Minor spoiler warnings. Be afraid!

Initial D (the D is for drift!) is a Japanese manga and anime series, originally conceived and drawn by Shuichi Shigeno. The manga (comic book) is currently undergoing English localization and publication by Tokyopop, and is currently up to the third volume (out of 23 or more). It's unlike most other anime, which are generally science fiction or fantasy-based, in that it is about street racing.

The story revolves around almost emotionless high-schooler Takumi Fujiwara (voiced by Shin'ichirou Miki), who works as a tofu delivery boy for Fujiwara Tofu, owned by his father, Bunta (Unshou Ichizuka). Every day for five years, he has driven up and over the treacherous passes of Mount Akina at four in the morning, subconsciously mastering racing techniques while he does it (as fast as possible), particularly brake drifting -- making your car slide sideways through a turn, allowing for maximum exit acceleration*. He's actually not particularly interested in racing, but his friends Itsuki (Mitsuo Iwata) and Iketani (Kazuki Yao) (totally unknowning of Takumi's driving abilities) are -- Iketani is even the top dog of the local team, the Akina Speed Stars.

When a rival street racing team from nearby Mount Akagi, led by the infamous "Rotary Brothers", Ryosuke and Keisuke Takahashi (Takehito Koyasu and Tomokasu Seki) come into town, the Akina Speed Stars attempt to protect their cred, but are instantly shot down by Keisuke's Infini FD3S. Smug in his victory, Keisuke makes a last, solo run down Mount Akina -- but is met midway by an `86 Toyota Trueno, who easily beats the brand-new, twin turbo sports car, using perfect drift technique. The news spreads quickly, and soon the whole racing crowd in Akina is baffled by the "Phantom Hachi Roku" -- who is driven by none other than Takumi. Suddenly, the curiosity of racers within a hundred miles or more is piqued; everybody wants to see this Eight Six. Through the goading of his friends (and even his father, who was a notorious downhill racer in his time), Takumi begins his career as a street racer.

The appeal of Initial D mainly comes from the fact that the protagonist has all of the skill of a pro racer, but none of the knowledge. As a result, you yourself don't need to even know a thing about automobiles to get into it. The races are tense, and certainly left me turning pages (and buying the manga, consequently) helplessly. In an effort to make the story not quite so race-oriented, there is a very tiny bit of potential romance going on between Takumi and obligatory love interest Natsuki (Ayako Kawasumi); but with as little of this as there is, it might have been better scrapped altogether. In the anime, the races are not hand-drawn, but rather done in CG -- and certainly something like a race is better executed via animation than stationary images. The music also complements the animation well, in the form of a euro super-beat techno-like soundtrack.

In anime form, Initial D existed in Japan for two seasons: 26-episode Initial D: First Stage, running from April 18, 1998 to November 18, 1998; and Second Stage, 13 episodes, from October 14, 1999 to January 20, 2000. There is also an animated movie, Third Stage, and a two-episode OAV, Extra Stage. Additionally, there is an arcade game, Initial D: Arcade Stage.

All in all, Initial D is an excellent example of a good anime/manga -- even if you aren't into street racing, it's definitely worth a look (you might even get turned onto the whole sports car scene, like this noder did).

And, as an added bonus, some cars you can expect to see in Initial D!

* Don't try this at home. It's really hard.

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