As I mentioned in my Diamond no Ace post on Sunday, one of the hallmarks of a good sports anime is that it always seems to end way too fast, the your internal countdown till the next episode begins as soon as the current one ends. It’s almost unfair, really – it does make these types of shows great for marathoning (but if you value your time, that can be a highly dangerous exercise). If you want to watch them in real-time, there’s nothing for it but to wait a week – unless you want to cheat and read the manga, of course.
Needless to say, Yowamushi Pedal has that same quality to it – and I’m reminded again that we’re really lucky to have two sports series this good airing at the same time (I can’t remember the last time that was the case). So far balance (fittingly) is the key to the recipe here – this is a show that’s serious about sports without being boring to non-sports geeks, cuts through the comedy with drama and vice-versa, and manages to project positivity without being unrealistic. If Adachi series use sports as a means to enlighten character and a show like Ace of Diamond uses character to enlighten us about a sport, I think Yowapeda cuts it right down the middle.
It will surely surprise no one that Naruko ended up at Sohoku High right along with Onoda – no one bar Onoda that is, who seems to maintain an unshakable ability to be surprised by everything. Naruko isn’t so much a character as a force-of-nature – a relentless gale of pure Osaka rough-hewn friendliness and a willing evangelist for bike racing. A chance meeting at the school store leads to a further opportunity for Naruko to sell Onoda on the joys of competitive cycling – like a persistent mosquito buzzing in Onoda’s ear his sales pitch never stops.
One of the things that makes Onoda such a great main character for me is that he’s a “gamer” in the truest sense of the word. For all that he’s been beaten down by his social isolation, he’s not someone who revels in misery – he genuinely wants to be happy. And not only that, he actually tries to do things that will improve his station, and manages to be open to new ideas that he would never have considered before. He’s not remotely ashamed of being an otaku – he takes pride in it and risks public embarrassment for the possibility of finding others to share his passion with. Onoda rides a bit of an emotional roller-coaster but you know, he smiles an awful lot – and for a character of his description in anime, that’s an incredibly refreshing change. His sunny disposition suffuses the entire show, and what could be a bit of a grim and depressing scenario is instead upbeat and brimming with possibilities – because that’s how Onoda sees the world, in spite of all he’s been through.
Take, for example, Onoda’s first day as the Cycling Club. A scary moment, no doubt, presenting yourself for inspection by the scary-looking (and huge) third-years he watched (thanks to clever Naruko) powering up the rear slope the day before. But Onoda takes it in stride, and even when Miki tells him he can’t possibly ride is mommy bike on rollers to warm up for the “welcoming race” for the first-years, Onoda just smiles and says “That’s fine – I’m used to falling off my bike.” I think that line is a bit of a sneaky metaphor for Onoda’a character in general, in fact – instead of making him timid Onoda’s battle-scars have made him tough and resilient. And he promptly heaves the 20 KG monster onto the rollers and rides without a problem, while the other first-years (apart from the experienced Imaizumi and Naruko) ride on blocks, despite being athletic club veterans from middle school.
As for that race, it seems like a traditional hazing – a 60 KM slog over a mountain and around a damn – but in fact the Captain Kinjou Shingou (Yasumoto Hiroki) intends to use it to select two freshmen to ride in the prelims of the Inter-highs, where Sohoku is hoping to unseat the powerful Hakone High (so rich the team has its own velodrome). And Kinjou too has spotted something unpredictable and interesting in the mamachari boy, thinking he might just upset the assumed ascension of Imaizumi and Naruko to the team. His third-year teammates are Makishima Yuusuke (Morikubo Showtaro) and Tadokoro Jin (Itou Kentarou). Among the first-years is Sugimoto Mifurute (Miyata Kouki, who I can’t hear anymore without seeing Mama Red Squirrel), a big talker who’s probably nowhere near as experienced as he makes himself out to be but I’m guessing is a pretty nice guy under all the bluster.
As if all that weren’t enough for a very fulfilling episode, we got a bonus appearance from Onoda’s favorite mahou shoujo after the credits. “Hime” Himeno Kotori is played by no less than Yukari Tamura, while the ram (I think) who rides on her head is played by Suwabe Junichi (who of course is also playing the bike-shop owner and Onoda’s future brother-in-law Tooji). Imaizumi-kun still says he “doesn’t get it” but hey, he’s still watching – I think his resistance is wavering – and of course it’s Hime-chan that Onoda takes his “challenging myself is exciting!” cues from. And he’s going to need it if he’s going to ride that 60 KM course on his mamachari against five guys on road racers, no matter how much of a natural he is.