弱虫ペダル GRANDE ROAD 第19話 「坂道の役割」
Yowamushi Pedal: Grande Road #19. 「Sakamichi’s Job」
Source Material: Manga series by Watanabe Wataru (渡辺 航)
Studio(s): TMS Entertainment
Director(s): Yamaguchi Mihiro (山口 美浩)
Script: Hirota Mitsutaka (広田 光毅)
Storyboard: Yabuki Rin (薮木 凛)
Animation Director(s): Nagayoshi Takashi (永吉隆志), Obata Ken (小畑 賢), Shinoda Akira (篠田 章), Kiritani Masaki (桐谷 真咲), Nakakouji Yoshitake (中小路 佳毅)
Chief Animation Director(s): Yoshida Takahiko (吉田 隆彦), Okazaki Hiromi (岡崎 洋美), Shiba Minako (芝 美奈子)
With only six kilometers left until the final finish line, Imaizumi claims the mountain checkpoint and continues to hold off Fukutomi at the front of the race. Meanwhile, Onoda struggles to prevent Midousuji from reaching the aces, realizing that what he does best is sticking to his target. Midousuji tells Manami that the same rules of their bet, whoever fails to catch up to the aces first drops out of the race, naturally applies to Onoda as well. Completely unaware of this wager, Onoda is still able to keep up with Midousuji and Manami during their climactic sprint to reach Fukutomi, even after slipping off-course upon reaching a steep curve. The three first-years tie in their all-out race to Fukutomi; Midousuji is aghast at Onoda’s resilience while Manami is elated at his ability to stay even with them without even knowing about Midousuji and his own bet. Onoda catches up to Imaizumi at the front and apologizes for having failed to keep Midousuji away, but Imaizumi assures him that he should be proud instead of apologetic for being a part of this final stage of the Inter-High. Imaizumi tells Onoda that his only job henceforth is to aim for the finish line, even if that means beating Imaizumi himself. Further back, Fukutomi expresses Onoda as an unforeseen variable in his expectations for the final neck of the race, and Manami is overjoyed at the unpredictability of who will win and is more than enthusiastic to see what Onoda is capable of when he has an actual concrete goal to race towards. While the others are in contemplation, Midousuji attempts to rush the front and take the lead, but an Imaizumi at the front of the pack who completely differs from the Imaizumi of Inter-High day one is indomitable in his lead.
Episode 19 of GRANDE ROAD has us seeing the return of the Sakamichi complex, in other words that happy-go-lucky stickler who just won’t let you escape his clutches, even if he has to manually force-break his off-course bike with his own foot and or scream his signature hime song with his undoubtedly already arid lungs convulsing for oxygen (the latter of which he probably enjoys nonetheless). Yowamushi Pedal is an extremely fast-paced show, which is exactly why it’s episodes like “Sakamichi’s Job”, compacted with the now essentially obligatory amount of exhilarating action and intensity, that are able to stand out amongst the rest by having a hefty amount of more dramatic story content alongside the dynamic montage of characters‘ astounded expressions, foots pedaling at breakneck speeds, hands vigorously gripping onto handle bars, wind currents blazing across the contours of characters’ bodies, and the like, so as to not make twenty minutes seem more (or technically, less) like five. Onoda’s status as protagonist of the series is an important one; it’s through his lens of not only a first-year underclassmen but also a complete neophyte to the world of road-racing that puts him a notch below even his fellow first years in the kouhai-senpai relationship that makes his admiration of his fellow bicyclists (inside and outside Sohoku High Bicycle Club) the most earnest representation it can be. This is of course most ostentatious when it is pointed out by none other than Imaizumi himself, Onoda’s very first companion in the series and now Onoda’s very last companion he has to rely on in this race (I don’t know about you, but the conceptual symmetry made me pretty fucking giddy) of all races that every character thus far has treated as more or less a matter of life and death (…see any previous episode in which one of them drops out of the race and how it is depicted as more tragic than death is depicted in any other series of any other genre). And while we did get Onoda’s routine reminiscence of how each member of Sohoku has supported him in his venture of competitive cycling, it’s this episode’s interaction with Imaizumi that takes the character relationship cake home.
“You astonish me. We’re at the front of the final battle of the Inter-High. You jumped out from behind, climbed, kept up with the others, and caught up to us. Just now, you’ve done something incredible, but the first words out of your mouth are, ‘I’m sorry’? You should hold your head high and say, ‘That’s right, I’m here. You should be grateful.’ You shouldn’t be apologizing, idiot. I’m impressed you made it here, Onoda. No, Sakamichi. You catch up to me all the time, don’t you? You’re amazing.”
For the first two days of the Inter-High (or maybe even before that, starting in the training camp arc), it seemed like Naruko’s much more forward personality had all but usurped Onoda’s (best) friendship from the nonchalant, nearly apathetic Imaizumi, but that wasn’t the case at all. Onoda and Imaizumi’s fragmented and subtle interactions during the span of the first two-thirds of the Inter-High were very well arranged to bring us to this touching, intermediary scene right before the final stretch of the race wherein the cast left-over can actually afford to partake in this calm pathos before the storm (give or take a Midousuji who will most definitely take advantage of your compelling speeches of camaraderie to rush-in and take the lead). All in all, it’s a friendship, the series’s original friendship, revisited like a blast from the past (it’s hard to believe it’s been more than a year since their introduction) that is highly satisfactory in that it sets the tone of what the race ahead means for Sohoku’s remaining two and tonally addresses the relationship these two will have hereafter, probably even onto the next year as the team’s aces. Of course, before that lies the actual results of this competition; and with at least three of the five remaining competitors being quite the dark horses, it’s nothing short of literally an exciting race to the finish line, especially with that extra element of competitors hailing from the same school being no different from adversaries at this point. (Again, Imaizumi hits the nail right on the head with his line, “You catch up to me all the time, don’t you?”) All kinds of twists and turns and mishaps and surprises have occurred in the past three days (more like fifty weeks) of grueling road-racing and it’s reasonable to say that original story-writer Watanabe Wataru intentionally misled us into thinking this tourney was going to be structured somewhat predictably (sprinters face-off on the flats, climbers on the hills, and aces in the end to take it all); but with series protagonist Onoda Sakamichi now as a frontrunner, or rather, frontcycler for the end goal, hime‘s in her heaven and all right’s in the YowaPeda world.