If you’ve been paying attention there have been a number of hints that the two second-years, Teshima and
Kitaro Aoyagi, were going to be entering the drama soon in a big way. Besides their presence in the OP and ED, within the episodes themselves they’ve sort of been hanging just on the edge of your frame of vision. You look over and they’re gone – the camera never seemed to settle on them for long. Kinjou has been making the odd comment here and there too, fully aware of what was coming. But it was certainly easy to forget about them quickly enough.
Until now, that is. This is definitely the week on Yowamushi Pedal were things get serious, starting with good-natured Onoda himself. The stage has been set – all the Souhoku riders have settled into routines with the doctored bicycles, both the enemies and rivals (as Taichi would tell you it’s two different words, Crunchyroll) have been introduced, and the stakes have been clearly established. Now it’s just about going out and making it happen, and that’s where the real competition begins.
Hakone’s Manami-kun may be a climbing specialist, but if that doesn’t pan out he might want to consider behavioral psychology. His bottle ploy with Onoda had exactly the desired effect – it jolted the mild-mannered and unconfident phenom out of his routine and forced him to confront the fact that yes, he really wants to race in the inter-highs. Even if that means (which it obviously does) knocking someone else off the team. Onoda is something of a master at not setting his goals aggressively enough, and so it has been here – yes, finishing 1000K on that bike is an accomplishment, but it doesn’t get him where he wants to go. The 1000 KM isn’t the point – making the team is the point.
This is really the first time in the series we’ve seen Onoda be this assertive, and I think it’s a real positive for his character. As long as he keeps deferring to Imaizumi and Naruko he can never take himself – or be taken – seriously – as a rider. The first crucial moment I was looking towards was when Naruko and Imaizumi realized their teammate was tying to be a threat. There’s been a definite patronizing streak in the way they’ve treated him, though it hasn’t been malicious, and it’s certainly easy to be good-natured as long as Onoda is just trying to hang onto the back of the pack. For now, I think both rivals passed the test – they didn’t turn against their friend, which is to their credit. We’ll see what happens when places on the inter-high roster are at stake and Onoda becomes a real, practical danger to them.
Of course, nothing brings people together faster than a shared enemy – and Aoyagi and Teshima certainly provide that. It’s an interesting conundrum, trying to figure out just where to stand on what they’re doing. They’re playing the villain role at the moment, beyond a doubt. But are they in the wrong? They’ve clearly acknowledged that they’re not “elite” individual talents, so in effect they’ve joined forces and relied on teamwork and strategy. Well, in truth whoever wins the Tour de France every year – even setting aside the issue of PEDs and blood doping – is riding squarely on the shoulders of his team. The Ni-nens have devised a very clever strategy (the full details of which – including “tea time” – won’t be known until next week) that involves sending Aoyagi ahead and using Teshima as both a block and a distraction – and relied on their well-honed compatibility to save as much of their strength as possible. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that part.
All that said, maybe it’s the sports-manga geek in me but what these two are doing still smells a bit off. There’s the obvious point that if the first-years were riding unaltered bicycles this likely wouldn’t be a contest (which in itself calls Kinjou’s reliance on these results for placement on the team into question, though perhaps seeing if the first-years can overcome these tactics is part of their test). But I also feel as if what Teshima did this week crossed a line, especially coming in a training event – playing head games with the opponent, practically causing Naruko to crash in blocking his passage – well, it sure isn’t GAR, that’s for sure. The stakes are high, sure, but if those two read more sports manga they’d know that kind of behavior doesn’t get rewarded very often. In the end I think these two mainly matter as an obstacle for the three first-years to overcome – but at least they’re that, unlike poor Sugimoto who it turns out was pretty much a speed bump all along. But he is an experienced rider…