At one point or another, one faces a metaphorical wall, and no matter how much effort one puts into breaking it, it is futile. What does one do, then? Give up? Wait? Have the willpower to try again and again?
This, essentially, is what Yowamushi Pedal is about.
Yowamushi Pedal, Weak Pedals in English and Yowapeda for short, follows Onoda Sakamichi and his journey to have fun with friends he never had, as well as his struggles in the world of road racing he gets dragged into. It’s, of course, not a unique concept by any means – after all, many sports shows follow the scheme of a rookie exploring the sport in question. But instead of giving the viewer what they want – Onoda, and the bicycle team he’s in – Sohoku – to be at the top after hard work, Yowamushi Pedal rather makes the members suffer through one obstacle to the other.
But let’s start from the beginning.
Onoda’s biggest wish when entering high school is to join the anime club and to gain some friends with similar interests, since he was mostly alone in middle school. But this is going to change in high school, he tells himself, and it does indeed, as he doesn’t join the anime club as intended, but the bicycle club instead, after meeting the tall, serious Imaizumi and the flashy, short Naruko, to test his own potential. And Onoda does show lots of potential, especially at climbing hills (true to his name, which means “hill” in Japanese), and at catching up to opponents, eventually determined to help the Sohoku bicycle club in any way possible to gain overall victory.
While the story per se is not particularly good – especially paired with pacing problems in the second half of the show, unnecessary time extensions as well as the ending – its themes are very heartwarming and realistic. For one can’t say that they can’t identify with the theme of failing, and the constant struggle of overcoming obstacles, and Yowapeda has it in all facets and angles. Every character looks for ways to overcome their struggles, and for ways to motivate themselves. And in the middle of all that, there are comedical slice-of-life moments that strengthen the interactions between the characters after every ending song. The world of road racing is explained well, as the viewer has just as much of an idea of it as Onoda does, bit by bit so that it doesn’t come off as a boring info-dump, especially with every piece of information almost directly demonstrated in the scene.
The cast is certainly an odd mix. It never really fits any archetype, though it is close to, but that doesn’t exactly mean they’re very unique, either. Onoda fits in the otaku archetype, but is more presented as a timid, shy person who tries to give his best. Imaizumi fits in the serious, arrogant boy archetype, but there are moments where he is simply very awkward, and the list continues. The Sohoku team, save the green-haired third-year Makishima, who is an “irregularity” as he refers to himself and grows to be a distinct personality in the team, is very conventional with nothing new. But Makishima is by far not the only one who develops over the course of 38 episodes; the previously mentioned Imaizumi and third-year Kinjou are some examples as well. Of course, Yowapeda doesn’t only focus on Sohoku only (even though the first half does invest on the team); the rival team and champions Hakone is worth mentioning as well. They’re a lot odder than Sohoku – there’s the aggressive Arakita, the eccentric Toudou, laid-back Shinkai, muscle-freak Izumida and Onoda’s rival Manami. And despite being such an odd bunch, they get their flashbacks and development as well, even their stone-faced captain Fukutomi. The rivalry between Sohoku and Hakone feels real, too. Last but not least, there’s the antagonist Midousuji with his team Kyoto Fushimi. He’s the oddest of the cast, disturbingly so, and most of the time Kyoto Fushimi serves as a shock factor to Sohoku and Hakone. While not everyone’s past is revealed and not everyone is developed, a lot of them are, and they help making the characters seem very human with their faults and motivations. Indeed, the characters are Yowamushi Pedal’s strongest point.
The animation is average, sometimes even cringeworthy, but at least consistent. The CGI is not very annoying nor very remarkable. As for the sound, it certainly never feels out of place, always suiting the current mood. The problem is though that it is very repetitive, as certain tracks for racing or dramatic moments are used over and over again. The opening and ending themes deserve a special mention as well – almost all of the song fit the mood to the corresponding arc, the best of them being the second opening (Dirty Old Men’s “Yowamushi na Honoo”) and the best ending the third, “Glory Road”, sung by the voice actors of the Hakone members. Speaking of voice acting, it is certainly well-done. Many of them are B-list voice actors, and still pulled off the character they’re voicing without effort, especially the performances for Onoda and Toudou.
So in conclusion, Yowamushi Pedal is not the most unique, but a very touching tale about friendship and overcoming obstacles. Even though it has pacing issues at times as well as a non-existent end, it makes up for it with loveable characters and intense matches, as well as the great opening and ending themes. It does not rely on “pseudo-homo” moments, nor on magically winning because it’s the main character, but rather on the strength of willpower and how actually motivating friendship is. Should you watch Yowamushi Pedal? Yes.