I love New Year’s in Japan, but it does kind of suck for sports anime fans. Most series (like this one) take a one-week break, and that can be especially agonizing for a sports series, which love their cliffhangers (especially when seasons come to an end). Yowamushi Pedal is certainly no exception – after a pretty tense and very fast-paced episode things are left hanging in a big way, with Waterloo seeming staring Onoda and the third-years in the face. We’ll see about that.
Interestingly, there are some conspicuous absences in this episode. After showing up in the pre-credit requiem for Arakita, Midousuji and Ishigaki are nowhere to be found. And since Hakone Academy spent the entire episode on the attack, that means they must have fallen a good way behind. Knowing Chimera-kun he’s surely got some plan in mind, and it seemingly requires keeping Ishigaki with him for a while longer (he is the only help Midousuji has left, after all). But in doing so he’s spotting HakoGaku an awfully big cushion as the race gets ready to enter the final 30 KM – most of which is spent ascending the biggest climb of the entire inter-high.
I think this is a case where things are very different than they seem, and much more complicated. Superficially is looks straightforward – Hakone is the stronger side, and they keep firing broadsides at Sohoku to see if they can survive. First they blow out to a 200 meter lead after using up Arikita, following in Shinkai’s slipstream. Imaizumi and Naruko – and finally Onoda – pull the Sohoku Six back up to the leaders. Then Fukutomi wisely hits Sohoku with another barrage without giving them a chance to breathe, sending Izumida to pull the team as fast as they can. And a few thousand “Abu!” later, Andy and Frank have screamed their way to a cushion of better than half a kilometer.
Are we looking at a contest of philosophies here – Hakone using up their riders and culling them one by one to build a lead, while Sohoku prefers to try and compete as a whole? It looks like way for a while, and Izumida certainly joins Arakita in the graveyard after his suicide run. But Kinjou tells his grommets that their time is coming, too – once they’ve helped the team catch up (hopefully) before the climb begins, they’re to detach like booster rockets and let the third-years blast into orbit unencumbered. All three of the first-years make the requisite speeches about doing their duty, but you can see that the reality of it is hitting them hard.
Except I don’t think it’s going to be that simple, even if you buy the logic of shedding riders before even knowing if they’re strong enough to keep up. In the first place, this is going to be pretty anti-climactic second cour if the first-years are sloughed off like so much dead skin and sidelined for the real action. And in the second, what possible sense could it make to use Onoda up and throw him away right when you’re about to hit the biggest climb of the race? Isn’t that what he was brought in for (apart from the X-factor Kinjou recognized in him)? Naruko and Imaizumi I could see, but if I were Kinjou I’d let Tadokoro bleed himself dry before I’d use up Onoda on the flats.
There’s another X-factor in play here too, and that’s Kinjou’s knee – that wasn’t introduced Chekov-style merely to be forgotten about later. Between the dramatic and strategic imperatives and Midousuji lurking on the perimeter of events like a stealth bomber, I’m confident this predictable and orderly chain of events is going to be blown up in a big way. Something is going to happen soon, too, as soon as the moment comes when the three first-years are theoretically supposed to fall back – Onoda and Manami have a moment of destiny to share on that hors categorie climb, and something trivial like seniority is surely not going to stand in their way.