Yowamushi Pedal – 16

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I’m getting way too caught up in this story…

It was another pretty good week for Yowamushi Pedal.  Volume 2 of the anime actually improved on V. 1’s first-week sales by 1.5%, and that volume has added enough in subsequent weeks to take it to 6300 – it’s now the 5th-ranked Fall series in terms of sales (in fact ahead of the KyoAni show, which is a real David. vs. Goliath situation).  The most recent volume of the manga – the first released since the anime debuted – doubled the average first week sales for the prior volumes.  There were event tickets with the first two BD/DVD volumes, but the show should be able to average above 5K, and with improved manga sales that might just be enough to get us a second season once this 38-episode run is over.

It’s nice to see quality rewarded with commercial success – it happens all too damn rarely in anime – but as you know this doesn’t entirely surprise me.  Yowapeda just seemed to have the right mix – the straight-ahead sports is rock-solid, it has the fujoshi appeal (the nearly 50-50 split in media format bears this out), a slightly wicked but still good-natured sense of humor.  And it just has that something to it – that spark, that little extra bit of heart and joie de vivre that really engaging manga have.  I also said it would be a test of the open-mindedness of Western viewers when it comes to sports anime because it has all the elements that should make a series popular – and indeed, it doesn’t seem to be making the splash there that it does with Japanese audiences.  But word-of-mouth can take time, and this is the sort of show that can benefit from it.

And this is the sort of episode that does most of the talking for itself, which makes my job either very easy or very hard.  This is just great sports anime, plain and simple – though trying to weigh the ethics of what the second-years are doing does add an interesting little twist on the tropes at play (which is something Yowapeda is generally very adept at doing).  As I’ve said before the worst thing about really top-notch sports anime is that the ED credits start rolling way too soon, and the wait between episodes feels like months rather than a single week.

I’ll give Watanabe-sensei all the credit in the world, because he didn’t shy away from devoting the equivalent of half an episode (about a chapter of the manga) strictly to TeshimAoyagi’s backstory.  And that was after pretty effectively setting them up as the bad guys last week.  In theory, they should be easy to root for – the plucky, modestly talented underdogs trying to do with teamwork and strategy what the others are trying do with natural ability.  It’s abundantly clear that they love cycling, that they’re genuinely dedicated to each other, and that they’re desperate to make it to the inter-high. It’s also clear that Teshima is very smart and an excellent tactician, which is a huge element in cycling success.

For me, though, the argument just doesn’t take.  Maybe it’s because Yowamushi Pedal has done such a great job establishing the three leads as interesting and empathetic characters, but I can’t get behind the second-years here.  I’ll feel sorry for them if they miss out after working so hard, but it’s abundantly clear to me that this is a personal thing for Teshima – he clearly resents the fact that he doesn’t have great natural ability, and resents those that do.  What he’s crafting here goes beyond simple tactics and gets to bush-league gamesmanship, and even outside the GAR and not always realistic world of sports manga I don’t care for gamesmanship.  Even setting aside the fact that TeshimAoyagi wouldn’t have a chance if their competition was on the same equipment they are, if they can’t win without resorting to this kind of psychological warfare and trickery against guys on their own team my sympathy for them has its limits.  This isn’t an idealogical war of the common man vs. the arrogant elite – it’s just a test to see who the best riders are, and who can help the team most when it really counts.

Onoda Sakamichi is proving more than a worthy successor to the Outa Shou Tireless Terrier mantle.  He still sells himself way too short, but his dedication to his teammates is quite admirable.  And for many reasons, he’s the obvious candidate to break down Teshima’s “wall” – though I love the fact that Sakamichi took it upon himself to try to do it when he saw Imaizumi and Naruko were stymied.  In the first place, he remains the biggest wildcard on the squad and thus the biggest threat to Teshima’s machinations.  And second, as anyone who follows cycling’s grand tours can tell you the time to attack is on the big slopes – the “hors categorie” climbs that break the body and spirit of many an elite rider.  If there was ever a chance to break Teshima and his fresh legs, it was always going to be Onoda and it was always going to be on the peak.

Of course, sometimes in team cycling the guy who attacks on the climbs is the sacrificial lamb – the domestique who’s job it is to break the opposing team’s ace by attacking on the climb.  Onoda is a true phenom, and his growth curve is off the charts – which is why he defied Teshima’s schemes and broke away from him – but he has his limits, and it seems likely that his friends will be the ones to benefit from his hard work rather than he himself.  It’ll be a travesty if he gets left behind – in addition to every other handicap he doesn’t even have racing shoes, and he’s still keeping up – and it’s not as if Imaizumi and Naruko still don’t have a huge job ahead of them in catching Aoyagi.  This is the sort of cliffhanger that makes sports anime torture, but it’s also one of the reasons I love the genre so much and why I keep coming back for more.

Lastly, any return of the “Love Hime” theme in the omake is welcome – and this was one of the most hilarious yet.  Imaizumi’s secret is well and truly out.

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Ofuromake:

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7 comments

  1. e

    The silent one e spoke!

    The omake broke me. I was actually thinking about the song during the episode (because really Onoda is a sort of LoveHime of nice feelings and nice kokoro-fuelled leg power here to me XD ) and well Imazizumi being lured out of his otaku closet was just was I was hoping for. AHAH <3 Plus we got some extra pink sparkly bubble aura. Onoda IS LoveHime I tell ya.

    Sorry brunette :,D, but as much as I sympathize with underdogs you left too much pettiness taint your dedication. Plus you and your pal are building some unhealthy environment there. Time to taste some bitter tea…

  2. e

    P.S.: funny I had a visual flash of Onoda and Shou together while watching the epi. I know what to draw at the heart of my next Xmas group pic! 😀

  3. j

    Your criticism of the 2nd years just reflect the problem I find with many sports anime/manga. I would have been fine with the 3 main-main characters beating the 2nd years fair and square, but it bothers me that the writers had to give Teshima this villainy vibe to his character in order for the audience to start rooting for the 1st years.

    I too am still interested in the story, but I want to see more character flaws in onoda. I feel the same way about Ippo, even though I LOVE hajime no ippo.

  4. K

    Regarding your sentence about the 50/50 split, I remember you mentioning something similar about Tsuritama, is there some phenomenon in Japan where girls mostly buy DVD's and guys mostly buy Blu-ray's? I've never heard of that.
    I'm a guy and I exclusively buy Blu-rays, so I guess it holds true for me.

  5. Yep, in the vast majority of cases fujoshi titles are heavy on DVD and otaku titles heavy on BD.

  6. N

    I know nothing about competitive cycling (ironically I feel like I have a better grasp of Karuta at this point), and so I'm having some difficulties understanding the situation here. Surely if Imaizumi and Naruko tried passing Teshima at the same time, on both sides, then at least one of them would pass, no? And if Onoda joined in, and all three tried passing Teshima together with Onoda acting as the buffer between Teshina and the other two, then only he would get stopped while Imaizumi and Naruko would pass, right?
    Also, what is the significance of Onoda breaking through? he's way behind on laps, so Teshima can just let him pass through. he only needs to focus on keeping Imaizumi and Naruko behind, right?

  7. The last part is the easiest. Basically Onoda's role wasn't to pass Teshima, it was to "break" him. He made Teshima give everything he had to try and stop him, and now when the other two first-years attack Teshima won't have much left in the tank.

    I think the problem with the first part is that it's exactly what Teshima said – he's been saving his legs for three days while the other two have been busting their asses on doctored bikes. Sure, theoretically, they could have split and attacked from either side. But I think the reason Naruko was the one to go first was that he's a sprinter – I don't know that Imaizumi would have been able to hurt Teshima with an attack there.

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