It was easy to think that this episode was going to be all bout the chimera cyclist Midousuji Akira, who has a way of drawing every bit of attention to himself whenever he’s on-screen. But for once, Midousuji was mostly the foil this week – first to his sempai Ishigaki, and then even more dramatically to his fellow first-year Manami. Yowamushi Pedal is a series full of big personalities (none bigger than Chimera-kun) but this was a moment for two of the quieter ones to shine.
Ishigaki Koutarou’s lot in the narrative has been very much his lot with his team – to be overshadowed by those with more talent and more flair. But I like him – he’s a decent guy, obviously, but he has a passion to win that’s deceptively intense. And he’s also smart enough to see through to the heart of Midousuji as few can – for all his dubious tactics Akira-kun is basically “pure”, as I’ve pointed out myself. He’s dedicated his life to the Goddess of Victory and he’ll do anything to capture her. He’s actually quite a straightforward fellow, really, and obviously gives Kyoto Fushimi a chance they would never have with Ishigaki as the ace. And I give Ishigaki credit for realizing that, for not judging Midousuji, and for giving everything he has to see his team win.
Once Koutarou had joined the honored dead, it took less time for Midousuji to implode the status quo than I thought – because he was a lot closer to begin with than I’d realized. He and Ishigaki were already ahead of everyone but the two leaders and the first chase group, and he mowed through the latter with relative ease. It seems Makishima and Toudou did indeed do a great job of wearing each other down (though I’m not convinced we’ve seen the last of them as factors in this race), to the point where each third-year has no choice but to send their one remaining grommet to try and contain the chimera.
It’s Manami who goes first, while Onoda dithers a bit about what to do. Makishima initially assumes he’s fallen off the pace (seriously – underestimating Tireless Terrier II after all he’s done?) but Onada is already pulling at his lead, panting, waiting to be given his run. By the time Makishima gives him his benediction Onoda is already a good ways behind Manami and Midousuji, who’re tearing viciously up the side of Fuji as if it were a Tokyo hill-climb.
The M & M boys make a fascinating pair for a wide variety of reasons. While Midousuji certainly was struck by Sakamichi (“He”s not a mass-produced model”) the sense is that Manami is the first opponent who’s genuinely unnerved him. He sees what I see in Manami’s eyes – “You’re not thinking of protecting the ace.” Manami is a beast, and he’s probably the most rested cyclist left in the mix – he’s been asked to do very little over the past two-and-a-half days of racing. Not only that, but he’s an adrenaline freak who loves competition as much as climbing, loves riding on the edge for as long as possible. When he says he loves it because it “makes him feel closer to death, and it’s when you’re close to death that you feel most alive” it’s important to remember Manami’s background. He was a sickly kid, bedridden and a constant worry to his family. He’s speaking from experience here, and I think the experience of his childhood has made him something of a wild animal when it comes to cycling.
When Midousuji-kun says “You’re not gross.” to Manami, I think that’s easily the most sincere and profound compliment we’ve seen him give. He recognizes in Manami what he knows is in himself – a manic desire to win at all costs. Manami challenges him to a contest, to see who can reach the leaders first, but – seeing there’s no advantage in that for him – Akira ups the ante with a condition that the loser will agree not to pass the winner for the rest of the race. It’s no shock when Manami accepts, because the truth is obvious – he’s out to win. He doesn’t care about team tactics or titles, he just wants to be the first to the top of the mountain. But the thing is, I think Fukutomi knew that, and that’s why he held him back as a trump card – not to help him across the line if needed, but to be the first to cross it himself if needed. In that sense Manami-kun would be exactly what Midousji called him when they first met on the climb – a secret weapon.
And then there’s Onoda. Midousuji’s observation that there’s “something very different” about the smiles of his fellow first-years is exactly on-point. Onoda isn’t driven by the desperate hunger to win – what drives him is the camaraderie, not just with his teammates but his opponents. He wants to help his team win, but doesn’t care if he does so himself. And that, I think, is a problem for Onoda – he’s not selfish enough. He doesn’t respect his own talent the way the other great riders in the cast do. It seems odd to say that selflessness is a character flaw in anime and I have no idea if Watanabe-sensei plans to go this route, but I sincerely hope Onoda’s arc boils down to this issue – I want to see some of the same hunger and selfishness from him that I have from Midousuji, Manami, Fukutomi and Imaizumi (among others). I want to see an Onoda that acts like the finish line belongs to him and no one else, and fights like hell to prove it.
Oh, and as for that omake – yes, they really did go there. It’s a close shave, but this may be the smoothest omake yet.