Initial D, Third Stage Movie – DVD Review

Review by: Eduardo Zacarias

Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $29.98 US
Running Time: 100 minutes
Genre: Drama/Sports
Rating: TV PG
Release Date: Available Now

Akina’s legendary Eight-Six is back and it will not take any prisoners.

Despite a heavy tuner car and illegal street racing scene in Japan, the anime world hasn’t too many racing series that really touch on the love of racing quite like the Initial D series. It’s not just a love for fast cars and the drama between racers that makes this series so cool but it’s the love for racing and the mutual admiration of true driving skill that makes such a fan favorite that this Third Stage is more of a feature-length film rather than just another season of the series.

Takumi Fujiwara is still very much infatuated with all things racing and his father’s famous Eight-Six car that has had some engine work done during the summer when he was winning races in the series’ second season. He’s gone up against a number of incredible drivers, such as the skilled Ryosuke Takahashi, but he’s worried that the new engine might cramp his racing style somehow. While he’s in the last months of High school before graduation, Takumi is working at the local gas station with his friends when a most surprising customers drops in for some service as well as a proposal for Takumi.

You see, the customer is none other than Ryosuke himself and – having been beat by Takumi – he knows the younger driver’s skills. Ryosuke admires Takumi enough that he asks him to take part in an expeditionary racing team with all the top drivers from the Akina area. He’s confident in Takumi’s skills and the offer is actually quite touching but Takumi isn’t too confident in his skills or the changes made to the Eight-Six. So he does what we expect from him … Takumi decides to test his skills before accepting a place in Ryosuke’s team.

Takumi drives to the curving slopes of Team Emperor’s turf to challenge the team’s leader named Kyoichi Sudou who finds Takumi’s presence in his territory quite insulting. A challenge is made and Takumi doesn’t even put much thought in how he plans to beat Kyoichi who is a master of slow-speed turns and in this particular area there are a lot of turns that have the potential of slowing the Eight-Six down. What Kyoichi doesn’t realize until it’s too late is that the changes to the Eight-Six’s engines were for the better because the car runs faster than even Takumi could anticipate.

The race is impressive as they often are in an Initial D episode and the outcome is actually not surprising although what is surprising is Kyoichi’s attitude at the end as he comes to accept Takumi as a serious racer with more than enough potential to become a legend even outside the Akina. In the meantime, Ryosuke’s younger brother wants in on the team thinking he might be able to outclass Takumi somehow.

Back in the gas station, though, a young man named Kai Kogashiwa shows up looking for Takumi. He wants to challenge the young man and his Eight-Six and the reason is simple: Kai’s father was the chief rival of Takumi’s father back when the Eight-Six belonged to dad (who now owns a tofu place). Interestingly enough, Takumi’s dad and Kai’s dad give their sons advice on how to defeat the other. The two meet in Kyoichi’s territory again for a major showdown between the two skilled drivers.

The showdown itself is a major highlight of the film as the road, the weather conditions and even the fact that there are too many dry leaves on the road become potential hazards. It’s a test not only of the cars but of the drivers who are both matched in skill. It’s also one of the more exciting races we’ve seen in an Initial D series.

The movie just doesn’t concentrate on Takumi trying to prove himself worthy of being on Ryosuke’s team but it also touches on his relationship with his ex-girlfriend, Natsuki. It seems that Takumi is still resentful of the events of the summer when Natsuki decided to go off with a guy with a Benz. She, however, still has strong feelings for him and does her best to try and reconcile with the stubborn boy who doesn’t even want to talk to her at first.

However, an event changes all this when Natsuki bumps into that creep Miki that Takumi punched in the series. He forces himself on Natsuki by literally kidnapping her in his fancy new car and Takumi finds out and chases the fool. I wish I can say that the drama spiced things up a little like the TV series does but it doesn’t. Still, Natsuki’s attempt to win Takumi back shows some true emotion thanks to some great voice acting in the English dub side.

In the end, Initial D: Third Stage is a good animated movie that isn’t as great as the series but does a wonderful job of setting up the next season. Still, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the racing action is hot and the final race with the son of his father’s rival is nail-bitingly intense. Initial D fans will certainly enjoy this one while new viewers will certainly be inspired to check out the first two seasons of the series. One thing is for certain, we are really looking forward to the Fourth Stage of Initial D now.

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: B-
Takumi is still very much interested in racing and the opportunity comes up again when an old racing rival shows up at the gas station where he works to offer him a spot on a racing team he’s putting together. Still, Takumi feels its better to test himself before joining and challenges the top racing rivals in their own turf. Meanwhile, his ex-girlfriend, Natsuki, is trying to reenter his life.

VIDEO QUALITY: B
The movie looks really good on DVD and, while the animation might not be everyone’s cup of tea, you can’t ignore how hot the cars look even in CG. The races are definitely the visual highlight of the movie as it is in the series.

AUDIO QUALITY: A
Thanks to some wonderfully written dialogue for the English dub, the voice acting really shines with some great acting from Brina Palencia and Joel McDonald. The soundtrack and score are still a bit outdated but it always reminded me of the old “Ridge Racer” games so it isn’t that bad.

EXTRAS: D
There are no real extras to speaking of unless you count the few trailers included on the DVD.

OVERALL: B-
While it’s somewhat lacking in a few areas, Initial D: Third Stage is a solid feature-length movie that has more than enough high-speed racing action and drama to satisfy Initial D fans. There are also some memorable scenes and a decent setup to the upcoming fourth season of this still exciting anime racing series. Fans should definitely pick this one up right away.

Review copy provided by FUNimation Entertainment

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