Story/Art: Wataru Watanabe
Translation: Caleb D. Cook
Lettering: Rachel J. Pierce
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Yowamushi Pedal, aka Yowapeda aka one of the greatest sports manga/anime out there, has been going on for 40 volumes now in the U.S. That’s half of what’s out in Japan. That’s right, 20 omnibus volumes gets us halfway to Japan’s 80 total volumes. I am looking forward to reading every single volume that Yen Press puts out and continues to put out.
Volume 12 where I chaotically left off right before the end of the inter-high, with then-first years Onoda, Imaizumi, and Naruko speeding toward the goal and carrying third-year Makishima along the way (by this point, Tadokoro had fallen back; the last part of the race was a climb, and he’s a sprinter. And the ace, Kinjou, had to drop out due to injury). But really it’s Onoda’s show, and everyone is there to support him. That’s the kind of focus he gets as the main character of the whole thing.
Naruko pulls them up the mountain initially, with a sprint climb. And Imaizumi pulls Onoda as far as he can after that. Then the real race begins. The two first-year climbers. Alongside Onoda is Hakone’s Manami, who’s the aloof, pretty boy type and climbs by going up on his gears (aka, which is now strangely the third time maybe ever I’ve used the term aka in a review here, making it harder to pedal). As opposed to Onoda’s high cadence (the amount of rotations per second / minute / whatever interval you want to use that Onoda moves his pedals in a full circle) climbing.
But enough preamble here. What I really love about Yowamushi Pedal is how it ratchets up the tension in each page and each chapter of these races. The inter-high, as the mangaka, Wataru Watanabe, points out at the end, lasted for 10 whole volumes. Almost 200 km of cycling (about 124 miles) all through 10 volumes (five omnibus here, I suppose). And it’s always interesting because of how weird and unique the characters Watanabe puts on the page are. The main two fighting head-to-head at the end, Onoda and Manami, are unique in their own rights. Onoda is the nerd. He’s into anime. He used to bike to Akiba every week and buy gatcha with his allowance. He wanted nothing more than friends to hang out with and share his interests in. Upon the completion of the inter-high, and Onoda and Sohoku’s victory, he bikes to Akiba with everyone else and cries as he’s finally achieved his dream. He gives everyone little gifts, which is such a great little touch to give each person this unique gift (lol at Makishima receiving a bunch of spiders for how much he’s done for Onoda, and Tadokoro receiving the Love Hime CD since they sung that on their way back to the rest of Sohoku on day two). It humanizes not just Onoda and the rest of the cast (as if they weren’t already), and gives this very direct connection to Onoda and each of these individual characters that he rode for three days at inter-high with.
Manami is a different beast. He’s the opponent, but also the foil to Onoda, I’d say. His character is told almost exclusively through flashbacks interspersed throughout the race, but there are glimpses as he gives Onoda his water bottle as Onoda struggles after a long ride. He has an aloofness and charm that’s wholly his, in comparison to the rest of the cast, and most importantly his riding is entirely unique. His climbing style is connected directly to his desire to feel alive on the slopes, to feel the pain in his legs and his heart as they pedal and beat and bring him further and further up the mountain. And connected to what brought him to cycling to begin with. He was a sickly kid, and he wanted to just be outside and feel the wind on him. It’s never really resolved as to how he got better, but perhaps just getting out and strengthening the heart and lungs is enough.
When they reach the apex together, in the fight of first-year climbers, we’re informed of so much about Onoda (he’s carried not just the weight of the third years’ expectations, but that of Naruko who pulled him and died along the way, and Imaizumi, who gave him the final push) and Manami (he carries the weight of Hakone, the forever kings of road racing, and of the Mountain God, Toudou, who pulled Manami to this point). It gives the race, and of any sports manga, so much more weight when we can know who’s battling against each other. We love the best ones because we love the characters. Because, to use a famous example, we know the work that Hinata, Kageyama, and the rest of Karasuno put in as they cry into their food postmatch.
It’s in the intervening moments that we really fall in love with the characters. In the last 10 ish volumes, so much was revealed about Onoda, Imaizumi, and Naruko as the first years and main characters. But also so much about Kinjou, Makishima, and Tadokoro as their third years and fellow riders in the inter-high. Then there’s these couple of other characters… Teshima, Aoyagi, and Sugimoto.
There’s so much to be learned about those three in the next couple of volumes following the inter-high.
The first-year race fast comes up after the inter-high and it’s related celebrations (which are, I would say, muted compared to other sports manga, save the Akiba ride). Newcomer first years Kaburagi and Danchiku make their mark on the race, with Dankichiku as Kaburagi’s domestique. Kaburagi is…dumb as bricks, but a great rider. And Danchiku, perhaps like Teshima, is happy to be a domestique for his buddy. But it’s Sugimoto who I fell in love with in these chapters. Imaizumi’s been helping Sugimoto train, and participate in the first-year race as a second-year so he can join the inter-high team. And boy does he try his best in a battle of wills against Kaburagi. I think for me, the moments in sports anime that hit the best is when we know how much work a character (or in real life, a player) has put into a particular moment / race / competition / match / game / whatever, and they fall just short. It’s why we love movies like Rocky, because those moments hit so, so hard. But at least we, the audience, know they put their all into this and they did everything they could to try and win this thing. It’s only more heartbreaking when Sugimoto is under the false impression that he did, indeed, beat Kaburagi. But alas. Kaburagi in, Sugimoto out. And the next year’s inter-high team is set: Imaizumi, Onoda, Naruko, Aoyagi, Teshima, and Kaburagi.
But they still have the three-day race that Onoda, Imaizumi, and Naruko completed as first years. A closed course they have to complete approximately a million laps of in order to truly qualify for the inter-high. Four spots are virtually guaranteed: Onoda as last year’s winner and ace climber, Imaizumi as the ace, Naruko as the ace sprinter, and Aoyagi as the secondary sprinter. The last two are up to Kaburagi and Teshima to earn, and it’s Koga, a mysterious third year who we have not seen to this moment because he’s been working behind the scenes as a mechanic, to ruin them. An extra wrinkle in this is that Teshima and Aoyagi cannot get within 10 meters of each other, and neither can Kaburagi and Danchiku. If Kaburagi is to get to the inter-high, it has to be on his own merits. Same with Teshima.
Last year’s race included Naruko having adjusted handlebars, so he couldn’t grip the lower part, Imaizumi not being able to switch gears, and Onoda having heavier wheels. (Er, or at least I believe those were the restrictions placed on each of them.) And they all finished. But these little wrinkles provide just enough intrigue to really drive home that even this friendly race between teammates is going to be intense. And it’s highlighted by Teshima and Koga’s race against each other for both Teshima’s spot and captaincy. It’s further heightened by Teshima having never won a race. So when they decide to have their final battle, and it’s Teshima who wins it, ordinary guy Teshima who never accomplished anything, it just feels so good to watch that. And these were guys who, just last year, could not even finish the course.
The bigger story wrinkle is Midosuji and Komari (a first-year masseuse who likes feeling up everyone to get a gauge of their muscles, generously, but also he’s a big pervert) who show up at the race, just wanting to peek in since they’ve come from so far. And the foolish attendant lets them in, even though Sohoku asked no one to be let in due to scouting concerns. But oh well. Anyway. Komari feels up Onoda, and this really the first big introduction to who will be a big obstacle at the next inter-high. Midosuji was already a problem, but if he has more than zakus and goufs, as he likes to say, he’s going to be a much bigger problem for everyone else.
The manga pretty much drives to inter-high right after that, where Onoda gets caught behind the peloton in a scheme by Hakone to separate Onoda from the rest of the group. He predictably, and amazingly, gets past all of them through both sheer will / skill and the deference to someone of the skill and caliber of Onoda in the eyes of the rest of the peleton. It was a really great moment that’s kind of unique in at least the sports manga I’ve read and sports anime I’ve watched. There are not many “gentlemanly” sports to come across, but road racing is. If one guy just outduels others, he is given deference and the peloton splits for him to allow him to catch back up with the rest of his group. Baseball is perhaps the closest I can think of, in that you should tip the hat when you don’t intent to hit a batter, but do.
There’s a great race between Doubashi, Aoyagi, and Kaburagi in which we truly learn how dense Kaburagi is because he doesn’t realize that he’s a sprinter and, more obviously, that Aoyagi is the God of Orange Beena that keeps leaving him notes about his riding. And another great race between Manami and Teshima, who rides in the stead of Onoda on the climb since he’s blocked by the peloton. Where Manami has a loose chain that would have cost him the race and the mountain tag had Teshima not stopped for a tea break and view at the scenery (another great moment of gentlemanly deference to each other’s skill). Volume 20 sadly ends just prior to the end of the first day, as Midosuji and Naruko are in a heated battle in the final 300 or so meters.
Yowamushi Pedal is one of the greatest sports manga out there for tension, absurd characters, and absolutely amazing payoff moments. There’s nothing like it that at least I’ve seen in the combination of horror, stakes in deaths, sports manga-y-ness, and characterization. I love watching Onoda defy all logic and convention and win their first inter-high, which even goes back to riding a modified mommy bike in the first-year race and nearly winning the mountain there too. I love watching Naruko be absurd and flashy. I love Makishima, Manami, Aoyagi, and everyone’s highly creative riding methods. And I love the horror that Midosuji brings, and that Watanabe accentuates in the framing and drawing of him.
It’s an understated aspect of Yowapeda, since I often skimmed or straight up skipped the little ends of each volume (which also happens in the middle of these volumes due to them being omnibuses), is the attention to detail that Watanabe has on the finer points of cycling. He seems to be a very experienced cycling himself, and often details his own trials riding up these mountains, across these trails, and teaching his readers about bicycles. If you’re ever just wanting to learn about bikes, you can pop open one of these volumes and learn a lot.
Content Grade: A
Art Grade: B
Packaging Grade: B+
Text/Translation Grade: A
Age Rating: 13+
Released By: Yen Press
MSRP: $24.00 each