Believe you me, I’d love to place the blame of all that’s wrong with insane prices of old Japanese metal on the Fast and Furious franchise. I really would because it’d spare me having to tell you why another of the culprits is one of my favorite Manga and Anime franchises of all time. Not only that, but I have to face the fact that it is indeed quite a silly franchise once you start giving it some thought.
First, a couple of notes, in broad strokes Manga is really just the way the Japanese refer to their comic books and Anime how they call their cartoons. I could spend hours going on its origins and how Manga is insanely popular in Japan. How unlike in America where the chances of seeing a man in a business suit on its way to a meeting reading Batgirl #6 are about the same chances of finding a Lincoln Mark IV without a vinyl roof; the chances of seeing a man in Japan reading the latest Business Jump anthology in is quite high. Or how contrary to popular belief of Anime fans, no, you’re not going to be insanely popular and accepted for liking Anime in Japan any more than you’re going to be here if you admit that you have every single episode of Spongebob Squarepants on your DVR. But I’m afraid if I do that I’ll get a lot of blank stares and a very stern talk from upper management
Initial D was released 1995 by Shuichi Shigeno, it centers on ordinary teenage slacker Takumi Fujiwara. An unfocused senior year student that part-times at a gas station with his friends. One day an amateur drift team comes along and challenges the locals to a drift competition down Mt. Akina. This is a problem as none of the locals are skilled enough to stand a chance. To make it worse the competition has powerful Mazda RX-7’s. They could’ve said no of course, but that would’ve made far too much sense. A couple of nights before the race is supposed to happen one of the rivals is practicing his run down the mountain when he gets overtaken by the most terrifying vehicle that you could ever imagine.
A Small economy hatchback!
It turns out that Takumi is an extremely talented drifter not because of relentless self-improvement and dedication, but through the amazing powers of parental abuse and laziness. You see, ever since he was thirteen Takumi’s father forced him to wake up at 4:00 to deliver crates of Tofu to a hotel on top of Mt. Akina. To make matters worse he always left a cup of water in the cupholder, warning Takumi that if it spilled it would destroy the tofu. Takumi, understandably pissed off at the whole thing and wanting to get some sleep, raced down the mountain as quickly as possible. Somehow this works and instead of falling down a cliff he becomes an excellent drifter, making the water inside the cup dance in ways that would make a physicist go “I’m out”.
I spent hours watching the show as a kid. In fact the header image was the background wallpaper of my computer for quite a long time. I liked cars, I’d never seen an animated show about cars, other than some episodes of Speed Racer, and here it was this, gift wrapped and delivered to my TV. Oh it was cheesy, the Eurobeat music makes you remember this was a series firmly established in the ‘90s and the cars would turn from drawings to very conspicuous CGI whenever someone started driving. Licensing brands hadn’t been sorted out yet so there was also the fact that I was watching a “Toreno” driving by a guy clad with the finest in “Pumu” Clothing. But those were small niggles. Best of all, once again they were cars that were within my grasp. And, once again, that’s where the problems began.
It’s almost comical how the AE86 Corolla suddenly became extremely cool and very desirable. After all, the whole series hinged on how surprising it was that this new kid who never had any interest in drifting was defeating opponents left and right with that piece of old junk. Real-Life drifters already appreciated the AE86 Sprinter as an excellent starting point for a drift machine. Drift King Keiichi Tsuchiya owns an extensively modified one. But for the rest of the planet it was just an ordinary, if a bit sportier than usual, Hatchback. Nowadays, if by some miracle you find one, prices for them are absolutely insane. I like to compare it to the Millennium Falcon. In the Star Wars universe it’s just a normal and actually quite old Light Freighter. A space Ford C-600 if you will, yet look at the reaction everyone had when it was dodging TIE Fighters in the new movie trailer.
So what do you get for the Dump Truck full of money that you spent on one? Well…Pop-up headlamps, Bucket seats, standard ‘80s Toyota buttons and switches and a very aftermarket-looking steering wheel. Under the hood there’s the legendary 4A-GE. Produced with more than a little help from Yamaha, it produced 112HP in its original form and would rise to more than 160 on its final “Black Top” version. Backed by a five speed manual and power going to the correct wheels it’s from the days when Toyotas were reliable and fun to drive in equal measure.
The rest of the Anime is as silly as you would imagine, even bringing a “Lonely drivers” subplot in which they lament themselves with the fact that they can’t get a girlfriend. One time they decide to drift down the mountain with one of their hands taped to the wheel. On another the tables are turned when one of the challengers bring along a 660cc- Suzuki Cappuccino to a togue battle. One of the most memorable races I can recall was one of the first in which they face off against a Nissan Sil-Eighty.
The Nissan Sil-Eighty was something that came up from underground street drifts, You see the Nissan 180SX was also a darling of the drifters, but when they crashed them replacing all the complex pop-up headlight mechanisms was an expensive task. Instead of having to dig under the couch or touch the money intended for upgrades, racers would simply grab a cheaper and easier to mend Nissan Silvia front end and just bolted that. It proved so popular that a Japanese Shop called Kids Heart released a run of “Official” Sileighties in 1998. I was just surprised that you could just simply bolt on bits of one car into another car, wondering why people didn’t just building their own cars by bolting bits of different cars together.
The Manga had a very long run, finishing its run in print in 2013 and in television one year after that. How do you end a run of a series that brought the AE86 to the spotlight? What better way than with its spiritual successor of course! It makes me wonder if the GT86 would’ve even been released if Initial D hadn’t come along. Probably, but it’d have probably been called Celica.