Seinen – Comedy, drama, mature, sports, tragedy
20 Volumes of 28 Volumes (complete)
Media Do (MediBang)
Gunma likes to play around with girls, but what he really loves is to put the pedal to the metal. Unfortunately, in rural Japan, there’s not much he can do to fulfill the need for speed. With the help of his friend Tamotsu, he is able to drive fast in a seemingly normal-looking tractor, but yet he wants to go even faster.
“So what did you do today?”
“Oh, not much. Just read the first volume of some manga about some brash, rebellious rich kid who drives around in a souped-up tractor take some half-naked prostitutes on a joyride. Then his dad tries to make him sleep with his friend with benefits (who’s also the girl he likes) right in front of him, and if he can’t, he’s going to do it himself. But son gets mad and ends up ‘borrowing’ a race car and can’t beat a rich guy in a BMW even when he poops on his opponent’s window to win. Eventually he goes to Tokyo to go all Fast & Furious on the streets of Japan and maybe find someone new to sleep with, like his driving instructor. You?”
“… I ordered a pizza today…”
Yeah, so F has a very high amount of characters who suck. And even when the improve or mature, they have already made so many terrible decisions that it’s nearly impossible to break free from their downward spiral. This series is a whirlpool of tragedies and bad decisions that keep dragging others into it. Stubbornness, pride, justice, love, hate, destiny, coincidence, trust — good or bad, everyone is consumed by something. And that means the manga is one sad event after another. Sometimes, this involves bad luck; in other cases, people are using physical violence to get what they want.
Speaking of violence, this is one series where female characters are treated horribly. If you’re a woman in this manga, there’s about a 9 out of 10 chance you’re going to be sexually assaulted — most likely repeatedly. The 1/10 chance is that you’ll just end up in a relationship with a horrible man. And sleeping with someone does not solve problems, no matter what the ladies in the story think.
So while many (most?) people will take an immediate dislike to Gunma and others, he quickly heads off to Tokyo to make it big in formula racing, aiming to make it to F1. When he moves into a crazy old woman’s house, F is like a British sex farce version of Maison Ikkoku with racing as the goal instead of getting into a university. Unbeknownst to Gunma, there’s a whole business and revenge drama in the background involving his father’s company. The events there end up having a direct or ripple effect on his own life. Through it all, the racetrack is never too far away.
Besides Gunma, among the stars of this drama are:
- Tamotsu, Gunma’s best friend and mechanic who often gets dragged into Gunma’s messes
- Soichiro, Gunma’s father who wants to be in politics
- Tatsu, Soichiro’s wife’s uncle
- Yuki, the maid Gunma was sleeping with
- Shoma, Gunma’s older brother who desires Yuki and is presumed to take over Akagi Conglomerate
- Yuma, the younger brother
- Junko, the driving instructor who has her own reasons for hanging around the racetrack
- Sako, a singer Gunma meets
- Peebo, a boy Sako looks after
- Hiziri, Goro, Davy, Jesus – rival racers
F is a very different story in Volume 1 from Volume 20. When F starts out, Gunma is an immature, delinquent 18-year-old where we repeatedly see him wanting to go fast and sleep with women. As I said, a sex farce where he raids underwear drawers and getting “excited” a lot. On the streets and on the tracks, he repeatedly shouts, “Nobody gets in front of me!” Many times. Repeatedly. To the point you want to punch him.
In the later volumes, events have caused him to question whether he should even be on the track at all. This presents a problem. Yes, Gunma’s outbursts happen throughout the series, but if you like his life at his apartment with his race team living there or nearby, the more drama-filled later volumes are too sobering. On the other hand, if you want to see Gunma grow up and be a hard-working family man who happens to be in a dangerous sport, the early volumes are extremely hard to swallow. As I mentioned before, many times, characters act in the extreme, and that makes it hard to empathize with the characters. But sometimes, you may want a soap opera on steroids like this.
The theme throughout F is “family”. Gunma, as the kid of his father’s mistress, resents Soichiro for not being there for him and his mother, and he’s also not accepted into the Akagi family. Only Yuma considers him a part of the family. But Gunma later has his own problems with family in regards to looking after an orphan and the three women in his life: Yuki, Junko, and Sako. Other characters have to deal with their own messed up relationships, like a lover who died or a parent who abandoned them. The manga switches perspectives and locations often, covering Gunma and company’s work on the racetrack and the transformations at Akagi Conglomerate. F does try to provide a reason for each character’s scars and bad behavior, but a terrible childhood doesn’t mean you can visit that misery on others. I don’t think everyone will end up miserable and resentful, but they will have paid a heavy toll to achieve whatever happiness they’re going to get. That’s where the intrigue of the series lies.
I do want to add that one character’s nickname (and moniker he always goes by) is Jesus Christ. He does have a similar appearance to most depictions of him, and there are questions whether he has extraordinary powers. Still, some readers may take offense the author (and, in the story, the racing world) would use the name of a religious figure. It’s not used as an insult though but more as a comparison because of his looks, demeanor, and his sixth sense. This is something that probably wouldn’t be done in nowadays, as more and more manga are made with a global audience in mind. Other characters occasionally see or talk to ghosts, so there’s a debate to be had whether they are losing their minds or had a paranormal experience, but those are not presented like Jesus’ almost-divine predictions.
Each volume of F has at least two partially-colored or fully-colored chapters per volume. The art is dated but smooth, similar to artists like Takahashi (Inuyasha) and Adachi (Cross Game). The highlights are the racing scenes. This is a series from the 80s, and while I’m sure he relied heavily on photographs and cross-models, it’s still amazing what he drew without modern computer-assisted art. The tracks, the cars, the equipment, the crashes — it’s all so realistic. You feel like you are at the races. I don’t follow racing much, but with the references to real-world events, it seems like Rokuda tried to be very faithful to the real world. It’s also nice to see actual brands instead of knock-offs like “Mulboro” for cigarettes on the cars. The manga also has an issue with walls of text on occasion, and while the purpose is to explain a philosophical or mechanical concept, it ends up having the opposite effect. The initial volumes have more comedic art, with plenty of SD moments and stuff, particularly when Gunma is mad or “in the mood”. It also just plain looks older. Sexual content and violence is shown throughout the story, so expect blood and nudity.
*”Wee Woo” becomes “Peebo” in some volumes. But I found an image where his name is written as “Peebo”, so I’m going with that.
Honorifics are not used. Maps were edited to have English text. The series had several typos throughout the series, but nothing too egregious or makes it hard to read. Still, there are quite a few few parts where it drops the ball. It calls a restaurant where the name is clearly written in English as “Royal Sun” as “Royal Saint” and “Hance Racing” as “Hans”. Matsuura is spelled as “Matsu’ura” and “Matsura” in different volumes, and sometimes names are in Japanese name order. The series also goes from flipping pages the Japanese way to Western way for a few volumes and then back again. A lot of these mistakes are too sloppy for a manga that has been completed in Japan for years.
While racing is a sport many people enjoy, F is not for general audiences. F‘s characters and situations can be nearly impossible to like or relate to, but you may get sucked in by the races and to see who will succumb to a life — or death — of misery.
Rokuda’s Sky and Baron have also been licensed through Media Do.
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