This was sports anime done right, with just enough Yowamushi Pedal quirkiness to lift the episode to another level. Getting these sorts of eps right is kind of a Hippocratic Oath for sports anime – you’ve just got to be able to nail the high-tension competition sequences or you’re ultimately fighting a losing battle, no matter what else you bring to the table. Seeing how compelling this was and remembering how intense the racing eps of Over Drive were, it’s somewhat puzzling why more cycling manga haven’t found their way to print – and eventually, to the screen.
It’s worth checking in on where everything stood at the start of this episode, because things were getting strung out in a long chaotic chain, as is often the case in long grand tour stages. The two ace-lieutenant pairs are battling it out at the front rather than wait for their teams (obviously a good choice, though they’re not aware of just how good) with Midousuji desperately hanging on solo. Hiroshima has left the peloton as a unit, leaving dispirited disorder behind. The Sohoku/Hakogaku chase pack has sent Toudou and Izumida to try (unsuccessfully) and catch the leaders as Arakita stays behind in to slow down the peloton, with Onoda and Manami swallowed up inside it. And KyoFushi’s Ishigaki is alone on the road somewhere, waiting (I assume) to latch onto a chase group when one catches him.
Arakita has really been snookered here by Machimiya. Not only was he in charge of the group that was caught by the peloton, but he misread the situation by thinking he had to slow down the pack when in fact, Hiroshima sloughed them off like a snakeskin when their usefulness was done. Therefore Arakita has left himself stranded with the peloton for no reason while Hiroshima is surging forward, chasing down the six-rider group that (along with Ishigaki, presumably) is all that stands between their fresh legs (they did no pulling) and the front.
As it turns out, though, this was the best thing that could have happened in a bad situation. Onoda-kun, as I said last week, is physically fine – he just needed to calm down and assess his options. As always the tireless terrier has boundless determination to help his friends, and he’s even figured out this game well enough to know he needs to find allies to help him do so. But the pack (which, lets be honest, shamelessly allowed themselves to be duped) seems to have no spirit for the chase. It’s only the last rider Onoda approaches that has any spirit – the #2 jersey from the defending champions.
I love seeing Onoda in these situations, because they’re a reminder that he has a genuine social anxiety problem. And seeing him force himself to act anyway is truly inspiring – the little guy is really impossible not to root for. Approaching older strangers to ask for help is bad enough, but Arakita is the worst kind of personality for “Onoda-chan” to face – loud, aggressive, hyper-critical. But there’s no give up in him, so he presses on, and what this really boils down to is simple – Onoda-chan has to prove to Arakita that he can be of some value to him in chasing down the front.
Arakita really steps to the fore here. He’s seriously, volcanically pissed off – he’s let himself be played like a concert grand, and let down his captain by doing so. But his anger doesn’t blind him to recognizing Onoda’s determination and yes, talent – eventually – and he relents when Onoda gives him a quavering but honest “I’m scared you’ll eat me!” when Arakita asks what he thinks of him. And there’s one more pair of legs in the peloton that can be of help – Manami-kun is there too, and Arakita is too smart to let his temper blind him to the need of adding the “Wonder Boy” to the chase.
This is a really interesting trio to watch interact. Arakita sums up Sakamichi-kun pretty well – it’s the chase that thrills him, drives him to his finest feats on the bike. But he’s not a killer – not yet, and that’s ultimately a weakness as a competitor. Arakita sees these two children for the freak talents that they are and marvels at their skills as they take their turns pulling. But when the time comes, his pride drives him to show them why he’s the #2 of the defending champs, and he sets off on a truly ridiculous rampage of GAR, practically daring the bozu to try and keep up. Soon enough the chase group is reeled in, and here’s the ironic part of Onoda’s quest – he was driven to try and regroup with everyone on his team, but when the moment comes Arakita blows right by them and continues in pursuit of Hiroshima. This is the hard lesson Onoda must learn – on the final day, there’s no room for sentiment and jerseys matter less than minutes and seconds.
It’s an interesting decision on Arakita’s part, that’s for sure – a group of nine is certainly stronger than a group of three. But when cyclists have the kind of momentum that his small trio does, it might just be smarter not to break the spell by slowing down to group up with the others. That’s the gamble he’s taking – that his group is in the zone, and they can ride that all the way to the front (where Fuku-chan has requested that Arakita deliver Manami, who he obviously sees as vital to the final moments of the race). And sure enough they snap up the dismayed Machimiya and his teammates in short order, giving the impression that they’re going to drop them in short order too as they continue their drive to the front. Only Ishigaki remains between Arakita and the leaders now, and it seems a given this threesome will catch up. With Ishigaki hang on to their coattails and join them? Will the rest of the Sohoku and HakoGaku teams manage to make one more run to the front themselves?
I mentioned earlier that Machimiya had almost the air of a sexual predator about him. But I didn’t quite expect it to take the form it did in the omake (poor Frank and Andy). It’s pretty clear that Nabeshima-sensei is playing to the crowd in a big way with these post-credit shorts – TMS knows very well who’s buying the discs…