OP 3: “Be As One” by Team Sōkita
Eventful? Oh hell, yes. As if the gauntlet had been thrown down by a couple of impressive sports premieres, Yowamushi Pedal staked its claim to ride at the head of the peloton with a fantastic and exciting episode. If you feel as I do that the last few haven’t been at the series’ top level, then this ep is something of a rebound. If not, it was just another high-quality offering from one of the best anime of the year so far.
I’m glad the weirdness of Izumida is no longer dominating the narrative, and the focus turns back to team dynamic and to Sakamichi – who is, after all, the main character for a reason. It turns out that the Inter-high is a lot like a grand tour race in that the yellow jersey team is responsible for managing the peloton – and in this race, winning the checkpoints is akin to the yellow jersey. That’s an advantage, but can also be a burden – managing the pace of the race takes a lot of effort. In fact in the early stages of a multi-week event like the Tour de France, you’ll sometimes see teams with a competitor for the overall title intentionally give up the yellow jersey because they don’t want the responsibility so early in the race.
For now, though, it’s mostly a matter of the view from the front and the mental advantage it provides (Imaizumi gets the honor of leading the field through the flats once the sprinters have been swallowed up by the peloton). There’s a brief look-in on Midousjuji using his Gene Simmons tongue to eat a fly (this character is not exactly a model of understatement) and then the climbers start to jockey for position as the peloton arrives in town at the base of Hakone-yama, ready to stock up on food and water (feed zones are always a source of potential chaos in a road race) before the climb begins.
Things seem innocent enough at this point. Toudou from Hakone Gakuin stops by to say hello and share his personal quirks as the HakoGaku oddball of the moment, and Kinjou issues his orders for the team: the sprinters will rest at the back, Imaizumi will draft for Kinjou, and Makashima will go all-out to win the climb. And Onoda? His job is the lead the team up the mountain – in effect, he’s to be Makashima’s domestique, saving his sempai’s legs so that he can win the final spring for the summit. Naturally Onoda is overwhelmed at the prospect (one wonders why no one warned him before the race) but having just seen Red Bean and Old Man bust it for the team, he’s fully motivated to do his part.
That’s when the shit hits the fan, though. One of the main advantages – perhaps the biggest – of riding at the front of the peloton is that you’re not at risk of getting caught up in accidents. They’re a part of every grand tour, can happen anywhere (sharp turns are a common setting) and can by terrifying to witness, never mind be a part of. But at head of the pack you just have to worry about yourself – or that’s how it’s supposed to work, anyway. Onoda’s inexperience bites Sohoku hard here, as he falls behind the others when the climbers start to muscle their way to the front. Naturally it’s at this moment when an accident happens (on a sharp corner), a chain-reaction ensues and Onoda is caught up in it. By the time he gathers himself and manages to get his chain reattached – lucky not to have broken a collarbone or suffered a concussion – he’s dead-last in the field with the climb just about to start.
I much prefer this sort of drama to what we saw with the sprinters, not just because it doesn’t need to rely on gimmickry but because it focuses on Sakamichi’s inexperience, and all the pressure he’s putting on himself not to let the team down. This is good, heart-stopping stuff, and tacks very close to realism for the most part. My only quibble, really, would be that as soon as Naruko noticed Onoda was missing, Kinjou should have sent someone (either of the sprinters, ideally) back to find out what was happening, and to help bring Onoda back to the front if necessary. Kinjou is in a pinch now – without Onoda there he either has to let Makashima lead the team up the mountain and wear himself out, or lead Makashima up himself – and risk using up his own strength on the first day. Even so, though, Naruko and Tadokoro have done their jobs and either one of them could be spared to collect their wayward little lamb.
As always with Yowapeda you don’t want to stop watching when the credits roll – not just because we get a new OP (note the last shot of the opening, where the jerseys change – foreshadowing there) and ED this week, but because the omakes are one of the best parts of the show. This time we get the “Love, Hime” theatrical film – featuring Kaji Yuuki as an evil shota no less (wink) – with Onoda and Imaizumi in the audience. And the hotshot is every bit as furious to have Kaji-san in his favorite anime as the otaku. We can say that whatever happens in the Inter-high, Onoda has already won a major victory – he’s pulled Imaizumi into his world. And even as much as this is played for laughs (which it certainly is) it’s actually sort of an important and even touching moment for Sakamichi-kun (and the previously anti-social Imaizumi too, for that matter).
ED3: “Glory Road” by Team Hakone Gakuen