

    Welcome Redditors!

  • avatar
    luvmyv8

    It’s funny to see how this anime has progressed. in the first few episodes, the 86′s front emblem actually reads ‘TURENO’, the 4AGE’s valve cover reads ‘TOYOTO’ and the Toyota emblem is slightly different as well. Of course Toyota got on board later on, though interestingly enough the new ’20 Valve’ engine still has that trademark dodging emblem.

    Fortunately for me, I got a hold of the real Japanese DVD’s and watched those subbed, the Americanized Tokyo Pop versions were horribly butchered, the music was awful and generic hip hop and rap, that and they made the characters to sound like and talk like the dialogue in the Fast and the Furious. It flopped and Funimation later acquired the rights and returned them to the way it should have been. DO NOT watch the Tokyo Pop versions, it will ruin Initial D for you.

    I think what really got me on the ID bandwagon was early on where Keiske is driving his yellow RX-7 FD though Mt. Akina in a fury, there’s no music, just the the sound of the 13BREW rotary being revved to it’s redline, complete with it’s overrev buzzer. They sure got that right.

    That or my favorite moment is Keiske vs. the Godfoot. Especially when Godfoot got his R34 GT-R to cleanly drift around Keiske and over take him. Epic.

    • 0 avatar
      lzaffuto

      Agreed that the Tokyopop versions are absolutely terrible. For anyone that doesn’t know, the Funimation versions have the original Japanese dub with English subs as well as an an English dub. The English dub isn’t the authentic fanboy favorite, but it does have decent voicework and keeps the original music and a lot of the experience, and may bring new fans to the work that just can’t stand reading subs. I hope they pick up the rest of the anime with the same voice cast.


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