Once again we continue to look at sports anime, and given the repeated highlighting of the fan-base for such shows also tend to be fans of yaoi (male homoerotic manga aimed at women), how appropriate it is for this article to go out on August 1st, commonly known by anime fans as “Yaoi Day”.
Yowamushi Pedal, based on a manga by Wataru Watanabe created in 2008 and still going today, is set in the world of road cycling. It was first adapted into an anime as a 38-part series in 2013-14, with a second series of 24 episodes between 2014-15, a third series due to start next year. There have also been four anime films and one live-action film. The series literally translates into English as “Weakling Pedal”, which gives you an idea of the theme of the show. This is because while most sports anime tend to focus on someone with a passion for the sport right from the off, the main character here is not interested in cycling as a sport. In fact, he’s not interested in sport at all. He’s a total geek.
This geek is Sakamichi Onoda, who is an otaku, a passionate anime fan from Chiba. He loves anime so much that he regularly visits the “otaku capital” of Akihabara, Tokyo, which is a 90km round-trip. His devotion is in fact so great, that he makes the journey on an old “mommy bike”, complete with shopping basket on the front, rather than take the train to save money which he can use to buy things when he arrives. When he starts his first term at Sohoku High School he hopes to join the anime club, but it has shut down due to lack of members. He tries to get new members but fails, but Onoda meets one person who he might be able to win over.
This guy is Shunsuke Imaizumi, a boy who takes road cycling seriously, and who has noticed Onoda is actually a very good cyclist, being able to tackle the local steep hills on his rubbish bike. Imaizumi has a bet with Onoda, saying if Onoda beats him in a race he will join the anime club. Onoda loses, but Imaizumi still acknowledges just how good Onoda is. Onoda then later meets another cyclist at his school, Shoukichi Naruko, a brilliant sprinter and the two become friends. Onoda also becomes friendly with Imaizumi and eventually, though slightly reluctantly, Onoda joins the school’s bicycle racing club.
As Onoda practices it is discovered that he has natural talent at racing bikes and is especially good at mountain climbing. Eventually he, Imaizumi and Naruko attempt to qualify for the Inter-High Race Tournament which sees several schools take part. Alongside their senior riders, shade-wearing team captain Shingo Kinjou, bulky sprinter Jin Tadokoro, and long-haired spidery climber Yuusuke Makishima, they hope to take on their biggest rivals. These include Juichi Fukutomi, captain of the strongest school team Hakone Academy; and Imaizumi’s horridly ruthless rival Akira Midousuji – who once beat Imaizumi by lying about Imaizumi’s mother being run-over.
They are several reasons to enjoy Yowamushi Pedal – aside from anything possibly homoerotic, made even more so by the fact these guys are all in skin-tight Lycia when they are racing. The main appeal is the characters, especially Onoda. With his otaku ways, he is the least sporty anime character in a sports anime. He is the lone nerd in a sea of jocks. This leads to plenty of comedy. For example, when he is riding he often motivates himself by singing his favourite anime theme song, which comes from a rather girly show. Even more brilliantly is that in a race, he manages to get Tadokoro, the biggest jock of all, to sing with him to motivate him even more, so we are treated to the sight of a thin geek and brawny jock singing: “Princess! Princess! Princess! I love, love, love you!”
It is not just the lead characters who are of interest. Midousuji is one of the best villains I’ve come across in an anime. He is not your stereotypically evil character, but someone much more believable. He is someone who is willing to win at any cost, and will adopt any strategy to win, no matter how ruthless or tasteless it is. He scares his foes by reminding them of tragic events of their past, and he will leave fellow team members behind in order to reach first place, often physically harming them if they don’t obey his every whim. Not only is his behaviour disturbing, but so is his appearance: his wide toothy grin; his long protruding tongue; his eyes with black irises which make his pupils look gigantic; and his lanky body which he exploits to his advantage. Midousuji is one of the most unappealing anime characters around, which is what makes him so great a creation.
If there is one problem with it, it would be the pacing of the series. For some reason I cannot fathom, the first series ends mid-race. It actually ends, just as they are about to make the final dash to the finish. I have heard of cliff-hanger endings, but this is just infuriating.
Yowamushi Pedal is released on Region 1 DVD by Discotek Media.