There was a little shortage of Onoda last week as the focus of Yowamushi Pedal broadened significantly for the first time, but the main character was very much back in the spotlight here. And 2014’s version of the Tireless Terrier seems to have found his soul-mate – or slope-mate – in Manami-kun. Onoda’s m.o. is that he’s happy to play with anyone who’s willing to play with him, but in many ways Manami seems like a more natural rival/partner for him even than Naruko or Imaizumi.
Yes, the bromance was played up pretty heavily there between Manami and Onoda – there’s no love like that between climbers, I suppose. Shared water bottles, calling out each other’s names, the perpetual smiles… But if you get past the campy side of it (I still think Yowpeda is winking at the audience a bit when it’s doing this) this is a pairing that makes a lot of sense, narratively. Both of these guys seem, frankly, more interested in the love of hills and the camaraderie than in the competition itself (not that Onoda didn’t show himself fiercely by beating Imaizumi in the welcome race) – personality-wise, they’re a matched set. Manami also provides a natural target for Onoda to chase (Makashima will be gone in a few months, after all). And then there’s the fact that Imaizumi and Naruko’s fated rival is obviously each other – and in sports manga, you can only have one.
In terms of the cycling itself, we’re getting a few obvious lessons here, among them that the old saying “that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” certainly applies to cycling. Just as riding a mamachari for all those years made Onoda a cadence beast, riding Kinjou’s doctored bike has sharpened his ability to use his gears as well as toughened up his legs. When he switches back to his old bike, it’s going to seem like riding on the wind – much as it did when he first rode it after lugging that mommy bike around all those years.
There’s more to this, though, and that’s the fact that it reminds us that Onoda really is a pretty freakish talent. Manami certainly notices it during his pick-up race with Onoda on the training course (which he’s a pro at sneaking onto). Not only is Onoda managing to keep up despite having manhole covers for wheels, but Manami notes that he’s not even wearing racing shoes, just sneakers – which further robs him of about 50% of his pedalling power, which dissipates into the ether through inefficiency. Onoda is obviously not a big kid, so it’s not like he has Tadokoro’s muscles to draw on – he does everything he does through technique (which is basically all instinct, not taught) and stamina. And, of course, determination. This is not an overmatched athlete – this is the real deal. With the right equipment and proper training, Onoda-kun will be an absolute beast on the bike.
All this, of course, is why Manami retracts his deal about not taking his water bottle back despite pulling away and winning the race. He knows the circumstances very well, and just what a handicap Onoda was riding under. The only catch is that he won’t take the bottle back until Inter-Highs. Part of this is certainly incentive to drive Onoda to make sure he gets there, but it’s also Manami’s keen eye telling him what’s obvious – Onoda is simply too good not to be chosen. He’s definitely going to be there, and Hakone better be ready for him.
There’s one other interesting element tied into that, which is that Manami seems to have pulled a very useful bit of scouting for Hakone without having intended to bother. There’s an amusing misunderstanding between he and Toudou about who the “interesting climber” he saw is – Toudou (who virtually seems to be Makashima’s stalker) momentarily wonders if he’s changed his look – but once they get their signals straight, Kinjou’s plan to keep his secret weapons under wraps will have taken a little hit. Toudou seems quite confident that Manami wouldn’t be impressed with anyone who wasn’t flat-out impressive, which should dispel the notion that Souhoku is merely a three-man team. For now Naruko and Imaizumi are still shadow riders, but that too could change easily enough if Hakone decided to really do some digging based on this new information.