What an interesting sequence of role reversals and genre-bending we have going on here. The third day of the inter-high has turned into a semi-satirical take on horror films (which makes the omake deliciously appropriate, and the sure sign that the series is in on the joke). For all that, though, it’s also an intense and fairly realistic portrayal of how the endgame of long stages in the grand tours often play out, which alliances emerging and disappearing in the blink of an eye, and chaos reigning as everyone is forced to react to an ever-changing dynamic while battling extreme mental and physical fatigue.
Of course it bears repeating that Onoda is extremely inexperienced at road racing and thus abjectly unprepared to deal with that scenario, both intellectually and emotionally (physically he seems fine), but if we needed a reminder the episode gives us plenty. Sakamichi-kun is still dreaming of crossing the finish line with all six of his team together (no doubt with arms linked, singing “Hime, Hime” as they cross the line in first). Generally speaking I think Kinjou has done a poor job educating his greenest cadet, but he did at least warn the first-years the night before that on the final day, the exhausted and infirm might have to be left behind to die. In racing terms, it sure sounded like Kinjou was hoisting his own death flag to me.
All the while, the eight-man pack from Sohoku and HakoGaku have the air of friends out on a Sunday jaunt, with only Manami-kun (he can speak to the wind, you know) and Frank (Abu!) sensing something was wrong. They’re trying to catch the front but they don’t seem to be riding with much urgency, to be honest. The same cannot be said of Shinkai, who’s clearly got fresher legs than Imaizumi and refuses to allow the Sohoku lieutenant a moment to breathe. It takes everything he has to stay in Shinkai’s slipstream, and by the time the pair have caught up the leaders, Imaizumi is completely gassed.
This is an interesting dynamic in its own right. We have the uncharacteristically silent Midousuji, isolated from his team and following behind the others seemingly meekly. And Ishigaki is also isolated, stranded somewhere behind the leading quartet and the chasing eight-pack, useless to his team leader. In this scenario HakuGaku does exactly what they should do, whether the HakoGaku and Sohoku teams are cooperating behind them or not – they attack. Imaizumi is weak and Midousuji is alone – this is a chance for HakuGaku to break open the race and make all other strategizing moot, or at the very least hit Kinjou and Midousuji so hard that they have no legs when the finish line approaches later in the day.
Meanwhile, disaster strikes the joint chase force when the peloton consumes the last of the stragglers, the chasing pair from Kyoto Fushimi, and actually gets the octet in sight. At this point the third-years realize they’ve fucked up in a big way, allowed this to happen by not pushing their pack hard enough in the chase. This is all horror movie cliche, the giant snake continuing to swallow up victims as the teenagers in the main cast spout classic lines of horror dialogue – but it’s intentionally funny and not unintentionally, so it works quite well. And it genuinely intense stuff, as the terror rises in Sakamichi’s eyes as he realizes what’s happening. Arakita takes it upon himself as the deputy in charge of his trio to stay behind and try and slow down the peloton, and sends Toudou and
Abu Izumida to try and make a break for the leaders.
As for poor Onoda, he’s the first to fall – he loses contact with the rest of his team (another great horror spoof moment) and is swallowed up by the peloton. And naturally, now that they’ve come as far as they have it’s time for Machimiya to play his trump card and stab the pack in the back. This was obviously going to happen sooner or later, but Machimiya and team are playing the villain role far more directly than Midoususji and KyoFushi ever did. They – being very well-rested – gather at the front of the peloton and leave the rest of them in the dust, chasing after the remaining HakuSoho domestiques and, eventually, the five leaders.
This is a real “Shaka, when the walls fell” moment for Onoda – his inexperience getting him in trouble yet again, once more separated from his team. It’s a bad spot, but clearly not hopeless – he’s certainly not injured, and just as certainly destined to play a role in the endgame one way or the other. The question, of course, is how that’s going to happen. His three teammates have abandoned him despite Naruko’s outrage – yes, in a better world they should return the favor for what Onoda did for them but he’s unfortunate enough to have fallen behind on the third day. I wonder if Mashima is the wild-card here – he wasn’t sent ahead with Toudou and Izumida, and I wonder if he’s going to let the peloton swallow him and then team up with Onoda to draft their way back to the front.