I think boba tea is disgusting, by the way. Fortunately, I don’t feel that way about this episode of “Grande Road”. While it didn’t have the sheer emotional firepower of last week’s blockbuster, it admirably served its purpose as the setup episode. It’s a thankless job in the world of sports anime, but a vital one and not to be dismissed – sometimes the night before the big event can be as gripping as the event itself.
We’ll see if that’s the case here, but I rather doubt it as I think we’re headed for some pretty big drama. Things start out predictably enough, as we see in more detail what we know has already happened – Fuku-chan has edged Kinjou on the line and taken the second day’s yellow, with Kinjou falling a few centimeters short. As for Midousuji, it’s a depressing end to a day full of machinations and manipulations, and a third-place finish.
I thought we might focus pretty heavily on Chimera-kun after this week, but he’s almost totally missing until the final moments – indeed, he isn’t even on the medal podium when the day’s awards are handed out. The spotlight is squarely on Sohoku and Hakogaku and there’s a lot to digest here, thought it looks for a while like we’re only going to get bonding moments and reflection on the day.
The first headline is that Kinjou is nursing a knee injury, which doesn’t seem like such a big deal and comes with the appropriate assurances from Makashima that “of course he’ll race” (only Onoda had the temerity to ask). But later on Kinjou lets it slide (to himself) that he’ll race “even if I have to let someone else take the Ace role”. Now that’s interesting, especially when paired with the conversation later on between Jinpachi and Manami. I’m not prepared to accept the idea that Kinjou won’t be the Ace at face value, but it would certainly open the floodgates to some interesting possibilities.
The gist of that toothpaste talk between the Hakogaku climbers is that while Jinpachi has (naturally) been declared the man to go for the mountain stage, Manami should be prepared for “unexpected” events. I don’t know what’s going to happen here and whether Jinpachi knows something he’s not sharing, but this conversation is way too conspicuous to be throwaway, especially when Jinpachi gives the “Wonder Boy” advice on riding for himself and not the team if he’s the one who’s fighting for the stage. There’s been so much foreshadowing of a major clash between Manami and Onoda that it’s almost impossible to believe it won’t happen, but the circumstances are still a mystery.
There’s very much a tone of the third-years protecting the first-years running through the episode – we can see the strain experienced by Tadokoro and especially Makashima while keeping up a front that they’re not utterly wiped out in front of the freshmen. I’m not sure what happens at the finish – assuming the final day doesn’t have a summit finish, it wouldn’t seem likely to be Onoda but rather Imaizumi that would contest the finale if Kinjou can’t go – not to mention there’s the matter of why Onoda rather than Makashima would be fighting for the mountain stage. Perhaps Makashima might be the one to assume the Ace role if Kinjou has to fall back, and would need to save himself for that.
And then there’s Midousuji, who finally does appear (wearing a surgical mask to hide his broken tooth) near the end of the episode. The shocker is that he declares to his stunned teammates that he’s not racing on the third day, but I have an impossible time believing that – he’s been far too big a part of the drama to simply disappear now. He’ll be there, though perhaps with a different attitude towards the team concept. The question once again isn’t so much what’s going to happen, but what circumstances conspire to bring it about.
Finally there’s the matter of Onoda volunteering to go to the pharmacy to get tape and spray (wouldn’t you have brought that with you?). I just assumed the support guys would shoot that down immediately and order him to rest, but the title of the next episode is “The 3km to the Pharmacy”, which suggests he might actually be going. That seems both odd and foolish and suggests to me that there must be a reason for this trip – perhaps a chance meeting with Midousuji that will inspire him to change his mind. After all, who could be more the opposite of Midousuji both in terms of physique and team spirit than fellow first-year Onoda-kun – the one Midousuji grudgingly complimented as “not a mass-produced model”? Midousuji showing respect to anyone is rare enough that the fact that Onoda impressed him might just mean Onoda is someone he might actually listen to, and having Onoda be the one to bring Midousjuji back (or just plain) into the brotherhood of cyclists has a certain poetic ring to it…