Yowamushi Pedal: Grande Road – 18

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The guest of honor has arrived – let the party begin.

I have a few thoughts percolating in my head after this episode of “Grande Road”, the first and most obvious being that it was awesome.  We had pretty much everything you’d want here – feels, GAR, a sentimental look back and a tantalizing look forward.  It certainly helps that the focus was squarely on an excellent subset of characters – Onoda of course, but also the 3M boys. Makishima, Manami and Midousuji (and I confess, I’ve pretty much done a 180 on Chimera-kun as a character).

In addition to the past and future of course, the present was pretty awesome in this episode too – excellent in-race action.  The second thought percolating in my head is a recurring one – this this series (and life generally, to be honest) is so much better when Onoda is in the spotlight.  He’s forever the heart, soul and spirit of Yowapeda.  The show can be excellent when focusing on the supporting cast, but the emotional connection is always strongest when Sakamichi is involved.  It’s his sheer force of will and decency that give Yowamushi Pedal its identity, which is fitting as he seems to be the alter-ego of its author.

That brings me to the third thing that struck me while watching this episode, again not for the first time but certainly in the strongest manner yet.  Watanabe-sensei has set up not just an exciting finish for a race, but a fascinating philosophical and even spiritual showdown.  In Midousuji (and Manami) and Sakamichi, we have complete contrasts – not just in terms of racing style, but in terms of worldview.  Chimera-kun and Red Bull-boy are focused on winning at any cost (though their motivations and thought processes are different) while Onoda-kun is the ultimate team player – the boy who rides for the love of the camaraderie.  And meanwhile the two all-arounders, Fuku-chan and Imaizumi, lurk up ahead, surely about to be caught.  Something has to give here.

At one point in this ep Midousuji – who’s just paid Manami the ultimate Midou-compliment, “Kimokunai, Omae wa!” – rages that Onoda has “no drive for victory whatsoever”.  Manami keeping up he can understand, because he understands what drives Manami so hard.  But what drives Onoda to such superhuman feats is still a mystery to Akira-kun.  It would be easy to assume Watanabe intended that observation about Onoda to be damning about Midousuji, but I’m not so sure.  I’ve noted before that the author seemed to have a certain sympathy for Midousuji – even an admiration for the purity of his drive to win.  If indeed that’s the case, doesn’t it imply that there’s something missing in Onoda’s perspective – something Watanabe doesn’t wholly admire?

Therein, I think, lies the key question facing the final six episodes of “Grande Road”.  Has Watanabe written this as a straight-up protagonist vs. antagonist struggle, the purity of selflessness and team spirit over selfishness and greed for victory?  Or does this story cut both ways – just as Midousuji surely needs to learn some lessons about the myopic nature of his own perspective, does Sakamichi-kun too need to grow beyond the rather simplistic nature of his?  I don’t know the answer, but I know what I hope – that it’s the latter.  I hope so for obvious story-related reasons, but also because I believe Watanabe doesn’t just love bikes, but sports – and that he recognizes that the drive to win isn’t something to be ashamed of, but something to be proud of.

Here’s what I do know – Onoda is GAR.  And because of his innate kindness and utterly honest character, the series is never more inspiring then when Onoda shatters expectations and does the seemingly impossible.  I loved Makishima’s internal monologue as he talked about Onoda with Toudou, not just because it highlighted some of the best moments in Yowapeda but because it shows how much Maki-chan himself has grown.  Being a mentor to Onoda has allowed him to become a much more open and supportive person, and his trust in Onoda was almost as inspiring as Onoda’s performance itself.

That said, the performance was pretty damn inspiring.  Sakamichi’s sheer willpower driving him up that mountain in the only way he can, pumping out more RPM from those little legs which never seem to tire.  As anyone who knows tour cycling will tell you, riding alone is the hardest task there is – especially on a grueling ascent.  Even a rival’s presence makes it easier, because being solo means not just no drafting help, but also that you’re psychologically alone too, with only your own thoughts for company.  That Onoda can do all this while being motivated entirely by the urge to reunite with his friend (and Midousuji, though I’d bet Onoda thinks of him as a friend already) and protecting Imaizumi rather than winning himself is all the more remarkable, but I really want Onoda to respect his own talent more.  I want him to understand just how exceptional what he’s doing is, and to want to cross the line first himself.  It’s the right of any great athlete to want to be the best, and if when the moment comes Onoda has the freshest legs, he should be the one to race for the line.

Whatever happens, this is for sure – Onoda provided us yet more signature Yowapeda moments here.  The first was when he’d finally caught sight of the pair he’d been chasing, and reacted as only he could – utterly glad just to be back riding in company.  And the second was when he caught himself and terrier-growled at Midousuji “I’ll stop you!” (which utterly flummoxed Akira of course).  So much GAR in such a small package…  And while I certainly want Onoda to grow beyond the simple desire to help his teammates, I won’t deny it was pretty amazing to see that fierce desire to do so despite his own exhausting efforts – efforts which didn’t stop him from reeling in Midousuji without Manami’s help after Chimera-kun made a break for it to try and crush this little fly he can’t understand.  Now that we’ve reached this point, with all the major players seemingly in-place, I sincerely hope that Onoda is involved in every episode from here out – it will feel very strange if he isn’t.

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  1. S

    Brilliant review, again. I wondered why Yowapeda is so much better when Onoda is around, because the other characters are wonderful and gripping in their own right. And I think one of the reasons is that we are given an amazing performance by the Seiyuu. I shudder the thought of a terrible seiyuu doing this part. e.g. that guy you love to hate in Gulity Crown.

  2. Yep, Yamashita-san is really superb here. I've been disappointed he's only been getting supporting parts in other series, at least so far.

  3. J

    Do you mean Yuuki Kaji? I can't say I've watched Guilty Crown but if you're talking about seiyuu shitlists then he's usually the name name out of the hat.

  4. w

    I think you're right on the money about Onoda and Midosouji's clashing ideologies. I really don't know how this is going to go, but I'm leaning that Fukutomi might just take first place in the end. Exciting stuff as always!

  5. w

    And yes, Yamashita-san is excellent. Interesting thing from the flashback is that Onodas voice seems to have grown much stronger and confident. Probably just him settling more into the role, but it works very well.

  6. J

    Well done Onoda, you're halfway there. One facet of personality down, one to go…

    As I see it, this episode finally showed Onoda making the change from being passive to assertive, encapsulated in the way he went past Midosuji (horrifyingly noted by the latter) instead of just keeping up with him as may have been the case on any previous Interhigh climb. I do hope Chimera-kun has more to give though, it would be a bit sad and in my opinion a bit cheap to see him give up this soon. The final climb will almost certainly be between Manami & Onoda (and Onoda will almost certainly win) but I'd like to see Midosuji at least make it to the front two.

    However, Onoda still needs to make the most crucial step in becoming a full-blooded racer – he needs to be proactive instead of reactive. I assume that's where Manami comes back into things, as his style of cavalier competition and a more personal connection with Onoda should be more conducive to bringing out his own desires of victory for *himself* as well as his companions.

    Oh and if Tsuyoi-tomi could kindly retire and never get on a bike again that would be nice too.

  7. S

    Fantastic and very thought provoking post there Sir. I think the thing that I love about this post is how it examines the whole idea of Midosuji's "I need to win" mantra and compares it to the weird enigma that is Onoda.

    I do think, however, that simply considering that Onoda is someone who values team work and comradery as his reason for doing the amazing feats that he is may not be all that there is to it.

    I think its fascinating, as you said, that we get both Midosuji and Makashima both giving their takes on Onoda, and those are just two prespectives and side to the guy. The fact is that Onoda is one of those rare athletes thats hard to explain. He's someone that exceeds common sense, logical reason, and just ends up being one of those special miracles that we sometimes see in sports.

    In some ways, Onoda is the dream of every sports fan (And I think what many people thought Lance Armstrong was before we got the harsh truth). Onoda does simply does it, there's no challenge that's too hard for him, and his reasons are just hard to understand.

    Its hard to understand what makes Onoda tick, because he's got so many different facets to him. He loves to ride, he loves catching up to people, he does have a drive to win (especially looking back at the battle against Imaizumi), and I think the process of Onoda finding his REASONS for doing what he does is ever changing too.

    That's why he needs his seniors to be giving him directions and orders. In some ways, being given something to do is almost an excuse to perform amazingly.

    And I think, I realized and thought about all of this because of your fascinating post. I'm not disagreeing with anything you said and I completely agree with what you said about wanting Onoda to have that drive to win himself.

    I guess its just exceedingly fascinating and intellectually stimulating to think about all that happened in this episode, and to marvel at how great Yowamushi no Pedal is.

  8. Interesting points, thanks. I just hope we're not reading more into this than Watanabe intended, but if not, I think it does show that Yowapeda is a deceptively nuanced and complex series and Onoda likewise as a character.

  9. B

    There are some people who have a boatload of natural talent (efficient cardio systems and high VO2 maxes) and are already fast from the moment they touch a bike, and Onoda is one of them. His lack of technique and need to be shepherded around by his teammates are purely due to his inexperience and his personality. But if he develops a better sense of racing tactics and a killer instinct, he has the potential to become better than anybody in Yowapeda. He could seriously turn pro, and the sky's the limit. Not just any pro, but the anime equivalent of Alberto Contador or Chris Froome!

  10. C

    Them Manami faces. He's such a psycho… loving pain, feeling close to death and all that, who would've thought, huh? Very manipulative, too. Even though he looks just as innocent as Onoda.

    I like him.

  11. m

    That awkward moment when you realise that (Trigger Kiss) the sport-themed otome-game you are playing has Imaizumi, Kuudou, Onoda and Abu-kun as possible love interests, with Manami and the Mad Dog of Kure as antagonists…

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