There are a bunch of sports anime this season – which is a nice change from recent history in and of itself – but there were two shows I was really targeting as keepers. The first, Ace of Diamond, has already premiered and I’ve already blogged it. The other could hardly be more different in many ways, but is still definitely a sports series – Yowamushi Pedal. Where Daiya no A is thoroughly old-school and a sports anime for purists, Yowapeda is a different animal – quirky, definitely mode modern, a bit odd, and with a considerably larger dose of comedy. Diamond no Ace didn’t disappoint – it delivered exactly what I expected from the parts of the manga I read – and so does Yowamushi Pedal.
For all that it’s less grounded in the old ways, Yowapeda is no new kid on the block – Watanabe Wataru’s manga is a serious success in Japan. It’s on 29 volumes and going on six years in print, with strong sales (though not as strong as Ace) showing no signs of slowing down. TMS’ anime adaptation is slated to run for 39 episodes which, as with Ginga e Kickoff, is enough time to give viewers a solid feel for the material even if not to adapt it encyclopedically. As with Ginga we have a solid and experienced director (Nabeshima Osamu) and writer (Reiko Yoshida) and solid if unspectacular animation that gets the job done, even if it’s never going to be the major selling point of the show.
Anyone who’s gone out Ikebukuro Station’s East Exit and headed towards Sunshine City can tell you that Yowamushi Pedal is very popular on Otome Road. This is the realm where Kurobas is king, but Yowapeda may have a chance to be the sleeper among this season’s sports series because of its crossover appeal. It’s certainly not published in a magazine (Weekly Shounen Champion) noted for fujishi hits, and the series isn’t as overtly picture-perfect for that market as Kurobas, but it already has a foothold in that market that’s rare for manga without an anime adaptation. I think there’s enough here to appeal to both sports anime fans and the general anime audience as well – Yowapeda is funny, smartly written and gets the sports side of the equation just about right. There haven’t been many cycling anime (Over Drive – even quirkier than Yowapeda and quite underrated – and the Nasu OVAs are the only ones I recall), and the sport is one that the average non-athlete (especially in Japan, where bikes are ubiquitous) can certainly relate to.
I quite like the both the basic premise behind Yowapeda and the way it’s executed. The hero of the story is the aptly named Onada Sakamichi (Yamashita Daiki, whose age I don’t know but who sounds reasonably believable as an undersized 15 year-old). The very likeable Onada is, quite simply, an otaku. He’s suffered in silence for three years because no one in his middle school wanted to talk about anime or manga, only to find upon arrival in high school that the anime club has disbanded. Onada is serious about his hobby – he frequently cycles 45 KM each way to Akiba to save the Sobu Line train fare for otaku goods. He does this on the humble mamachiri, the cheap single-gear “mommy bike” seen by the millions in Japan (usually with shopping in the basket, and often a small child in the back). He also thinks nothing of riding his mamachiri up the 20% slope to the rear entrance of the high school, so he can sing the “Hime, Hime” the theme from his favorite anime, without being overheard.
It’s while engaged in this activity that Onada encounters fellow freshman Imaizumi Shunsuke (Toriumi Kosuke) – the first such encounter being when Imaizumi’s driver runs Onada off the road. Imaizumi is a bike otaku and a serious racer, and he can’t believe a skinny kid like Onada (or anybody) could handle that grade on a shopping bike. Onada also crosses paths with two girls – the kindly Kanzaki Miki (Suwa Ayaka) and the snarky Tachibana Aya (I never would have guessed it was Han Megumi). Kanzaki is destined to become the manager of the Cycling Club, which Imaizumi is waiting to join until the wannabes have tired of the grind and dropped out. There’s also a clubroom full of buff third-years, each an accomplished cyclist with their own specialty (hills, sprints, all-around) of the type that make up a typical professional cycling team like the ones that compete in the Tour de France. And a very important future club member we haven’t met just yet…
There are elements to this story that aren’t hard to predict – the cycling genius becoming obsessed with the clueless amateur who does what he shouldn’t be able to on a bicycle – but what makes Yowamushi Pedal really work is the inherent humanism in the presentation. Onada is a pretty typical geeky kid – he’s terrified of anyone in athletics, and so beaten down from years of hiding his passion for the otaku life that he lives in constant fear of being exposed. He just wants to share his passion with others who feel the same way – Onada hates jocks, and Imaishi sneers at otaku. It’s the collision of these two worlds that gives Yowapeda its distinctiveness – or more specifically, the way it subtly makes the case for acceptance while still gently poking fun at the peculiarities of both otaku and jocks. It’s not a series that takes itself too seriously but it does have a point to make, and it manages to be a true sports series without being tethered to the limitations of the genre. Of all the new sports anime this season, I think this is the one that can appeal to the broadest spectrum of anime fans – if only they’re willing to look past the genre tags and give it a chance.
ED: “Kaze wo Yokube” by Under Graph