|Takumi usually has a very placid expression, even when racing,|
but as he races a scornful opponent in the third episode, his
intensity shows on his face.
Just like with the first season, I enjoy Second Stage primarily for the races. Still, there are a few notable differences between seasons. I'll start with the positives: Takumi, the main character, meets challenges he can't overcome with the current state of his car, an old Toyota AE 86 Trueno. (The car is mostly referred to as an 86, not "eighty-six" but "Eight Six.") Takumi is forced to learn more about automechanics, whereas he relied primarily on experience and talent for victory before. His father continues to guide his growth as a racer, and he helps make changes to the car.
Other differences, I'm not so happy with. There is a big change in animation between the first and second seasons. Granted, the art wasn't exactly pretty before, and the new look is... shinier, I guess. It's probably supposed to be better. But there are a few characters who almost look like different people. One of the Takumi's most respectable opponents, Ryosuke, even has a different hair color, and I don't think it's because he picked up a package of hair dye. His whole appearance is off.
And then there's the romance piece... In the first season, Takumi grew close with Mogi Natsuki, a girl he knew from school. In Second Stage, they still have feelings for each other. However, an anonymous busybody tells Takumi a secret about Natsuki. He deals with the news like the clumsy teenager he is. This part is executed decently, I admit, but I don't enjoy it.
Despite all my negative comments, I've watched Initial D: Second Stage three times now, and I continue to enjoy it. I can't bear to give the season less than four stars out of five. Takumi's development as a racer is fun to watch, and I've grown fond of a few of the secondary characters as well.