The machines at the heart of Yowapeda may be powered by just that, heart, but the series is still firing on all cylinders. I can’t say objectively that it’s the best anime airing – I have to give the nod to Hunter X Hunter and Kyousougiga for that title – but there’s a particular joy that comes from watching a great sports anime that’s completely on its game. These are the kinds of shows you really wish were an hour long, because 22 minutes just isn’t enough – the end credits seem to roll just about where you’d expect the eyecatch to be.
Happily, it appears as if this series may just do respectably well on Blu-ray and DVD if the stalker numbers are to be believed – perhaps 4-5000 copies combined when they go on sale later this month, which is almost blockbuster territory for a sports anime that isn’t named Kurobas. My hunch all along was that Yowapeda had the right mix of ingredients to do pretty well commercially – it has appeal to both traditionalists of the genre because of its credibility with the sport (unlike Kurobas) and to fujoshi because it has that particular quality to it that really seems to reach that demographic. Most importantly it’s just really damn good, and for an anime that’s trying to reach for part of its sales outside the tiny demographic box that anime has voluntarily hunkered down inside, that’s a prerequisite if you’re going to have a chance.
I’m really hard-pressed to pick any one element of the series that I like the best, because I like pretty much all of it. Of course it all starts with Onoda, and I suspect the reaction of the gang inside the chase van was pretty similar to that of a lot of the audience – as I said a couple of week’s ago, how can you not root for this kid? He even won over hard-core skeptic Makishima (there are other reasons for that which become clear later in the episode), who was screaming for him as loudly as anybody over the last 250 meters of the climb. There’s certainly no question Onoda’s got Miki-chan solidly in his corner – which is a bit of a slight to Imaizumi all things being equal, considering the two of them are basically osananajimi. But against the charm of Onoda (Coach Pierre chose exactly the right word) even childhood friendship is helpless.
That last sprint to the summit was a firecracker (including a maddeningly-placed eyecatch, just to draw out the torture for a few more seconds), probably the best finish to a fictional bike race since Breaking Away (“Attaboy, Dave!”). What can you do to top Onoda-kun pipping Imaizumi at the wire by drawing strength from “Love, Hime”? Turns out Naruko gave Onoda more than just his spirit – he gave him a quick lesson in “dancing” and a little to spring the moment he saw Imazumi start to do so, pop two gears and come dancing yourself. If you’ve watched any grand tour cycling you’ve seen cyclists dance like crazy on climbs – it’s an absolute must when you want to attack. As Imaizumi himself says, Onoda is a natural cyclist (yes, they do exist) because he picks up everything he’s taught freakishly quickly. He’s also probably at an advantage in mountain finishes because of his high-cadence style, but as Miki says it’s really his heart that drives him to the win – he simply wants it more than Imaizumi does, and Imaizumi wants it pretty damn badly.
The thing is, that’s not the finish of course – the race goes on, though it does so without Onoda. He’s spent everything he has on winning the climb, and he’s so drained that he falls off the bike (again miraculously avoiding both the van and serious injury). This is a nice dose of realism – for all his natural talent Onoda hasn’t been training his body specifically for this kind of torture for years the way the others have – I doubt he redlines very often in riding to Akiba. Still, who knows what would have happened if he hadn’t had to break himself just catching up after the bike catastrophe, and he richly deserves the polka-dot jersey Mr. Pierre gives him as a reward – even if has no idea what it signifies.
I was a bit surprised by the ending of the actual race, both in context and dramatically. I figured Naruko would have the advantage at the finish if Imaizumi weren’t able to drop him, being as he’s a sprinter – and I thought it would be interesting to see Imaizumi struggle with being beaten by both the climber and the sprinter (the curse of the all-arounder in single-day cycling events). On paper I suppose this means Onoda doesn’t make the cut for the Inter-highs, though one could hardly have asked for a stronger statement from a novice cyclist in his first real race. It’s the start of a long journey for him, to turn his natural ability into practicable skill with good old-fashioned practice and training.
In addition to the great dynamic among the big three, I think Yowamushi Pedal wears the yellow jersey when it comes to depicting the third-years and coach, too. Mr. Pierre has made a big impression in little screen-time – funny, smart and a kind soul. And this series may be about the best I’ve seen at depicting the relationship between the third-years and the new kids – the sempai are tough but quite openly supportive and encouraging. Kinjou is a real leader, Tadakoro an overgrown teddy bear and as for Makishima, he has a special affinity for Onoda. As a climber he can’t help but respect what he’s just seen Onoda do – give everything he has to win the King of the Mountains and surrendering a chance to win the overall title in the process – and he seems a natural fit to be a mentor for the green rookie, who has all the makings of a climbing specialist himself. But most great all-arounders start out as climbers, too, and I don’t think Imaizumi should rest easy as he wears that crown – for the moment.