Hearing of Initial D through peers in the drifting community, and seeing it referenced regularly on automotive forums, I became motivated to investigate the show for myself. As is the case for most anime, I knew it was unlikely that I would encounter Initial D on Australian free-to-air television, so I began tracking down torrents containing each ‘Stage’ (the term used to describe each addition to the storyline). As someone who had only encountered English-dubbed anime in the past, I was happy to find the first two ‘Stages’ in their dubbed form, and became instantly enthralled by the faithful recreation of popular vehicles used in drifting and the driver inputs required to make them do so, such as pedal and steering techniques.
After completing the ‘Second Stage’, I found that dubbed versions were no longer available; something I later learnt was due to licensing issues with TOKYOPOP, the series’ North American distributor. Initially hesitant to continue, I pushed through the language barrier and found myself increasingly appreciative of the more faithful textual translation of the Japanese language provided in subtitles. By the time I’d reached the ‘Final Stage’, I realised how important attempts at articulating the nuances of Japanese language were to my understanding of the plot, and begun questioning what I may have missed in dubbed anime I had previously enjoyed.
NOTE: Turn captions on to view subtitles
For this post, I encountered the subtitled version of Initial D’s first episode for the first time. To make any differences obvious, I watched both the subtitled and dubbed version in tandem, flicking back and forth between the two and examining the subtle differences in translation. I noticed that whilst fairly close in simple translation, the dubbed version failed to accurately communicate context, tone and the respect that is central to Japanese language, instead ‘Westernising’ character communication by adding what I can only explain as attempts at accentuating humour that I believe a Japanese audience would find rude. I found that a comparison of the two clips embedded above highlights this particularly well, with the first encounter between the Akina Speed Stars and the Akagi Red Suns taking on two distinctly different meanings.
Analysing my observations, I realise that while falling for the ingrained East-West dichotomy, I am in-fact comparing two different ways for English-speaking individuals to access a niche anime that appeals to drift enthusiasts. Having taken part in the Japanese drift culture, meeting a number of Japanese drifters and experiencing the unbelievably organised street drifting subculture first-hand, I realise that I am not only reading the subtitles for their textual meaning, but also through a lens of my own personal experience and at least a superficial understanding of Japanese culture. It is because of this personal experience that I realise I cannot quite grasp the true meaning of anime without a fluency in Japanese, so that in effect, the more I know about Japanese culture, the less I understand due to losses in translation. Due to my fascination with Japan, however, I do not find this discouraging, instead attempting to further my understanding by accessing Japanese media in forms I can understand. In this way, it may have been a blessing that I first encountered the dubbed version of Initial D, as it suited my understanding of Japan at that time, and if small alterations through translation are required in the pursuit of cultural compatibility, then so be it.