Picking up where the first film left off, the next of MVM’s releases of the rebooted Initial D movie trilogy throws us back into the driving seat with Takumi Fujiwara and his continuing exploits behind the wheel of his beloved Toyota Sprinter Trueno AE86. The tofu delivery-driver, turned amateur drift racer, finds himself embroiled in a face-off against new opponents when his best friend Itsuki accidentally signs him up to a race with Takeshi Nakazato and his sleek Nissan Skyline GT-R R32. It’s a test of skill versus brute power, and with a host of iconic vehicles paraded across the screen, this second installment makes for another heady dose of action for petrol-heads.
Doubling down on both technical aspects and technique, while this second instalment can sometimes come across like someone reading straight out of an instruction manual, the attention to detail can’t be faulted. It’s little things - such as how Takumi drives with a cup-full of water in his car (the implication being that if he doesn’t spill a drop, his driving is smooth enough to ensure his precious cargo of tofu arrives in good condition) - that really mark the film out as a labor of love for driving enthusiasts.
There’s a tighter focus towards on-the-road action this time around too - with the races presented here functioning as more clearly self-contained episodes. Freed from the need of the first film to cram so much exposition into an hour-long outing, the second movie feels far leaner - with room for both the cars and their drivers to all nab their moment in the spotlight. Takumi’s friend Itsuki in particular - a token comedic buffoon if ever we’ve seen one - is a welcome, light-hearted, diversion from the movie’s more serious elements. Initial D as a franchise is supposed to feel fast - but the first movie felt like it was working so furiously to cram its requisite plot elements into place that it collapsed into an incomprehensible mess of ill-fitting parts.
Yet, while this second instalment makes strong strides forward in terms of its narrative clarity and character motives, there’s room to pick away at its visual presentation. The mix of CG vehicles and 2D character models works for the most part, though we definitely noticed some juddery moments at times. With some of the earlier driving scenes feeling particularly weightless - boxy, computer-generated, vehicles gliding over the tarmac instead of truly feeling rooted down by their tires.
For those that spent their youth huddled over PlayStation consoles - CRT tellies pumping out Gran Turismo - memorising the torque, horsepower and drive-train specs of countless Japanese car models, Initial D is like a fever dream of pure nostalgia. There are times when you can practically feel your body tense into the rhythms and processes of driving (real or imagined). But this rebooted trilogy continues to falter - partly due to its truncated run-time, and more significantly due to its limp script, which feels firmly aimed at existing fans. Playing to the converted is all well and fine, but this trilogy could have been so much better if it’d functioned as a proper, accessible, ‘in’ to this fascinating franchise.