There’s a skill that’s pivotal for long-running anime, and one I find to be especially well-represented in the best sports series. That is, to be forever changing and evolving while at the same time staying consistent and true to themselves. Yowapmushi Pedal is especially good at this. The story is always moving forward (which works a lot better on a bike that standing still or going backwards, after all), and so are the characters. But there’a an essence to the series that always remains constant – the heart, the impish wit, the unpretentious enthusiasm for cycling. It’s one of many reasons why I love this show (and the manga it’s based on).
One of the evolutions we knew had to happen (I’ve talked about it plenty, and I haven’t read ahead in the manga) was that the Sohoku cycling club would have to change. As constructed it simply wasn’t good enough – the departure of the third-years left a gaping chasm in its wake, and to compete on the highest level (especially with a team of all underclassmen) Sohoku has no margin for error. This episode comes at the problem from a couple of different angles, and it’s structured as a split “mini-episode” format that’s highly unusual for Yowapeda.
The cliffhanger from last week did include the obvious development – Imaizumi confronted Naruko about this problem. But then it went in an unexpected direction, with Hotshot challenging Red Bean to give up sprinting and become an all-around like he is. It’s true that Naruko might be more use to the squad that way, but it’s a big ask for the “Speed Star of Naniwa” to give up his identity. We’ll loop back to this thread in the B-part, but the rest of the first part follows another course – the introduction of Sugimoto Sadatoki (Ichiki Mitsuhiro). That name should sound familiar, because he’s the younger brother of experienced cyclist (and anime viewer) Sugimoto Terafumi. And seemingly, he’s destined to play a major role in “New Generation” and beyond.
All sorts of interesting things happen to the dynamic when middle-schooler Sadatoki (he says “Gochisousama!” instead of thank you) is introduced. He’s a brute of a boy (he rips the door to the clubroom off by accident) but has a certain grace on a bike. Onoda is Sugimoto-minor’s idol, but it’s Imaizumi who appoints himself the resident skeptic. In doing so, it seems to me he rather usurps Teshima’s role as captain (he’ll likely be the one to follow in Teshima’s footsteps in a year). It’s also interesting to see Onoda slip into the role of sempai and teacher, though we don’t get much of that. Sadatoki has basically mimicked his brother’s form, and since his brother sucks, the younger doesn’t exactly make a strong impression in his first climb of Minageyama.
That Sugimoto-minor will eventually become a strong cyclist and probably a climber is a given (when he turns his Mimikyu skills to Onoda he makes rapid progress) but it’s Sugimoto-major whose role I find more interesting. When Imazimu basically orders Onoda to give up on the new kid and leave him behind, the older brother stays behind with the younger. But what happens when Sadatoki becomes a strong rider and leaves Terafumi behind? I know he’s a minor character but I find the elder Sugimoto’s plight to be a perpetually sad one (Miyata Kouki’s excellent performance is no doubt a part of that) – he’s always being forgotten and ignored. I’m not saying he needs to become the ace, but to see his otouto blow past him along with everyone else seems especially harsh.
The second half of the episode focuses squarely on Naruko, who’s begged off practice for a three-day weekend to go back to Osaka and contemplate what Hotshot demanded of him. After a brief reunion with his family, Naruko heads out to the docks where the local cycling otaku hang out, and it’s something like Michael Jordan going back to Wilmington, North Carolina to play pickup basketball in the park. A couple of the local hotshot sprinters challenge him, and Naruko declares that if he loses to any of them he’ll do as Imaizumi says and quit being a sprinter. But the first two races are pretty uneventful, and Red Bean wins easily enough once he’s paying attention.
That’s when “New Generation” throws us the first (well, second – Makishima and all) curve ball of the season. None other than Midousuji-kun has gotten wind of a hotshot sprinter in a yellow jersey at the docks, and come down to see for himself what’s happening. A Midousuji vs. Naruko sprint is certainly an interesting development, especially given Naruko’s pledge to quit sprinting if he loses. The question is begged – what stakes will Naruko extract from Midousuji in the event he loses? It seems unlikely Naruko will lose this – his sprinting seems a big part of his character’s identity, and Midousuji is after all an all-arounder and not a sprinter himself. But anytime the Chimera Cyclist makes an appearance the gauges on Yowamushi Pedal start to spin, so whatever happens in this race it figured to be anything but boring.