Peer pressure often prevents us from being the person we want to be. The teenage years entail a necessity for conformity and a fear of change. Physical appearance, grades, money and social status are used to determine someone's value in society. Or so it seems.
For Onoda Sakamichi, he finds his place by pedalling and pedalling forward.
Yowamushi Pedal is a story of a weak-willed, unattractive and friendless otaku finding joy in life through the sweat of sport. Nobody, including himself, thinks him capable of more than shopping for manga and singing embarrassing anime songs. He rides his cheap bicycle from school to Akihabara once a week and the dismal cycle begins anew. But through a series of fortunate coincidences he finds untapped talent and a place in his school's cycling club.
Unlike most protagonists in sports anime, Onoda is not a hot-blooded maniac with a craving for victory. He is timid, weak-- but earnest. He pedals on not out of proud, but because his aching muscles and the wind beating against him makes him feel alive. In a race he does not need to worry that he is shy or awkward; all that matters is that he pedal forward and dominate the asphalt. While Onoda may not be likeable in the traditional sense (his timidness can occasionally reach the point of frustration), much like Mihashi from "Big Windup", you can't help but root for the poor guy.
The other members of Souhoku's cycling club are fairly exciting, though most of them are nothing you haven't already seen before in a sports anime. There's Onoda's rival, Imaizumi, but the rivalry seemingly vanishes into thin air as the Interhigh tournament approaches. Naruko represents the life and energy of the club, while the three seniors unsurprisingly serve as mentors to the first-years. The most interesting of all the characters (sans Onoda) is Makishima. His long, green hair, lanky body, molester-like smile and spider-like cycling manoeuvre has him come across as a creepy little bastard, but gradually he develops and adds a distinct personality to the show. Souhoku will certainly feel the loss once he graduates.
The rival cyclists are, well... they have quite a personality. One of them is a muscle freak who names his pecks (Andy & Frank, in case you were curious) and regularly screams "Abs!" while riding with his jersey unzipped, exposing his bulging, twitching muscles. Yes. Yowamushi Pedal is a very strange show.
Others are more conservative in their personality, with the unbeatable Hakone High serving as the second main cast of characters. Their rivalry with Souhoku feels genuine as a result of a number of flashbacks, and these scenes fortunately are handled gracefully, only ever shown when pertinent to the story. The individual members of Hakone High are all fleshed-out, too. Even Muscle Dude.
The one blemish in an otherwise fun cast of characters is Midousuji of Kyoto Fushimi. He takes ridiculous to a level that I don't believe I have seen before in a sports anime. He does not stop at simply being the arrogant antagonist; he is a goddamn animal masquerading as human. He slurps with his long, lizard-like tongue, bends his body in positions impossible for the human body, loudly grinds his skeleton-like teeth in front of his opponents, strangles his team-mates and leaves death shrieks like a complete lunatic. Okay, I understand that the show wanted to create conflict by having a villain that the entire audience can despise and root against, but he did not need to be exaggerated to such an extent. His character simply creates a pervasive, ceaseless sense of imbalance within the show. And he does not ever stop frustrating the viewer. By the power of God, Jesus, Allah, those Hindu deities that I can't remember the name of, my mom and every other person in the history of mankind, won't somebody please please please beat the fool senseless?
Midosuji aside, Yowamushi Pedal does an excellent job of being accessible to those who have no prior experience or interest in the sport of cycling. Basic terminology is concisely conveyed to the viewer without being condescending, and it focuses more on the abilities of the cyclists rather than the intricacies of some obscure technique they are using. It does occasionally stray from realism during the Interhigh tournament, though. Every main character seems to have some sort of superpower. And you have to wonder how the characters don't lose their breath from talking so much while cycling.
Yowamushi Pedal is a visual feast. It is easily one of the best-looking sports anime produced to date. In the thirty-eight episodes produced thus far, there has not been one where the animation quality has dipped to any noticeable extent. The amount of CG used is thankfully minimal (usually limited to the scenery and the legs of the cyclists), though to be fair, it does skip many of the expensive shots by focusing more on the faces of the cyclists, with said faces given extra prominence by the blurring of the backgrounds. However, the best part of the visuals is the most basic: colour. Too many shows forget the importance of colour. Grey and brown is not fun for the eyeballs.
The musical score is great, but the real beauty is in how well-timed it is. All the tracks start and end at the perfect moment; a final dash towards the finish line being accompanied by a hot-blooded orchestral piece with guitars riffing in the background, or a tense 'eleventh hour' piece playing as the characters run out of strength and fall behind. One of the best moments in the entire show occurs in the thirty-first episode, with Onoda motivating his teammate by forcing him to sing along to a cheesy anime song (the way he's always encouraged himself), it later switching into a guitar solo of the song before finally crescendoing into the show's main background piece. Even if there's no particular stand-out track, the excellent usage of these tracks makes every episode a joy to watch. It's also pretty damn motivational, to boot.
However, it should be noted that the first season (should they even be considered separate seasons?) does not have a conclusion. It ends in the middle of the Interhigh tournament during one of its climaxes, the final sprint of the second day with no 'to be continued' to assuage the viewer. Watching the second season is an absolute necessity, so you will have to prepare yourself for a fairly long ride.
Yowamushi Pedal is first and foremost an inspirational story of the weak surpassing the odds and triumphing over the strong. It will not leave you with something you haven't already seen before, and while it is most certainly not deep or philosophical, it excels at doing what matters most: leaving a smile on the viewer's face.