Yowamushi Pedal Grande Road – 03

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There’s a little refresher course on what sets Yowapeda apart from the pack of sports anime.

I’ve been sort of rooting for Midousuji since this race for the second-day finish line began, but this episode really made it a lot easier to do so.  Midsousuji has a lot of flaws as a character (both in the narrative and ethical sense) but ultimately the greatest flaw a character can have is to be boring, and both Kinjou and Fukutomi are basically uninteresting as compared to most of the cast.  Whatever one might say against Midousuji, boring is one charge that just won’t stick.

There was an awful lot of challenges facing “Akira”.  When an episode has been built up to for as long as this one has it’s awfully hard to meet expectations.  And when a character has done as many scumbag things as Midousuji has, it’s awfully hard to try and make him sympathetic without seeming contrived.  But for a number of reasons I think this episode succeeded brilliantly – I’d rank it as among the five best (and most heartbreaking) episodes of Yowamushi Pedal’s entire run.

One of the reasons “Akira” worked as well as it did is that Wataru had actually started the heavy lifting already.  As I mentioned last week I think he’s been subtly building Midousuji up as an almost Richard III-like character – a disreputable and grotesque guy, to be sure, but one who points out the hypocrisies of those around him.  And what’s more, one whose sheer desire to succeed at all costs eventually seems almost admirable.  Can it possibly be denied that Midousuji wants to win more than anyone else?  Or that he’s worked harder and done more (much of which he shouldn’t have, admittedly) to do it?

There wasn’t anything especially original in Midousuji Akira’s back-story, or even much that was all that surprising.  But it was all played with such honestly and commitment that it totally worked – it made him into a real and complete person rather than a caricature.  Simply put this is Wataru’s bread-and-butter – no one in sports manga right now can do sincerity and unapologetic sentimentality better than he can.  Faced with the challenge of showing us what could make someone into the bizarre entity that the 16 year-old Midousuji became, Wataru (and Nabeshima-sensei) showed us a completely believable scenario.

Without a doubt this is the most gut-wrenching moment of the episode for me, and maybe the series.  You knew what was coming of course, but that didn’t lessen the impact.  It makes perfect sense that Midousuji-kun would have been shy, awkward and socially inept – he never makes eye contact with anyone, and the way he flinches when even his mother touches him is telling.  He’s someone who doesn’t fit in the world, plain and simple, and the only person who understands him is dying and he’s powerless to prevent it.  Cycling gives him hope, but hope is a double-edged sword.

All of this doesn’t justify what Midousuji has done, of course.  It puts the vile trick he played on Imaizumi in an even more tragic context, it’s true, but it was still vile – no matter our past, we become someone who’s responsible for our own choices.  But one doesn’t have to condone Midousuji to understand him, and that’s what this episode is all about I think – to make this bizarre and grotesque character into someone we can understand.  And for me at least it succeeds brilliantly on that score.

That makes the end of the episode all the more sad – not only does Midousuji come up short, but in doing so he seems to shatter what his mother said was beautiful about him, one of his teeth (believing anything about himself was beautiful was surely the most ridiculous notion for Midousuji).  How he responds to this defeat is now one of the most fascinating questions facing Yowapeda – this is only the second day, after all, and the real prize awaits at the end of the third.  It’s Fukutomi who takes the stage, for what it’s worth – but all three teams will effectively start out tied on the final day.  At this point Midousuji’s story is definitely a headline, but I’m ready for Onoda to become part of the drama (and comedy) again – we’re three episodes in, and thus far he’s been non-existent in Grande Road.  Surely that has to change soon.

One quick note – it was confirmed this week that Grande Road will be two cours.  That’s a mild disappointment, but I think this is likely a matter of a logical stopping point in the manga – the franchise seems to be gaining popularity if anything, so I can’t imagine we won’t see a third season at some point.

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Fukutomake:

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18 comments

  1. c

    Akira was such a cute kid, dammit! Gross! So gross! I love how unnaturally gross he was.

    Love him, hate him — it's hard not to feel strongly about him.

    I'm curious, too. Yowamushi the word is a mash-up of yowai and mushi, right? Weak and bug? It feels like weakness and isolation (bugs are gross and useless??) are the themes that drive this series and its characters. Wonder how it'll further be explored.

  2. Yowamushi colloquially means "wimp" or "wimpy" in everyday casual Japanese. I suppose you could translate it as "weak as a bug" but the inference is definitely wimpy.

  3. c

    Ah, that makes sense. Wimpy Bicycles. 😛

    Onoda definitely fits the bill, as did Midousuji as a kid. An argument could be made for Minami, since he used be bedridden.

    I AM STRONG Fukutomi, lulz.

  4. c

    *MANAMI whoops. It has been so long. What even is his name.

  5. Indeed it has been long – and funnily enough much of the advertising for Yowapeda seems to depict Onoda and Manami standing apart from the rest of the cast. That suggests their bromance is going to play a major role on day three.

  6. j

    They're the perfect sports heros for stereotypical otaku to look up to. I guess the manga/show is trying to depict cyclying as a sport that runs on emotion rather than natural athletic talent.

  7. I never got the sense that Wataru was trying to depict these guys as having no natural athletic talent. Rather, I think the point is that natural athletic talent can manifest itself in different ways than traditional jock sports.

  8. j

    Right, I phrased that awkwardly. Many of the strong characters in the show such as Onoda, Manami, and Akira are not your usual masculine athletic types. They seem "yowai" at first glance but their strength shines through their cycling, and that's a part of the charm of the show.

  9. c

    @Enzo, re: Manami, the ending theme gives me a giggle. The Hakone team is basically Fukutomi et. all w/ half of Manami's face. It's like the staff is laughing at us, saying: "You want Manami? Well, here's all you'll get!" He's the pink elephant in the room that over which Wataru has thrown a stage curtain.

    Am so ready for that bromance.

  10. w

    Hell of an episode. Genuinely devastating. Suddenly Midousuji's place in the character polls makes a lot more sense.

  11. S

    First of all, praise:
    One of the best episodes in Yowamushi so far. Brilliant.

    Kinjou ( I keep forgetting his name) and Fukutomi ('I AM STRONK') are such a let down. They're both very boring, and the one thing that defines them so far (except "boring") is the "honourable fight" which rhymes horribly with the double standard of mr. "ORE WA TSUYOI". Pull down a guy after you lose fair and square, tell no one and subsequently win the tournament? No. You're not strong. You're a weak little bitch.

    Do I care which one wins out of the two? well, only because there's 5 great and loveable guys on the yellow team, but any race between the aces is very anticlimatic.

  12. B

    Get your facts straight, Fukutomi pulled out of the race after he injured Kinjou last year, he didn't continue. He's only wearing the #1 bib number is because his team won the inter-high last year (albeit with another member) and he's the ace this year.

  13. One might argue (and I think I would) that Fuku-chan should have pulled his whole team out after Gillooly-ing the ace of the most dangerous opponent, and not just himself.

  14. S

    Some people actually think that that little girl is Akira's sister. Am I the only one that thinks it's obvious that she's just a cousin or something?

  15. I don't see any evidence she's his sister – it makes very little sense in context. Maybe they're thrown because she called him "Akira onii-san" but younger children refer to older ones that way all the time – and in fact if she was his sister, she'd likely not have used his given name at all.

  16. y

    I wish they had said what the mother died from.

  17. S

    It's kind of ominous that a father is never mentioned too.

  18. Y

    This episode will always make me cry, and only 2 other anime episodes have accomplished that. I empathize with Midousuji so much because I also know what it’s like to lose a parent. It was under entirely different circumstances, but the feelings of loss are still there. This episode is why I can’t purely hate Midousuji. I can’t. I rage at him, but those feelings of hate are always balanced with those of liking him as a character. Had my father been alive when I watched this episode, I wouldn’t be as affected, but what happened happened.

    And I think Midou was so adorable as a child. I wanted to hold him and tell him everything would be okay. It’s even more tragic because of the downward spiral of him turning into the person he is now. It was so heart-breaking to me. Definitely one of the best episodes in the series.

    Also, as SquirrelLuvsPnut1 mentioned, what happened to his father? I don’t even want to think about it…

    Sorry about the rant! I just had a lot to say about this episode.

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