You know, I like Teshima Junta just fine as a character. He’s bright (sending himself after Manami instead of a stronger rider and thus convincing Izumida not to send another climber to mark him is tactically sound) and hard-working and reasonably gifted, a “grinder” if ever there was one. But in a funny sort of way I think Teshima sums up his own limitations better than anyone else. Basically, he’s an ordinary guy. There’s nothing particularly exceptional about him, foe better or for worse, but it’s nice to see kids like that get ahead once in a while.
But Teshima’s nature does present a couple of problems from a narrative standpoint. The first is that when someone who’s so resolutely ordinary does something exceptional, it can be a bit of a hard sell to make it believable. The second and more important is that it makes Teshima relatively bland as a main character – a role he’s been thrust into too often in “New Generation”. He’s best-served in the role he originally fulfilled – namely, supporting. Watanabe-sensei’s decision to make him effectively a co-lead this season has robbed Yowamushi Pedal of some of its dramatic impact, at least for me.
So as a result, this penultimate episode of the season plays a bit flat. It’s lacking the really engaging characters – Onoda, Naruko and Imaizumi, Midousuji. In fact, probably the most interesting part of this episode is watching Manami-kun react to Teshima, and that isn’t surprising as he’s the most interesting of the characters who show up this week. My favorite moment comes when Manami looks back at Teshima, struggling terribly on a 7% section of Irohazaka, and says “You’re so lucky – this is enough to make you feel alive!”. That’s such a Manami thing to say – it fits him like a glove.
I know this much – as talented as he is, if I were Manami’s captain he would drive me absolutely crazy. He’s a totally selfish rider – far more interested in the thrill of a challenge and the rush of the climb than team tactics or support. He has a habit of playing down to the competition, too – it could be theorized that he did it with Onoda at the end of the last Inter-high, but he certainly does it here. By not going all out, Manami is making this more entertaining for himself – he can assess the limits of his opponent and he has someone to share the experience with. But he’s taking a big risk, because on a bike in the mountains, things happen. Things like slipping a chain 400 meters from the finish.
I don’t know how this thing is going to play out, but it’s hard to imagine even Manami could overcome that. Teshima’s plaintive desire to finish first “just once” is certainly valid, and he’s under no obligation to slow down for Manami’s benefit. But ending this way would be too anti-climactic even for a season that ends on the first day of the Inter-high – there’s one more switchback to come, that’s for sure. Could Onoda possibly claw his way back and show up at the end to make a race of it with his own teammate? That seems a stretch – but no more so than Teshima being able to keep up with Manami, even if Manami was toying with him…