An anime series going downhill isn’t usually a good thing, but it’s what the Initial D Legend trilogy does best. Opening movie Awakening introduced a new generation of anime fans to Takumi Fujiwara’s blisteringly fast drives down Mount Akina in his trusty Toyota Eight-Six, with the reluctant racer besting the Akagi RedSuns’ Keisuke Takahashi in a driftacular descent of the mountain. Follow-up film Racer sees Takumi’s legend spreading – and there’s no shortage of drivers looking to put the pacey teen’s skills to the test.
The first to throw down the gauntlet is Myogi NightKids’ leader Takeshi Nakazato, out to prove that his orthodox ‘grip racing’ technique is superior to the flashier-looking drifting style. Series butt monkey Itsuki accidentally accepts his challenge on Takumi’s behalf, but it takes a spot of reverse psychology from petrol station boss Yuichi Tachibana before our hero actually agrees to go up against Nakazato’s powerful Skyline GT-R.
Still, Takumi is definitely starting to get a taste for racing, and his competitive streak comes to the fore when Shingo Shoji, Nakazato’s rival in the NightKids, indulges in some distinctly unsportsmanlike behaviour. Knowing that he can’t compete with Takumi under normal circumstances, the crafty Shoji comes up with an unusual twist for their race – both will drive with one hand taped to the steering wheel. Can Takumi make it down the slopes of Mount Akina without totalling his beloved Eight-Six?
Initial D Legend 1: Awakening was all about the racing and its sequel is the same – only more so. All the drama springs from the car racing; all character development is viewed through a car racing lens. Relegated to the sidelines in the first film, potential love interest Natsuki effectively disappears in Racer, only garnering a few minutes at the very end of the movie. Animation studios Sanzigen & Liden Films have boiled Initial D down to its barest bones, leaving us with a film that’s essentially two extended races.
While some may bemoan what’s lost by this single-minded focus, there’s no denying that Awakening delivers when it comes to the races themselves, whose modern CG sequences unsurprisingly outstrip the graphics of earlier Initial D anime (even if the character designs remain, let’s be charitable, ‘idiosyncratic’). And given that co-directors Masamitsu Hidaka and Tomohito Naka only have 70 minutes to play with per film, we’d far rather have this super concentrated dose of hi-octane action than a grab bag of half-developed storylines.
Ultimately, whether you dig Initial D Legend 2: Racer will probably come down to whether the idea of a motorsport anime appeals to you in the first place – unlike gripping volleyball anime Haikyu!! or Masaaki Yuasa’s visually-stunning Ping Pong, this movie is unlikely to make many new converts. However, if you do have petrolhead tendencies, Racer’s tire-squealing downhill duels are definitely worth a watch. Buckle up and enjoy the ride!
Release: Out Now
Format: DVD & Blu-ray
Age Rating: 12