Maybe there’s been a little bit of inconsistency with Yowamushi Pedal this season, it’s true. But two of the five episodes have been absolutely first-rate, and I chalk that unevenness up to the fact that Onoda has been only intermittently involved. The third ep was great based purely on the power of Midousuji’s brilliantly told back-story, but this one was a reminder – if you needed one – of why Yowapeda is always at its best when Sakamichi-kun is at the heart of the narrative.
I never would have guessed that Akira Midousuji would become such a compelling character, and even less so a sympathetic one, but it seems as if Watanabe-sensei has been able to pull that one off. What Midousuji is doing to his teammates here is really despicable, in fact, but now that we’ve seen his painful journey it’s hard not to feel more sad than angry. The fierce, tunnel-visioned win-at-any-cost Chimera-kun now appears beaten and forlorn, and it seems there’s nothing that could change that fact.
Enter the impossible man. The tireless terrier (Mark II), the irresistible force of positivity, Onoda Sakamichi. Never mind the fact that even after the day he’s had he has plenty of juice to race up the mountain to the pharmacy (how the hell is that even possible?) – where as predicted he meets Akira (who’s decided to flee the 400 KM back to Kyoto, tail between his legs, by bicycle) by chance on the road. In lesser hands Onoda could be insufferable, but instead in Watanabe’s (and seiyuu Yamashita Daiki’s) he’s irresistible. There’s so much sincerity, so much humility to the guy – seriously, how could anyone (even Chimera-kun) fail to have their defenses broken down, at least a little?
The bond forms, not surprisingly, over anime. Sakamichi has assumed Akira’s use of the term “Zaku” reflects an interest in Gundam – and lo and behold it seems he’s actually right, though Midousuji is unwilling to fully lower his defenses. Lest we forget, Sakamichi’s love of anime and desire to have friends to share it with is what drove him to cycling in the first place, and the fact that it’s his true love has never wavered. Midousuji acknowledges that he knows the language Onoda is speaking but backs it up with a “Kimo!”, and eventually issues Onoda a challenge – if he wins a race to the pharmacy, they can have a long talk about anime.
So what was it, then, that turned Midousuji’s mind around about the next day? He won the race – though it was a lot harder than he expected – and bolted before Onoda could engage him any further. Maybe it was the fact that Onoda was able to get him to want to race in the first place, in spite of himself. Maybe it was the way Onoda effortlessly expresses his joy of riding, or the shared bond of lonely solo bike trips every day. But change his mind Akira does, and though tardy he does show up at the start line the next day – after a trip to the barber and the dentist, seemingly. Never underestimate the power of the tireless terrier.
With Midousuji having seemingly come into the light (I never would have believed Watanabe could pull that off convincingly, but he did) I suppose darkness needs a new standard-bearer. That seems to be the mystery team from the OP, Hiroshima Kureminami Tech. Everyone from Teshima down is preaching that this is now a two-team race, but Hiroshima has all six of their riders still alive, and their leader, Eikichi Machimiya (a truly sinister Seki Tomokazu) claims that he has the “devil’s luck” – always managing to somehow steal races at the line. Eikichi makes a very impactful entrance, immediately distasteful and unnerving – he makes a genuinely ugly advance on Miki and looks to even cop a feel – and if the goal is to establish he and his team as villains, mission accomplished. But that’s too early to call – they may be more like wild cards, and there may be another side to Eikichi just as there is with Akira. One thing for certain is that they’re going to be a factor the rest of the way.
And then there’s that omake, another Yowapeda classic of the highest order. In a way I’m almost disappointed to have the occasion when the entire Sohaku team sings “Koi no Hime Hime Pettanko” for the first time (or at least plays percussion on it) come in an omake rather than in the race itself, but there’s no denying it’s a great moment. In the end, of course, Onoda’s “Best Boy” power truly is irresistible. I just hope this doesn’t dilute the impact of the inevitable moment when the teams sings it on the course a little bit.
Koi no Hime Hime Pettankomake: