Yes, I have this car. I’m serious.
Unlike its predecessors, 1st and 2nd Stage, as well as its successor, 4th Stage, 3rd Stage took one of the more important story arcs from the manga and made it a solid drama which I wouldn’t mind watching again.
(1st, 2nd and 4th Stage suck! If you’re gonna watch it, do it only for the exaggerated music and battles! Trust me!)
For those not familiar with Initial D, the story is of a 12th-year High School student named Fujiwara Takumi, whose part-time job is at a garage station and drives at night for the Fujiwara Tofu Shop, delivering tofu on Mt. Akina’s road using the Toyota SPRINTER TRUENO GT-APEX (AE86). He’s done this for five years, trying to make it down the hill as fast as possible just so he can get some shut-eye.
During the course of 1st and 2nd Stage he’s challenged by many people due to his debut beating Takahashi Keisuke in his Mazda RX-7 FD3S (a variation that does not exist in real life but is based on the actual car). Takumi begins to develop an interest in racing, which puts him through a lot of hell, including blowing up his engine (which gets upgraded from 140hp to 240hp soon afterward), and very little drama. In fact, 1st and 2nd Stage have been missing a lot of drama and are known more to me to be mocked for amusing stunts pulled by our infamous Drift Hero.
Of course, this is where 3rd stage comes in. Takumi is about to graduate from high school, but has no idea what he wants to do in post-secondary life. Takahashi Ryousuke, the older brother of Keisuke (mentioned above) approaches Takumi and invites him to join an expeditionary racing team meant to improve racing skills, beat all the course records, and disband. The reasoning for this is that Ryousuke is going to be graduating from college in one year and he doesn’t have much time left to put into street racing.
Takumi doesn’t give an answer but decides he needs to finish a race he never completed; the race where his engine had blown up. This race would be pitted against Sudou Kyouichi and his Lancer Evo 3. Kyouichi had told him that he needed a better car that wouldn’t blow up during a race like that but Takumi insisted with its new 240 hp engine. So they race on Kyouichi’s home track, Irohazaka. He beats him there and proves to Kyouichi how different the AE86 really is.
During this time though, Takumi is having issues with Mogi Natsuki. They were supposed in love but neither really confessed during the course of 1st and 2nd Stage and Takumi had discovered she was going out with a guy in a Mercedes-Benz for his money. He almost meets her at a restaurant she started working at, but decides it’s a bad idea and walks away.
Later, Takumi is challenged by another man named Kogashiwa Kai, the son of Kogashiwa Ken (who turns out to be an old rival of Bunta, Takumi’s father… uh, who cares?). Kai had wanted to beat Kyouichi, but Takumi already did. So they race on Irohazaka and Kai pulls an airborne jump on a few hairpins (this move is illegal and now impossible to perform in real life, by the way), overtaking Takumi. Of course the race finishes close and Kai loses by rolling over a pile of dead tree leaves.
After the race, Natsuki tries her best to improve her relationship with Takumi, making things right before she has to graduate as well. This goes on for a while, even including Bunta in the mix through Christmas, as well as a confession from Natsuki herself. She had given up going out with the guy in the Benz merely because doing it for money made her lose something important, which is what led her to working at the restaurant. (J-Drama!)
Miki, a former student at Takumi’s high school, decides to visit Natsuki one day and takes her up to Mount Akina with the intention of having his way with her. However after learning she likes Takumi, he instead tries to take her down the mountain with the intention of raping her… Takumi to the rescue! Here he comes in his AE86 on thick 5-inch snow, passing Miki’s car, making a full 180, and drifts his way to the guy’s back. Impressive skills there. Wasn’t even a race. Takumi confesses soon after.
He finally comes to Ryousuke saying that he wishes to have a race with him before making his final decision to join the expeditionary team. They have their race, but it isn’t clear who is the winner. I share Keisuke’s vision on this, the two were in a G Gundam-like battle that was meant more to having fun and expressing feelings through driving. How over the top is that?
In any case, he finally decides to join the team, and wants to become a professional racer in the future. Natsuki wishes to go to a university in Tokyo, so the two have to part (so sad…), but she says she’ll endure it since she loves Takumi.
Now, for my comments. This clearly was a setup for 4th Stage, with the intention of forming Project D, allowing Takumi to go out on a tour throughout the prefecture and challenge courses and stuff. I had seen some of it, and can clearly say that 4th Stage really sucked drama/story-wise. Sure it had some really over-the-top music and battles which were the main focal point of all Initial D, but really 3rd Stage was where it hit home. I wish there was more of 3rd Stage drama and not of what the rest of the stages had.
Of course though, most of this problem can be attributed to Shigeno Shuichi, the author of the original manga. Failure to implement great drama can lead to problems like this.
Overall, the movie’s presentation was great. I loved how the introduction started with a helicopter camera over Akina (was it Akina?) leading to the AE86 and starting your usual Eurobeat groove. Of course the drama and story is not top-notch but it’s up there, and at least beats most “average” anime that you’ll usually see.
The character designs in 3rd Stage are still based off Shigeno’s art-style, so I can’t say much about problems with that. But if I had to compare with all the other stages, 3rd Stage had the best rendition and didn’t attempt a “pretty boy” look with everyone, instead aiming for the more accurate, realistic, and expressive look.
In the end, we need more 3rd Stage. Stat.
And like I said, I have the AE86. If anyone has tips on tuning/getting parts cheap for it/etc. in southern Ontario, please let me know.
P.S. I didn’t buy the AE86 out of watching Initial D, nor am I a hardcore Initial D fanboy (let alone an average fan). My father has actually had it (originally in red) for 20 years. The panda white paint scheme was put in around 15 years ago, so that’s well before the Initial D manga ever started. But if Initial D sparked my interest in anything, it’s to tune my AE86 back to its original condition.