If you’re wondering why Japan seems to have an inordinate number of Lotus Europas, the answer can be found in Satoshi Ikezawa’s Circuit Wolf. From January 1975 to June 1979, the wildly popular manga was one of the many car-themed comics that originated in Japan during the Showa Era. As popular as Initial D during its time, it has sold 17 million copies. Recently, a special Circuit Wolf exhibit completed its two-city tour in celebration of the 50th anniversary since Ikezawa was first published.
Circuit Wolf is the story of Yuya Fubuki, a young street racer whose favored car is a white Lotus Europa. After a couple of local races, he is noticed by Mr. Yatabe, a businessman seeking to assemble a professional team. From there, Fukubi rises through the ranks, from the Tsukuba Class A License series to the Fuji Freshman Cup to Formula 3 and finally to Formula 1. Along the way, there are rivals, love interests, and battles to the literal death.
Circuit Wolf stood in sharp contrast to the wildly popular Speed Racer, using real locations, real circuits, and real cars. And not just any cars, but super exotic foreign machinery that included the Ferrari Dino, Lamborghini Miura P400S, Porsche 911 Carrera RS, Lancia Stratos, and Maserati Bora, among many others.
Though Japanese cars were also included, they tended to play a more minor role. Perhaps the most prominent car was the Toyota 2000GT of Fubuki’s main rival, but also included were icons like Nissan’s Fairlady Z432R, 240ZG and TS Cup Sunny; Mazda’s Cosmo Sport, RX-2 and RX-3; and one of the coolest concoctions from Ikezawa’s mind, a Toyota Celica Liftback swapped with a 5.0-liter V8 from a Toyota 7
Even some of the characters are said to have been based on real drivers at the time. The pilot of a rotary-powered March is said to have been based on an amalgam of Takashi Yorino and Yoshimi Katayama. A Miura-driving street racer-turned pro is said to have been based on Toyota works driver Minoru Kawai. The character dates Fubuki’s sister, a fashion model, who is said to have been based on real-life model Rose Ogawa, who married Kawai in 1970. Masami Kuwashima, Toshio Suzuki, Noritake Takahara, Kazuyoshi Hoshino, and Tom Price are all said to have Circuit Wolf analogues.
The 50th anniversary exhibit took place at Tokyo’s Nakano Broadway shopping center before moving to Takashi Murakami’s Animanga Zingaro gallery in Nagoya. Covers, pages, and photos of inspiration cars were loving displayed in a museum-like setting.
Naturally, because it’s Japan, a plethora of commemorative swag was also available for purchase. Items included t-shirts, postcards, stickers, bags, and diecast models of Fubuki’s Europa and the fictional Yatabe RS, based on a Ferrari Dino 206 S.
Circuit Wolf was a defining story for its time. It spawned a live-action film, an original video anime, and a comic sequel in the 90s. Ultimately, it was so popular that it’s even credited with fueling Japan’s supercar boom of the late 1970s. The result was a massive importing of exotic European machinery during the Bubble Era, and one can still see many of these cars prowling the highways of Tokyo today.
Images: Animanga Zingaro