Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, May 26th 2010
Initial D: Stage 3 Movie
Ryosuke is assembling a street-racing team to venture outside of Gunma prefecture and he wants Akina's downhill specialist on board. Takumi is flattered, but unsure. Does he have the nerve and the skill to take his style of racing onto the national stage? And is this really what he wants; a life consumed by the pursuit of speed? Graduation, and the commencement of Ryosuke's bid for national dominion are fast approaching and as the usually apathetic Takumi sees his friends and rivals moving on with their lives, extending themselves in pursuit of their dreams, he pushes himself towards a decision the only way he knows how: By racing. Racing against the head of the Emperors who once trounced him, against the son of his father's ex-rival, against Ryosuke, and ultimately against himself. At the end lies the beginning: of his life, his ambition, and—hey, this is a sports movie—his legend.
The Initial D anime is divided into stages: Stage 1 is the first TV series, Stage 2 is the second, and Stage 3 is this, the series' one film. There's a reason it is called that, and not, say, Initial D The Movie. This film is very much a part of the series, a direct continuation with no standalone ambitions. Capsule summaries of Takumi's races (housed in a series of bad flashbacks) notwithstanding, this film makes no effort to woo newcomers. If you are unfamiliar with the premise, ongoing plot, and/or characters, this movie will be little more than a senseless chain of tricked-out CG car races leavened (or not) by teen moping.
For the initiated, however, this is a long-delayed shot of gearhead adrenaline interspersed with important personal developments. The feature-film format doesn't allow for the nerve-shredding buildup that marks the television series' match-ups, but what the film loses in tension it makes up for in spectacle. The little boy in us—you know, the one who staged miniature freeway pile-ups with Hot Wheels—is sure to thrill at the sight of leaping speedsters and cars caught up in the slo-mo ballet of controlled spin-outs. The (more) grown-up portion, in the meantime, can occupy itself with the teen hand-wringing over the future, romantic betrayal, and the difficulties of coping with defeat. Mogi, Takumi's ex-good-times-girl paramour, steals the film's final act with her demonstration of the force of will necessary to make a reconciliation work, and withdrawn Takumi's growing determination to make something of his street-racing pastime not only adds a necessary layer to his personality, but is handled with becoming restraint to boot. Not high art, perhaps, but enough to keep your superego from chastising your id.
That it isn't high art, though, should always be kept in mind. Heck, it isn't even top-notch pop entertainment. That would require a sleekly streamlined plot and a handsome payoff at the end, something that the series' interstitial nature more or less forbids. Not that the series has the writing chops to pull that off anyway. The pacing is choppy, it regularly chokes on its expository dialogue, and the de-facto climax—in which Takumi rescues Mogi with his super racing powers—is an embarrassment. Fully invested viewers are unlikely to care much (the character and plot development are too important to pass up), but even dyed-in-the-wool D'd-ites should heed this warning, if only to ensure that their expectations are pitched sufficiently low—somewhere around the level of some nifty racing and serviceable angst.
Artistic expectations should be kept low too. The series' character designs are as stiff and inexpressive as anyone remembers, to say nothing of ugly as sin. The 2D animation in general is unconvincing, and the background artistry, though attractive, is more functional than impressive, emphasizing the series' cars-first aesthetic. Not that their unequal status does the cars much good. The years have not been kind to Initial D: Flashy and exciting though they may be, the races still look like turn-of-the-millennium video games, their patently artificial 3D CGI made tolerable only by the film's knack for automotive choreography. Say what you will about the clunky cel animation, at least its artistic merit (or lack thereof) has held steady over time. The CG cars, for all the fetishized fervor of their animation, are painfully dated, plastic and even soulless. And the jarring 2D/3D disjuncture only exacerbates the effect.
That the races work as well as they do is thanks mostly to their timing and pacing...and the wonderful, trashy rave-ups of the pulsing techno score. Teens street-racing to the sounds of sweaty ecstasy-fuelled parties? Who could resist? When the rave stops the score dips into instrumental melodrama, but never far enough to sour the retro thrill.
Having rescued the series after Tokyopop dropped it, Funimation redubbed the whole shebang. It was basically a necessity given that Tokyopop's English version was edited and rescored. And a fortuitous necessity it was. Another in Funimation's growing catalogue of stolid dubs, it may not be on par with the company's better work, but it is professional and respectful, which is more than can be said of its predecessor. Faithfully cast from Funimation's customary pool of talent, it is faithfully acted and faithfully translated, with just enough tweaks to give it a reasonably natural urban feel. Brina Palencia gives Mogi an appropriately tough edge and J. Michael Tatum wrestles Ryosuke's explanatory speeches into something vaguely resembling real dialogue, but there are no truly exceptional performances to be had. Then again exceptional performances usually spring from exceptional films.
As it sets the stage, so to speak, for Stage 4, Initial D Stage 3 is required viewing for fans. Its shifting relationships and life changes are sure to please the faithful, just as its showy street races are sure to please that inner Hot Wheels freak. It's unlikely to do anything more though—even for D'd-Heads—and will do less than nothing for the unconverted. If you have yet to join the ranks of either, this is not the place to start. Dip into Stage 1 to decide if this is your cup of aesthetically unsophisticated adrenaline tea.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B-
Animation : C+
Art : C-
Music : A-
+ Cool races; awesome technotrash soundtrack; Mogi gets her due and Takumi grows up a bit.
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