I had a feeling about how this “stage” of the inter-highs would turn out, indeed it turned out to be right. With Sohoku winning the sprint and Makishima having exerted an awful lot of energy making up a three-minute gap (in truth not quite that much, just however much Toudou put between them in three minutes), there seemed to be a lot of current pulling against Makishima here. Only one can win a stage, and I figured Toudou would be the one to do it.
The face-off between the two climbers for the polka-dot jersey was handled very well and was briskly entertaining, without a whole lot of surprises. It’s a good rivalry, friendly – perhaps a bit too friendly to generate a lot of real drama. But the most interesting moment in the episode for me was the brief interlude featuring Manami and Onoda, because it raises some interesting questions about where Yowamushi Pedal is headed (and ones I certainly don’t want answers to from manga readers).
Manami is the one who lays it out there, painting a picture for Sakamichi about what’s probably happening at the top of the mountain as the two first-years sedately tow their teams up the slopes. “We can’t do it this year… But let’s have our own battle at the inter-high.” Let’s set aside the question of whether the anime will get additional material beyond the 38 confirmed episodes (I think it’s fairly likely it will) and stick to the story itself – this being a shounen with Onoda as the main character, it hardly seems possible that the extent of his role at this competition is going to be drafting and freeing Maki-chan for the real climbing fights. Naruko has had his battle with Tadokoro and Abs, Imaizumi is in-charge of leading out Kinjou for the finish that matters, and Maki and Jinpachi have had their glorious man-duel. So where does that leave the otaku warrior, Tireless Terrier II?
The way I see it, somewhere along here Onoda (and Manami too) is going to get his chance. I don’t know why – maybe Makishima is sidelined for some reason, or Onoda isn’t needed for drafting and is free to air it out. The answer isn’t immediately obvious and it isn’t necessary from a strategic standpoint, but I confess I’ll be disappointed if we don’t see it happen. In any event, this day belongs to the Ghost and the Spider – the former being well off-form when he believes his soul-mate isn’t coming to the dance, to the point where he can’t shake the chum from Nagano who considers himself “Guardian of the Alps”. But Toudou-kun (“-sama” to the fangirls) – who has the strong backing of the home crowd and the nickname “Yamagami” – perks right up when he hears the crowd gasping about the strange figure weaving with the iridescent hair weaving all over the road.
Again, nothing whatsoever wrong with the Maki-Jinpachi dynamic – I like friendly rivalries better than good vs. evil ones in sports anime. I liked Maki’s comment about how Onoda was “not good enough to do more than one thing. But he’ll do that one thing incredibly well.” Also, the moment when Toudou observes that the team jerseys don’t matter anymore – this is mano a mano. This points up one of the interesting paradoxes of tour cycling, an individual sport played in teams, and one which causes a fair share of tension among many teams in many races (though it won’t so much here, I don’t expect). The best moment may have been when the exhausted duo whiffed on the high-five, though. It’s not the most exciting rivalry when there doesn’t seem to be a drop of bad blood, but as a bromance it works quite nicely.
The results, once more, were not a surprise – I figured this was Toudou’s stage. And the interesting question now is where we go from here. Yowapeda has not been expansive in explaining the rules of the inter-high to the audience. For example, is there any advantage beyond the psychological to crossing the finish line first on the first and second days? Clearly the team leaders are going to duke it out for that honor, with Imaizumi and Arakita (again, #6 in the character poll) as drafting help, and Onoda has been assigned to drag the tired sprinters and Makishima across the line (if he still has the energy left after what he’s had to do, he truly is a prodigy on the bike). This will, unless I misremember, be the first time we’ve seen Kinjou competing hard for a finish in a scene that wasn’t a flashback – though just how important that finish is in the overall race is still a bit of a mystery.