Those who know the real-life me roll their eyes when I gush about cars. Many of my most treasured possessions in the world have been four-wheeled wonders; a spunky rear-wheel drive MX5, or a Subaru Impreza STi 7 that was loud, obnoxious and most of all fun. So, putting together my love for rice-rockets (Japanese cars for the uninitiated) and adrenaline fuelled anime, you couldn’t go wrong. Right?
Well, kind of right. Close to the start of my obsession with anime, Initial D had me hooked from the get-go. Telling the story of a nobody rising through the ranks of street racers, it is a brilliantly mindless way to spend an evening. And then there’s Wangan Midnight. Whereas D’s interest comes from the characters and fuel driven battles, Wangan is all about the mechanics; more specifically, the Demon Z – a car that has a reputation for killing its drivers as it careers wildly out on control at extreme speeds. At first, I wasn’t expecting too much, as there are only so many different spins a writer can put on street racing, but as usual, preconceptions aren’t ever set in stone.
Bringing three main characters to the forefront, the troubles that face each of them are analysed succinctly over a number of episodes; from Blackbird's fall from number one on the roads of the Wangan to Akio’s unhealthy obsession with the Z, anyone who has ever fawned over a car and enjoys nothing more than a good thrash down a back road will understand what they are going through. However, a never ending introduction to new names during mini-arcs just feels like an unwanted distraction from the slow building action.
Intriguingly, the show starts out much more interesting, exploring the technical difficulties experienced by tuners and their eternal struggle to milk a few more horsepower out of an already stressed engine. Unfortunately, this is repeated over and over throughout the twenty-six episodes ad nauseam. Where once, there was something vaguely engaging, the series loses all momentum and becomes a chore to watch. A little more about driving styles, and characters developing into more accomplished drivers would have made the little anime that couldn’t into the four-wheeled beast that most definitely could.
Once you get over the fact that Initial D’s Takumi and Wangan’s Akio were probably twins separated at birth, the lacklustre characters become much less important. Which is a good job really, as the lifelessly flat facial features, although true to the manga, seem severely understated in the anime. What really drives the show's relatively high animation score are its lovingly rendered vehicles. With a distinctly retro feel, the CG used to make the 400+bhp beauties come alive makes the visuals truly dazzle. Unfortunately, there is a noticeable lack of meshing between the scenery and the cars, as they sometimes seem able to bend Newton’s first law and hover along the twilight streets of Japan.
Once more, plagiarism runs rife but this time in the sound section of Wangan; even my fiancé questioned if Move, of Initial D fame, performed the opening track, and he *hates* the Eurobeat genre with a passion. That said, it doesn’t detract too much from an extremely spirited and exciting audio cacophony that suits the series down to the ground. From bass-heavy rock to upbeat pop, it seems that virtually every type of high tempo compliments the never ending excitement.
Of the main trio, Reina is a personal favourite. As a girl racer, she faces the same single-minded opposition to her driving skills that I have also experienced with other males behind the wheel. However, she is spunky and determined, commenting that she finds it difficult *not* to plant her right foot to the floor when challenged. Akio is an extremely well mannered and quiet protagonist, and I feel a lot more could have been done with his character. From the outset, he is a natural behind the wheel and because of this undergoes very little development. Even though the anime hints at a romance between him and Reina, that too fizzles out and becomes nothing but a dull memory. The older drivers in the show have a purpose – to show the traditional ways to the “kids” when it comes to tuning. Unfortunately, their personalities are desperately lacking, apart from Kou whose unshakable determination makes him stand out from the middle-aged dross around him.
Maybe it’s because I love cars so much that shows about petrol driven dogfights hold such charm for me. Wangan is definitely not for those people who believe the Prius is the best thing since sliced bread; even those who have never experienced a spirited burn along the “perfect” road in a 300+bhp tin-can of joy will probably not fully appreciate the adrenaline pumping race moments. However, compared to Initial D, it lacks the charm and competitive spirit of a show blatantly superior in every way. That said, Wangan Midnight is far from being terrible and could well be the perfect stop-gap for die hard fans of the AE-86.
Obviously, your 1st reaction so far will be you’re thinking Initial D. I don’t blame anybody for doing so, but if you’re going to watch this with expectations based on Initial D, then you’re going to watch it for all the wrong reasons. The 1st portion of this series will be repetitive and slow, but it’s done for the purpose to build suspense, motivate development, and establish the story. I felt that things got exciting way too much at the end and it leaves you wanting for more, but I guess there’s the manga to make you satisfied which I’m now getting into. Depending on how you get into it, it will be either hard or easy to accept, but I feel this presentation was done for the right reasons even though it will take awhile to get into this anime. Yes, consequences of that kind of story telling makes the pace slow, but it gives chances to focus and introduce other characters and their relationships which the anime is truly about.
The anime has great character exploration. I really like how the racing lifestyle and car obsession results in consequences to the normal lives of the characters and in relation to those around them. In the case of Akio, he has to repeat a year of high school because he ditches to make money for his car.
However, I felt there were some characters that had no use or contribution to the progression or establishment of the story, though they had an interesting origin and develop individually. But in the end, they seemed more like filler or side story characters, and felt the anime could have focused on other things instead. But regardless, these characters were likeable and engaging. As for the main characters, I felt their personalities were too strong and established to make any significant development throughout the course of this anime, but I think it was mostly about the relationships and interactions that were more of the central focus.
There is heavy duty tech speak, but I felt it was really easy to understand because it demonstrates the explanations hand in hand very effectively. But because the series is seriously technical, chances are you may be turned off by it because it gets really deep and I know a lot of people were turned off by this in Initial D because it was used as a riddle for foreshadowing thus made it very confusing to those not familiar with cars, but with Wangan Midnight, I felt it’s presentation made it like an auto class. But the drama thanks to the back-story of the Devil Z, is odd but engagingly driven in its own right. It does create a sense of curiosity of whether or not there is something possessing the Z, but its history and its tuning has a certain aura to it that attracts the characters, thus moves the story.
Well, the character designs share an obvious resemblance of Initial D’s, but simpler looking. The art design will of course look more dated since the original manga came out in 1992 and is sticking true to the original designs. Yeah, it’s really nothing cutting edge, nor is it really over the top. So the awkward designs will probably turn off people, but I don’t think it should really overall negate the anime as a whole. I like how Akio tends to be a white shirt and jeans kind of guy, and the way he’s drawn, it’s like he’s an anime version of James Dean himself. Hell, he’ll even wear the red jacket like he does on the cover of Rebel Without a Cause.
The races are also in CG, though it doesn’t really look as cel shaded as 4th Stage, but the style accurately portrays the features of the cars, and the corresponding engine sounds. The buildings and the Wangan are also rendered in CG as if it were the PS3 or arcade game. The cars presented are also a nice flavor (I get the notion that the original manga-ka is a Nissan fan and loves the GT-R), and the racing brings a different kind of suspense such as a danger risk and the portrayal of the consequences of reckless driving. Such consequences are wrecks and even engine blowouts, which gives it a sense of limitation to the cars. Initial D has that risk factor, but I don’t feel it, but I do feel it with Wangan Midnight, which makes the races more edge at your seat. Plus, I felt Initial D’s world despite praising it for it’s realism, in comparison to Wangan Midnight, it way too idealistic. But the races are more one-dimensional because it mostly takes place on the Wangan, and the style of racing itself to some people doesn’t feel as exciting as drifts or as innovating as gutter gripping on hairpins. But outside of the risk factor of driving at 300km/h on a public highway, the only other contributing factor to excitement is that races can be at 4 cars at once while it’s not exclusive to two cars. But the fact they push it to the limit should be exciting enough for some people. Now that I think about it, why aren’t their cops out there after them? I wonder if it’s true according to Tokyo Drift that cops in Japan can’t catch you if you’re exceeding 180 km/h.
The voice cast is excellent though there is one big name that stands out to me that took some adjusting, and that was Miki Shin’ichiro the voice of Takumi in Initial D, as the voice of Shima. I’m so used to hearing him as Takumi to a point that I really couldn’t imagine him in this role. By the time I got to the end, I finally accepted him as Shima and started to appreciate his performance And I felt it was unique that they casted J-Drama actor, Oguri Shun, who was in the live action versions of GTO, Gokusen, and Hana Yori Dango as Akio. I thought he captured Akio’s characteristics in a typical fashion where you’re convinced he’s a unique kind of teenager and shows great variety to Oguri’s acting abilities in this approach. I also liked Suhou Reiko as Reina. I thought she did great as a seiyuu by being a down to earth idol. And I was most impressed with Miyake Kenta’s performance as Kitami Jun, the tuner from hell. You probably know him as Tsume from Wolf’s Rain, Vetor in Sonic, and is also casted as Zangief in SFIV. Anyway, I think he brings a unique charisma and intimidation to the character where he can freak you out to a point that yeah, he tunes crazy cars, but hey it’s probably worth the risk. So he swept me off my feet.
Unfortunately, there is no Eurobeat. Music isn’t really that emphasized in this anime. The track you’ll tend to hear is a more techno driven Eastern Indian song that sounds similar to what you hear in Ghost in the Shell. It suits that risk factor that this anime has, but gets overused and we also have extreme techno rock every now and then. The opening and the ending themes do sound like MOVE’s songs, but they are more upbeat and up lifting, and not as emphatically hip hop driven, nor do they comes across as extreme as MOVE, but likable.
Like Initial D and some other anime I review, Wangan Midnight is for people who want to try something different, but it’s still an anime that isn’t for everyone whether you’re new to anime or hardcore. Granted you can say that about DBZ, Lucky Star, and EVA, but Wangan Midnight is just a different tune to truly apply that because its racing, people will jump to conclusions that it’s stupid just because of what it’s about. In some aspects, I think Wangan Midnight has distinguishing qualities that keeps me interested, such as the character exploration and the realism, and I love the arcade game. But hey, growing up with a father who loves cars and going to school with people who love to drag race, I could get into this anime and I had familiarity with the arcade game, Maximum Tune which should be at your local arcade. Give it a try, it’s a lot of fun.
I doubt this anime is getting licensed, so you can go to your usual torrent sources to get it. And remember: this review is a review of a work of fiction and I encourage you to please drive safely and obey traffic laws at all times, and stick to racing at your local arcade, gaming console or public circuit track
I was told to watch it, people kept refencing it and I was confused as to why. So I did. (I have an S30). The only value I gained was understanding the reference.
This isn't Initial D, this isn't The Fast & The Furious, this isn't Speed Racer. It's like a battle anime in race form (and not a great one), like if you took all the substance out of Initial D.
Maybe you will get more out of it than I, but the story basically doesn't exist, the characters are barely explored, they don't have particularly thorough interactions or well developed relationships. Character growth is... going fast?
Animation is pretty average for the period, as is the sound. I don't put any weight in those categories unless.it substantially impairs the entertainment value.
I would love a good automotive anime, but this is sadly not worth the time. If they re-made it they could probably improve it, but it would be very different... perhaps with a better motive.
This was and still is greatest of street racing anime. And probably only anime which i have watched more than one time.
When i was younger, a realy loved this anime, because was dreaming about my own car, some street racing and that kind of stuff. But this anime was not just about a car, it was about character dream and pasion, so giving me feelings that someday i will own my beast car.
Now i have a car and still like this anime, strangly my car is blue to ;) It's old, fast and my!
In my opinion this is a very much underratted anime, most people probably went into this thinking it was gonna be like initial d then realized it wasnt so they gave it a bad rating. The story was very interesting to me esspecially since it held fairly true to the real world (seeing as one of the midnight members was a doctor and did own a high tuned porsche despite it actually being dark red rather than black). since the story is made up of short stories and you have no way of knowing it was a little confusing when the second arc started (not including the intro arc) when suddenly a character that looks like the main character but older appears on the screen and you have no idea whats going on thinking you skipped an episode. Another problem i have is the lack of character design, the characters look fairly bland and not just unoriginal but what you would expect of side characters in any other show. other than that this was a great anime, the animation was defanantly the best ive seen of cars and the attention to detail is amazing, the characters focused on in each arc are all fairly intersting, some much more than others (im looking at you second gtr guy... i dont think anyone was really a fan of you). the main characters could have used some more to them but i wasnt to worried about them, to me the story was mainly about the people racing the main characters not the main characters themselves. the music in this was absolutly amazing, very orginal in many places and always fit perfectly, one of my favorite animes to this day