Car fans recognize the Toyota AE86 as the Initial D car, but the manga and anime series had plenty of other JDM legends.
I’m sure many of you have ran into a car drifting meme featuring the highly energetic Eurobeat song, Deja Vu. If you fall further down the rabbit hole, you’re eventually introduced to the iconic drifting focused anime/manga known as Initial D, from which the song originates. Initial D is a story set in the Kantō region of Japan, more specifically Gunma Prefecture, where drifting and racing through the curvy mountain passes (known in Japan as Touge racing) is a way of life.
The story follows Takumi Fujiwara, a high schooler who is just delivering tofu in his father’s old hatchback delivery car. Takumi originally hated driving, having done so since middle school, but eventually realizes that his driving skills are far superior than others thanks to his delivery experience. The series then follows Takumi as he aspires to be known as the greatest driver in the Gunma Prefecture. The iconic Initial D car driven by Takumi is the Panda 1983 Toyota Sprinter Trueno GT Apex AE86, a car which is commonly disregarded by other racers in the series until it passes them going sideways in the turns.
Initial D has produced 6 Stages (the term used to separate seasons), 2 shorter Extra Stages, 3 movies, 48 volumes of the manga, and plenty of video games; including the famous racing arcade cabinet. Through all these different medias over the years, the Initial D series incorporated tons of beautiful JDM cars that we in the United States would love to get our hands on. There’s plenty of wonderful options to choose from that have drifted alongside Takumi’s AE86 or have raced against his team, but we whittled it down to just 10 of our favorites. Here’s our top 10 Initial D cars.
We have to start the list with the “White Comet of Akagi”, otherwise known as a 1990 Mazda Savanna RX-7 FC3S. Ryosuke Takahashi’s RX-7 shows up multiple times in the series, first as the lead car of the dominant Akagi RedSuns and later in the series popping up as a member of Project D. The Mazda went through 3 different tuning specs, with the last iteration being the best possible in order to face off against the “Grim Reaper of Kanagawa”, Rin Hojo, but we’ll read more on him and his car later.
Following the defeat of Ryosuke and the RedSuns, Team Emperor begins their rise to dominance of Gunma. Their leader is Kyoichi Sudo driving a 1995 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution III GSR with a 310hp turbocharged engine. The Mitsubishi Lancer Evo with all of its rally heritage proves to be too much for Takumi in AE86, as he just can’t keep up and blows his engine. Takumi would later beat Kyoichi in a rebuilt and upgraded version of the AE86, but the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo proved to be a worthy adversary for the Initial D car.
In the Fourth Stage of Initial D, Takumi’s father, Bunta Fujiwara, decides he needs a new car since Takumi has joined the Project D team and would be utilizing his AE86 primarily. Bunta finds a 1998 Subaru Impreza WRX STi Type R Version V and takes it for a test drive. On the test drive, he encounters his son in the AE86 and starts an impromptu downhill race that ends with the Subaru passing the old hatchback on the straightaway. Bunta kept the experience and the purchase of the car a secret to Takumi. The Subaru Impreza was later revealed to Takumi as a tool to better understand the weaknesses the AE86 possessed.
We mentioned Kyoichi Sudo earlier as being a tough opponent in the Initial D series, and the Todo School is where he got his start. The racing school is known for developing some of the best drivers around with graduates becoming semi-pro and professional racers. In the Fourth Stage, one of their best students in a 1998 Honda Civic Type R EK9 is bested by Takumi in the AE86. The Todo School couldn’t let this happen so they sent their best graduate, Tomoyuki Tachi, in the school’s beast of a demonstration car. They sent out a Spoon Sports tuned 1998 Honda Civic Type R EK9 that made 260hp. This Honda Civic put up more of a fight against Takumi, but it too lost as the driver avoided hitting a stray cat. At least the cat is ok.
Nobuhiko Akiyama was the leader of the Northern Saitama Alliance. He is a data analysis specialist rather than a great racer. He raced against Takumi knowing he’d lose and used his experience to create the perfect match to beat the famous AE86. Nobuhiko hired Sakamoto, a professional rally car racer, and handed him a Suzuki Cappuccino that had a bolt on turbo kit. The little Kei car coupled with a rally driver proved to be quite the test for Takumi, but the small stature of the Cappuccino couldn’t block the entire road and allowed the AE86 to pass with a Blind Attack. The Blind Attack technique is where the Initial D car turns off its pop-up headlights, helping reduce drag and hide where Takumi is attacking from.
In the Fifth Stage, Project D continues on their racing expedition. They end up in the Kanagawa Prefecture, where they are met by multiple teams that stand in the way of facing the best there is in the area. One of these teams is the Katagiri Street Version who all primarily race on the Nagao course. Hideo Minagawa is their leader and he races a 1996 Toyota Supra RZ. The twin turbocharged engine makes 320hp and is primarily and uphill contender. While Takumi was Project D’s best downhill driver, it was Keisuke Takahashi, Ryosuke’s brother, in a 1991 Mazda RX-7 Type R FD3S who took on the uphill challenge.
Ryuji Ikeda is the leader of Team Spiral and the only thing in the way of Project D facing the best of Kanagawa in their racing expedition. Ryuji Ikeda is primarily an uphill racer in his INGS body kitted 2003 Nissan Fairlady Z, or as its commonly known, the 350Z. Once again, Ryosuke is tasked with the uphill battle and the two were pretty evenly matched on the wet roads, but the low visibility in heavy fog for a section of the course allowed Keisuke to pass. Ikeda reemerges in his 350Z as a witness to the battle between Rin Hojo and Ryosuke later in the series.
The Skyline has to make an appearance whenever JDM is the topic. While it isn’t the highly sought-after R34, Rin Hojo’s 1994 R32 Nissan Skyline GT-R V-Spec II is just as awesome and powerful. The twin-turbocharged engine makes 650hp coupled with his aggressive driving style makes him the intimidating “Grim Reaper of Kanagawa”. Rin seeks out a race against Ryosuke in his RX-7. The two had a common interest in a girl from their past who sadly died, leaving the two resenting each other and Rin wanting revenge. The race ends with the RX-7 and Ikeda’s 350Z attempting to stop Rin Hojo from crashing off the mountain pass. The two reconcile their differences and this is the last time we see Rin as the “Grim Reaper of Kanagawa”, having sold his R32 following the race.
The brother of Rin is Go Hojo. Go is the leader of Team Sidewinder, the final team in the Kanagawa Prefecture. His car of choice is an outfitted 1994 Honda NSX featuring an Advance Flatout body kit. Go and his advisor watched Project D during their races against the different walls of Kanagawa. Keisuke’s racing style was being analyzed the entire time, giving Go the upper hand. During the race, the NSX proves to be a quick uphill racing tune, but the RX-7 manages to keep up. Eventually, Go pushes the NSX too much and his tires lose traction. The NSX, that should have won easily, spins out and loses to the Project D team.
Alright, the last on our list is less of a major competitor, not a rare JDM car, or cool by any means. Itsuki is Takumi’s buddy throughout the series and is super enthralled in racing. Seeing Takumi’s success in the Initial D car, Itsuki decides that he too should get the same AE86 chassis model. He surprises his friends with his newly purchased Toyota Corolla Levin AE86. He is met with confused looks as the engine didn’t sound right. What Itsuki had actually purchased, to his dismay, was a single overhead cam 1984 Toyota Corolla Levin SR AE85. While he was embarrassed by his mistake, Takumi shows him that he should be proud of his car and that the driver makes the experience. He later bolts on a turbo, so it’s not a complete loss performance wise.