Friday, 17 April 2020

ReadItdaddy's YA / Adult Comic of the Week - Week Ending 17th April 2020 - "Initial D" by Shuichi Shigeno (Kodansha Comics / Comixology Originals)

Being a comic fan can be like playing Russian Roulette at times. Sometimes you know a series is going to appeal to you and you see it go on sale for a ridiculously cheap price, but you play cautious, you hang back and just pick up a few volumes to see if you'll like it.

I got bitten that way by this week's fantastic YA / Adult Comic of the Week, a comic series which I'd enjoyed previously without having a clue what the text said. Y'see the last time I encountered "Initial D" by the mighty Shuichi Shigeno, I'd picked up some paperback issues that were not translated into English.

Recently though, Kodansha and ComiXology (The "Tom Nook" of digital comics - you'll see why I call them that later on) had brought all 48 (!) volumes of this mammoth epic to their digital platform. I picked up the first, liked it enough to pick up 5 more, then picked up 5 more for the crazy price of 99p. Had I flipping known that the sale wouldn't last forever, and now all subsequent volumes after the 10 I own are now £10.99 each, I'd have splurged on the flipping lot. Lesson learned, but anyway, what the heck is the actual comic about?

Since I was knee high to a grasshopper I've loved cars. I would buy matchbox and corgi cars with my pocket money, I'd buy hot wheels track to send my tiny die-cast creations down, and I'd obsess about cars, posting pics of them on my walls, and cooing appreciatively if a dream machine went by. I have to admint that the AE 86 Toyota Trueno was definitely not one of my "poster cars" but I've always loved the Japanese drift scene as much as I've always loved really good Japanese Manga. So Initial D is a dream of a series.

The '86 Toyota Trueno. Tofu delivery by day, peerless racing machine by night
Initial D is the story of Takumi ("Tak") Fujiwara, a teenager who has spent the last 5 years honing his driving skills. Not by racing, but by delivering Tofu up and down Mount Akina. Though "Tak" doesn't confess to being a drift racer, he knows the mountain run inside and out, and driving his dad's '86, can instinctively speed around corners that other racers fear to tackle.

His natural humility and slightly dozy daydreamy character are instantly appealing and if you recall your heady teenage years, you'll identify with Tak's outlook on life, never taking anything seriously, particularly not cars and girls.

Tak juggles school and working for his old man's Tofu business with a part time job at a local garage. His male friends who work there are all complete petrolheads and idly spend their time filling up customer cars with gas, cleaning windshields and idolising the racers and rides that cruise up and down the treacherous mountain roads of Akina Prefecture.

Tak's best friend Itsuke ("Iggy")Takeuchi teams up with Tak, both boys dreaming of a day when they'll be able to afford their own cars (in fact Iggy pips Tak to the post, picking up a clapped out old Toyota '85, a far inferior model to Tak's dad's ride.

Shigeno's phenomenal pen work is gorgeous. 
In fact Tak's father Bunta, once a feared racer in his own right, is the gentle guiding hand behind Tak's rise to stardom, and the man responsible for the 86's ridiculously tight handling and phenomenal turn of speed. He secretly tunes the car, making it a force to be reckoned with even amonst more powerful machines and more skilled drivers. Tak's relationship with his father is complicated, and despite the old man's aloof appearance, he's secretly priming Tak to become an amazing race driver, possibly even better than his old dad.

As Tak's story unfolds, he becomes romantically involved with a senior at his school, Natsuki ("Natalie") Mogi - a girl who seemingly dotes on Tak but as later volumes reveal, has a rather icky dark secret all of her own.

When these comics first came out back in 1997, I remember their impact and I also remember how all this stuff predated "The Fast and the Furious" movies by a good few years (in fact the two don't really compare at all, you don't see anyone using superhuman car powers to do ridiculous things in this comic - aside from Tak's almost superhuman ability to make a clapped out old Toyota thrash the heck out of virtually everything that goes up against it).

Shigeno-san has a knack for constructing each volume in such a way that you're left hanging onto the edge of your seat, only to hit the safety barrier of a SEVERE cliffhanger at the end of each volume, making you crave the next. I am royally kicking myself that I didn't pick up all 48 volumes (put it this way, I don't think I'd be able to justify spending £417.62 just to complete the set at their new price!)

Fantastic storytelling, brilliantly atmospheric and evocative art, and a real must for any petrolheads - particularly Japanophiles who love super-powerful Japanese motors - out there. If you can stand the sweet, sweet sting of becoming horribly addicted to a new comic series, the first volume is still 99p on ComiXology.

Sum this comic up in a sentence: There's never been a more brilliant series depicting the Japanese Street Racing Scene in comic form and I doubt there ever will be.

"Initial D" by Shuichi Shigeno is out now, published by Kodansha / ComixOlogy (Self purchased, not provided for review).