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.