I’m on a short trip spending Christmas in Nagano, so the posts may be a little shorter and later than usual this week – bear with me. Don’t take it as any sign that my love for this series is waning – because I’m still on the leadout train big-time. And it’s not just me – as the Stalker numbers predicted Yowamushi Pedal had a very good first week. In fact it actually beat the projections, but it was expected to do a lot of storefront (read: Otome Road) business, so that’s not a real surprise. The numbers – 2574/3103, for 5677 total. For a sports anime that’s fantastic, and it’s nice to see my suspicion that Yowapeda had the right mojo to move some discs was correct.
Of course anyone who follows the business closely knows that a mix which includes more DVDs than Blu-rays means a title hit with the fujoshi market big-time. And with episodes like this one, it’s not hard to see why – an indirect kiss between Onoda and Manami-kun, and a smitten stare afterwards complete with starbursts and moonbeams? Well – whatever moves plastic, it doesn’t bother me. There are definitely times when this series just flat-out winks at the audience when it comes to its appeal, but it’s actually kind of charming in its own way and a small price to pay if it means this richly deserving show is going to commercially succeed (and maybe even enough to net a second season, who knows).
Nothing really changes as far as the overall quality is concerned – this series just brings it, every week. Every sports anime needs a training arc, and we get ours in the form of a trip to a cycling course (complete with onsen) in Izu – which is near Hakone, explaining Manami’s presence. The challenge is simple – cycle 1000 KM in 4 days, or you’re out of the Inter-highs. That’s an insane distance, of course, and two of the second-years have bailed because they knew they couldn’t hack it. Two others are giving it their best – Teshima (Kishio Daisuke) and Aoyagi (Matsuoka Yoshitsugu) and I confess I don’t know which is which, but one of them looks just like Kitaro from GeGeGe no Kitaro.
There are several wrinkles here. The first is that Kinjou has tampered with the bikes of the three lead first-years to make their challenge harder. He’s removed Naruko’s lower handlebars to nullify his speed, Imaizumi’s gears to force him to rely on physicality over strategy, and replaced Onoda’s wheels with enormously heavy old-school ones to neuter his climbing. The second wrinkle is that he hasn’t told Kinjou what he’s done because he wants the rookie to start figuring stuff out on his own. And the third wrinkle is that “experienced rider” Suginami-kun is showing up as a stealth candidate to crash the party. He completes the same 40 laps (200 KM) on the first day as Imaizumi and Naruko, but ten minutes faster. Yes, it was with an unaltered bike – but I’ve suspected far a while that Suginami was going to transcend the “all show, no go” trope and prove to be both tougher and more talented than it appeared at first.
No question about it, this is a pretty nasty challenge Kinjou has laid out for the rookies. He’s asking them to do more than the third-years normally do, and to do it with their strongest attributes nullified. Fair? It’s a tough call – but I’m with him pretty much up to the point where he decides not to tell Onoda what’s going on. That feels like asking too much to me – Onoda is at enough of an experience disadvantage as is – but I think Kinjou wants to find out just exactly what Onoda is capable of, and quickly. Fortunately for Onoda Makashima proves to be a bro, big-time – or maybe it’s just the fraternity of climbers (or simple obstinance) that makes him spill the beans to Onoda.
Whatever the reason Makashima scored some major points with me here by taking it on himself to help out a rookie in need, even if it meant going against his captain. I love his advice in the form of a hint – if you win, take all the credit. If you lose, blame the equipment. It’s spoken lightly, but the meaning is serious – you can’t be too hard on yourself emotionally if you’re going to survive as an athlete. Even with all the help Onoda only manages 165 KM on the first day, but he’s managed to defy expectations at every turn so far, and I expect him to get to the 1000 KM before the four days are over.