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Thanks Initial D: Elements of car culture influenced by a cartoon


Could you believe that Initial D has been with us for almost 20 years now? When Shuichi Shigeno started making a manga – A Japanese Comic Book – about his Toyota Sprinter Trueno back in 1995, I don’t think he had an idea of how big a hit it would become around the world. With the recent conclusion of Initial D’s storyline in anime format, it’s only appropriate that we take a look back into various things in car culture that have become quite the buzz since people started watching the kid in a corolla beat everyone else on the downhill.

The Cult Status of the Hachiroku

If you at least have any clue as to what Initial D is, chances are you’d have known that we have to start here. The AE86, whether in liftback, coupe, Trueno, or Levin form has been a venerable car in circuit and rally circles since it debuted in 1983. Considering its price, sheer drivability, and overall reliability it has surged in popularity amongst amateur racers both on the streets and the track. All those qualities, however great and admirable, came second to the eyes of the 90’s kids who’ve seen the antics of Takumi Fujiwara on their TV screens. The two-tone Panda White, Watanabe-rolling, Tofu Shop stickered star of the show became the ultimate underdog hero for all the kids – myself included – who have seen it beat RX-7s, GT-Rs, and Evos down the mountain pass. So much has the cult status of the AE86 grown that many aficionados have associated the rise in resale prices of the car to a value that can only be defined as ‘Takumi Tax’.

The language of Automotive Jargon

A: ‘Hey man, know anything about that S13?’

B: ‘Yeah bro, I heard it’s running a built 2JZ’

A: ‘No kidding? I heard it beat an R32 in a drag race last night.’

Translation: That conversation was about a Nissan Silvia with a Supra motor that beat a Skyline GT-R the night before.

While all of that seemed like plain English, automotive jargon will sound totally alien to someone who has no interest in cars. Thanks to the various cars, parts, and models available manufacturers have assigned each car or part with a designated code for ease of reference. For example, Instead of saying “I drive a fifth generation Honda Civic SiR-II” a car guy would simply say, “I drive an EG6”. Indeed, with all the chassis and engine codes in existence all of those will require memorizing for the uninitiated. Thanks to Initial D though, some of these codes have become household names to regular viewers. Code names or colloquial names like the Hachiroku, EK9, FD3S, or GC8 have all been established because of the cars that are regularly used by the characters in the show.

Initial D also talks about cars in a very accurate manner to the point that they’ve become rather educational for the budding car enthusiast – again, like myself when I started watching. Tiny details like the pros and cons of a Twin Turbo setup vs. a Single Turbo setup or the benefits of adding a tachometer to make full use of a high revving motor make Initial D very informative while maintaining the fun and action to keep us in tune to the show.

The rise of Drifting

Ask any of the local drifters what got them into the art of oversteer and chances are they could answer one or both of these two things; it’s either they’ve seen Keiichi Tsuchiya’s Drift Bible, or they’ve seen Initial D. While Drift Bible goes into the technical aspects of drifting, Initial D, being fictional, dramatizes drifting into a spectacle to behold. Scenes such as cars drifting in tandem millimeters apart from the guard rails make for epic action scenes, and thus have become forever etched into the minds of those who’ve yet to become familiar with the sport. Since then, many have tried their hand at drifting and continue to strive to replicate those close tandem matches that they’ve seen from the show.

Mountain Pass Fun Runs

Admit it, while illegal and dangerous in nature you’ve always wanted to try your hand at those mountain pass races that have become the center plot of the show. I know I have, and it appears there are plenty of wannabe racers out there as well. Over the recent years fun runs have become a popular event for many car clubs around the metro, and usually it involves taking a stroll out of town along a mountain pass – or Touge, if you’re JDM that way. That said Sierra Madre, the closest mountain pass to Quezon City, is almost always busy with cars and bikes driving up and down the mountain on a Sunday morning.

Fact of the matter is though, is that street racing could have more consequences than the crashes or engine blows the cars suffer in Initial D. Lives are always at stake, if you do decide to go out for a drive please be responsible and always drive within your limits as well as in consideration of other road users. If anything the real takeaway from Initial D is not the racing itself, instead it’s the realization that driving is all about having the most fun when you’re behind the wheel (I’m not kidding they actually meant that. Watch the last battle of 5th stage with subs and see how Keisuke won against the NSX). Should you still wish to race, you can always go to our local racetracks in Clark or Batangas to scratch the itch at your own discretion.

It’s ‘JDM’ yo

Another aspect of Initial D that’s worth noting are the modifications on the cars that star the show. It wasn’t explicitly stated what modifications went onto each car, but the keen eye could tell that there are certain parts (Aero parts, wheels, etc.) that can only come from the land of the rising sun. Things like the CIBIE Fog Lamps and RS Watanabe 8-spokes on Takumi’s Trueno or the RE Amemiya AD Facer Widebody fitted onto Keisuke’s RX-7 during the later Project D stages have become so well known that people have closely associated these parts with their corresponding cars. Initial D gave the world a glimpse into the vast aftermarket of Japan and gave their fans something to aspire to build, all the while setting a proper benchmark as to how cars should be built, much unlike those vinyl-wrapped, neon-lit, riced out cars from Need For Speed Underground.

Motorsport Techniques

Lastly, a key contribution of Initial D to the uninitiated car enthusiast would be the great emphasis that has been put into honing one’s technique behind the wheel. While Takumi has been deemed a prodigy or genius of sorts, all the dialogue and scenes in between battles depict all the attributes he displays in the likeness of a proper racing driver. From steering input, to proper heel-and-toe footwork, all the way to the science behind weight transfer, tire wear, and trail braking, Initial D touches on several bases that define the key elements that define a racing driver as well as car control. Much of the concepts discussed in the show are theories that can be applied to racing on the circuit, given enough practice and the right setup for your car of course.

You wouldn’t think that a cartoon could be so in-depth and well immersed in the world of cars and motorsports, and then you’d find yourself at awe with all the details and accuracy of Initial D. Such is the wonder that plenty of us have grown up to watch over and over again. I don’t know about you, but I can wholeheartedly say that I wouldn’t be as diehard a car guy as I would be now if it weren’t for this show. With its last episode finally aired – which is epic, by the way – and its conclusion along with it, I think credit must be given to Shigeno-san for giving the car guys of the world both young and old some properly good entertainment for the past two decades. All good things must come to an end as they say, but I believe the good that this show has brought for all car guys will be around for quite awhile despite the show’s end!

image courtesy of Animax

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