Street Racing And Japanese Manga: Anime Culture
The country of Japan houses many of the world’s biggest car manufacturers like Honda, Toyota, and Nissan. Being in the same country with these huge car manufactures affected people’s lives and changed their culture. Cars function more than taking people to point A to point B. Cars can become your lifestyle if you’re putting effort and money into making them look good, fast, etc. Some people in Japan would modify their cars and would race them on the highways and hill roads.
In a world where people became robots by following the same schedule every day, there were those who escaped from this loop with outstanding activities. Street racers were a part of this “rogue” society. The racing community had a good amount of things in common with the artists of the society as well. A race car’s body is a beautiful sculpture itself and the owners would paint and modify them in the most unique ways. Car culture was some kind of art in a way, and it grew very fast. And that grabbed the attention of many manga artists. This led to the creation of “car manga” and it featured classics like Initial D and Wangan Midnight.
The manga Initial D is about a young tofu delivery driver named Takumi. He drives his dad’s modified car every night for the last 5 years on Mount Akina in order to deliver tofus. During those 5 years of driving, he became faster and faster. He learned how to control his tires while they’re slipping which is called “drifting”. As the story begins, Takumi happens to encounter a race car during his delivery and he ends up beating him in a race. Later we find out that the racer he had beaten is one of the leaders of the fastest street racing club in Japan. Because of this, Takumi’s fame spreads to the cities around him, which leads to many racing clubs challenging him in a race. Many people underestimate Takumi because of his age and the look of his car. But every time he’s challenged by a faster car than his, he beats them with his unique techniques.
Later, Initial D was turned into a 26 episode anime series by Funimation. With the help of a professional racing driver, Keiichi Tsuchiya, the movements of the cars were made to look as accurate as possible. This is one of the factors why Initial D is still appealing to many car enthusiasts even today. The animation style was realistic rather than being cartoony, or cute. Before this anime, drifting wasn’t a big thing in the United States. Americans liked going fast in a straight line rather than spinning tires while taking sharp turns. But after Initial-D debuted in the United States, the sport of drifting became internationally popular.
Car anime’s like Initial-D created an appeal for the Japanese Domestic cars, mostly because the cars that were featured in the animes were the newest and the fastest sports cars that were on the market. An article named “Importing Japan’s Forbidden Cars” from the New York Times talk about the struggles enthusiasts goes through in order to bring their favorite Japanese Domestic car to the United States. “Some enthusiasts go to great lengths, and often considerable expense, to find cars in Japan to import, even flouting the law to do so. Others take a similar American-market model and transform it into the Japanese equivalent part by part, even if the difference is apparent only to aficionados.“ (1) says the article.
Another manga that was inspired by street racing was “Wangan Midnight”. This manga was inspired by an actual street racing team called “Midnight Club” or also known as “Team Midnight”. Midnight Club was a street racing club found by some anonymous yet big names in the car industry. This Club was created in order to test the aftermarket parts that would increase the car’s performance. Wangan Midnight adapts the cars that were used rather than what the Midnight Club stood for.
Wangan Midnight’s story revolves around Tokyo’s straightest highway, the Shuto Expressway. It’s about a teen named Akio Asakura, a high school student who’s into cars. While he’s cruising on the highway one day, he would encounter a Porche 911 Turbo, a car that’s known to exceed over 200 mph in the Midnight Club. He’s instantly passed by this Porche and this would push Akio in a search for a new car. He later finds out that there’s a new sports car in the junkyard nearby. The car seems to have potential, but there’s a rumor that this car kills every single owner that it had before. So Akio has to deal with these rumors and prepare himself to race the Porche one more time. He fails numerous times but every time he loses, he improves. He races other cars through his journey and by the end, he beats the Porche.
Wangan Midnight later got it’s own 26 episode anime show and one live-action movie. It even has it’s own video game. Unlike Initial-D, Wangan Midnight felt more grown-up. There was less comedic value to the anime. The art style is more realistic and its characters are more mature. We actually get to see characters working on their cars with all the mechanical knowledge thrown at us. Initial-D lacks the technical parts since the main character’s car is repaired, tuned, modified off-screen, by his father. Andrew P. Collins from Jalopnik summarizes the Wangan Midnight series with these words, “Wangan Midnight understands that we, as car fans, have passions that can’t be explained or justified. But more importantly, the show has a message that mutual passion can bridge a gap of respect between rivals. It’s not about saving the world, it’s not about drama for the sake of drama, it’s all about the cars.” (2)
- Furchgott, Roy. “Importing Japan’s Forbidden Models.” The New York Times, 4 May 2012, www.nytimes.com/2012/05/06/automobiles/importing-japans-forbidden-models.html.
- Collins, Andrew P. “Wangan Midnight Might Be the Most Socially Advanced Fictionalization of Car Culture.” Jalopnik, 9 June 2019, jalopnik.com/wangan-midnight-might-be-the-most-socially-advanced-fic-1835335186.