Lately I've been trying to catch up on some of the bigger multi-season sports anime of the past years. So obviously, after catching up to them completely (not there yet, it's taking longer than expected), I'm going to write reviews about them! Ha-haah!
First up, the anime that makes one of the most boring sports around (safe fishing and golf) into pure, gold entertainment: Cycling - or as they call in in this anime: Road Racing. The anime I'm talking about is Yowamushi Pedal! Let's get this show on the road.
V Reviews - Yowamushi Pedal (Seasons 1 + 2)
Yowamushi Pedal ("The Cowardly Cyclist" in English) is a manga created by Wataru Watanabe. And boy, if you look up his name it will result in pictures of him in cycling (otaku) gear. He's totally into cycling!
Wataru has been active as a mangaka since 2002 and has created a certain amount of manga that all lasted somewhere between 1-4 volumes. This includes titles like Seifuku Nuidara (4 vol), Densha Otoko (3 vol, with a main char that looks exactly like the one from YowaPeda), Go GO Kochira (4 vol), Hanatan (3 volumes) and MajiMoji Rurumo (13 volumes over 3 different series)
But no matter how short or long-lived his titles are, one thing is common: They all got published. If you look at track records of many other big manga authors, that's not always a given.
But Wataru's biggest success story began in 2008, with the launch of a series of his favorite sports: Yowamushi Pedal. And success story it is. The manga is one of the top series in Weekly Shonen Champion and has amassed 50 volumes already. And the series shows no signs of stopping anywhere near soon.
In 2013, TMS Entertainment has picked up the manga for a 38-episode anime series (+1 OVA and recap movie). Due to the popularity, a sequel was quickly green-lit and from then it went onward. Today we have 4 movies (including 2 recap movies), 1 OVA, 1 short-lived Drama series and a third season (New Generation) that is currently airing that can be watched on Crunchyroll (Note: this sequel is the only one that doesn't have strict region restrictions at the moment of writing!!).
And oh boy, does Wataru enjoy every minute of his success story. He's one of the few mangaka around who can actually perform his hobby and get away with it ("It's research!!!"). If you look at his blog, you will find many pictures of him either ready to train, ready to perform at a road race or MTB race, or cycling around "just because".
I bet there are many mangaka out there that are at least a bit jealous of Wataru's success story. It's hard to find mangaka that aren't devoting night and day to making their own series into a possible success. Even the most talented ones tend to struggle through their daily lives. So then seeing "a mangaka" posting pictures about how he's enjoying his bike ride is bound to make a few artist eyes twitch. But hey, I can only applaud mangaka who are willing to both work hard and take some time off for themselves. Too many people in the manga/anime industry end up working too hard or are physically damaging their bodies to make deadlines work.
There's a reason why editors try to push authors into making series (not just manga, but series in general) about the things that you like yourself. It's easier to get invested and do research when it's about things you want to do yourself.
Our protagonist (Sakamichi Onoda) is your typical Otaku. He loves anime (the fictional Love Hime in particular), loves Akihabara (or Akiba as it's nicknamed here) and wants to share his joy with everybody he knows. When choosing a high school, he specifically chose a school that is known to have an anime club and is within cycling range of Akihabara (45 km distance).
However, there is only one problem for Onoda: Reality.
In case you might be in the illusion that anime is everywhere in Japan and that everybody knows and loves anime, let me dispel that. This series depicts reality a little better. Both in his middle school and now in Sohoku High School, he is about the only person to give a damn' about anime. Even if his fellow students do like anime, most people don't want that to be publicly known (because teenagers like being "cool" more than being a weeaboo outcast).
In Onoda's case specifically, he runs into the notice that the anime club has been closed due to the club no longer having the necessary amount of members (FYI: A minimum of 5 members is necessary to keep any school club going). Onoda thus desperately searches for 4 more people that are interested in anime to revive the club. But since he's shy and a total wimp, that is quite a struggle for him (hence the term yowamushi, which can mean weakling/wimp or coward).
All the while, something else is happening behind Onoda's back. People are taking notice of him. Not because of his passion for anime, but because of his cycling. He is able to take a women's bicycle (nicknamed an "old grandma bycicle") up the steep slope (2km of of 20° slope) without real issue and his claim that he goes to Akihabara from school and to home afterwards (which again is about 2x45 km) is catching the attention of cyclist Shunsuke Imaizumi and Cycling club manager Miki Kanzaki.
Both want to test Onoda's claims and they organize a race between Imaizumi and Onoda. Onoda initially refuses. But when Imaizumi offers to join the anime club if he would lose, Onoda becomes passionate about winning!
Due to Imaizumi cycling on a road racer and Onoda on his "granny bike", nobody expects Onoda to actually win. But he catches a lot of attention when he's actually able to keep up with Imaizumi for most of the race.
Slowly, Onoda is being convinced to join the cycling team instead of focusing on recreating the anime club. And slowly he becomes good enough to join Sohoku's main roster of road racers and join them to partake in the upcoming Inter-High road racing tournament, which lasts 3 full days.
The first 20 episodes focus on Onoda's efforts to join the cycling team and the main roster of cyclists. The rest of the first season and the entirety of the second season is the three full days of the Inter-High tournament. But if you think that is boring, think again. This anime has the power to make one of the most mundane things (watching people cycle on a road racer) into one of the most thrilling fights in existence. You'll never look at road racing in the same light again after you finished watching this anime.
One of the strong points of Yowamushi Pedal is the characters. And there are A LOT of characters! Let's do this team by team
If you ever want an example of a show that is able to blend classic animation and CG graphics, this is one of the prime examples of blending done right. Shots that focus on the faces of the characters are done in 2D, while distant shots, back shots and overall quick movement shots are done in CG. And the two blend together so well, you barely notice it. And this blending is getting better the further along the show goes. Considering the amount of horrible CG that has been used in this season's new anime, I can really applaud the use of CG in this anime franchise.
The more you look at it, the more you wonder:
Outside of Imaizumi's face, How much is still classic 2D-animation?
Most of the OPs are hype tracks to get you pumped, but none of them specifically "trigger" something in me. But on the other end, the entire soundtrack is really good. The returning tracks easily get stuck in you head and several of the specific sound moments (like the epic finish music) really gets your blood pumping! It's so good to listen to! Kudo's to composer Kan Sawada. Most of the time, Sawada composes for TV-series and movies; but in a few rare exceptions, he will compose for anime as well (like Doraemon, Sergeant Keroro, Moonlight Mile (huh?) and now also Yowamushi Pedal.
Well, If I have to be completely honest: there are a few minor things that do bug me throughout this series. Minor nitpicks, but it still keeps returning. One is the obvious: "This route isn't as long" that many sports anime fall victim to (remember Prince of Tennis? Yeah, that kind of running logic). If the dialogue spoken is longer than the distance that needs to be crossed, the cyclists keep riding at full speed; often causing the weird feeling that 50 meters suddenly turns into a friggin kilometer. Luckily this mostly happens at final checkpoints, but it can get annoying if it pops up.
Another nitpick is... well, how do I put this? Everybody is WAY TOO NICE! Yes, obviously Midousuji & Eikichi are portrayed as villains. But other than that, most people are genuinely nice guys. And sometimes being nice to a fault. Throughout the entire series, for example, I can't seem to hear or see one scene where Onoda pays for his gear or bicycle. Everything he uses in this anime is borrowed from somebody or given to him without a need to return. Could you try to do the same things Onoda did in real life, I can bet 100$ on it you won't be able to obtain the amount of gear Onoda uses "for free". Nobody is that gullible or friendly in real life.
Big female fanbase
It is kind of a phenomenon that sports anime tend to be favored by female anime viewers. I guess it has something to do with muscular or tender looking men doing sports, being all sweaty and going all "bromance" on each other?
And this anime series delivers such female fanservice in spades. While none of the characters are gay in any way, the anime doesn't shy away from delivering fanservice to the female audience.
Yes, Imaizumi has his arm around Onoda in this scene.
Out of context, this scene could've been from a BL anime
How much of an impact did it have? Well, reports have stated that the sales of bicycles in japan has gone through the roof ever since the anime started airing. And most surprisingly, the people that were buying bikes were mostly women in their 20s-30s. So that gave a clear indication of the fanbase that got triggered after watching the series.
But do I care about this? Do I hate this? No! Unlike some other over-the-top anime targetted at a female audience (*cough*YuriOnIce*cough*) this anime is actually really good, even if you take said undertone away. And because of that, it turns this into a series that both males and females can enjoy watching (even together).
I'm hooked! I'm almost caught up with the current season of "New Generation" and I'm going to keep watching. It's interesting to watch and the way this show is directed really pushes you forward into keeping this on your to-watch list. Let's hope even more seasons will be greenlit!
Overall, I'm giving both seasons a solid 8/10! A must watch if you're into cycling/road racing, or just into sports anime in general.
That's it for me now. Until next time, V out.