It’s tempting to dwell on the memorable way this episode ended – with the plaintive “Himeeee!” and the best end card ever (I love how TMS has been having ever-more fun with these – the sponsor messages are even better, but CR cuts those out). But the episode itself gives us more than enough grist for the mill. Things are definitely moving along, but a couple of developments have me a bit worried.
For starters, I was pretty pleased by the surprise cutaway to an intro featuring Onoda-san and Miyahara-chan. Okaa-san is always a delight – loving but overprotective, and generally clueless about all matters practical. But she reads Iinchou-san well enough to embarrass the hell out of her when it comes to her feelings for Manami, even if she has no idea there’s even a bike race going on – much less than her “best boy” is in the thick of it. It was a nice callback to the early part of the series, which was focused so heavily on Sakamichi-kun’s personal development, and I especially loved one thing Okaa-san said – “His extreme kindness is his biggest flaw”. That’s pretty much been my view all along, and we’ll see if he overcomes it in the final 3km.
That’s all good, but I’m a bit uneasy with where things progressed with Imaizumi and Midousuji. Each of them cracked, in their way. It was a vicious battle, with Chimera-kun trying everything in his power to bully his way through on the inside – in actuality, probably too vicious considering how far from the finish it was taking place. But that’s when things got crazy. First, a crack in Imaizumi’s frame. And then, in Midousuji himself cracks – and there can be no question based on what happens next that he’s out of this race in unceremonious fashion.
Of course, one can only wait and see where the story goes with these two twists. On Midousuji’s part, I can say I’ll be disappointed if his story ends so abruptly and ignominiously. He was obviously not going to win and he’s obviously the antagonist, but he’s been built up enough to where I expected his ending to have a little more meaning. Perhaps that will come through Ishigaki’s words of advice, only now revealed – that Midousuji’s heart was “too pure”, and that he had a future. It’s certainly easy to forget he’s just first-year, and has two more bites of the apple to come – but I hope this one ends for him with a little more poetry and pathos.
As for Imaizumi, it’s more an issue of the cracked frame as a plot device. If we see that be the cause of his falling off the pace, whether it be to the benefit of Onoda-kun or one of the Hakone pair, that would be a bit of a cop-out. Equipment failures do happen in grand tour cycling, all the time – but I want to see this race decided on the strength of the riders, not their equipment. It puts me in mind of the cones being a deciding factor in the sprint – except now, we’re talking about the culmination if the entire series (anime, anyway). If this is another obstacle for Imaizumi to overcome, great – but I hope that’s how it’s played.
Of course, whether the frame is the cause or not we see that the champs have snuck in on little cats feet (and the wind) while the Chimera and the Piggy were head-butting. Fukutomi gives us the ultimate “Oretachi ga… tsuyoi!” complete with dramatic pause – and let it be noted that he includes Manami-kun in that statement. HakoGaku were always going to be in it at the end – it was really only a question of which one of them is the last man standing in the fight. It’s clear that Imaizumi and Midousuji let their emotions get the better of them and went all-out too early, which played right into the calm and collected Fuku-chan’s hands. And wither Onoda? We don’t see him, but you can bet he’s there – he’s come too far to let Hakone slip out of his terrier-jaws now. Next week is the antepenultimate episode, and I think it’s time for the long-waited spotlight dance for Sakamichi – with Manami as his partner.