It’s a great time to be a sports anime fan, all the more so with this week’s announcement that tennis manga Baby Steps will be getting an anime adaptation next Spring. That’s one of the best sports manga ever, IMHO, and – like the best ones airing this season – carves a rather unique niche for itself in the genre. Happily Yowamushi Pedal should will still be running then, and I think it’s quite possible Diamond no Ace will be as well – which would make next Spring an even greater season for sports anime than this one.
We’ve seen a lot of evidence in the first five eps of Yowapeda of just how much determination and a natural gift can accomplish, but that can only go so far – and more importantly in this case, so fast. Asking Onoda-kun to compete in a 60 KM multi-stage road race with long flat stretches while riding a mamachari was simply asking too much – and indeed, the original plan was to have him borrow a road racer from Kanzaki’s bike shop, before a traffic jam put a spanner in the works. We can only assume borrowing a bike from one of the third-years wasn’t an option because the frames were simply too big, because when push came to shove Kinjou made Onoda start the race on his mommy bike.
It seems as if this race was more or less a formality – a presumptive anointing of Naruko and Imaizumi as the first-teamers and a chance for them to test their strength against each other. One of the first-years, Kawada, isn’t ready to accept that and sees his only chance in breaking the established rules and speeding ahead of “pace car” Imaizumi during the initial stage in town, where all the riders have been instructed to stay as a pack. There’s a reason for that, of course, which is that with the trials to come a warm-up stage is a must. That’s why Imaizumi doesn’t take the bait and chase Kawada-kun down, knowing that his legs will never hold up and will be caught easily by Naruko and himself at the very least. Kawada may be an experienced athlete, but he’s not an experienced competitive cyclist.
Despite Sugimoto’s repeated claims that he’s an experienced racer, it seems clear that only Onoda could potentially break up the coronation ceremony. But the futility of that becomes clear once the boys are clear of town and speed on the flats becomes a real issue – with only his two front gears he has no chance of keeping up even with the second-tier riders. It gets so bad that he slips his chain in the attempt, and eventually the chase van – carrying Onoda’s replacement bike – catches him. I thought it was funny and more than a little absurd that after laying down the bike and practically getting run over by the van, Onoda doesn’t get so much as a panicked “My God – are you hurt?”, but instead Miki jumps straight to offering him the new bike – and, after a short meditative interlude, the race is finally on for real.
This is a pretty big moment for Yowapeda, obviously, because it’s the first time Onoda’s true potential can begin to be assessed. In truth he’s still at a huge disadvantage, because he’s never ridden anything but a mamachari – and I can’t help but wonder if someone who knew so little about bikes would even know how to shift a 20-speed racer (hopefully the book he sneaked into class last week had some tips). Again we see that Onoda has a natural feel for the sport, though – with the low handlebars forcing him into the proper racing posture, he immediately slips into the zone and looks like he’s been racing for years. At this point the third-years are definitely in the “curiosity piqued” stage, and Imaizumi and Naruko are pretty much openly rooting for Onoda to surprise everyone (including themselves) and keep up.
It’s going to be very interesting to see how Onoda fares in terms of bike-handling skills, because he’s going to need them – the course has a long, straight speedway, a vicious climb, a steep descent (which is a vastly more dangerous and crucial skill in racing than most realize) and a rolling series of short ascents and descents. It’s one thing to have twenty gears – it’s quite another to know how to use them. And with Kinjou having set the bar at two first-years making the first team, there doesn’t seem to be any place for the main character on the podium. But first things first, and that’s catching the second-tier – and we’ve already seen when Onoda can do on climbs, even lugging a 20 KG shopping bike underneath him.