Yowamushi Pedal: Grande Road – 24 (End) and Series Review

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For all that there are myriad qualities that can make an anime great, there’s just no substitute for sincerity.

I’ll say up-front that I expected this finale to be an emotional one.  Expectations can be a pretty big burden to carry, but I had faith that Watanabe-sensei and TMS could pull this off because honestly, the foundation for a great anime ending had been laid by the buildup.  Whatever issues one might have had with pacing, there’s just so much buy-in with the overall premise and the cast that Yowamushi Pedal always soars when it focuses on the core of the story.  And you can’t get much more core than this.

What’s interesting about this finale is that Watanabe had already guaranteed it was going to be a rule-breaker, no matter what happened.  By shounen tradition neither Onoda or Manami were supposed to win this race – it’s too soon for either of them, and it removes the theoretical premise for the rest of the series.  Of course that’s an arbitrary construct, a trope – and while manga and anime can be reluctant to do so, tropes are made to be broken.  That lent the proceedings both a pleasing unpredictability and a sense of freshness that set it apart from other sports series in a very meaningful way.  That Yowapeda isn’t a “mass-produced model” should be obvious, but this is a pretty stark demonstration of that fact.

In what was also a break with recent anime protocol, this final episode included the OP – with no preamble.  And then we launched right into the race, which was just finishing up as the last ep concluded.  You knew things were tight because even Onoda – normally of the Ullrich-like posture and cadence – was out of his saddle and dancing.  There was the briefest moment when I feared Watanabe was going to give us a tie (he did that once already, if you recall) that’s how close this was – but no, thankfully he did give us a winner.  And thankfully it was the one I think most of us were hoping it was going to be.

Make no mistake about it – Onoda Sakamichi is the beating heart of Yowamushi Pedal.  I really think there’s a lot of Watanabe Wataru in him, and it’s not just the physical resemblance.  Onoda’s qualities are the same qualities that make this a great series – it’s completely straightforward and earnest.  Onoda has been utterly selfless through his entire arc, yet equally indomitable and tireless.  He’s done whatever he was asked to do without complaint, and far more besides.  He never sought glory for himself, and only reluctantly accepted the chance for it when all other avenues were exhausted.  But when he knew everything came down to him, he turned from a tireless terrier into a snarling pit bull, determined to rip glory out of the jaws of the opponent on behalf of his team.

So, in short, Sakamichi really fucking deserved to win.  And we, as an audience, deserved to see it happen.  And (how big a rarity in sports series is this?) Yowapeda made it happen.  We got the moment the entire series has been building towards, and it was glorious.  When Sakamichi finally allowed himself to exult, striking the classic cyclist’s victory pose (exhausted, arms in the air, head back) I exulted right along with him.  This sort of thing just isn’t supposed to happen with sports manga, not in the middle of the story – but it did.  Yowamushi Pedal just isn’t like other sports manga.

The aftermath was just as important as the moment of victory, and we weren’t let down there either.  I might perhaps have liked to see Onoda on the podium accepting the individual medal, and his mother’s reaction (and his to finding out she was there) but I’m not surprised it didn’t happen – the focus of Yowapeda from the beginning has been on Onoda’s desire to bond with friends, and on the team.  This was his moment, and theirs.  Makishima hugging Onoda, Imaizumi (where did he find the strength??) lifting him into the air, Naruko and Kinjou dragging themselves out of the medical tent and rushing to the summit for the ceremony – it was all an extended celebration and a reward to the audience.  And it was glorious, every second of it.

For all that, one of the biggest emotional impacts for me came with Manami’s meeting with his team in the tent after the race.  Because Manami has been such an unfailingly glib and upbeat presence, seeing him smiling through the devastation he was feeling hit pretty hard.  I really feel for him – being a first-year whose captain trusted him with finishing the job, the feeling of having let Fukutomi and his teammates down has to be overwhelming.  Manami is right, of course – Fukutomi did build the best team, but the best team doesn’t always win.  In the end Onoda simply wanted it more for the right reasons than Manami did, and that was the difference – and if Manami takes any lesson away from this, I hope that’s it.  And it’s hard to feel too devastated for the third-years on HakoGaku, because one could easily argue they’ve already won one inter-high they probably didn’t deserve.

The epilogue here was absolutely perfect – a spot-on way to bring the anime to a close.  Of course you knew what Sakamichi would do when Kinjou gave him the right to choose the destination for their final practice as a squad, but the trip to Akihabara was just… superb.  It was hilarious watching Onoda back in otaku mode, choosing swag for all the highly-discomfited third-years, but the best part was when he announced that all of them were his presents to them – an expression of his gratitude to them for giving him the chance to reach his potential.  It’s absolutely classic Onoda right to the end – not giving himself enough credit, kind and honest and heartfelt.

Best of all, I think, was giving 10 “Kumotaros” to Makishima – an accurate assessment from Sakamichi that while all of the others had done their share, it was the Peak Spider who’s really made the biggest impact on his life.  Of all the relationships in Yowamushi Pedal, I think Onoda and Makishima might just be my favorite because of the way it’s demonstrated an amazing amount of growth for both of them.  They’re a seemingly mismatched pair in every sense, but there are qualities they have in common that are more important than the superficial differences.  The sempai in Yowapeda are generally head and shoulders above most sports series, but Makishima is definitely the best of the lot.

I think it’s fair to say that as a series finale, this episode works splendidly.  It absolutely feels like an ending, and a totally satisfying one too.  That’s a function of the aforementioned rule-breaking that Watanabe-sensei has done here – he’s giving us a real conclusion that isn’t the actual end of the series, and one that finds the hero achieving a monumental goal against long odds.  If one didn’t know better, they could watch this episode and file Yowamushi Pedal away as a wonderful experience, and move on to the next show on their list.  And an anime ending should always try to do that, even if it’s rarely accomplished.

But this isn’t the ending – not for Yowapeda, and not for the anime.  The series is more popular than ever – it sells a ton of manga and discs, has a thriving merchandise business and has literally sparked a cycling boom in Japan unlike any seen in years.  There’s a big-screen original film (written by Watanabe) planned for summer, and an “Episode 22.5” OAD on the way.  And there’s enough manga right now for something like 3-4 more cours of episodes, even if the TV anime weren’t taking a break (which it is).  There’s no continuation of the anime announced at this point, but it would break pretty much every rule in the book if there wasn’t one coming – there’s material, popularity and financial motive, so it’s hard to imagine a rationale for not continuing the series.  I suspect we’re going to see a break of six months or a year to give the manga time to build a larger stockpile of material, then the TV will return – part of a new generation of sports anime that have found commercial success by reaching far beyond the original demographic scope of the genre.

I said way back before the first episode of Yowapeda aired in October of 2013 that it was one to watch – that it had everything necessary to appeal to a broad audience.  It was obvious from reading some of the manga that this series was special – really funny, tense, pretty realistic with the sports, and incredibly genuine.  I think Yowamushi Pedal has succeeded by reaching some of the same audience as series like Haikyuu!! and KuroBas, and also retaining some of the traditional sports manga crowd.  But I think it’s also reached into a general audience that’s not usually interested in sports anime, and it’s done so because it deals with a sport everyone can relate to and most especially because of its characters.  This is a cast-driven series, make no mistake about it – the canvas is sports and the sports is excellent, but Yowapeda is exceptional because of Onoda Sakamichi and because of the relationships among the cast.  Like its main character, it deserves every bit of the success and glory its achieved – and in both cases, I’m ecstatic to see it happen.

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ED Sequence:

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End Card:

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17 comments

  1. c

    It's amazing how much the series grew on me. From hating the very first episode back in Fall 2013 for what I thought it was, to the show becoming the highlight of my week, warts and all, to now, satiated and content yet sad. I'm so happy this series exists and that it has become one of the rare general audience succeses. Bless.

    And thank you for blogging it along the way, Enzo! ♡

  2. w

    I've been hearing a good lot about this anime. I'm probably going to watch it soon, as I haven't watched a sports anime in a long time now. It sounds fun. ^^

  3. I don't think you'll be disappointed. It's about as non-sports anime friendly as any anime I can remember.

    Curry – you're welcome!

  4. d

    Thanks for covering this, Enzo – the weekly praise convinced me to check it out, and I was not disappointed. I can't remember the last time I even watched a sports anime, but this one certainly delivered.

  5. You're welcome. Now go watch Ginga e Kickoff.

  6. F

    Man, I just cried through the whole episode in spite of myself. There were so many high points in that episode, it felt like they gave us everything they could possibly give to send it out on a good note. This was the only show I watched this winter but even if there were more shows on my plate I can't imagine that would have dampened my enthusiasm for Mondays.

    I really enjoyed Manami's character and frankly would have been excited to see him win, as well. Loved the shoulder bump and unison thoughts between he and Onoda after crossing the finish line. I know they're rivals but I wouldn't mind seeing that friendship fleshed out in the future.

    Did Onoda ever give Manami his water bottle? I was waiting for that . . .

  7. w

    You can count me among the crowd that would have overlooked Yowapedal if not for your recommendation. So cheers for that! As for a season 2, I'd like to assume they're waiting until there's enough manga material to carry them through to near the end of Onoda's second inter-high, or something. That would certainly be nice.

    I recall you told me to watch Ginga E Kickoff nearly a year ago now, I guess I should finally get around to that.

  8. J

    Eleven paragraphs, good effort. Don't worry, I'm not going to complain about anything missed this time.

    Yes the water bottle was left out, but I think this will be worked into a flashback for the next season. There's certainly a piece of the puzzle missing when it comes to Manami, we've seen where his motivation comes from but I don't think his desperate need for affirmation that he is alive has quite come across yet. It's all been rather jovial (for obvious reasons) but the scene with the third years in the tent gives me hope that as Onoda will have to be more self-driven, Manami will need to become more responsible and team-oriented.

    I would still contend that Fukutomi hasn't assembled the greatest team. He has helped to shape a formidable core of experienced and talented third years who work together well, but crucially the members outside that group (Manami & Izumida) have both failed because of a lack of a guiding hand. Izumida was allowed to train to perfection at the expense of gaining racing experience and Manami was given conflicting advice which led to him putting his desires above the team's objective. It reminds me in a few ways of Manchester United in Sir Alex's last season – undeniably full of star quality but as a team they were lacking in cohesion and it was SAF's force of personality that dragged them to the title.

    The win was as I (and I suspect many others) expected. Onoda wins as he should, and the plucky not-so-underdogs' team spirit symbolically if not literally carries their youngest, newest but most determined member across the line, with the Sohoku jersey on his back. I can only agree that Onoda exudes a sincere and enveloping enthusiasm that team members or viewers cannot help but get wrapped up in. Apart from the aforementioned I don't think anything was missing from Sohoku's side of this tale – everyone was duly acknowledged (even Sugimoto) but the boy that brought everything together gets the most praise. He in turns give his biggest affection to the Peak Sempai who has had the most to give even if he never realized it. Just like the series as a whole the interactions between these two bumbles around awkwardly at times but it never comes across as anything less than a true-to-life representation of how two people can benefit from helping each other.

    In short, my favourite ending episode of this season is right here – and there's almost certainly more to come.

    A special note for the end card – I'm not sure sure Mrs. Sakamichi is in HiroKure garb (maybe she got lost again…) but Midosuji's mother complete with halo was a touching addition.

  9. J

    You really wouldn't have guessed that maths was my major, would you?

    Next up, I'll tell you why 2+2 is equivalent to 324.5

  10. g

    Ah, what a ride! It wasn't always smooth but it was so satisfying to the end, it was worth to stay. I was so happy for Onoda. You can't not like him, he's so adorable. What I wish, maybe a little more selfishness from him next time. It's ok to desire to win for yourself too!

    Yowamushi Pedal brakes from the mould, indeed. If I understand correctly, the manga still continues. So we have an interesting situation, where Sohoku is an enemy of everybody and every challenger is going to chase after them. So the next big question and a tension form it: "Will Sohoku win next time too and maintain the title or will they fall from grace?". Not your every day situation in a sport anime/ manga to place main team in that kind situation.

    It's not only you, who is fond of Makishima. If I remember correctly he won popularity poll for a manga. Well, half of it is his yaoiness, parings with him write almost themselves, especially with Jinpachi 😉 And the other half is his awkwardness, it's a different one than Sakamichi's but still adorable the same. But I'm glad he tried to fill big shoes of the sempai's title and help Onoda, he needed little nudges from Kinjou and full-blown adorableness of Sakamichi but it was a nice relationship between them.

  11. g

    Oh and… not so much love from Random Curiosity for sport anime. I red your review first time there. But I correctly guessed everybody can flourish as a sport anime fan here on your private blog.

  12. Onoda won all the manga polls up until the last one, which Maki won. But I believe they've won all of them between them.

  13. B

    This show is OUTRAGEOUS! Thanks for covering it so well, as you always do Enzo. Here's to quality meeting popularity for once. Cheers!

  14. E

    That finale felt more satisfying than I expected, I'm glad the third years got to see Sohoku win.

    I do think they relied on a lot of miracles though, they were very unlucky this race yet managed to win against all odds. Onoda falling on the first day, Tadakoro falling sick the next and Kinjou's knee during the third all served to make the first years the only ones remaining at the end, which was nice but made it more incredible when they won. Either one of the three problems would stop a team from getting first place but they encountered all three and survived. That really diminishes the threat of the other teams I feel… Sohoku managing to survive all that and still take first place.

  15. b

    I loved the serie, but I Onoda really annoys me. The only reason I finished this anime was because of the other characters, every moment focused in onoda was exasperating.

  16. Y

    This was a beautiful finale for Yowapeda’s season 2. I literally couldn’t stop smiling after Onoda crossed the finish line! Every time my face got tired and my smiled dropped, a new one spring up a second later!! I’m so glad that this is getting a third season. I’ve read the translated parts of the manga, and MAN I can’t wait to see what the team does with it!!! But anyways, this is my first sports anime, and I’m glad it was.

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