I remain a bit puzzled about how the rest of the inter-high is going to go. After everything has shaken out, the deck seems to have been shuffled a whole lot less than one might have expected. Some of the warriors have fallen, no doubt – one of them most notably – but it’s pretty crowded near the front of the pack considering how late in the game it is. This is certainly a case of “last man cycling” – but I’m just not sure who that last man is going to be in the case of HakoGaku and Sohoku – I don’t think it’s as clear-cut as it seems.
For now, the focus is on Arakita. And this looks very much like his swan song, though with Yowapeda it can be dangerous to make that assumption. It even more definitively looks like the swan song for Hiroshima, who not only let Arakita and the wonder boys go, but don’t even latch onto the backs of the other Sohoku and Hakone riders as their trailing group passes them. To be honest it’s a bit of a letdown to see Hiroshima go down so meekly after dominating so much of the narrative – it looks as if they really were a first-cour factor and that’s all.
In all honestly I also found it a little disappointing to see that trailing pack from HakoSoho reel in the leaders so quickly. It kind of cheapens Arakita’s massive effort, if you ask me. After everything that’s happened over this season, all the effort Onoda (and Manami of course) put in to keep up with Arakita’s even greater effort, the other seven riders came leisurely into view mere moments after Arakita and the chibis catch the leaders, as if it were a Sunday ride in the park.
Be that as it may, it seems as if the massive effort Arakita put in did more than deliver Onoda and Manami and crush Hiroshima – it crushed Arakita too. His legs are gone and he knows it, so he blows everything he has on one last manic turn pulling his team, and then collapses like a punctured hot-air balloon, with only Sakamichi to audibly mourn for him. Even with as many Lazarus-like moves as we’ve seen from this series it really does look as if Arakita is done, but he made quite an impression when he had his moment in the sun. This was some world-class GAR, and he managed to layer in some world-class tsundere as well.
So what happens now? Well, in one sense Midousuji is right in that numbers are a limited advantage in the final stages of a race like this – only one man can cross the line first, and at some stage even fat and sassy teams like HakuSoho have to start going all-out and let the weaker members of the pack be eaten. Nevertheless, he is at a disadvantage with only Ishigaki there, and it seems to me that the longer the race stays in this sort of status quo mode the bigger the disadvantage is. As long as Sohoku and Hakogaku ride as a pack and match each other’s pace, the more their strength in numbers kicks in – they have nine guys between them to pull their leaders. Ishigaki can’t hold up forever against that those odds, which makes me wonder if it wouldn’t be in Kyoto Fushimi’s advantage to attack now, and force the other two teams to splinter if everyone can’t keep up.
For now, there are few clues as to who the next to go will be. Tadokoro seems positively genki, and Makashima (who despite his self-professed awkwardness has proved himself easily the best mentor among the Sohoku seniors, especially with Onoda) is so geeked-out that he can’t help dancing. If this weren’t an anime but an actual race, I would be watching Imaizumi very closely – he’s expended a ton of energy over the last two days, and had several shaky moments already. Naruko has been eerily silent for a long time and seems due to make a splash either positively or negatively soon. We pretty much know Onoda and Manami are going to be relevant, so that leaves Shinkai – who looks like the strongest of any of the lieutenants on any team to me – along with Izumida and Toudou as mystery men.