Despite being a somewhat reluctant participant in his race against the leader of the RedSun’s Keisuke, Takumi finds himself pulled even further into the world of downhill drift racing when word spreads about his victory. Takumi’s fate is sealed when his friend inadvertently accepts a challenge on his behalf against Nakazato, the leader of another rival racing group, the Myogi NightKids. Now, it’s a matter of pride between the two, and Takumi is going to have to put his skills to the test as he takes on a driver whose experience far outweighs his own.
Although there was a lot to like about the first Initial D feature, Awakening, it definitely felt lacking in some areas, but I could give it a pass as it was mostly a film dedicated to setting up the characters and story, so I imagined the follow-up Initial D Legend 2: Racer would take time to make up for all those weaknesses and deliver a product built on the promises of its predecessor. So, after watching it, I was quite let down to find that it just rides the status quo, doing absolutely nothing to improve the series, instead opting to remain painfully average.
If there is a single improvement that Racer features over Awakening, it’s that protagonist Takumi now does have somewhat of an interest in racing. In the first film, his total lack of investment in the races he was participating in did somewhat hinder the audience’s investment, so the fact that he actually wants to race this time does improve this, however it isn’t without strings attached. Rather than caring about the races due to a newly found adoration for the sport of racing, Takumi’s sudden interest seems to stem more from a sense of stubbornness and pride, which I find to be off-putting. I don’t have a whole lot of experience within sports anime, but the handful I have seen all have something in common, and that is the protagonists’ undying love of the sport they’re participating in, a burning passion that serves to endear the audience to the characters in question, creating a real attachment to them. Although you could say Initial D is doing something different, it isn’t a good way of doing things, and only serves to reinforce my disinterest in Takumi that was established in Awakening. He was thoroughly bland there, and the aforementioned stubbornness brought up here makes me lean towards actively disliking him.
One of the areas for improvement that Awakening presented was the stakes of the races, that not a whole lot seemed dependent on the outcome of the competitions, yet this is something Racer appears to double down on. I understand that a sports anime such as this one can’t put the fate of the world on the line, or the lives of the protagonists, but there still needs to be something there, or the audience won’t care. To draw a comparison to a favourite show of mine, and one of the few other sports-themed shows I’ve seen, Haikyuu!!, the shounen sports anime based around a high school volleyball team, establishes the stakes perfectly. You have the third years graduating, meaning they’ll never play volleyball again for the school if they get knocked out, the restoration of the team’s reputation and, in the second season, revenge against rival teams who beat the protagonists in the past. This combination is a perfect storm of elements that draws people into the matches, because you actually feel like a loss would be meaningful, whereas in Initial D, there is no real reason to care at all. This matter is only exacerbated by Takumi’s totally flawless skills when it comes to driving right from the get-go, with no need for improvement, leading to a total lack of tension. You know he’s going to win, he’s never shown as having a loss, so any notion that he might not come first is zapped from every race.
If you were hoping the story might make up for these shortcomings, then you’re also going to be sorely disappointed, as the plot we get in this film is so barebones I have to wonder if it really constitutes a story to begin with. You can boil the entire plot down to ‘Man challenges Takumi, Takumi wins, repeat, credits’, and that is no simplification, that is all you get. No attempts at a more complex narrative, no twists or turns, or anything remotely interesting, if I’m being totally honest. I could forgive the basic nature of the first movie because it was setting up, but there are no such excuses here, and I really did expect better. Even the totally lacklustre romance is somehow even worse, with the love interest getting mere minutes of screentime, of which none go towards progressing the relationship between her and Takumi. It’s frustrating. The strict 60 minute length of each of these films is such a hindrance and I do wonder what more could’ve been done if each of these had an extra 20 minutes or so to stretch their legs.
All that being said, it doesn’t mean there aren’t things I enjoyed here. Like last time, the animation and general presentation is great, with Sanzigen and Liden Films capturing a great sense of speed during the races, and the music, sound design and voice acting is once again top-notch, it’s just a shame the other elements let it down when the technical aspects are so great.
After a promising setup with the first entry, Initial D Legend 2 Racer squanders the potential by being exceedingly average, feeling as if no effort at all was put into most of the elements, and is as basic an anime as you can get.