Onoda Sakamichi is a shy kid who is not particularly good at sports – but what he does love is anime, and he’s been avoiding the train fare and riding to Akihabara ever since fourth grade in order to afford the various merchandise on offer. For a kid who isn’t good at sports, the distance doesn’t seem to bother him, even if the ride to Akihabara is a 90km roundtrip. To top it off, Onoda’s bike only has one gear, and he rides the ‘super slope’ to school everyday, seemingly unaware of its intense difficulty.
Although these peculiarities go unnoticed by Onoda, junior cyclist Imaizumi Shunsuke challenges him to a bike race. This race, as well as several interactions with other students that are head over heels in love with cycling, sparks Onoda’s interest in bikes outside of a convenient mode of transport and spurs him to join the Sohoku High School Bicycle Club.
Yowamushi Pedal is another addition to the large selection of niche sports anime from a genre that I consider truly fascinating. If I had to guess, the genre is prevalent in Japanese anime due to the nature of Japanese high schools. School clubs are encouraged, if not mandatory, and a good section of those clubs are sports-based. But regardless of the genre’s origin, the quantity of titles available and their popularity outside of Japan shows that they strike a chord with people whether or not they are sports lovers. This is usually because of the characters, and Yowamushi Pedal is no exception to this.
Onoda is a very likeable kid. He’s shy, likes singing the Love Hime theme song, is a bit of a happy dork, and thinks the world of his friends. His main motivation in these first episodes of Yowamushi Pedal is to become a good enough cyclist so that he can ride alongside his friends: Imaizumi, the usually calm and collected all-rounder with a competitive streak, and Naruko, the sprinter who is really passionate about bikes and loves the colour red. They are all very different characters, but mesh together well in their desire to compete with and help one another. I will admit that I was distracted by Naruko’s appearance at first, as his red hair and protruding fang-like tooth gave me flashbacks of Rin ‘shark teeth’ Matsuoka from Free!, but he grew on me as the series progressed. Even if his love of bikes bordered on unnecessarily intense at times, to the point where he chased down a man in a car for accidentally hitting Onoda’s bike with a used cigarette. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, as there are many other characters to enjoy, and each bring their own interesting personalities and quirks to the show.
While I’m familiar with cycling as a mode of transport and recreation, it was interesting to learn about the sport. I was previously unfamiliar with the technique of ‘drafting bikes’ during a race, or cycling terms like ‘cadence’. Like most sports anime, these terms and techniques were explained relatively well, if sometimes with more gravitas than was needed. But hey, it’s a sports anime and that kind of blind passion and over-explanation comes with the territory. Besides, I did come away from these episodes feeling like I had learnt something new.
Yowamushi Pedal also has a slight case of the awkward CG. When characters are shown riding their bikes, specifically when they are on the bike and not when only their face is in frame, they are 3D models rather than the usual 2D animation. It’s similar to the anime Ajin, but unlike Ajin, Yowamushi Pedal is a brightly coloured anime that cannot soften the CG’s jarring appearance with soft lighting. This makes the movements look stiff and strange. But as a person who could not draw a bike (let alone animate one) to save their life, I understand the decision.
A solid anime that suffers from the usual sports anime related problems. Mainly that you’ll get to know more about bikes than you ever thought there was to know, and characters will fluctuate cartoon-ishly between states of ecstasy and depression based on cycling related issues. If you can survive the lengthy explanations on cycling and enjoy the intensity of characters who just REALLY love bikes, there’s a lot to have fun to be had from this one.
A review copy was provided by Madman Entertainment to the author for the purpose of this review.