The Truth About Cars » Initial D The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Fri, 18 Jul 2014 15:55:40 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Initial D Initial D Manga Ceases Publication With “Final Stage” Tue, 06 Aug 2013 11:30:17 +0000 D

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.


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.


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.


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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Strange Days, Strange Places: My Life As A Japanese Street-Racer Wannabe Thu, 14 Feb 2013 13:26:46 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

For those of you with a love of geography but without the resources to actually set foot in the country, let me tell you about Japan. It is a nation famously made up of thousands of islands but, in reality there are just 4 main islands where most of the people live – 5 if you count Okinawa. The largest island is called Honshu, it is the banana shaped one in the middle should you be looking for a map right now, and Honshu is home to most of the great cities of Japan. Tokyo, Kawasaki and Yokohoma blend seamlessly into one another to form one giant zone of dense urban sprawl across the “Kanto” region in the East, while Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe mirror that sprawl, albeit with less size but more attitude, in the West. This Western region is known as “Kansai.” I’ll take you to to Japan’s flyover land. The land, where one would fly over guardrails.

If you know some Japanese or are an astute reader, you will notice that there is a similarity to the words Kanto and Kansai – namely the root “kan.” While there are many “kans” in Japanese, the one used here happens to mean “barrier.” Also, if you hadn’t guessed it yet, “To” in the case cited above means “East” and “Sai” means “West,” So, the names of these two regions, then, are literally what they describe – places to the East and West of a natural barrier, a great rugged mountain range, that runs across the center of island of Honshu.

As lovers of cars, you should be nodding your head now. Where there are mountain ranges there are mountain passes, and where there are mountain passes, there are long winding roads. Given the natural perfectionist bent of the average Japanese construction worker and the sweetheart deals the Japanese government often makes with local construction and paving companies, you can only imagine those roads; they go places and do things that no road ever should. Isolated ribbons of silky smooth pavement punch through mountains in a gross display of Japanese tunneling prowess. They span ravines hundreds of feet deep on soaring trestles made of high quality Nippon cement reinforced by steel rebar that is created by the descendants of steel makers that forged the first samurai sword. The roads cling to mountainsides that would give goats bunions and they mimic the bends of rivers so rugged that white water kayakers get wet just thinking about them.

The Uji river, Ujigawa in Japanese, is just such a place. The river begins in the high mountains above Ujitawara and runs onto the plains south of Kyoto. It then meanders east, eventually merging with the Yodo river. With the combined stream taking on the larger Yodogawa’s name, the waters turn south and flow through the city of Osaka before finally emptying into Osaka bay.

At the point where the river comes down from the mountains and finally reaches the flat Kansai region sits the town of Uji. Facing the plane with its back to the mountains historic Uji, along with its strategically important bridge, was the site of many Samurai battles in feudal Japan. Today, Uji is known for producing only the finest tea quality green teas, its considerable page-time in the ancient Japanese tome “The Tale of Genji,” the Byodoin temple (a world heritage site) and, of course, beautiful women – one of whom is married to yours truly.

Slightly upstream from the city, the Amagase dam spans a deep gorge and tames the once wild river. Behind it lies a deep green lake that stretches for miles back into the mountain range. Perched precariously above this lake, on a narrow shoulder carved from the living rock that makes up the sheer walls of canyon, sits Route 3 or the road known locally as the “Ujigawa line.”

Those stripes are more than just paint. They have a sandy texture that lifts them above the level of the pavement and unsettles your suspension.

In 1999, it was by a complicated and unhappy set of circumstances that I found myself in Uji. Perhaps it was divine intervention, I can’t be sure, but whatever the cause I found myself in this special place at a unique time; a time when the greatest Japanese performance cars of the 1980s and ’90s were selling used at rock bottom prices. Naturally, I indulged myself.

The Japanese anime series “Initial D” gives a pretty good view of the Japanese street racing scene back then. Local heroes in small highly modified cars gathered along the route wherever the road widened just enough to park. At one end of the road, close to the dam, was a small parking lot that served a local picnic area. By day the small lot was home to tourists who came to eat bento boxes and look at the breathtaking views.

At night, the lot was home to a completely different breed. It was there that the vast majority of cars would gather, their hoods open, while sullen young men in black t-shirts bearing nonsensical English phrases shuffled about or stood in small groups, their hands in their pockets and cheap bad smelling cigarettes hanging from their bottom lips. These were the “hashiriya” or runners, and I stopped there from time to time to try and engage them in conversation. As a foreigner, however, I would forever be on outside the group. In some cultures we might be united by our love of cars and speed, but here I was an unknown – at best an oddity, at worst a threat – and so I was to be avoided.

The cars were always the same. My father would have said they were products of “asshole engineering,” cheap rides cobbled together with a mish-mash of parts and modified in ways that looked less than scientifically proven. They were for the most part Silivias and Levins well past their prime. Occasionally an older RX7 FC or Mk III Supra could be found among them and every so often a later model RX7 FD or a MK IV Supra might make an appearance. Rarest of them all were the vaunted Nissan Skylines, always R32s and always from lower trim levels, never the legendary GTR.

The cars swirled around the lot like angry bees, coming and going in small groups to make high speed passes in close, single file order over the pass to the turnaround and then back again. Upon their return, the drivers would climb from the cars, fish out their stinky cigarettes and once again assume the posture of affected boredom.

A glory shot of my Supra in its prime. Note the American flag by the license plate should you doubt my veracity.

My own car, a 1986 MKIII Supra, mounted the JDM 2.0 liter twin turbo and was unmodified. Sitting on stock tires and rims at normal ride height, the car did well enough on the pass but, hamstrung by an automatic transmission and my own survival instinct, the car was not, by any means, comparable to the heavily modified vehicles the kids were driving. Most nights I would make a run or two over the pass and then park in fairly wide turn-out at the end of the longest straightaway and watch as the cars roared by.

Occasionally I would see an accident but they were always minor. The big crashes happened in the dead of night, long after the lightweights like myself had gone home. It didn’t take a forensic team to tell what had happened in most cases. It was always the same when I stumbled upon the scene the next morning, deep skid marks, sometimes hundreds of feet long ending in puddles of various colored fluids at a scarred rock wall or at a giant dent in one of the heavy steel guardrails put there to protect foolish young men from themselves. People were killed there, I know, but Japan isn’t the kind of place where people file lawsuits when someone does something stupid to themselves. So long as the police chose to allow it, the racing went on.

Danger, Deadly Accidents.

Japanese warning signs have a flair for the dramatic. Can you guess what this sign says?

For those of us that lived, the new millennium is getting old and that time seems more removed every day. For the most part we are embarrassed that we actually partied like it is 1999, despite the fact it was, and we are ashamed that we worried about something as banal as Y2K when it seems like each week in the current millennium brings some newer, more dire prophecy. Yet to this day, when my wife and I take the kids to visit her parents in Uji, I feel like I am going home and I am never there long before the Ujigawa line calls out to me. Without fail, I trump up some errand or other that that leads me back up into those mountains, back out onto those glorious roads and back into the days of my reckless, short sighted youth, gone now forever, but not forgotten.

Shhhh! Don’t tell my wife I posted this!

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, he talks mostly about himself.

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