IroIro Retro Emporium Logo\\


Here is an anime that not many remember and didn’t really get a lot of praise when it first came out. It was by Kousuke Fujishima who had made quite the name for himself in the 90s having created Ah! My Goddess! And You’re Under Arrest. Those both continue to be considered his best works for a lot of people and when Ex-Driver came out it had a lot to live up to. At the time, it was a reasonably enjoyable series of OVAs with plenty of fast cars and cute girls, but certainly not on the same level as his previous works. However, now that twenty years have passed since it’s release, this anime has proven to be surprisingly on the ball with its predictions of the future, now coming closer to reality. As such, it can be revisited and enjoyed on a totally different level.

Ex-Driver envisages a future where all cars are electric and self-driving. If someone needs to get somewhere, they just walk up to a terminal, insert their bank card, and request one of these vehicles pull up and drive them where they need to go. If they haven’t decided their destination, like deciding on a restaurant to eat at, they can select from a touch screen in the car as various options are displayed before them. It’s a pretty idyllic vision, but there’s always the potential for the AI controlling one of these vehicles to malfunction, resulting in runaway cars with passengers trapped inside. When this happens, it’s the Ex-Drivers to the rescue. They’re a team of professional drivers at the wheel of various “antique” gas powered cars that need human drivers. When a self-driving car is on the fritz, they’ll be sent out to neutralize it and rescue its occupants.

While the benefits of electric cars, and self-driving vehicles have been hot button issues over the last few years, when it appeared in Ex-Driver during the late 90s, this was all pie in the sky thinking. It was a very vague idea that not many took seriously. In this age of Teslas, DARPAs, and Boston Dynamics, people have much more sophisticated views of electric vehicles and artificial intelligence. What seemed like a distant dream when this anime first came out feels more like something that is just around the corner now. It’s really interesting to see this in a twenty year old OVA series.

The drivers themselves are a young lot with Lisa and Lorna being two high school girls that have been on the team for a little while. They are quickly joined by a boy named Soichi who is a few years younger than them but is quite bright and skipped grades resulting in him being in their class. Each of them has a very different personality. Lisa is high energy, doesn’t like studying, and has a very high opinion of her driving skills. Lorna is much more serious and noticeably quieter. She’s very good at her job but doesn’t like to be the center of attention. Meanwhile, Soichi is very passionate about cars. When he’s not in class or chasing down runaway vehicles, he’s usually taking apart and working on his own car, making sure it stays in top driving condition. The dynamics between these personality types is about what one would expect with some older characters hovering on the periphery ensuring the kids stay on the straight and narrow.

Seeing as this show is by Kousuke Fujishima, his signature art style is front and center. Lorna could easily pass for Belldandy’s little sister given how she looks. People who like this style will have plenty to soak in here what with all of the characters. He even throws in a fan service character with Rei Kazama, a freelance ex-driver who rides a motorcycle. There generally isn’t much fan service in this series, but the episode she appears in has it cranked up to 11.

There’s also a fair bit of eye candy with the classic cars present in the show. Lisa starts out driving a late 90s Impreza WRX, but quickly switches to a mid-70s Lancia Stratos. Meanwhile, Lorna drives a Lotus Europa, and Soichi has a Lotus Super Seven. There are actually a few Lotuses in the show but it’s unclear whether this is because the studio struck a deal to showcase the cars or if Fujishima just really liked them. Toward the end of the series, there are also a number of 90s Japanese sports cars that make an appearance when a group of gas powered car driving rivals show up to challenge the ex-drivers. In any case, people who enjoy ogling older cars will have plenty to look at here.

With all of these fast cars around, there are plenty of driving scenes to soak in as well, and they’re generally pretty fun to watch. Most of the action involves chasing down runaway cars, but Lisa and Soichi has a bit of a rivalry that keeps things interesting. The best scenes come in the last two episodes when the aforementioned rival faction comes into the picture. Given that it turns the ex-drivers’ job into 4v3 encounters, there’s a lot more dynamics to the driving at that point, which is far more exciting.

Meanwhile, the show’s music is excellent. It was composed by Masumi Itou who has worked on a ton of series including Haibane Renmei and Azumanga Daioh. In Ex-Driver, the prominent genre of music present is drum and bass. With the soft, break beat tunes that compliment the team’s driving, one has to wonder if Itou was trying to tap into the popularity of Ridge Racer Type-4, which came out not long before this anime. Much of the music in Ex-Driver could easily be placed into that game’s soundtrack and be right at home. There are also some pop tunes tossed in, but the vast majority have a striking resemblance to that found in Namco’s popular racing game.

While it may not have turned many heads when it first came out, Ex-Driver is well worth watching in the here and now. The characters and hijinx they get up to are entertaining enough, but it’s the underlying concept of the show that is worth checking out. Yes, it’s something frequently discussed these days what with the whole idea of how reliable self-driving cars might be coupled with a switch to electric vehicles. Given this show came out twenty years ago, it’s surprising how much its predictions overlap with current discussions of the technology.

- IroIro
October 20, 2019

Other Driving Related Anime We've Covered:

- Future GPX Cyber Formula Anime Review

Directed by: Jun Kawagoe
Studio: Actas / Production Reed
Released: 2000 / 2001
Episodes: 6

Ex-Driver Anime Image 1
DVD Cover

Ex-Driver Anime Image 2
Lisa taking a hard corner

Ex-Driver Anime Image 3
Rei stopping a runaway car

Ex-Driver Anime Image 4
Lorna being her concerned, serious self