I knew Nabeshima-sensei was going to do it, but it was still a swift kick in the nuts when the credits rolled. Now it’s like you DVR’d (I almost said “taped”) the Super Bowl, and have to wait a week to watch it. Do you avoid TV altogether? Twitter? The fucking internet? Going in I was really hoping this was going to wrap up this week, letting the finale be the coda the series deserves (but few good series ever get). At least it seems we’re going to get our result early in the last ep, giving some time over to the aftermath.
The thing is, of course, that this isn’t the finale – not really. Yowamushi Pedal the manga is more popular than ever, and just this week there were two new Yowapeda anime projects announced at Anime Japan – an OAD (“Episode 22.5” – so whatever happened between last week’s ep and this one) and an original theatrical film penned by Watanabe-sensei. It seems inevitable that there’s going to be more of the TV series, too, though I’m frankly surprised we haven’t seen that officially announced yet. This season will end having covered about 2/3 of the manga, so there’d be enough source material for three more cours or so without taking any break at all. I assume we are going to see one, though (perhaps 6 months to a year) to give the manga a chance to extend its lead.
This episode was a real barnburner, even if I was constantly clock-watching as I hoped against hope we’d see the end of the race. It became obvious by about the halfway point that wasn’t going to happen – 500 meters is an eternity in Yowapeda time – so at that stage I sort of resigned myself to the inevitable and just enjoyed the rush. The first half of the ep focused largely on Manami, and gave us what I’d call the only real misstep – I really didn’t need to see a flashback we’d basically seen already with a few hundred meters left in the race. It felt like a delaying tactic, and it was – we didn’t learn anything about Manami from it that we didn’t already know.
Where we are learning about Manami is in the racing itself, and we’re definitely seeing his potentially fatal flaw – arrogance. Like Icarus, he risks his wings by flying too close to the sun. Rather than listen to his captain’s advice and stay in eighth-gear – or even ninth – Manami has to go all Nigel Tufnel on us (if his racer had an 11th, he’d have used it). Manami is too focused on pushing himself, on testing his limits, on the aesthetics of the race – and not enough on simply winning it. Those qualities are positive ones in an athlete – as long as they have the perspective to manage them. Manami, it seems, doesn’t. Not yet.
Onoda-kun, by contrast, has no such issues. He’s only concerned about winning – and even that only because it’s become clear he has to do it or no one else on his team will. On a bike, Sakamichi is a very straightforward thinker – he needs a goal and once he has it, he won’t wilt until it’s achieved. Just as I think there’s an athletic ideal that’s somewhere between the extremes of Midousuji and Sakamichi, I think he and Manami can take something from the other (indeed, Midousuji clearly rooting for Manami seems to show he sees a kindred spirit). Onoda – whether he wins here or not – needs to be more self-driven. He needs to want to win not just to support his team, but because he believes he’s the best. And Manami needs to understand that Fukutomi has put the fate of the entire team in him, and he needs therefore to prioritize winning the race over any personal passions. To do less is something of a betrayal of Fuku-chan’s trust.
As is, what we see here is classic Onoda. Even employing Naruko’s classic “two-click dancing” he can’t reel Manami in – not, that is, until he sees him. And once he does, his own wings emerge in glorious fashion. When Sakamichi smiles and when he sings (even internally) he’s an unstoppable force. Clearly, as a competitor Sakamichi is best when he’s chasing (a common trait among many great athletes). Once he has Manami in his sights it’s inevitable that he’s going to catch him, and turn the finish into an all-out sprint between two exhausted kids too young to know any better.
Whilst the Manami (re)flashback felt like a delaying tactic, the cutaways fit very naturally into the flow of the episode. We needed to see all these characters, how they were reacting to what was happening. Naruko was going crazy with exhausted exhilaration, the Sohoku bunch living and dying with every second (Kitarou-kun’s reaction was my favorite), the sprinters just trying to survive, and the climbers settling in for a dash for third-place while their thoughts are elsewhere. And we had Iinchou and Mama-san, the latter of whom finally realizing that it was indeed her son racing for the glory. That was an altogether more serious and sad moment than I expected, especially Onoda’s “Of course my Mom wouldn’t be here” reaction to “imagining” her voice. It’s going to be emotional when he sees her – I hope we get that moment on-screen. Perhaps my favorite of these inserts, though, was seeing Arakita (and Abu). “I pulled those kids out of the pack” Arakita thinks to himself bemusedly, and it’s a good reminder of the crucial role he played what seems like months ago.
We know there can no more cliffhangers, at least – our climax has to come next week, and the earlier the better. With everything having built up to this point I think TMS made the right decision in giving us our first really “straight” omake of the series – it was just a compilation of everyone sending their thoughts to the two grommets racing to the line. I suppose this was really the only ending “Grande Road” could have given us – it had to come down to that fated pair, right from their first random meeting and stress-free race up a hill together. Watanabe has definitely broken some shounen rules in ending the race this way, but Yowamushi Pedal never fit neatly into the sports shounen box anyway – so really, what better way to prove it?