This is not meant to be an authoritative list on every cartoon that features detailed cars. This is merely just a list highlighting car themed cartoons worth checking out on YouTube. A few of these only lasted one or two episodes, while others have run for 30 or more episodes. All but Archer are available on YouTube and all are otherwise considered Anime, which by design seems to cater to car enthusiasts.
Nowhere else in animation are inanimate objects treated with such detail than in Anime. Unlike western styles of animation that emphasize character movement; Anime characters are very static, this lets Anime artists focus on detailing objects rather than animating characters. Think back to watching Looney Toons and how generic the backgrounds were. Since there is a lack of character animation, Anime cartoons follow a cinematic style of camera movement. Using panning, zoom, depth of field control and lighting to create the intended atmosphere. Great care and time is spent on 3D visuals and detailed backgrounds to create an immersive world for the characters to live in. This type of visual detailing can be really entertaining to car enthusiasts.
As far as anime goes and car enthusiasts, Initial D is probably the most popular and well known with western audiences. There will be some noticeable differences, cartoons from the 80s and 90s use no computer animation to achieve a high level of detail and Initial D, Wagan Midnight and Archer all rely on computer animation. It’s also important to remember that many of these started as Mangas, a style of comic book, popular in Japan. Assembled below are some of most interesting car themed animes I could find, some more obscure than others.
Goddamn is a rally themed OVA (original video release) anime. It deals with a young Japanese rally car driver trying to get a WRC ride. Specifically it features the legendary Safari rally. There were only two episodes made and some notable car appearances are the hero’s car, a Ford Serra Rally car, a Peugeot T16, Lancia 037 street car, Lancia Delta Integrale Rally car, Subaru Legacy Rally car and Toyota Supra Rally car. The story is odd to say the least, some sort of Japanese corporate European union / rally racing advertising scheme. It’s not really important; just enjoy it for some fanciful, but very detailed and cool rally themed action.
Riding Bean was a single episode OVA that will remind you of the original Transporter movie, except it was made before that movie existed. It’s set in Chicago and pays homage to the Blues Brothers and French Connection, while the main character Bean Bandit lives in that gray area of good and evil we’ve come to expect in modern television. Bean Bandit however seems inspired by Han Solo more than anything else. Then we have Bean Bandit’s partner in crime, who is a liberated 80’s woman named Rally. Rally is some sort of expert marksmen, it’s not really explained. Side note, Rally later reappeared in Gunsmith Cats by the same creator of Riding Bean. This Anime is not safe for work and includes some graphic violence and questionable sexual undertones.
Notable cars to watch for are Bean Bandit’s Knight Rider-esque “Road Buster”. This machine packs a bunch of outlandish features including the ability to drive sideways. As far as realistic rides, there is the Chicago Police Inspector’s ’67 GT500 that he claims is only car that can catch the “Road Buster”, a Scania truck, V12 7 Series BMW, an original Mini cooper and boat load of Dodge Monaco style police cars.
F Motori in Pista
This one is not available in English, only an Italian translation of the Japanese and that makes it difficult to follow, but it has some interesting F1 style racecars. It also probably provided the inspiration for Capeta. Here is the synopsis according to Wikipedia.
The wiki article that’s translated from Japanese to English calls it Crunchy Legend. Shuichi Shigeno who went on to create Initial D, created this manga and anime series first. It shares many similarities with the Initial D series, like high school age kids racing on mountain passes, just on motorcycles this time. From a technical standpoint a lot of the cinematic camera angles feel similar to watching an episode of Initial D.
Yoroshiro Mechadoc aka A Tutto Gas. No good English dubs seem to exist, but has some cool vintage J-tin in it. I suggest reading Ben Hsu’s post on Japanese Nostalgic Car about the series here; http://japanesenostalgiccar.com/2014/01/17/yoroshiku-mechadoc/
Now on to the more modern Anime’s and cartoons, the most noticeable difference is the switch to computer animation for the action sequences. Initial D, Wangan Midnight, Capeta and Archer all use computer animation for the action scenes. It doesn’t take a way too much from the animation, but is a noticeable difference that some people don’t enjoy.
This is an interesting anime, because not only does it have excellent imagery, details and references to actual racing, but it makes an effort to tell a story about a young man coming from nothing and racing his way up the ladder into Formula 3. Anyone who’s watched the Senna documentary knows that life a young racing prodigy is a very compelling story. While the Capeta version has been heavily dramatized, it still makes great entertainment.
Wangan Midnight is similar and related to Initial D, but instead of dealing with Touge Drifting, it centers on Highway Street racing in Tokyo and a cursed Z car! Just like Initial D, Keiichi Tsuchiya is listed as a producer. It is an incredibly detailed anime and you should just watch it. There are too many cool things to list.
Initial D, this is probably the most famous of all car related Anime, it’s got a cool, sort of mysterious story. This is what most westerners think of when they think car related anime. With good reason, the cars are fantastically detailed and are important as characters. Part of this is again, is because Keiichi Tsuchiya produced it.
Keiichi Tsuchiya should be recognizable to most as the “Drift King” and host of Best Motoring / Hot Version. Another interesting bit of trivia about Wangan Midnight and Initial D is that the manga’s have both been published in Young Magazine. This is a magazine geared toward young men, it’s best described as a soft-core porn magazine that features models in bikinis or lingerie. FHM magazine would be something similar in the U.S. What most people don’t know is that Young Magazine’s logo is the “Subaru Rally Pig”. This is because Young Magazine was a minor sponsor on the WRC cars. So the next time you see one on a Subaru, they probably don’t know the real origins or meaning of the logo, in reality they’re advertising a soft-core porn magazine.
A surprising American entry, this show is packed with great car art. There is simply just too much to list. In fact just watch the damn show. There is a fantastic homage to Grand Prix in one episode and a bonus is that Jessica Walter starred in Grand Prix and is also the voice of Mallory Archer. There is another episode that features underground drifting, a Smokey and the Bandit tribute and just this season a fantastic tribute to the Bullet chase scene. There is simply nothing better than an El Camino full of rampage. I suggest reading the Jalopnik article that ran two years ago about the cars of Archer.
The episode “Drift Problem” is not available on YouTube for free, but if you have a Netflix streaming account you can watch all the back seasons currently.