Initial D: How A Silly Cartoon Changed My Life

As strange as this might sound, I’m pretty sure Initial D is the reason I am sitting here right now. Not just writing this story I mean, but the reason I’ve found this amazing career as a Speedhunter and professional car maniac. Yes, it’s amazing and a little bit scary just how much this animation and comic book series from Japan has impacted my life.

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With the Initial D manga series recently publishing it’s final volume, I thought now was the perfect time for me to share the story about how Shuichi Shigeno’s fictional saga of Japanese touge racers helped to shape my career path and my life in general. So in a way this is part retrospective, part editorial and part autobiography.

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Initial D is not responsible for my love of cars, but it is something that dramatically changed the way I see them – specifically those that come from Japan. Thanks to the influence of my dad, I’ve pretty much been fascinated with automobiles since birth. I spent my childhood watching dozens of cars coming and going from our driveway as my dad bought them, fixed them up and then sold them. There was everything from muscle cars to pickup trucks, VWs, and just about everything else.

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Although I was brought up around all sorts of cars, it was the muscle cars that really rubbed off on me – especially after spending countless hours riding in the backseat of my dad’s ’70 GTO. Once I got my own drivers license in 2001, I drove a ’73 Plymouth Duster and later moved on to a series of 5.0 Mustangs and Z/28 Camaros through my high school days. Where do the Japanese cars that I now love so much fit into all of this? That’s where Initial D comes in…

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I was never one of those die-hard USA guys that hated foreign cars. In fact there were plenty of Japanese cars that I respected thanks mainly to video games, but my image of the ‘import scene’ here in the US was not a good one. This is the early 2000s we are talking about. To me tuner cars were the stuff you saw in the Fast & The Furious or at Hot Import Nights with cotton in the fender wells and surrounded by break dancers. This was the era of vinyl graphics, painted interiors, horrific body kits, giant spoilers and annoying mufflers – the stuff my friends and I would laugh at. It all seemed like a whole lot of attitude and flash, but very little substance.

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There were tasteful and functional tuner builds in the US at this time, but it seemed that for every nicely built 240SX or Civic you encountered, there were a hundred more loaded up with neon lights, cheap APC parts and NOS decals. I respected what could be done with these cars, but there just wasn’t a whole lot out there to be excited by.

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Then one winter night in 2003, I was hanging out with my friend Sean Hanashiro when he popped in a DVD of the subtitled Initial D anime. I’d heard of Initial D before, but  didn’t know anything about it other than that it was from Japan and about an old Corolla or something. He pressed play and my life has never been the same since.

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What I saw on the screen was unlike anything I’d ever watched before. The story itself of a boy with a gift for driving but no interest in cars couldn’t be further from the testosterone-drenched exploits of Dominic Torreto and Brian Earl Spilner. Better yet, the cars in Initial D looked like real ones rather than the gaudy caricatures that I associated with the American import scene.

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Sure this was a cartoon, but everything about Initial D just felt so genuine. The street races didn’t start with girls in bikinis dancing around and promising themselves to the winner (has that ever happened at a real street race?), but with groups of friends heading to the mountain late at night to put their machines and their skills to the test.

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Another thing that blew me away was the technical accuracy of it all. Sure Initial D has its share of creative license, but here was a story where characters talked about oversteer, understeer, late braking, LSDs and the differences between naturally aspirated and turbocharged engines. Real gearhead stuff that wasn’t watered down for the mainstream.

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It was easy to see how the creators of the story had worked closely with real drivers to nail the technical details, and the result was something that felt very real.

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The characters and stories of Initial D were also much more grounded in reality. These weren’t undercover cops, drug lords and supermodels destroying cities with their vehicular mayhem, but regular young people who loved cars and racing while also dealing with jobs, relationships and other stuff that real people face. Initial D was a perfect mix of humor, realism and great storytelling.

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Despite the fact that it was a fictional animated series, Initial D served as my first real exposure to Japanese car culture as it exists in its homeland. This portrayal of Japanese cars was much more fascinating and more humble than what I’d seen through the filter of the American import scene.

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I was so impressed with Initial D that I hopped on Ebay and purchased a Hong Kong bootleg of the whole series and then proceeded to watch the entire thing over the course of a couple nights. I was hooked, and I couldn’t get the Eurobeat music out of my head.

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Not long after this I sold my 5.0 Mustang and bought an S13 240SX. It was pretty much bandwagon jumping I know, but at this time the drift scene in America was just starting to get off the ground and you could still find stock S13s in reasonable condition for not much money.

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That S13 would be the first of many rear-wheel drive Japanese cars I’d own in the coming years, and driving the car only helped to further my excitement for Japanese car culture. Like so many others I dreamed of things like SR20DET swaps and Silvia front end conversions. Total fanboy status.

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My friends and I would put our money together to buy imported Option videos and watch them over and over again. We had no idea what Tsuchiya, Orido and the rest were saying,  but we loved the cars, the driving, and the comedic antics. In 2004 my excitement went up even further when I went to the GT Live event at Auto Club Speedway. To see Japanese top level Japanese motorsport in person was incredible, and I don’t think that event will ever be topped.

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I also had the chance to work part time at a local shop where I sold my share of cheesy aftermarket parts, but also had the chance to get even more familiar with the world of legit JDM goodies. Downtime was spent flipping through the pages of Option and  VIP Car magazines on hand.

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Eventually I wanted to try and understand what I was hearing and looking at in these Japanese videos and books, so in college I enrolled in a basic Japanese language course. It was through this that I met my girlfriend, who is now my wife.

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In 2006 I visited Japan for the first time and the rest is pretty much history. In ’07 I started up a blog called Auto Otaku to share my hobby, graduated from college and moved to Japan. It was there that I joined up with Speedhunters, which has been a huge part of my life ever since.

While I admit that I haven’t been following Initial D as closely as I once did, (I still need to catch up on the 5th Stage episodes) there’s absolutely no doubting the influence it’s had on me. I get the feeling things would be much different had my friend not introduced me to that funny Japanese cartoon almost a decade ago. It’s hard for me to think of a better send-off for the series than that.

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402 comments

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1

Truly touching stuff, I'm glad you ended up where you are today Mike!

2

"The street races didn’t start with girls in bikinis dancing around and promising themselves to the winner" LOL

3

5th Stage is fu*king amazing! 
Initial D and Wangan Midnight is the reason why I fell in love with Japanese cars as a kid. That and Hot Wheels... can't forget about those Hot Wheels.

4

Initial D and Gran Turismo started my passion cars!
I can still remember late nights at my friend's house playing Gran Turismo and trying to apply techniques we saw from Initial D into the game lol

5

Back when Initial D was airing in Japan, I remember watching subs on VHS!
Although I did love drifting back then and wanted to get into it, I somehow fell more in love with rally because of Gran Tourismo.

6

Great article as usual.
I've to admit that my passion start with the F&F Saga but Initial D really help me to have another vision about cars.
It's really cool to know that there are guys who shared the same experiences as us.
:)

7

Great Article, keep it up! 

Initial D's one of the main reason why I love cars and wanted to learn more about cars, but tbh, after watching Wangan Midnight, I really feels Initial D is a manga for kids to imagine. Although Wangan ain't as famous as Initial D, but we all know things happen in Wangan are mostly true (except the unlimited reborn Z... LOL), so this is also when I know that Initial D's story and techniques are mostly done by GOD... LOL 

but very true that, Initial D is a place which kids or any readers who wanna know cars that they should start reading with.

8

Dope Article mann, I love it !
For me, its was F&F that got me into cars 10 years ago as a young 7 year old. I don't know why, but something about that Green Mitsubishi Eclipse really got to me. Either way I thank it for getting me started and giving the great passion I have for cars now. Its just great to hear other peoples early beginnings with cars. Keep it mann!

9

Hey mike, last week I wrote about something like this in my website. It's a press website about videogames, movies & TV, but is in spanish, you can use the google web traductor for reading it if you want. 
I take a surprise while reading this beacuse we're talking about similar reasons, awesome story, keep it up!

This is the link BTW, I almost forgot it haha http://gamevo.com/v15/el-rincon-de-kahn-jdm-en-los-juegos/

10

Hotsuye I still doing drift with GT5! It's something that I wont lose ever...

Author11

MartinBrandan Thank you!

Author12

tomok Seriously. Every street race ever portrayed in a movie looks more like a rave than anything else. haha

Author13

LouisYio Gotta catch up!

Author14

Hotsuye I remember the "drift" settings in GT1 and GT2 and wondering what the hell that was.

Author15

PFULMTL Old school!

Author16

boscoschan Thanks!

Author17

JROME173 Glad you enjoyed it :)

Author18

Am4ZinG Thanks much.

19

Great article, Initial D is something else! I think it's probably improved the lives of everyone who's seen it, but I'd just like to say that it's not a "cartoon" it's Anime. And while keeping relatively accurate technically, in the later stages especially when the AE86 has a new engine It'd need rebuilding after each battle no doubt. :P

20

Shaw__34 reading that wqs awesome an somewhat inspirational, and i agree so much that the show kinda changed my view on car culture

21

myfoothasahole it was a cartoon yeah, but it taught me so much and was kind of the spark of my passion for cars.

22

Very nice article, I can relate to it as what got me interested in cars, esp. Japanese cars, was most likely the combination of Initial D, F&F as well as Need For Speed Underground 2.
I still remember when it became clear to me that the crappy "Toyota Corolla" that you could start your game with was actually the AE86... and then noticing it was in fact the fastest car in the game! I would really like to know which guy it was who made this car so important in that game, and who made the devs include it in the first place, back in 2004!

23

Shaw__34 yeah youcan learrn alot from it too

24

I just jumped back into one of the Initial D arcade games yesterday, it was like reliving my childhood! Great write up.

25

Great article! It's awesome how each year you just kept kicking it up a noch and not dropping your love for cars. That's what separates you from us. Not to bash anyone, but your precistance is simply inserational. I guess your wife was the cap on the lid hu. I'm happy for you and Intial D has in fact changed my life as well. Thanks for sharing

26

I can really relate. When I was first shown Initial D by some Korean friends, it was like water in the desert. It was strange that this cartoon was more serious, more real and had more technical talk than anything western. It really seemed like they acknoledged that their audience was intelligent, not idiotic ala F&F. My friends and I were already into imports for a while before F&F and Initial D came out... but it was sure a kick when I informed my friend his Corolla GTS was essentially a super-hero in Japan. We always knew it was a pretty sweet car, but seeing Initial D and then catching up on actual drift stuff in Japan made us realize how cool that car really was. I didn't hurt either that I had my first RX-7 FC at the same time. Felt like the series was made for guys like me.

27

Great perspective Mike. I hate to admit but I went from 5.0/mini-truck fanatic to JDM fanboy, but because of F&F. Within a month of seeing the movie in the theatre, I sold my Chevy S10 and bought and FC and immediately threw on kanji stickers and a WeaponR cone filter. But then I too found Initial D and built a grip S13. Amazing how a TV show can change a young person's entire life. I'm now in an Evo X and even though I keep finding more gray in my beard than was there the week before, I can't imagine any other lifestyle or passion. Thanks for sharing!!

28

There is also another aspect of Initial D I found riveting. It was that of the father - son relationship between Takume and Bunta. Bunta the father couldn't look less interested but in reality he is actually training his son all the time, from making him deliver tofu on the strict condition that he not break any, forcing Takume to learn to drive smoothly, to keeping the AE86 underpowered even when Takume was starting to come up against more serious competition so he could learn the value of a better tuned car.
I forget the specific episode that was in, but Bunta put in a more powerful engine that Takume didn't know how to properly use. Takume was too proud to ask but as his next challenge was close he finally did. His Dad then told him the power was in the higher revs and as a result I just couldn't wait to watch that next race.
It's riveting stuff, set in a world of real cars and as you said, in a realistic tone sans the fluff. I was hooked from the start.

29

Same thing here :) I've loved everything about cars since I was a kid, but Initial D, Video Option, Best Motoring, Hot Version etc. took it to another level and made me into a real JDM fanboy. It was also the first contact I ever had with drifting. I've probably watched the whole series up until the latest season four or five times. I haven't read the anime apart from the first volume which I got off Ebay. I loved it from the beginning for all the same reasons you mention in the article :) And the music, ahh! Couldn't get it out of my head! Spaceboy ... I remember that the first season had really, really bad CGI in the driving scenes, but it improved a lot later on and was fantastic in Fourth Stage.

Oh, and Gran Turismo. Wow, brings back some memories. I wore out the laser on my first PS1 playing GT1 and GT2. At that time I had no clue what a Sileighty or any other JDM market only cars was.
I also got really hooked on Japan. I've studied some basic japanese and I hope to be able to go there someday.

30

Cool, I guess Initial D is to you as Speedhunters is to me as a 14 year old.

31

Bravo!  Twas my inspiration as well.  Sincerely hope that this passion for these cars will never die as well!

32

Not to mention the epic soundtrack they put in the anime! I'm also a fan of Wangan Midnight, it really makes me wanna get an old Z lol.

33

Mike Garrett tomok I always took it as a visual metaphor, because the enjoyment us car geeks get from standing around in the cold/dark, discussing the potential of the latest 3076hta or whatever, doesn't translate well to the screen, and to non-car geeks in particular.

34

Great write-up! I remember reading Auto-Otaku and as far as I know it was really the first blog that covered Japan's real car culture. Your passion is real and u convey it well with us readers. U are a legend, Mike! BTW, the Initial D soundtrack is fckin epic! Sometimes I play "Raise Up" or "Dogfight" when I play racing games to get me pumped up. lol

35

Love this article so much... I'll be finishing watching through all the available episodes on Netflix later tonight for the bagillionth time! Best animated show I've ever known, just wish I had known about it earlier in my life!

Author36

Grand213 Thanks for the kind words.

Author37

@Flash At one point I remember coming across a AE86 GT-S coupe for sale for $800. This was in 2002 if I recall. Thought it was a cool little car at the time, but if only I would have known haha.

Author38

Rico05 FC sounds a lot better than most of the stuff that was on the street in the early 2000s haha.

Author39

@random swede Gotta love mid '90s CGI. Virtual reality!

Author40

@Kyusha If only I would have had stuff like this when I was that age!

Author41

@boron Thanks much. Means a lot!

Author42

stocKAss240sx Yeah I need to do that as well once I have some down time.

43

same feelings here, best article on speedhunters so far for me....

44

awesome article ! i had the same experience in my life , and went on to Best motoring , Wangan midnight and JDM insider ... long live tuning !

45
CristobalAppelgren

Ive watched all the episodies, but i havent read the manga. I just love it :D  http://stream1.gifsoup.com/view4/1292437/initial-d-o.gif

46

i want this book even tho its not in english :( lol

47

Long live Initial D!

48

A chance happening that may have changed the direction of your life. those are the moments that i live for in my own life.

49

I remember when I became very interested in cars.... I think it started out with a couple scenes from mad max, with the big supercharger sticking out the hood......my dad owning/being obsessed with 60's mustangs, etc.....and in about 1998, I was at a thrift store near a military base(Ft. Rucker, Enterprise, Alabama) and I picked up a couple of Japanese Initial D manga's. I was enthralled ! It was then apparent that cars were not just about straight line/power or wheel grip/handling.....it was about balance and the ability to control/adaptability. Soon after, I had bought myself a mkiii Toyota supra, became a mechanic, and started doing engine swaps in anything that had wheels.

50

JohnathanWhye Well said.

51

stocKAss240sx Give Wangan Midnight a try...it's just as good in my opinion.

52

boscoschan Initial D is about the driver, and WM is about machine...

53

You're not alone Mike...a lot of us got our first taste of Japanese car life thanks to Initial D, even though we were gear heads since birth.

54

I loved the series. I didn't read the manga but I watched the series. One episode that stood out the most was when Takumi was leading his Tureno but was instructed to keep it under a specific rpm... then when he was following he could unleash all the power... this totally tripped me out... playing mind games with people while driving??? For the writers to write this... this guy must have been a togue genius or something!

55

Speed speed lover, games not over!  Vroom vroom!
Hahaha I loved Eurobeat.

56

I can relate - Grew up with Hot Rod and Car Craft Mags, but grew to love vintage tuner BMWs, Early 80's Rally, Japanese performance cars, and would still love to own an El Camino SS.  What is wrong with me?

57

In 2002 I started building plastic models again. (I stopped building in 1985 or so).
I was in a local hobby  shop one day and found an old Fujimi AE86 kit, I built the kit black and white from memory
and with plates that had no numbers. I think Option and Inital D had some thing to do with this and in 2002 I had no copies of either 
in my collection of car stuff. (Back then all we had was Sport Compact Car and Super Street).

58

same happenned to me mr garrett! in brazil that anime was showed on "animax" channel. the first episode i've watched was the episode 6 for the first season, the first scene was the R32 sneezing on the television. At the day on, i was infected. And is like what you've sayed, initial D didn't make me liking cars, but changed the perspective of how I see them

59

This is so true for me! Initial D had a big impact in my life! when I was in middle school I just liked the look of cars. ( this was around fast and the furious 1 time ) . I wasn't really into the proformance  and racing. I found about initial D when I was going to boarders book shop to buy manga to read. My mom told me to hurry up and pick a book from the shelf I remember I grabbed love hina, got in the car looked in the bag I got this manga initial D the front cover was the yellow FD. I read it on the drive home and I thought it was stupid cars can't do that its impossible! lol. When I got home I typed in google the word drifting and I saw the cars sliding in real life!! I was so shocked! then after went on youtube and saw more drifting videos old ones I remember there was kumakubo in his big X S15 and kazama blue S15 I wonder if people even remember these cars anymore.... but ya then lets fast forward to 2003 the first ever D1 grand prix in irwindale speedway in California I went to it and guess who won that D1 a trueno Ueo katsuhiro was the driver!! I was so amazed from watching drifting live!!! then fast forward again to high school finally bought  a corolla and I still have it till this day! I still haven't read the last race of initial D when he races another trueno. I will wait for the anime in 2014.....

60

I've read due to interest and fans a last book will be produced for the manga. Let's hope Takumi receives Bunta's last present.

61

Initail D made me loved cars also. FD3S <3 because and the RedSuns Brothers <3

62

Initial D and Wangan Midnight are two really good stories.

63

Initial D made me love drifting and appreciate my car :D

64

Initial D taught me that my Miata doesn't need a rollbar to be safe in a flip.

65

Initial D made me go to the top of the mountain near my city, and take my light weight cheap car downhill as fast as possible, hoping, someday, maybe I'll be a good racing dirver.

66

It`s nice to see a different perspective on Initial D from someone without a background in anime. An honest story, with compelling hooks and characters are universal.

67

I have been playing racing games ever since the ps1 came out; Gran tourismo and need for speed hot pursuit 2 were the first one because of my brother and I really had a bunch of fun playing and watching him play. He's always loved cars and I kinda share that with him.
I actually started watching initial a year ago

68

On netflix, And I just started reading the manga and I keep loving every bit of it. What made my eyes pop thought where all the little details they put in the anime, from the subtle disk brake heating up to the obvious misfire exhaust sounds raging about. I end up loving that anime so much I cried when I saw the ending. So your story is awesome, and srsly I never thought a manga or an anime could have such an impact on someone.
It was really inspiring.

69

GabrielMercado I, too, have taken a cue from Bunta in training my own son in much the same way - that driving skill can trump horsepower, that a driver with solid skills using every trick in the book but driving an old stock Camry can stick with and seriously get under the skin of many a rich wanna-be in daddy's Mustang or BMW on a windy section of asphalt.

70

LouisYio Yup.  Can't forget about those Hot Wheels, either, LoL!

71

Great article Mike - and Thank You for sharing your personal story with us!!
You seemed to have hit the timing just right with the rising popularity of Initial-D (manga) and the emergence of the Drift scene in Japan.  Though reality is never what it's cracked up to be, still, for many of us, you are living the dream!

'Seems I was about five years early, marrying Nihon-jin in '90 and starting a family in '93, two years after picking up the first car I could absolutely call my own, a '91 S13 which is my 'Go-To' ride to wrap a big fat smile around my face (to this day).

Here's to a long successful marriage of cars and Japan in your life, Mike, not to mention your own marriage. . .

Long Live the Japanese grass roots tune & street scene and Long Live Initial-D

乾杯 - Kampai !!

72

Initial D had taught me couple of things:

1. Power isn't meant everything (except in the drag race). Balance between power and handling is everything here.
2. Skills behind the wheels are also crucial

73

Wow mike, nice article. initial d influenced my whole life in a similar way. I even moved to japan as well! Like you said, the atmosphere of the manga just feels so genuine, sparks up all types of emotions.

74

Great article, Initial D changed my outlook on Japanese cars as well. I watched it last summer though, kinda late I know. I'm sad that I waited this long to watch it but I'm glad I did.

75

Great article, Initial D changed my outlook on Japanese cars as well. I watched it last summer though, kinda late I know. I'm sad that I waited this long to watch it but I'm glad I did.

76

Great article, Initial D changed my outlook on Japanese cars as well. I watched it last summer though, kinda late I know. I'm sad that I waited this long to watch it but I'm glad I did.

77

RUNNING IN THE NINETIES

78

This was amazing to read! As an otaku I've always known of Initial D but because I have no understanding about cars in general and I have ADHD it's so hard to read it. I read like 10 chapters/3 months lol. But the funny thing is, I still keep reading it. It faschinates me so I always keep coming back. I also influenced my guy friend who loves cars (and works in automobile industry), he hates anime and manga but loves Initial D. He suddenly started to like Japanese cars too but I don't know if it's because of Initial D or because he just admires Japanese racers in general.

79

Hi,this is one of the best anime that you would find ,pls do watch the entire anime as th 5th stage has 14 episodes and the last stage has only four,.the conclusion tht your going to get ouut this anime is fantastic.
Vijay from India

80

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82

ohw well, speedhunters did that for me, it open my eyes with different car culture , scene and builds but why not watch the Initial D after all i've heard a lot about it.

83

Great story Mike. Initial D, Wangan Midnight, F&F, Gone in 60 seconds, Taxi taxi and maaaany others have an impact on me. But by Initial D I was really touched. I'm 28yo now but when I was 6-8yo I played NFS 1 at my cousin's place and 1st car I pick by myself was RX-7 FD3S. Since then I was obsessed with that car. Everything after that just imroved me, my knowledge, my views, my understanding. I chased RX-7 Wankel turbo everywhere. I watched/play everything including Mazda RX-7. It such an amazing car. After 20 years of chasing I finally bougth FC3S RX-7. I can't get enough, I want to drive it 24/7. So much respect for you guys and everything about cars. Greetings from Slovakia. :P btw I own the one and only FC3S in my country.

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