Way back in the Fall Preview post I said of Yowamushi Pedal that “There’s everything here that should make a series appealing to a broad audience – it just happens to be sports-themed.”, and after watching a few episodes, in the Check-in post said “This is the sports anime for fans who don’t like sports anime, without leaving out those of us that do.” There’s a sports anime for just about any tastes at the moment, but Yowapeda may be the Goldilocks in the bunch. Even if you find Daiya too old-school, Ping Pong too intense and arty, Haikyuu too shounen-ai and Baby Steps too cerebral, you should still find something to like in this series.
That seems fitting, in a way, because as “sports” go more people probably participate in this one than any that’s been featured in an anime – even if most of us don’t think of it as a sport at the time we’re participating. You don’t use a tennis racket to get to school or a volleyball to commute to work or a baseball mitt to do the shopping, but for hundreds of millions of people (there are well over a billion bikes in the world, more than twice as many as there are cars) bicycles are a part of everyday life – and that’s not even counting stationary ones millions more ride to keep their beer guts from becoming twelve-packs. They’re also an integral part of our childhood memories – or for younger readers and viewers, childhoods.
That’s not necessarily a sure-fire ticket to success – people often don’t like fictional stories of things that feel mundane. Here again, though, I think Yowapeda plays the “just right” role perfectly. It shows us a world of competitive cycling most cyclists know nothing about, in some detail with outstanding realism for the most part (mangaka Watanabe Wataru’s hilarious self-insert omakes make the manga even more educational than the anime). But it also shows it to us through the eyes of a kid non-sport cyclists can identify with (most especially manga and anime fans) – someone who uses a bike the way the rest of us do, albeit a lot more than most of us.
That takes us to this episode, which is a full-bore thrill ride wholly focused on the animal side of the sport that probably wouldn’t have worked if Watanabe hadn’t done all the heavy lifting getting us to this point through Onoda’s journey. In many ways it feels like the finale but this is only the first day of three, and not even the true conclusion of that. No, this is the time for the “Lieutenants” to shine – the support rider whose job it is to stay joined to the team leader for as long as possible, helping to get them across the finish line first at any cost. Of all the thankless jobs on a cycling team this one might be the most agonizing, because it basically requires an all-arounder who’s as close as possible in ability to the elite cyclists actually trying to win the race. Most of the greats serve in this role somewhere on their way to the top – LeMond to Hinault, Froome to Wiggins – and sometimes on their way back down (though this almost never works out well).
Imaizumi and Arakita are the Louies in question here. Imaizumi was the second character in Yowamushi Pedal that really mattered, but he’s often been overshadowed since. In truth, he is a bit here, too, because it’s Arakita who gets the flashier moments in the episode. As it’s wont to do Yowapeda chooses the midst of the battle to bring us the backstory, and Arakita’s is a pretty good one – that of a delinquent with the requisite haircut, angry at the world after an injury in middle school ended a promising baseball career. A chance encounter with Fukutomi on a hilltop pull-out leads to a challenge – a race down the mountain to the school gate 5 KM away, Fuku on his racing bike and Arakita on his scooter. It’s a sucker bet but Arakita doesn’t know that, and the humiliating defeat lights a fire under him that eventually leads him to the present, tugging “Fuku-chan” towards the finish line in a balls-out war with the Sohoku pair.
Imaizumi’s day isn’t as overtly dramatic, but it may just be more interesting. Kinjou has told him that in order for Sohoku to win against a more experienced Hakogaku, Imaizumi is going to have to grow on his own over the course of these three days. “I’ve changed a lot” he muses to himself as his weary body protests at being pushed beyond its limit. Like most Lieutenants Imaizumi has an ego, and a big one at that. He started the series totally self-involved, and in some ways he’s changed more than anyone over its course. Onoda has actually gotten him to enjoy life, and being part of the Sohoku team has matured him to the point where he’s happy to ride in Kinjou’s support. Arakita derisively calls him a “good boy” but the desire to help his team brings out the beast in Imaizumi in a way nothing else we’ve seen has, and he and Arakita go back and forth like a pair of boxers frantically trying to score a knockout in the 12th round, both of them exhausted.
In the face of all this it’s easy to forget that this is but the preview – the main feature doesn’t start until the aces kick into gear with 500 meters to go. This is a renewal of an old feud with a lot of dark history behind it, as we know – but it’s here that Yowapeda departs from its usual strategy of slowly building to the big dramatic moments in orderly fashion and springs a shock ending on us. It’s none other than Midousuji, come to crash the party, and as ever it’s impossible for him to make an inconspicuous entrance. Not concerned with the trivialities of stage wins in the sprint or climb, he’s had his domestiques do nothing but keep the peloton in line all day – which no doubt left them with fresh legs to give him whatever little help he needed (I’m guessing not much) to bridge the gap to the two leaders. It’s a three-way sprint to the line now – not the true finish of course, but the first one that truly matters in the big picture. It’ll also be the first time we see Midousuji race against top competition, and I’ll be looking forward to seeing how the three of them stack up. But if Midousuji doesn’t win the first day, I’ll be pretty shocked.
One more quick note: Watanabe-sensei’s earlier manga Majimoji Ruromo has been green-lit for an anime next season – congrats, Watanabe-san. Hopefully this is a precursor to an announcement of a continuation for Yowamushi Pedal, which continues to post very solid disc sales.