I know I call Midousuji the Chimera Cyclist, but I didn’t mean it quite this literally…
Over the course of my anime-watching career (now there’s a misnomer if I’ve ever typed one) there have been various characters about whom my views have done something close to a 180 degree turn. In recent terms Chitose from Girlish Number sort of fits (that was really more of a 110 or 120, though), but Ami from Toradora is a better example. Characters I actively disliked out of the box and came to really like (though the reverse occasionally happens too). And Midousuji Akira is someone who definitely falls into that category.
The funny thing is, all of the reasons I disliked Midousuji at first are still valid. He doesn’t fit in with Yowamushi Pedal‘s style at all. His character design is grotesque to the point of ridiculousness. Whenever he’s around he totally takes over the narrative. But now, somehow, he totally works for me. Part of it was one of the best background episodes ever, which completely transformed the way Akira’s character is framed. But I also like the impact he has on the series now. There’s never a dull moment when Midousuji is around, and he has a way of voicing his unfiltered subconscious that’s really interesting. He’s an unusual character in sports anime in more than just the obvious way, and Watanabe-sensei has done a great job in making Chimera-kun’s complete focus on victory sort of admirable (alien as it is to most of us).
The structure of this episode couldn’t have been simpler – it was the match race between Naruko and Midousuji, Red Bean vs. Seaweed, plain and simple. And it was full of as much “Oraaa!!!” as you’re ever going to see shoehorned into a sports shounen ep (Fukushima Jun is especially good at it). The unofficial races in Yowapeda have always carried almost as much weight as the official ones, as full of martial spirit as the characters are – but this one was especially significant, given what the boys were putting on the line.
We already knew the stakes for Naruko – if he lost, he’d give up sprinting. But Chimera-kun one-ups him if anything, because his stake is even bigger – if he loses he’ll let his Kyoto Fushimi teammates ride by themselves at the next Inter-high, and put on a yellow jersey and ride as a domestique for Sohoku (somehow I suspect the race organizers would disapprove). One could make the case that the stakes spoil the ending, because it never seemed likely that Midousuji wouldn’t be riding for KyoFushi in the main event – but Yowamushi Pedal has a way of throwing us curveballs, so for me at least the outcome was very much in doubt.
The funny thing is that I kind of wanted Akira to win – and even funnier, that’s often been the case even when he’s riding against “good guys” that I really like (as I do Naruko). I really have come to admire the guy’s single-minded obsession with victory. And he seems to have come out of his trauma from Inter-highs a changed man – sure, has that skunk stripe on his head but he’s also more focused and analytical than ever before. And we’re seeing him in the process of evolving, discovering his “new form”. The imagery Watanabe and Nabeshima use to illustrate this is hilariously over the top and kind of kimo, but hey – this is Chimera-kun we’re talking about here.
As for Naruko, maybe part of the reason I was rooting for Midousuji was that the idea of seeing Naruko forced to give up sprinting and struggle to become an all-arounder is pretty intriguing. In truth, for all his bravado Naruko is right – he actually doesn’t win very often. It was interesting to see his fellow cyclists start to root for the “pure sprinter” as the laps ticked down, and Naruko go to ridiculous extremes (throwing away the saddle!?) to try and claw back – but in the end, Midousuji was simply better. He got what he needed out of this race – a real challenge, when practice had become boring and he needed a push in order to “evolve“. But did Naruko get what he needed? I’m not sure, because it’s not clear just what Naruko does need. But he’s going to continue to face guys bigger and stronger than he is, so perhaps taking some time to assess just what his way forward is won’t be the worst thing that’s ever happened to him…