We’re still half a year away from the third season of Yowamushi Pedal, so this big-screen extension will have to hold us over till then (there was also a Season 2 recap film – Re:RIDE – but that didn’t really contain enough new material to merit a post of its own). I always feel good watching Yowapeda, especially since it was a show whose success as an anime I predicted long before most Western fans had ever heard of it. There’s just something about this series – it has “it”, like some series do. There’s an essence of mangaka Watanabe Wataru’s optimism and innocent love for cycling that imbues the whole story with an irresistible glow. If there was ever a sports anime designed to bridge the gap between old and new sports manga fans, I think Yowamushi Pedal is it.
The genesis of this film is a bit odd, in that it was conceived by Watanabe-sensei and contains a good deal of manga material that takes place after the end of S2. But it was tweaked, so I’m really not sure how the third season is going to deal with all this – will it incorporate the movie as canon and pick up where it left off, or will it more or less pretend the movie never happened and start from the end of “Grande Road”? I guess we’ll find out soon enough, and while TMS is going to have to choose, I don’t think enough separates the two timelines that they’re irreconcilable.
The salient point of the film is that Makishima is leaving Sohoku – all the third years are of course, but because Maki-chan is going to college in England (where the term starts in September rather than in the Spring, like Japan) his timeline is accelerated by a semester. When you’re a kid six months feels like eternity, and for Sakamichi those lost six months are a gut punch. Makishima has proved to be everything to Onoda-kun as a rider – a friend, a mentor, and a brother. Not to mention the only other climber in to Sohoku fold.
Onoda and Makishima is my favorite relationship in Yowapeda, so this storyline cuts pretty hard. The feels are always strong with this series, but they’re always in the sweet spot and never feel tacked-on. Naturally adapting to life without his aniki is a huge struggle for Sakamichi, especially with the next big race coming up – a two-day affair in Kumamoto (Kyushu). Before Maki leaves the club he invites Sakamichi for one last Chiba climb together, but Sakamichi – not having been told what’s happening – initially declines. It’s only after he picks up on a bad vibe that he asks to go along after all, and this whole sequence – both before and during that short ride – is one of the strongest in the movie.
As for the race, Kinjou has accepted because it’s the first time Sohoku has been invited, and because it’s one last time for all six riders (he thought) to ride as a team. Hakone Gakuen had always turned down the race, but with Sohoku attending Fukutomi feels he has no choice but to compete. Kyoto Fushimi is there, but Midousuji – still apparently a mental wreck after collapsing at the inter-high – is a no-show. KyoFushi are pretty much bit players without him, but Midousuji’s presence is missed in a general narrative sense, too. Hiroshima is on-hand, and the local boys at Kumamoto Daichi have their injured ace Yoshimoto Shin (Miyano Mamoru) back in the fold. But the truth is, a Yowamushi Pedal movie is always going to come down to two teams fighting for the title.
There’s some hijinks on the way down (it seems Onoda and Naruko have never flown before), and a whole lot of everyone flashing their usual alpha male poses. But once the race starts everyone falls into their usual groove, with a couple of exceptions. The third-years definitely take a more prominent role than in the inter-high, and it’s clear from the beginning that Onoda is struggling to find his form (despite his butter new carbon fiber bike). As well, Imaizumi is in a very difficult spot – with no other climber, he’s more or less drafted to support Onoda-kun by default. Both the sprint and mountain checkpoints on the first day go to a HakoGaku third-year (Todokoro does nip second in the sprint, but Sohoku is shut out of the climb entirely), and Fuku-chan pips Kinjou for the first-day final checkpoint.
The thing that kind of bothers me about what happens after that is Maki-chan’s role. Yeah, it’s great that he shows up to support his teammates, and the scene where he and Onoda chance meet for a sunrise over a really beautiful Kyushu landscape is a great one. But would he really be allowed to start the second day of the race, even from the very end of the pack? I admit I have no idea what the rules are in two-day scholastic races in the States, never mind Japan, but I have to think not having expended any energy on the first day is an unfair advantage for Makishima. Was he even listed on Sohokou’s original entry form, I wonder?
Well, in any event it is nice to have Maki-chan competing – it just doesn’t feel like Yowamushi Pedal without him (I’m not sure who was happier to have him back, Onoda or Toudou – but it’s close). The highlight of the race is, undoubtedly, seeing the entire Sohoku Six sing “Koi no Hime Hime Pettanko” together – whenever Onoda-kun cranks out “Lovely chance!”, Yowamushi Pedal kicks into overdrive. Everyone gets a turn to solo this time around (well – Naruko sort of does the genki backup singer routine) but hey – there’s no denying they all know the words.
In the end, the race comes down to the four climbers – Onoda and Mamani, Makishima and Toudou, each with their fated rival. I kind of figured after Inter-high Watanabe would give the seniors the stage (pun intended) this time, especially with Makishima departing, and so it goes. The message, as always, is that even if Hakone is the strongest team on paper (and more than on paper, to be honest) when these six Sohoku guys are together, logic and order take a back seat to shounen GAR spirit and brotherhood. The next chapter in Yowamushi Pedal, certainly, is about seeing what happens when that perfect sextet is broken up once and for all – and that’s a journey we’ll be embarking on starting next winter.
ED: “Link” by LASTGASP