29 June 2007

Anime Review: Wangan Midnight Episodes 1 and 2


While out with friends in his Nissan 300Z, Akio, a high-school student, is challenged by a black Porsche 911 turbo, which is nicknamed "BlackBird." When the Porsche overtakes his 300Z, Akio decides to attempt to pass the BlackBird and pushes his car to its limit. When the 300Z reaches the Porsche, it simply changes gears and leaves the 300Z in the dust.

While he laments the abilities of his current car, he finds a junkyard about to scrap a Datsun 240ZX in almost perfect condition. This car is a very strange car, indeed. For one, it reminds Akio of an encounter he had with one years ago in which he saw a cute girl in the passenger seat of a similar (or same) 240ZX for a brief moment. Also, the previous two owners were also named Akio Asakura. And, finally, the car seems to be possessed by some kind of demonic spirit; the first owner, Akio Asakura, died in a car crash during a Wangan two years ago; the second owner, also named Akio Asakura, gave up the car after fixing it...and requested that it be crushed.

This Akio Asakura purchases the car (by selling his 300Z) and has it fixed up. When word of the 240ZX being returned to the roads hits the driver of the BlackBird, he immediately challenges Akio in the Devil Z. The chase ends with the Devil Z crashing into the side of the bridge, with Akio escaping serious injury.

Approximately a month later, Akio fixes the 240ZX and challenges the BlackBird's driver, Tatsuya. Taking along Eriko Asakura, who is the sister of the dead 240ZX driver - and the cute girl Akio saw in the same 240ZX years earlier, Akio and Eriko race down the highways against Tatsuya's BlackBird until they reach the exact same spot where Akio crashed earlier. When he makes his to change lanes, the 240ZX begins the crashing cycle all over again.


Where have I seen this before?

Hoping to show another side of the Japanese Street Racing scene, "Wangan Midnight" waddles into the same pond in which Initial D has thus far proven to be the big fish these days. Considering that the Wangan Midnight manga has been around a little longer than Initial D, it would be safe to say that any comparisons to Shuichi Shigeno's manga should actually be done within this context.

Unfortunately, Initial D: The Animation has made its mark far longer than Wangan Midnight has, and as such, Wangan's animation and story are judged with that precondition regardless of the original situation.

What makes the comparisons even more inevitable is the fact that Studio OB Planning is animating this series - which is, by the way, the same company which produced Initial D: Fourth Stage. The opening sequence is based on the same techniques used with ID Fourth Stage, and the theme song also shares much with its ID counterpart. Then add the similar character designs (although the skin tones are slightly lighter in this regard than Initial D), vehicle details, and sound effects, as well as many of the same voice actors and it becomes hard not to compare the two anime series. Did I also mention that Akio works part-time as a gas station attendant (much like Takumi Fujiwara started at)?

In the setup of the first two episodes, there seems to be disjointed feeling throughout both episodes. And, even with all of the scenes that actually take place, there is never any kind of feeling in any direction - suspense with being behind the wheel of any of the vehicles; foreboding with the 240ZX's ominous history; or empathy for (or even identifying with) any of the main characters. What is perhaps sad about Wangan Midnight is the need for the viewer to identify with the character of the current Akio Asakura, but yet, just seems to go through the motions of setting up the story and the villain (Tatsuya and his BlackBird) as matters of expediency and convenience.


I am sure that many Wangan fans will come to like this anime series. As it stands I may check out some of the later episodes, but this series is not on any priority list.


4.5 (of a possible 10)

Thanks to OMFG for Japanese to English translation.