There are countless manga devoted to the subject of cars, but rarely do they leap off their comic book pages into the world of anime. Any self-respecting JNCer knows a few, but before Initial D or Wangan Midnight, before even Shakotan Boogie, there was Yoroshiku Mechadoc.
Written and illustrated by Ryuji Tsugihara and published from 1982 to 1985, the manga told the story of the mechanic-doctors at a small tuning shop in eastern Japan. The protagonist, Jun Kazami, worked at the shop with a colorful cast of characters, but in his off time what he really wanted to do was go racing.
In 1984 Mechadoc was turned into an anime, airing on Saturday nights for a run of 30 episodes. Though comparisons to Speed Racer are inevitable, the wonderful thing about Mechadoc is that all the cars in it were real. Genuine engine sounds were even recorded for the anime. Tsugihara’s automotive knowledge was quite thorough, and cars won races because of tuning, not giant saw blades.
Speaking of races, the Mechadoc crew wasn’t tied to any one particular sort. It starts out with Jun finding a Toyota Celica XX in a junkyard one day (yes, it’s hard to believe an A60 would already be scrap, but in slight fairness they did debut in Japan in 1981). He brings it back to life — in the process boring it out, adding twin turbos and nitrous — for competition in a Cannonball Run-style cross-country race. Later on, they add to the fleet a mid-engined Honda CR-X for zero-yon (drag racing) and a Z31 Fairlady Z for the circuit.
The rest of the automotive cast is made up of cars any JNCer would recognize. There’s the SA22 Mazda RX-7 driven by rival tuning shop Champ, the “Tuning God” who drives only S30 Fairlady Zs (incidentally, voiced by the the same actor behind Bunta Fujiwara in Initial D), and a band of broke-ass bosozoku dudes in a TA22 Celica 1600GTV for comic relief.
Classics like the Sports 800, kenmeri Skyline GT-R, and Toyota 2000GT also make prominent appearances throughout the series. Some are ridiculously modified to what were undoubtedly Tsugihara’s dream builds — a mid-engined Pulsar EXA or Subaru 360 powered by a Mazda rotary, for instance.
Throughout the series, everything from an Isuzu Piazza to a second-gen Honda Prelude make appearances. Even semi-famous racers like the Celica LB Group 5 Silhouette have a cameo.
Right now in Japan, Subaru is kicking off a marketing campaign featuring the cast of Mechadoc. Though Fuji Heavies weren’t featured prominently in the original series, Subaru thinks the Levorg wagon, unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show last November, is the perfect car for 80s kids who grew up with Mechadoc.
Though not as well known in the West as internet-age series like Initial D, it made a lasting impression on a whole generation of Japanese children. The anime continued to be aired in reruns after it ended, and there have been countless toy tributes to its star cars. The most recent were just released last year by Kyosho. Tsugihara went on to pen other automotive anime like Restore Garage 251 and F-1 Club.
Special thanks to Ryu Asada.