Updated: Jan 17, 2021
So for most of us car folk, television and movie cars have definitely played a part in our lives. From unforgettable cartoons like Transformers and M.A.S.K., to live action films like Ghostbusters and Smokey and the Bandit, it was more about the car than the actual story or timeline of the show and/or film. Many shows were repetitive with the good guy stopping the bad guy with his awesome car, but we didn't care, we just wanted to see the vehicles, especially as kids. In Japan never really took the automotive industry into much thought in the entertainment business and even less thought into Japanese Anime until the late 90's.
Japan had a few shows with cars, but weren't really part of the story. You'd see something like Misato's Renault Alpine A310 in the beginning of Neon Genesis Evangelion, but rarely ever see it again. Or vehicles that were around just to help the characters get around like Lupin the III's Fiat 500. No, Japan at the time focused more on space travel, mecha/robotics, and Kaiju; you know, science fiction.
There are absolute individual classics with cars, trucks, and bikes that anyone will recognize from the anime like Kaneda's motorcycle from Akira, but what I want to do is introduce to you some anime's where the vehicle, is intertwined into such an intricate role of the story where if there is no vehicle, there is no show. Unfortunately I'm going to have to skip the most popular one of all, Initial D., simply because it's the most obvious anime choice to watch, and recommend in the car culture world.
Speed Racer believe it or not, is Japanese anime. Also known as Mach GoGoGo, it features a family of rally racers and it's main driver, Go Mifune, on how they raced across several tracks, conditions, and terrains around the world in their specialty build cars. Go Mifune and the Mifune family were renamed in the American adaptation as Speed Racer and the Racer family. Throughout the races, a masked vigilante participant known as Racer X, helps Speed in and out of the races, even if that means not winning. The show only produced 52 episodes between 1967 and 1968, but has remained popular in ever since it's creation. Spawning recreations in 1997 (Mach GoGoGo), 2002 (Speed Racer X), 2008 (Mach Girl), and even a live action film in 2008 as well. With an unforgettable intro song, creative villains, comedic supporting cast, amazing gadgets and tools, and the sounds of real motors vehicles, Speed Racer is a show to sit around and have fun watching without a care in the world.
Future GPX Cyber Formula aired 37 episodes in 1991 and was followed by 4 OVA series between 1992 and 2000. Cyber Formula is a science-fiction series when race cars are equipped with computer support systems, or 'Cyber Systems' as they say. The series focused on the interaction between the teams Cyber System called Asurada, its driver Hayato and the growth between the two throughout the series. Future GXP definitely shows that in its artistry, with fully eccentric details in not just the racing, but throughout it's scenery, characters and track designs. Other details are also shown in the garages as crews work on cyber cars with clearly recognizable parts from brake calipers, exhaust tubing, cages and etc. Even more can be seen in crash scenes. Future GPX Cyber Formula is one to watch and can possibly even show the future of racing through A.I. So sit down, turn on the show, and simply enjoy everything every little detail.
One show under the radar and rarely even brought up is Capeta. Here, you follow a boy named Taira Capeta and the entire series is broken into 3 story arcs. It starts with following Capeta from a young age starting in cart racing and his ability to control and think while on the track. It moves onto Formula 3 in arc 2, and finally into Formula 1 in arc 3. Throughout the 52 episode series, it takes you through the ups and downs of a driver and his dreams on reaching the big stage. The show itself took some tips from another popular racing show, Initial D., and used a combination style of hand animation and CGI. Building rivals and friends through determination and willpower on the track. Capeta can easily pull at your heart strings in not knowing what will happen next. I highly recommend this to any, any open wheel racing fan at any level.
1996's Bakuso Kyodai Let's & Go!! is a show definitely geared towards kids. But what's wrong with that? Also known as "The Racing Brothers Let's Go!!" it starts with a set of brothers, Retsu and Go, are given 4WD RC cars and told to customize them and be ready for their first race. From there, the show takes off and through their competion with the other racers, but also with one another, as they meet friends and create friendly rivalries. Teaming up together to take down other RC racing factions, they race to not only save themselves, but their friends also. Although the show never hit it big in the US, it was popular enough to warrant a video game and a movie. The show was even sponsored partly by the modeling company, Tamiya. The show has some great animation for the race scenes with some amazing obstacles and terrains, it makes you feel like running out and picking up yourself an RC set and setting up your own track in your very own backyard.
Let's take two wheels off and head into the world of endurance bike racing with 1986's Baribari Densetsu or Baribari Legend. The short 2-part episode, also known as "Vroom vroom Legend", tackles the excitement of the dynamic motorcycle scene and dangerous touge lifestyle of Japan. Main rider Gun Koma must deal with high school, emotions, and the competition. Written by Shuichi Shigeno nearly 12 years before he published Initial D., you can find many similar traits between the shows. As the manga of Shigeno's succesor to Initial D., Baribari Densetsu, also used real life makes and models like the Honda CB750F and Suzuki's GSXR 750 Katana's throughout the show. You'll be in for a treat seeing all of the hand drawn depictions of working suspension, engine details, throttle twisting, and first person view angles. You definitely need to watch if you’re into Japanese motorcycles, old-school endurance racing, and MotoGP. In fact, on Namco's MotoGP for Playstation 2, Gun Koma appears as a hidden character in the game.
Ex-Driver for its time, kind of shows what one variation of the automotive world could be like with all vehicles going autonomous. In a world where vehicles are autonomous and digital, what happens if a car goes and runs amuck? Goes AWOL? Or is hacked? Come in are the Ex-Driver's who hold actual driver's licenses and can operate gas powered vehicles to stop those electric autonomous cars. The OVA series only spans 6-episodes and 1 movie, but it is thrilling to watch and see the all of the makes and models in this show. The 3 main characters start in a Caterham Super7, Lancia Stratos, and a Lotus Europa. You'll find that all the Ex-drivers in the show have a compassion towards the vehicles and the thoughts of properly caring, maintaining them, driving them, and admiring them for what they are. Even though this debuted in 2002, if you watch it now, it does make you wonder if eliminating the human aspect of driving, should truly be eliminated.
In 2009, the film Redline was introduced to the world by the studio Madhouse, and was the final film by Daisuke Gori who also was involved in many famous projects as in Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam, Dragonball, Cowboy Bebop, and One Piece. Redline stars James Punkhead or "JP" racing in a Mafia fixed race with his TransAm20000. He fails the final elimination race, but is voted in by popular vote to race in the finals on a hostile Cyborg planet. Jaw dropping animation styles with deep shadows and bright colors make the film easy on the eyes. Not to mention that the dubbing is much more clear and understandable. Music tempo trends throughout the movie matches each scene simultaneously with each change. The racing on Redline through attacking cyborgs, mafia controlled talent, and adrenaline driven improvisation, meanwhile still building friendships, certainly creates one exhilarating film to watch.
Even though it's only a 2-episode OVA, the randomly titled Goddamn caters to those all terrain rally driven fans. Released in 1990, the Seiou Group gives an accident prone, yet talented Gen Todoroki, a chance to drive in the WRC Safari Rally. There he's given a Ford Sierra Cosworth to take on the likes it's rivals like the Toyota Supra, Subaru Legacy, Audi Quattro, Lancia Delta, and more. The episodes only cover from the point of the Seiou group approaching Gen, and ends at the end of the Safari Rally. But what happens in between is truly masterful as the hand drawn body lines and coloring definitely define each and every vehicle from start to finish. Showing realistic style damages and the stress put on the navigators, gives a more realistic feel to the anime in a WRC race. Overlaying the OVA with not just action, but also a bit of mystery and comedy, the 2 episodes keeps things heartfelt and egg you on to wanting more at the end, if you can find it.
Two Car is certainly and completely different from most of the shows in this list. For one, the protagonist are female instead of being male, and it drags you into the world of side car racing. Childhood friends Yuri Miyata and Megumi Meguro are total opposites, and periodically butt heads with one another. But they also complement each other perfectly on the course. This 12 episode series shows how Yuri and Megumi take on the rest of the High School Division racers across Japan, but how they take on one another as well. The series goes to show how much trust each driver and rider need to have in one another in order to make side car racing work. One of the most dangerous of motorsports, trust in one another is the most important aspect. Released in 2017, the animation is much more clear and refined. Two Car takes the typical high school girls style anime, and throws them into a lightweight speed demon.
And for last, Wangan Midnight is one everyone has to see. It never received the same accolades or popularity as Initial D., but it also wasn't as widely promoted worldwide. Meanwhile Initial D. respectively focused on touge racing, Wangan Midnight focused on straight line speed and highway racing. Wangan Midnight also was more technological in its references to vehicles, repairs, parts and even installation. Akio Asakura is looking for a fast car, and he finds one in the midst of a junked Fairlady Z S30 (240Z) with a history of killing its owners, thus being dubbed the "Devil Z." Think of this as a series based on the Playstation 2's Tokyo Extreme Racing game. In which, Wangan Midnight spawned several of it's own video games (12 total) and even a live action adaptation in 2009. Much like Initial D., Wangan Midnight takes the driver through an emotional roller coaster and helps him grow. With the wild and extreme euro scene in Japan like RWB and ERST, this show focuses more on European models as well. With upbeat music and tempo during the races, and amazing visuals, it'll make you feel excited and to get wrenching on your own vehicle again.
Now not all of these shows tailor to everyone. Some may even find only certain episodes to their liking. And some may not like any at all. But for the most part, I wanted to share some over looked anime that that stand out for us folks in this car culture world. So also keep in mind that these aren't listed in any particular order, so watch what you want, when you want. Regardless of the type of vehicle, it's fun to watch and recognize vehicles, see what crazy ideas can be built, or even see how extreme designs can look on the big screen in the comfort of your own home. Nonetheless, it is fun and exciting to watch shows that support the motor heads and their hobby's.
Honorable Mentions: You're Under Arrest; Shotokan Boogie; Riding Bean; F-Zero; Monkey Turn; Yoroshiku Mechadock;
Most images are provided by: Google Images.
AE86 image by: https://www.deviantart.com/aerodesign94
Mach 5/Trixie by: https://www.deviantart.com/kerong