It should occur to you that most popular mangas and anime aren’t about sports. You’ll mostly find isekai, romance, slice-of-life, comedy, or a mix of those genres to be the most trending at this day and age. If you’re a car enthusiast, you’re out of luck. Choices are limited to either Initial D or Wangan Midnight; the only two franchises that granted enough success to be relevant, and if you look further, underrated ones that may or may not be available to read online. Japan is essentially culturally rich in the automotive world, being the source of many long lasting trends such as itasha. That being said, why is there little for car enthusiasts to read or watch?
First and foremost, automotive genres come under a niche market. Granted, car enthusiasts are all over the world, but those with a fascination for manga and anime effectively cuts down the population to a small number. This hasn’t excluded people that aren’t willing to buy tankobons or standalone mangas. Speaking of which, writing emotional moments into motorsport-themed stories is difficult. Keeping a good balance between an attractive story and the action sought by car enthusiasts is something that may cause one side to be favored over the other. Alas, no series by far has managed to have a good portion of the two.
(From top to bottom: A selection of main characters from Over-Rev, Initial D, and Wangan Midnight)
Aside from the less-favored genre, you’ll notice that most of the talk on a series, regardless of whether it is getting animated or not, is its characters. Most fandoms will have artwork, discussions, and other content for the characters. They are a crucial part of most stories, after all. There are many factors to consider what makes a character appeal to readers and/or watchers, but it can be boiled down to their personality and appearance. How the mangaka portrays them is paramount, which explains our first point: most automotive-related mangas do not have the character appeal required to attract the majority. This is undeniably subjective, but most of the characters in said categories are either drawn too realistically, feel too comparable to one another, or suffer from an outdated artstyle. Make no mistake, there are characters from older series that aged very well in design, but most carried properties of modern characters or possessed cartoonish elements, which helps in adapting to the modern times. The obsession with older styles is a thing, but more to ones that have cuter artstyles.
A likable personality is also a great asset, something that is nearly absent in most automotive mangas. Granted, the focus of it may be the thrills of racing or the cars themselves, but it doesn’t help when it comes to developing demand for merchandise. Statues or posable figures of many series are hot sellers, but series like Initial D and Wangan Midnight only get scale models of the vehicles.
(A recent Tomica release of the Devil Z from Wangan Midnight)
When there is virtually no interest in the characters, expansion and variety in the goods that help support the series is basically impossible. It’s common practice in the US to sell real-life limited runs of a car that has a significant role in any piece of successful media, but keep in mind that said model needs to still be in production, unless it is a one-off made for the auctions. With the recent decline of the automotive industry for most car enthusiasts, bigger tie-in products are out-of-the-question.
(The 2010 Chevrolet Camaro Bumblebee Edition, serving as a tie-in to the Transformers live-action movies)
Unless it makes use of fictional models or is backed by a company like Tamiya, acquiring rights for the cars is another obstacle. Although mangakas are technically allowed to feature actual brands and products in their works, they are generally avoided as copyrights and other rules have gotten stricter overtime, with most using altered names and parodies. But to enable proper, legal merchandising, there is a requirement for purchasing the rights for the subjects used in the series. Unless the manufacturer is forgiving, the cost of including official products is pricey and a long, complicated process. Some brands may already sign contracts with other companies, which effectively denies cooperation with other parties.
p class=”MsoNormal”>Lastly, the creation process. Being an amateur digital illustrator myself, drawing cars and the background is time consuming even with references. Most mangakas work under a deadline unless their publisher/fandom allows for longer breaks between issues/volumes. Complications follow with the angles and viewpoints to make for more dynamic visuals. This, combined with having to write the stories (unless both roles are taken by two or more people) creates much more of a challenge than those developing a normal series. Assuming that it gets an anime adaptation, it will most certainly have 3D elements, as going full 2D would be a death wish; unless there is enough funding and management from a capable animation studio. Suppose it goes for a mix of both 2D and 3D, the studio would need to create its own models. 3D modeling of vehicles takes time, even more so when interiors are included. Lower production costs are assured, but to make it visually appealing is a taxing objective in itself. Should most of the audience deem it unwatchable, consider the whole project a failure. The efforts, combined with the risk in the processes for a niche market, is a bet that no sensible business would take.
p class=”MsoNormal”>That being said, some mangakas, new and old, are still working on their brainchilds. New generations of the genre continue with MF Ghost’s anime adaptation and Mini4King, another entry focusing on the once-popular Mini 4WD toys written by the same creator of Shaman King. It is still highly unlikely that automotive-themed series will reach mainstream levels of attention and support, but by no means impossible.
(Images sourced from HobbySearch toy store and Cnet)