I’ve been trying to think of another time when the anime landscape for sports manga fans has been like this. Yowapeda, Ace of Diamond, Baby Steps, Ping Pong, Haikyuu – five manga adaptations, five different sports, five radically different narrative styles, all seemingly first-rate adaptations. There may have been a mukashi, mukashi time, when sports anime were more popular, when things were this good, but certainly not in the period when I’ve been watching anime. For those of us that love the genre, it really is a golden age.
As a fairly big fan of grand tour cycling, this was an episode of Yowamushi Pedal that I’ve really been pointing towards. Whenever I watch the Tour de France or one of the other big tours I always find the flat stages with their sprint finishes pretty boring. It’s the mountain stages that excite me – they’re the ones that separate the wheat from the chaff. They’re the stages where psychology seriously enters the fray, and where team tactics come to the fore at the same time individual effort does. Being a strong team in the Alps or Pyrenees isn’t about a leadout train – it’s about survival and getting your man to the top first.
Of course in those events anyone with a prayer of a podium finish absolutely must be a strong climber, so this three-day inter-high is a little different in that respect, but there’s a lot of commonality between the two situations and I though this episode rang pretty true. I’m still strongly of the opinion that Naruko or Imaizuki should have been sent back to help draft Onoda back to the front, but that ship has sailed and Kinjou has decided to press on with what he has. And that means a major sacrifice for Makishima.
The fact that Onoda and Makashima are probably the most interesting among the first and third-years definitely contributes to this mini-arc being a lot more compelling than the sprint arc. With Onoda gone and effectively abandoned, it falls the Makashima to stay with the rest and tow his non-climbing teammates up 874-meter Hakone-san. Hakogaku has the benefit of two climbers, which means they can use Mashima to fill that role and let Toudou have a clean run at winning the stage (the mountain checkpoint). Certainly this means more to them, having lost the sprint and defending their home turf, but it clearly means an awful lot to Makashima too.
I’m not terribly crazy about long in-episode flashbacks and Toudou (he of the “Sleeping Climb”) is a bit of a goof – though nowhere near as much so as Izumida – but the back-story here makes Makishima’s dilemma pretty compelling. He’s a fascinating guy, who always struck be as being very warm despite his awkward exterior. This is the very definition of taking one for the team – he’s a climber, this is his biggest stage against his best friendly rival, and probably his last chance to shine as a high-schooler (and who know, maybe ever). But getting the team (read: Kinjou) to the top is job #1. This is a totally realistic scenario – many times during the tour a guy with fresh legs is forbidden to attack because he needs to support the team leader, the guy with a chance to win the overall event. It’s tough, it’s brutal, and at times it’s even broken up teams in the middle of the race. But Makishima is a team player, and he does his job here.
If I’ve a disappointment in this episode (apart from a somewhat meh omake) it’s that Onoda again was a minor player – only in the last three minutes do we see him. He’s still stationary when the support team gets to him, bloodied but ready to continue. How much time has he lost? We don’t know exactly – clearly a lot – but the expectation is now that he has to pass 100-plus riders to get back to his teammates. This is a dangerous time for Yowapeda and I hope they keep it realistic here, but I do want to see Onoda fight his way back, preferably singing “Hime, Hime!” (Fight-o!) to himself all the way up the mountain to give him strength. In truth I don’t think he can do much for Makashima on the first day, but this is a three-day race and there will be other hills to climb – and in any event, his date with destiny is at Mashima’s side, and he’s not contesting this climb either.