Buckle those seat belts – it’s Experienced Rider time!
Sometimes a series’ strength can also be a weakness. Often with good sports anime – which often have very large casts – an especially strong supporting cast can have the impact of diffusing the narrative a little too much at times. I wouldn’t say that’s necessarily the case with Yowamushi Pedal, because the episodes that focus on the non-Sohoku schools tend to be very good ones. But the fact is that it’s the Sohoku kids who form the heart of the series, especially Onoda. And if I were to pick out a niggle with the first two months of “New Generation”, it’s that there really hasn’t been that much Onoda in it.
That figured to change this week, with Midousuji and Hakone Gakuen each getting an extended spotlight dance already – and it did. But it also marked the long-awaited debutante moment for experienced rider Sugimoto-kun (Terufumi that is). I don’t know why, but I’ve kind of become obsessed with Sugimoto-major – maybe it’s just that I like the overlooked and neglected characters so much. There’s aren’t too many anime characters who’ve been physically present but utterly marginalized for as long as Terufumi has, but the signs that was about to change have been cropping up of late. And Watanabe-sensei isn’t a mangaka who typically neglects his characters, even the supporting ones.
So – Onoda and Sugimoto senior in focus? I’m in. And we start with a refrain or two of “Hime, Hime” from Onoda-kun, riding to school on his first day as a second-year. And what’s awaiting him there but a gargantuan banner with his name in gargantuan Kanji, congratulating him for being the individual champion at Inter-high? They don’t come any more self-effacing than Sakamichi Onoda, so the disconnect here is comedically immense. And since becoming a sempai inevitably means being in a position of respect in Japanese schools, for a guy like Onoda who just can’t think of himself as an object of respect becoming a second-year is an awkward transition.
Naruko takes to the role more naturally (naturally). And other than an unfortunate adventure with his hair (which Imaizumi dispenses with quickly) he shows no overt signs of being traumatized by his defeat in Osaka (or signs that he’s keeping his promise to Chimera-kun – we’ll see). As for Imaizumi, I was very heartened to see that he’s become a mentor to Sugimoto, even if it was Sugimoto who initiated the relationship (and I’m heartened that he asked, too). Imaizumi is most likely going to be the captain when he becomes a third-year and it’s good to see him open up to someone besides Onoda and Naruko.
Naturally given their national acclaim the Cycling Club is flooded with new members – though the key ones (in addition to Sugimoto Sadatoki) appear to be twofold. First is Kaburagi Issa (Shimono Hiro) a brash redhead (redundant in anime) who’s rather full of himself. His pal is Danchiku Ryuuhou (Hatano Wataru), who’s rather quiet and nervy (there’s something of a Teshima-Aoyagi dynamic with these two, I think). Not much is known about these two except that they seem by their jerseys to have ridden in the same middle-school club, and that they’re rather good.
Basically, there are two main stories unfolding here – Onoda dealing with being a figure of respect and awe (and fear), and Sugimoto trying to rise to the occasion. And neither disappoint. Sakamichi is at his bashful best here, so awkward in dealing with the grommets that they assume he’s a terrifying beast. Onoda being a legend is a big part of the story I want to see more of – he earned that mystique, and I want to see him if not embrace it (let’s not ask for miracles) at least understand and accept it. The scene where he acts as the starter for the first-year race (shaking everyone’s hand is so classically Onoda) is a great one, especially in the way it depicts the affection and respect his teammates have for Onoda.
As for Terafumi, he has indeed been busting his ass under Imaizumi’s (semi) watchful eye, trying to carve out an identity as a distance and endurance specialist. The question of who’s going to be the sixth man has been the elephant in the locker room all season, and I really want it to be Sugimoto – all the more so now that I see how badly he wants it. He even asks to ride in the first-year race again, which is quite a humble act in its way. I really like Terafumi – he’s a bit of an absurd popinjay, but at heart he’s a kind boy. And his relationship with his brother is really winning – Terafumi seriously tries to be a good role model and protector, and Sadatoki clearly worships him. But the elder brother very much doesn’t want to lose to the younger, and that’s one of the major things driving him for sure.
This is really the crucible moment for Sugimoto-major, this race. Not only does he have to win it to prove he’s a serious contender, but he has to act as the leader to the first-year riders – and that includes taking responsibility when a couple of troublemakers cross the line. Ultimately I think Terafumi’s brash act is just that, an act – he’s quite insecure when it comes down to it. My gut still tells me he’s a longshot to earn that final place on the Inter-high squad – I sense that Sadatoki will get it, which will be a highly bittersweet moment if it happens. But Terafumi’s quest to win it for himself promises to be one of the most compelling storylines of “New Generation”.