Sometimes in anime we get episodes that so perfectly capture the charms of the show they represent that it’s hard to imagine any fan wouldn’t be won over. I mean, we’re at 33 episodes here – if you didn’t love the way this episode played out, I kind of wonder why you’re sill watching Yowapeda at all. I don’t think there’s another show that would have even tried to pull this off, and I know there isn’t another one that could have succeeded.
I think with sports series more than any genre, the series itself is often very much an extension of the main character. Ginga e Kickoff is Shou’s innocent enthusiasm and relentless will, Daiya no A is Eijun’s rough-hewn martial spirit, Major is Goro Honda’s pure love of baseball and drive to win at any cost, Baby Steps is Ei-chan’s unpretentious curiosity, determination and attention for detail. And Yowamushi Pedal is absolutely Onoda Sakamichi. It’s dorky and loveable and ridiculously full of heart, geeky about bicycles and about otaku culture too. It desperately wants to be loved and share its love of the things it’s passionate about, and manages to make it easy to do so. All great sports series have something unique about them that makes them great, and this is it with Yowapeda – it’s that immensely likeable and guileless charm that makes it probably the “friendliest” sports anime of the bunch.
All of that comes straight from mangaka Watanabe Wataru of course (who for all the world seems exactly like a grown-up Onoda) but TMS Entertainment and veteran director Nabeshima Osamu have done a great job translating it to the screen. And the success of this episode is really an anime phenomenon, a credit to the way it was staged and to the seiyuu who made it work. In many ways this is the episode that the entire series has been building towards, the moment when Sakamichi’s love of anime finally fully crossed over into his other world, connecting him with the most unlikely of partners-in-crime, in the most hilarious yet genuinely thrilling way possible. This is a huge part of the core theme of Yowapeda anyway, of course – no matter what high school politics dictate these two worlds don’t have to be mutually exclusive, and you can go a long way in life by being accepting of people who are different than you.
It all starts where it left off, of course, and I’ll apologize to Makishima for part of my post last week, where one of the reasons I criticized his agreeing to keep Tadokoro’s illness a secret is because Kinjou would have forced him to get treatment. Turns out the old man did get that IV after all (thank goodness) but he’s still a wreck the next day. He manages to get off the line at last, but soon wobbles to a halt (and no, TeshimAoyagi, you’re not allowed to push a rider up a mountain for crying out loud). And among the three teammates who’ve left him behind, it’s playing out as you’d expect: Makishima is wrestling with what to do, and Naruko and Onoda are arguing to go back for Tadokoro. But Maki-chan and Tadokoro have already determined what will happen in this situation – Tadokoro is to be left for dead, to sink or swim on his own. And that’s absolutely the right decision, tactically – risking going down two riders to try and save one who’s sick is unacceptable on the second of a three-day race.
What happens next isn’t about tactics or logic, and I’ll admit it doesn’t hold up especially well under their microscope. But it is defensible, given the layout of the course (a long downhill followed by an even longer flat run). You’d figure the first-years are going to be leading with the heart here, and it’s Naruko who’s predictably the most vocal (to the point where I just wanted him to give poor Maki a break and give up). But it’s Onoda who’s the most persuasive, if certainly not the loudest. He’s making a believer out of every doubter – put a task in front of the little guy, and he’ll find a way to get it done. And for a friend, he’ll take on any challenge. He’s spent his entire childhood without any of them, it seems (or at least with very few) and it’s clear he really treasures the ones he has now.
So – Maki caves. He lets Onoda wait, and so he does – the other Kyoto Fujimi riders mistakenly assume #176 has cracked, too, but their ex-captain Ishigaki seems to suspect otherwise. Tadokoro manages to barely drag himself along, pausing every few minutes to gasp for air, until he sees the Sohoku jersey waiting for him. And in truth, anyone who watches multi-day cycling tours knows that the presence of a teammate can perform seeming miracles in helping a rider in distress fight his way back – not just in drafting, but psychologically too. Given the sacrifice Onoda has made for him, Tadokoro can’t help but dig deep to try and make sure it isn’t for nothing. But is he willing to pay the ultimate price that Onoda asks of him?
Yes, of course – come on, now. But it’s not without a struggle. In all seriousness, just to hear Itou Kentarou sing “Koi no Hime Hime Pettanko!” is worth the price of admission – but the circumstances make it one of the best anime moments of the year. He and Yamashita Daiki are as vocally mismatched as their characters are visually – it’s perfect casting – and the resulting performance is… unique. How can a scene be so simultaneously ridiculous, hilarious, embarrassing, inspiring and heartwarming all at the same time? This was perfect – the build up to this for 33 episodes and finally use the entire song in this situation with these two characters is genius, a payoff that comfortably exceeds the buildup. Again, most shows would never be able to pull it off – it’s shameless, sure, but Yowapeda has nothing to be ashamed of. It’s completely sincere, and that’s why instead of a disaster this moment is a rousing triumph.
There are certainly practical problems that demand to be confronted, as I’m sure they will. Hakogaku’s six riders have regrouped easily, sasuga, and they have the powerhouse Shinkai with fresh legs to push the pace and try and break the other podium contenders (their plan all along). Midousuji has played it smart, too, with his own full team well-rested from not contesting the stage wins on the first day having themselves managed to regroup with him at the front of the pack. Makishima and Naruko haven’t caught the leaders yet so for the moment it’s Kinjou and Imaizumi against two packs of six. And the big question, surely, is how much can Onoda and Tadokoro possibly have left to give on the third day even if they catch up? This will make two days in a row where Onoda has to engage in a heroic chase through the entire peloton to try and regroup with his team – even for a lion-hearted little warrior like him, that has to take a lot out of you.
But in truth, all that can be worried about later – this was really all about “Hime, Hime 大好き大好き!” And I do, believe me.