The results of the Weekly Shounen Champion character poll for Yowapeda were released this week – with a cool 23,000 respondents – and I have to say their views pretty much mesh with mine, at the top at least. They have Makashima #1 and Onoda #2 – I’d flip them myself, but there’s no doubt for me the climbers are the most endearing cyclists in this cast (just as in real life). And for me when this show is at its best, it’s almost invariably focused on them – and this week’s barnburner is no exception. By the way, the mangaka Watanabe Wataru placed 10th himself – no doubt for the omakes explaining cycling in which he hilariously depicts himself (think an adult Onoda).
I felt as if I could have written this episode myself (of course I couldn’t, but I felt that way) because it played out exactly as I would have written the script. Onoda-kun fighting his way through the pack with his teeth bared, singing “Hime, Hime” every step of the way to spur himself forward, counting his victims as he picked them off. I mean honestly, if you’re not sold on that this probably just isn’t the series for you.
A word has to be said here, again, for what a fantastic job Yamashita Daiki is doing as Onoda. I have no idea what age DaKing (his nickname, from Aladdin) is – after finding out Murase Ayumu is 25 I’ve stopped guessing based on photos – but it’s rare to find a male seiyuu who can portray kids on the young side of their age group so realistically. His tiger-cub growling is about the best I’ve heard since Honjou Yutarou’s in Eureka Seven AO (and he was actually 15 at the time, which explains that), but he manages to get the more quietly emotional and comic moments down too. He’s really good, and what he projects with the character is crucial to Yowapeda’s success so that’s a damn good thing.
Sakamichi’s odyssey from back of the pack to the front is great, but so is a lot of what’s going on elsewhere as it’s happening. Sakamichi does what he does – as Aoyagi says, when he gets in trouble he “levels up”. He picks off the stragglers one by one (Hime, Hime!) but when he gets to the main pack that’s a real problem – 50 riders at least bunched up together on the narrow and twisting Hakone roads. There’s a reason for that – Midousuji has chosen to take command of the peloton rather than contend for the stage win (I assume he considers everything but the final podium trivial) and he has his domestiques controlling their pace. Onoda takes a truly desperate measure here – he actually rides precariously balanced along the rim of the rain gutter at the side of the road in order to get past the clot of riders jamming things up like a mass of arterial plaque.
Does that come dangerously close to a “Shounen Jump moment”? Yeah, probably – but I can sort of buy it, for the reason that Imaizumi relates when HakoGaku’s Arakita (#6 in the character poll) says “a proper rider could never get past 100 riders to catch up”. Onoda isn’t a proper rider, not by any stretch – he’s clumsy, he’s awkward, he’s ignorant of the niceties of the sport. But he’s a little bulldog who rides like he was born on a bicycle. He definitely catches Midousuji’s eye here with his oddness – “This one wasn’t mass-produced” is how Midousuji aptly puts it. Their encounter on the road is a strangely creepy one – watching that mismatched pair duke it out I got the feeling like I was watching a human doing battle with a Chimera Ant. I think Midousuji showing Onoda a powerful acceleration was a token of respect, or as close as he gets – and I think in the end, he let Onoda go rather than being beaten by him. To Midousuji Onoda is indeed a “small fry”, and not one worth reeling in on the first day of the race.
That great “elsewhere” stuff is taking place where Hakogaku and Sohoku are marking time ahead of the main field, Arakita doing all of the talking for the former. There’s so much of this I loved, starting with the rock-solid belief Makashima has in Onoda. “Three minutes” he says, that’s how long it will take for Onoda to catch up (this really is like a “Chimera Ant” episode after all). Makashima has come so far since the series started, mostly thanks to Onoda (even if he still has Kinjou deliver his thank you to Onoda) – and so has Imaizumi. He’s gone from being an isolated, self-driven loner to being part of a team – again, mostly thanks to Onoda. The moment when Onoda finally sees the rest of his team hove into view is one of the very best of the series, a real emotional powerhouse. The smile on Onoda’s face is genuine and genuinely irresistible, of course, but I was no less pleased to see the shit-eating grin on Imaizumi’s face – can you imagine him smiling like that about anything when the series started?
In the embarrassment of riches we have in sports anime at the moment, what is it that makes Yowamushi Pedal stand out? I think it’s heart, honestly – there’s just so much earnest positivity on this show, and the Sohoku team is such an immensely easy bunch to root for. It’s not as thorough and realistic as Baby Steps or as old-school martial as Daiya no A, not as psychologically intense as Ping Pong or as slick and adorable as Haikyuu. But as an all-arounder and all-around likeable show, Yowapeda is hard to beat – it has a little bit of all those shows in it, a mix of old-school and contemporary and a bit weird and zany. And this ep showed off the best qualities of the series as well as any has for a while.
As usual, don’t skip the omake – nothing’s so good for a laugh as giving seiyuu the chance to do impersonations of each other…