“Come along, Father,” Icarus shouted over the sound of the wind rushing past them. “Smile, we’ve done it, we’ve escaped and we’re free.”
“When my feet are back on solid ground and that island is many, many miles behind us, then you will see me smile,” Daedalus yelled back. “Now, keep your mind on what we have to do and remember, not too high, not too close to the sun.”
I knew this episode was going to be a brutal one – though I didn’t know if it would be the antepenultimate or next-to-last episode. The one where Onoda and Manami finally broke clear of the rest, and were alone with the mountain at last. It was always going to be the mother of all cliffhangers, and so it is – for fans of Yowamushi Pedal who haven’t read ahead in the manga, it’s going to be a very long week (and for the record, I’m not even going to read the comments this week – browse them at your own risk).
It was because this ending was always coming that Yowamushi Pedal (like Manami) always had another gear in reserve it could upshift to. There have been a few ups and downs – mostly ups – but when Yowapeda gets right down to what matters, it soars above almost all of the sports anime competition. And happily, to his credit it appears Watanabe-sensei isn’t dicking around here – he’s giving us the ending the story demands and not messing about with any tricky stuff.
I still have some issues with the cracked frame development ending Imaizumi’s run, and with the way Midousuji went out of the race. But in the final analysis it doesn’t really matter much, because however we got here, we have the glorious crescendo we’ve been waiting 60 episodes for. Manami and Onoda are the last men standing (boys sitting), and they provide a fascinating contrast. Manami is pure competitive fire, a demon for the peak, who cares little for team results of even winning the race itself. Sakamichi is all grunt and grit, everything for the team. Manami rides the wind and relies on gear changes to crush the opponent, Onoda – in a manner that utterly suits his personality – relies on cadence. This is true mamachari technique in the grandest stage of all.
I was very interested to hear Fukutomi’s answer as to why he was ceding the final stage to Manami (in fact, I was glad it was addressed at all, as I was worried there for a while). Is he exhausted? Yes – but there are no grand conspiracies behind Fuku-chan’s thinking. I wondered if he might have done it as a final act of penance for his crimes, or some such – but his reasons are cool and logical. This year’s event is a peak finish, and he sent his best climber to the front. He relies on Manami because he’s a “winner” – and indeed, there can be no question of Manami shrinking from the moment or going soft on the enemy. It all makes sense – but still, it’s a huge gamble for the ace to step aside and leave everything to a first-year.
We had a moment to touch base with just about everyone involved with both Sohoku and Hakogaku (except poor Andy and Frank), and yes, Onoda’s mom. She has another hilarious cameo when she hears “Onoda Sakamichi” is in the lead. Her reaction is priceless enough – but the cherry on top comes when she declares that it’s another kid with the “exact same name”. It appears Naruko is the worst off of the Sohoku bunch, but he perks up when he hears who’s fighting for the lead. My favorite reaction (unsurprisingly) was Makishima’s – the third-year who’s been the most directly involved in Onoda’s miraculous development from a mommy bike novice to one of the final contenders in the inter-high.
In the end, though, none of them matter now – it’s all about the two boy wonders and their contrasting styles. Manami waxes poetical about how his two great passions – being first to the peak and being involved in a great duel – are forever antithetical to each other because he’s simply too good. We’re finally seeing the Achilles’ heel (to stay in the Greek motif) with Manami, the downside to his bottomless well of confidence. I worry for anybody who’s so concerned with how he wins – it’s not enough for Sangaku-kun simply to be first, but he needs to be first his way. He needs to fly on the wind, and he needs to shift all the way up to 10th-gear until his legs can barely crank the pedals. Interestingly, cool-headed Fukutomi told him to stop at 8th-gear, lest be break his “wings of glass” – but fellow-climber Toudou gave Manami the opposite message – to embrace the moment to the fullest and push himself to the limit.
We’ll see how all this turns out, but one thing we know about Sakamichi-kun is that he’s at his best when he has a target to chase. He may be too unselfish, but now that Onoda knows he has the whole team riding with him, he’s mad with desire to win – for them. And he doesn’t care how he does it, which I think gives him an advantage over Manami. We heard just one brief “Hime!” from him this week, but I suspect we may be hearing more – those words are his wings, after all. And who knows – those gears are there for a reason, and even a high-cadence climber can still take advantage of them. Onoda is the natural – he’s come all the way to the top of the mountain on raw ability and desire alone, but if he’s going to win the day, I don’t think he’s going to be able to do it without demonstrating that he’s learned something of technique.