Yowapeda is back in a much more mischievous and balanced mode, with the non-stop intensity of the training camp behind us. Plotquakes aside that was a very exciting string of episodes, but there’s no denying the atmosphere was a lot heavier than the first cour had us used to with this show. I did miss both Onoda’s otaku side and the series’ quirky humor (one of the reasons I enjoyed the OVA so much when I watched it) and happily, those elements are very much back in the mix this week.
I haven’t talked about it much, but I really love the job Yamashita Daiki is doing as Onoda here. I have no idea how old he is and he hasn’t done much anime work yet but I suspect that may be about to change, because there aren’t many male actors that can convincingly pull off playing teenagers who’re physically on the younger side of their peer group. I love the way the “Love, Hime” OP is like his personal amphetamine – sing it and his powers are exponentially increased – and Daiki delivers it with gusto (someone even made an hour-long video loop of his last 28-second performance). There was one especially hilarious moment this week where Sakamichi is weakly proclaiming his fighting spirit to Kinjou, finishing with an “I’ll do my best” – after which there’s a full two-second pause before he delivers the polite “Desu!” Very funny as written, of course, but the delivery is what really sells the moment comedically (and since the “Desu” isn’t in the manga, it was either added by the director or Daiki ad-libbed it).
That weakness (well, it fits the title) is very much in-keeping with the theme of the episode. The first order of business is make-up classes after the training camp, but not before Kinjou delivers a pretty harsh critique of Sakamichi’s overall strength level and his usefulness to the team. It’s the first part of a one-man “good cop/bad cop” presentation, but Kinjou is interrupted before he gets to the good cop’s dialogue and Sakamichi is left believing he’s been left off the team. It falls to Mr. Pierre – who it turns out is an English teacher too, and let’s the Cycling Club off from their last lesson of the day – to deliver the good news. And along with it, Sakamichi’s official inter-high jersey (luckily, that make them in his size).
I like Mr. Pierre a lot – he adds an interesting and slightly skewed perspective and seems like a genuinely nice guy – but I’ve been having my doubts about Kinjou after the training camp. I continue to believe he’d be well-served to be a little more accommodating to Onoda’s lack of experience and step back from his hard-ass routine to give a little more actual coaching. But of course in this instance he’s got a plan in mind. He needs to convince Onoda that he needs to raise his game, narrow the gap his inexperience and lack of technique opens between he and his teammates. And there’s a very legitimate reason why Onoda is a crucial figure in this upcoming race – he’s a true wild-card. That very inexperience and rough technical skills make Onoda the hardest guy to figure out (both for his team and the opponent) and that includes trying to guess just how high his upside really is.
It’s a very nice moment when Sakamichi gets that jersey – he certainly busted his ass to do so. But heavy is the head that wears the crown, and said uniform really seems to bring home to Sakamichi just how real all this is. As in, he has the potential to screw it up for everybody else if he’s not really up to the task – and he’s serially convinced he’s not up to the task, so why should this be any different? The lack of confidence can be an irritating trait in a main character but Sakamichi wears it as well as any could, because he always manages to break through in spite of his wavering self-belief – and because in his position, any rational person would have doubts.
Still, the pressure is clearly weighing on the tireless terrier when the team makes another practice ride to Minegayama. Nothing saps an athlete’s power like tension, and even if his bike no longer has 10 KG wheels the inter-high uni feels like it weighs twice that much to Onoda. Here’s where Kinjou really stands tall – all the third-years do, in fact – establishing the kind of supportive environment that’s closer to what we saw before the camp. It happens to be true, of course, that road cycling is a team sport, but more importantly this is the only way to help Onoda get his feet planted underneath him. As long as he focuses on himself he’s screwed – but as a part of a six-man unit, the burden doesn’t seem quite so heavy.
There’s some nice character development in this episode, which is also welcome after the camp arc. TeshimAoyagi watching the others put on their jerseys and talk about team spirit definitely had a bit of an edge to it, though they’ll obviously suck it up and do their part. The general dynamic between the third and first-years is as good in this episode as it was early in the series (and that’s damn good). Naruko and Imaizumi continue their hilarious engagement. And there are some interesting and winning Miki moments, too, especially when she, in Aya’s words, “gives Onoda the wrong idea”. I’m not so sure she isn’t giving him exactly the idea she intends to give him, but it’s clearly going to be a while before we find out for sure (if we ever do).