Yowamushi Pedal continues to roar along at breakneck speed, both on and off the screen. As the final day of the inter-high screams towards a dramatic conclusion, the series is more popular than ever – the first volume of “Grande Road” outsold any of the first series on disc. Yowapeda may not have equalled Kurobas and Haikyuu in raw disc sales, but in many ways it’s an even bigger cultural phenomenon – in addition to huge merchandising and doujin sales, it’s spawned a staggering cycling boom among the young (and not so young) that has even many Japanese cycling experts stunned, and it’s now even getting write-ups in American cycling magazines. This season figures to end somewhere around Chapter 225, and the manga itself is approaching 340 chapters, so bank on a break of a year or so – but that there will be more Yowapeda anime seems a foregone conclusion. Sometimes even I get one right.
As for our story itself, it’s a cracker – though in that peculiar Yowapeda way, I’m enjoying what’s happening while at the same time I’m impatient to get where I assume things are eventually headed. In that sense it seems as if the last two minutes of the episode may be more important than the first 20, but that’s not to say Imaizumi isn’t an important factor. Naruko went out with a bang (pretty much literally) and for now, ceded the spotlight to his fellow grommet. And Imaizumi seized it with all the desperation of a starving man who’s found a curry pan in the middle of the desert.
Is it possible that Imaizumi’s burst has legs – could he claim the moment and ride as Sohoku’s ace all the way to the finish line? Sure – let’s not forget he was effectively the second character introduced in Yowapeda, even if he’s often been overshadowed since. For the record I’ll be disappointed if Onoda doesn’t end up as the Sohoku rider fighting for the goal (presumably with Manami) – even if it’s Imaizumi that would feel like an anti-climax to me. And surely Onoda has a huge role to play in what happens now one way or the other, but just how things play out is pleasingly mysterious. As I’ve mentioned here before, Imaizumi is theoretically the next in-line after Kinjou – he is the other all-rounder on the squad, after all. But he’s not the protagonist, and I think that matters.
Imaizumi’s charge to the front is certainly a fascinating one. The idea that Toudou and Makishima would effectively cancel each other out has been mentioned in this space, and it’s definitely a part of Hotshot’s thinking. And the endgame of a long race that finishes on a massive climb is a mental game as much as physical, a savage battleground where team tactics usually fly out the window, as he knows. Imaizumi has been, from the beginning, a loner – Onoda and Naruko have worn down his isolationist tendencies some, but I think he’s reverting to form here. I thought for a moment he might be gaming to try and wear down Fukutomi and sacrifice himself in the process, but now I think this charge is genuine – I think he believes he can (and must) go it alone, and that he’s strong enough to attack Fuku-chan all the way to the finish and win the race.
Of course, if that were to happen it’s not much of a dramatic ending – and that’s probably a deal-breaker. I enjoyed Imaizumi’s flashback (if Onoda is the “Best Boy”, I guess Imaizumi-bochan is the “Bad Boy“) even if it didn’t tell us much that was new. But there are still eight episodes left, and too much is going to happen between now and the end for this to hold. Imaizumi is very much who he is – there’s a strong symbolism to the fact that he loves the quiet of riding at the front, because it reflects his loner personality. He’s strong, no doubt, but he’s not riding alone, and I think that’s going to present a problem (and I don’t mean Fukutomi, either). It presents a problem both strategically and narratively, because it’s not Yowapeda’s style to abandon Sohoku’s “all for one and one for all” theme here at the end of all things.
Enter the Chimera. It was only a matter of time before Midousuji made his re-entry into the scene, and I for one welcome it. Ishigaki has given his all and joined the ranks of the fallen, and that leaves Chimera-kun to fight all the way to the front on his own. He’s good – but is he that good? He has a lot of obstacles to clear before he even gets to the head of the pack (including the forgotten Shinkai and Tadokoro, who’ll both have incentive to try and slow him down). But dramatic imperative would seem to indicate that Midousuji and Imaizumi must come together, whether at the front of the pack or not – this is the test that Imaizumi must pass, the demon that has to be exorcised. It won’t happen next week (Manami seems to be next in-line for a star turn) but it seemingly must happen soon.