Yowapeda starts 2014 with a new OP and ED – I like the former the better of the two, especially for the very clever animation sequence. The feel of the series is just a little different too, as it seems as if we’ve shifted to a more overt focus on the coming battles. The theme of this episode is definitely rivalry – both within and between teams. That, and on just how many weirdos ride bicycles competitively. It’s not like the gang at Souhoku are vanilla by any means, but compared to the rivals we’re meeting those boys are positively normal.
One thing I’ve noticed is that there’s been almost no focus on Onoda-kun’s dream to start an anime club for several episodes, and I can’t help but wonder if it’s going to return to prominence in the story at some point. It’s natural given that the cycling has become serious business both generally and for Onoda himself, but about the only hint we’ve gotten were the “Love, Hime” Blu-rays he brought to the training camp. I wonder if it boils down to the fact that as much as Onoda loves anime and manga, the main point with the club was that he desperate for friends – and now he has them, which renders the need for the club moot. That’s sound narrative construction, but I kind of hope it doesn’t end there.
Of course right now he and all the guys have bigger problems on their hands, namely cycling 800 miles in three days (in Onoda’s case, 835). The dynamic between Imaizumi and Naruko proves interesting here, as their rivalry drives them to push themselves to exhaustion, riding without any intervals (breaks) until Imaizumi loses his water bottle and basically collapses. Naruko, surprisingly, is the one who seems to talk sense – they shouldn’t be worried about keeping up with third-years on unmodded bikes when finishing 1000 KM in any fashion would be huge under the circumstances – but he seems swayed by Imaizumi’s GAR (and I would say a bit foolish) insistence that anything less than dominance is unacceptable, and intervals are for sissies.
As for Onoda, he seems more or less unmoved by such concerns at the moment and content to try and wrangle 1000 K out of his undersized body any way he can. I’d been wondering why the first-years hadn’t thought to ease back a bit during the day and ride extensively at night, when it’s cooler and less punishing, and while I don’t know if they eased back much they certainly do take to more night riding. And Onoda learns an important lesson in cycling – it’s a lot easier to push yourself forward when you’re following other riders in a pack. There’s the matter of wind resistance but there’s a strong psychological factor involved too, in focusing on the back of the rider in front of you and just turning the pedals. That’s why you see breakaway groups in races like the Tour de France continually rotating the lead – and why the other riders get very testy if one of the group refuses to take their turn at the front.
There’s a little something for every rooting interest on the personal side here, with Onoda blushing at the mention of Miki-chan as well as lots more of Naruko and Imaizumi glaring at each other and being joined at the hip (not to mention an extended scene in the bath featuring Imaizumi looking on impassively as both his teammates nearly drown from exhaustion). There’s also the matter of publicity – the first time we’ve seen this factor into the equation, as the newspapers and even TV start requesting interviews from the schools competing at the inter-highs. Naruko scores some major points with Kinjou by refusing the offer to be the Souhoku representative – an offer made, I suspect, as a test of Naruko’s ability to resist it.
It isn’t just Souhoku getting interview requests, and we spend our most extended time yet with the two other principal schools that appear fated for starring roles in this series. Kyoto Fushimi is the clear villain of the piece – or rather, their captain Midousuji is. He represents everything Yowapeda rejects – he doesn’t give a rat’s ass about his team except as bodies to fill out the 6-man requirement for inter-highs, and he never worked his way up to the ace role. His character is the most “cartoonish” in the series so far – there’s just not a lot of subtlety there, though I suppose it’s just possible we’ll see another side to him eventually.
Hakone Private Academy is another matter, though – a much more nuanced rival. These are seemingly the princes of the sport, the best team in the country, but while decidedly weird they don’t play as villains. We’ve met Makishima’s climber rival Toudou – he loves his hair clips and mirrors – and Onoda’s fated (at least) rival Manami, who seems like the odd man out with his team for his eccentric behavior. This week we’re introduced to the very weird Izumiya Toichirou (Atsushi Abe) who’s not only named his pecs – that would be strange enough – but named them “Frank” and Andy”. They seem the polar opposite of Kyoto Fushimi and Midousuji – a team-first group where “everyone is an ace” – and I suspect it’s they who’re going to be the last Souhoku rival standing when the inter-highs finally go down to the wire.
ED2: “I am ready” by AUTRIBE featuring Dirty Old Men