Before we get this going, I just want to take a couple of sentences to tell you about this column. Very Animated is my take on Anime and animated content that I enjoy. The views expressed here are my own, so don’t worry, Geek Fruit doesn’t hate your favourite anime, I do! It’ll be fun to scratch the surface of this vast genre together and who knows, we might even dive deep on a topic or two. Let’s get down to business!
Anime is an acquired taste. It can also be a very solitary pursuit, as bringing up anime in a conversation often leads to awkward glances and disbelief. At all times, we must remember that any genre of entertainment is distinct and unique, but it still ties into the world we live in. Anime is no different in that regard. Sure, we might watch shows about robots in space fighting aliens, but for so many folks, the trials and tribulations of the lead character, you know…the person that inevitably has greatness thrust upon him, is universal. We understand content in an emotional and philosophical language that is often unobserved or distilled in any way. It is also important to note that anime is segmented with teen boy, teen girl, adult male and adult female titles taking up the major categories. I won’t get into their Japanese names just yet but remember if you don’t like a certain show, check the category the anime belongs to and make a note of it. Chances are you won’t like others in the same field.
The anime I’m talking about today is a great way to break down and analyse what makes this genre tick. Yowamushi Pedal is a cycling-themed anime, so if you are a fan of Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar, then you’ve come to the right place.
Our hero is Sakamichi Onoda, a geeky otaku (an otaku is someone obsessed with manga and anime, or generally an obsessive fanboy of something), who is trying to fit in at his new high school. Right off the bat, we’re hit with the biggest manga/anime trope of all, the one I like to call, “The Chosen Otaku”. Like any good adventure, the protagonist is an everyman with a heart of gold, and in Japan, these characters are usually nerds that like comics.
Since this is a sports anime, the protagonist must have incredible hidden potential that he is unaware of. With young Onoda, it's his ridiculous stamina, gained from riding his “mommy bike” all the way to school. The heavy bike and the lengthy commute give him the ability to climb hills better than your average racer.
Designated cool kid, Shunsuke Imaizumi notices this 'nerd' effortlessly ride up slopes like it ain’t nothing and decides he must know more about this strange otaku. You see, Imaizumi is a serious cyclist. He's been winning bike races since middle school and he's come to Sohuku High School just to join their much-vaunted cycling team. Imaizumi's character is also a typical manga/anime trope. It isn’t easy to transform the otaku into a cool and effortless winner. He needs guidance from, and perhaps some attraction towards the cool jock kid. The first two episodes usually establish that these two need each other, and they end up forming…“ The Unlikely Couple”. As you can see, we’re already knee deep in plot devices and tropes in this anime.
Shoukichi Naruto turns this duo into a trio. Playing the role of the flashy and ebullient sprinter (a bike racing term we will get to later), Naruto is the energy that keeps scenes moving, adding flair, laughs and providing a good balance between the serious Imaizumi and awkward Onoda. Now, instead of getting into more detail about every character, we’ll just refer to them as “the Trio” and everyone else will be grouped into other roles. We've got the Sohuku Cycling Team seniors that the Trio looks up to, the other riders in and around the team and the support staff that helps the Sohoku Cycling team out.
In direct opposition to Sohoku, Hakone Academy are the big dogs of Japanese high school cycling. This show’s main draw happens to the antagonists. Calling all of them villains does them a huge disservice, because one thing anime does really well is create human opposition that is not necessarily pure evil, but rather an obstacle to the ultimate objective. After all, these are just a bunch of high school kids racing bikes; it’s not like anybody committed murder. Hakone are the defending champs, the alpha dogs and media darlings. The anime does a great job of giving them a backstory and character development. This only enhances their motivations, and you get the feeling that Hakone has reason enough to win at cycling. The third party is a wildcard known as Kyoto Fushimi, led by the only truly abrasive character in the whole show, Akira Midosuji. This guy is almost Darwinian in his approach to putting together a cycling team and his extreme methods clash with and hinder both Sohoku and Hakone.
Now, why are we watching a bunch of Japanese high school students race each other? To see who wins the Inter-High competition of course! As is usual, the anime has hyped up this mundane national-level school contest by making it seem like the most prestigious honor ever bestowed upon a teenager with a bicycle. So let’s recap. This high school anime, aimed at teen boys (shonen manga), follows the life of Sakimichi Onoda and his high school cycling team as they pursue greatness. Why is this anime cool?
Well for one thing, it makes cycling very cool. These kids rack up tons of kilometres a day though slavish and single-minded devotion and they constantly try to be better. This heavy practice isn't skipped over in a montage a la Rocky, but it is celebrated in the most Japanese of ways. A country that loves people that work hard will naturally make this trait a valuable commodity. We learn about the various roles of the riders in cycling teams, their specializations, their strategies. Every race stage unravels like a long, endurance sapping chess match. The whole world of cycling becomes familiar as you go along, and you suddenly get what the fuss is all about.Naturally, it wouldn’t be a Japanese anime without ludicrous nicknames and special abilities, but I'll let you discover that as you watch the show.
So there we have it gang, the perfect shonen sports formula. Nerdy otaku kid with hidden potential beyond his understanding, cool kids who spot this to turn their small town franchise around, and a colourful cast of freaks and geeks to bounce everything off of. If you've wanted to start watching anime for a bit, this one is a chilled out starting point.
Scribe: Siddhant Mehta
Captain's Log: Siddhant Mehta is the Captain now. Debate this with him @Siddhant_Mehta.