LBack when TokyoPop was first releasing translated Manga (which was a golden age of Manga reading for me), I latched onto Initial D. I bought and read volume after volume of it. And I never could quite figure out why I enjoyed it so much.
I recently had the chance to read the first third of the series again. And I really enjoyed it a lot. And I still can’t figure out why it’s so enthralling.
Initial D is a sports manga about street racing. The cars are beautifully drawn but the people are kind of ugly. And static images of cars racing shouldn’t be exciting. It would make more sense if I was into the anime. That would bring the cars ignoring physics to life and the sound track is legendary.
I know that I’m showing my age when I say that my default Shonen standard is Dragon Ball. (And I’m sure it says something about me that by the time it became Dragon Ball Z, I was getting bored ) The formula of the underdog coming out on top by a combination of character and last minute tricks is a familiar one. And, to be sure, with Takumi being an unbeatable underdog, Initial D holds to that formula.
What I think makes Initial D sparkle is that the appearance of being realistic. I am far from an expert but I am sure that the techniques range from terribly impractical to utterly impossible. And, in between, Takuma should be ripping the wheels off his car and dying in a flaming wreck. But he’s not leaping into the sky and lobbing fire balls so it feels realistic.
Initial D is a well packaged piece of wish fulfillment. Takuma is driving a family car and beating street legal race cars. As the series goes on, it becomes modified beyond belief but it’s still the kind of car readers might be able to own.
And maybe that’s why it works. Because it embraces wish fulfillment without being too obvious about it.