Takumi Fujiwara didn’t know if he even wanted to be a racer when he won his first downhill drag against Keisuke Takahashi of the formidable Akagi RedSuns. Hell, he only struck a deal for his trusty 8-6 auto so he could go out on a date with his best girl. Even now, as his own racing outfit the Speedstars gain notoriety, he doesn’t know what he wants. Doubting his skills, impressive as they are, Initial D Legend 2: Racer is Takumi’s trial to prove to himself that he is much more than the sum of his wild successes; a true racer.
Facing one challenge after another, Takumi is too unsure of himself to risk losing. We all know those imaginings of one failure amounting to our lives becoming pointless, and it’s that which keeps Takumi from becoming insufferable in his teeny moping. But his hand is forced when a rondo of rowdy NightKids ambush his friends on an innocent nighttime drive. Shingo Shoji, the leader of the dirty drivers, agrees to apologise if Takumi wins one of his patented duct tape deathmatches. The point of these races is that both opponents must drive with their right hands strapped to the wheel, making control near impossible.
It’s impossible to speak for the existence of such a wonderfully reckless head-to-head. However, this story, like the original Initial D manga, is based on the real world of illegal street racing in Japan. It was clearly a passion project for mangaka Shuichi Shigeno, who owns a 1980s Toyota Sprinter Trueno just like Takumi’s. But his own thrills to the speed blur of trees and darkness down the mountain passes of Gunma don’t translate to anime. For the sake of saving races from awkward silence, characters wax technical about the nuts and bolts of the cars and driving technique. It’s probably cool for the auto nuts, but for the rest of us it gets repetitive from so many of the same angles – side on the totally serious racers, dashboard ticking, extreme driver close up, and those wonderful windshield views of boxy car rears.
In between, an inordinate amount of blather over drift racing versus comes to so much empty lip-flapping, even for motor racing fans. There isn’t the wheel to asphalt action to justify it, and ultimately it just feels like padding to fill the downtime between drive time. The cars, town and characters have a tendency to look like a Tomy playset, with Takumi often just as plastic in demeanour. The joy of the race should be reflected in him, giving viewers a proxy from the (presumably) law-abiding safety of their sofas. But his doubts, human as they are, always fall short of driving the drama home.
English dub; Initial D Legend 1: Awakening recap; Initial D Legend 3: Dream preview; clean ending animation; also available from Sentai Filmworks.