Team Pao Pao Beer travel east to participate in the Japan Cup in what is very likely to be their final season together. Pepe Benengeli and teammate Jean Luigi Ciocci face an uncertain future and are also yet to come to terms with the suicide of one their heroes, Marco Rondanini. What follows is an introspective into the important things in life from the perspective of the professional cyclist.
Kurt Vonnegut infamously stated that a writer should "Start as close to the end as possible." Vonnegut, however, was a fiction writer. His sentiment is not universally apt to all mediums. 'Nasu: A Migratory Bird with Suitcase', while being the 2nd OVA following the same character (PePe), falls victim to too little explanation and too little suspense, in a dogmatic adaptation of a charismatic short story found within the pages of manga 'Nasu' ('Eggplant') by Iou Kuroda. The effect of starting close to the end, finishing quickly, results in this anime the achievement of a somewhat quirky, short and punchy story about a team of
Italian cyclists racing a tournament in Japan. But consequently, we experience little of any comprehension or depth of characterisation for the viewer to absorb within the short 47 minutes.
'Nasu: A Migratory Bird with Suitcase', is a Madhouse production. This is notable, because Madhouse has continually produced well received, well produced anime. 'Nasu [...]', however, has been the least popular release by Madhouse in the last five years. And it's not because of some simple error like terrible character design, outlandish plot, or irascible characters. Rather, Madhouse seems to have forgotten how to produce a sports anime. The genre of sports anime is most notorious for series where games often go for numerous episodes, and where repetition of characters goals together with the slow progression towards it, is the focus. The build up of characterisation over time, allows the viewer to empathise with the hopes, the dreams, and the direction- of the characters portrayed. 'Nasu [...]', is almost unique in that it does not have a long running time to achieve its goals. And while 'Nasu [...]' does achieve quite a bit during its short duration, it's not an effective sports anime. It almost seems half hearted.
The story follows PePe, after his ex-girlfriend has left him for his brother, and a fellow pro-cyclist Marco Rondinini has committed suicide. Together with his dis-spirited team-mate Ciocci, PePe resolves to win his next tournament race as part of team 'Pao Pao Beer' in Japan. His opponents in this ordeal, are Zanconi and Gilmore. Cheering him from the sidelines is a young boy, and assumably the boy's sister, who is the translator for the team during their stay in Japan. The results of this race are not exactly the most typical of scenarios, as expected of Iou Kuroda.
The man we can thank for bringing 'Nasu [...]' to life is Kitarou Kousaka, who not only directed both 'Nasu: A Migratory Bird with Suitcase' and 'Nasu: An Andalusian Summer', but also wrote the screenplay, directed the animation, and oversaw the character designs. Kousaka is a fan of cycling (as is his mentor Miyazaki, who recommended the 'Nasu' projects to him), and it is largely through this passion that a depiction of a pro-cyclists life is detailed. The pain, the loneliness, the technicalities, of pro-cycling is thus presented very well in 'Nasu [...]'. And while overall some aspects of feel underdeveloped, it's true that Kousaka tries his hardest to show the whole gammut. In respects to adaptation, this often results in Kousaka removing some of the more sexual-based content and quirky humour of Kuroda's manga, and replacing it with lots of contextualising details. The result of showing everything, or at least trying to, has meant that the prequel to 'A Migratory Bird with Suitcase', 'An Andalusian Summer', was the first ever anime to be shown at the Cannes festival.
And while the sports aspect may be underplayed, Nasu really does do a lot with its short running time. The suicide of Marco Rondinini becomes the centrepiece of 'Nasu[...]', PePe and Ciocci's reactions being startingly different but in the end coalescing. The import of belief, especially with the portrayal of a temple, also becomes a motif that is explored. The qualities of how Nasu deals with human relations, and the condition of being human, has consequently made Nasu the sort of underground favourite of people less concerned with shonen-istic story conventions and more concerned with humanism in anime.
As detailed, 'Nasu: A Migratory Bird with Suitcase', is perhaps a misnomer, certainly at least irregular. It almost directly works against the conventions of sports anime, yet it also delves into aspects of the human condition. It does little to give in-depth characterisation or comprehensive narrative within the running time of 47 minutes, but it also gives the viewer a lot to think about. Thus while as a sports anime it fails, even with the dedicated fanaticism of director Kousaka providing specificity to the cycling technicalities. It succeeds however, as a kind of transcendent modernistic assessment of exactly how a professional cyclist lives. Of how they want to live, what they believe in, what they are trying to do.
Nothing gets the blood pumping like a high-intensity race, be it in a car, bike, or even mecha suit. Youthful passion and energy fuel these shows about drivers, pilots and athletes all striving for that #1 spot. As Ricky Bobby once famously said, "If you ain't first, you're last".