Yowamushi Pedal is unable to portray excitement

I love sports shows. I love the characters in Yowamushi Pedal and as such I find myself liking the series quite a bit. The large portion of the races are fun and dramatic, especially when we see new tactics or abilities of players we have not seen a lot from before. Its biggest selling point to sports anime fans is that it focuses on a unique sport not often seen in anime (if at all) and as such is supposed to provide a new brand of excitement and intrigue when showing the sport.

Unfortunately, it fails.

The way the show portrays the important showdowns between its characters or the ‘nail-biting’ finish to a race is by zooming in on the characters somehow moving their legs even faster than before and then cutting to close-ups of their faces as they shout in anguish for a few minutes and then finally cutting to a shot of one of their bikes making it over the finish line. For me, the most exciting parts of the show are during the middle of the race and leading up to the finish line where it shows subtle gear changes, posture changes or inner monologues to clue the viewer into what is happening. Even the finale of the sprint and mountain mini-races do it better than the overall finale as at least then all the characters taking part actually have unique, well-established riding styles such as Makishima’s spider-like posture and Onoda’s high cadence. These scenes are a lot more interesting because they take their time in setting up a conclusion where we can understand the reasoning why one of the characters won and understand their strengths and weaknesses when matched up against one another. Unlike the big finales of races they do not devolve into shouting matches and the viewer is often left wondering why a certain rider actually won. We are given little in the way of explanations behind the abilities of the teams’ aces and why a particular one won on any given race. To be honest, I’d even take a small exposition dump at the end of a race by one of the characters if it explained just why what happened happened. Because no matter which team got advantages during the race it always somehow becomes neck-and-neck up to the finish line.
Why? Is it because the show doesn’t know how to produce enough hype around the ending? Is it because the characters fail to get enough development in the source material for the show to make their wins seem satisfying or their losses seem devastating? Other sports shows, such as Haikyuu, do a great job of making us feel sorry for even teams when they lose, even ones that make up the supporting cast. But it doesn’t help when Yowamushi Pedal can’t even give arguably its most important character enough development or explanation of his abilities to make us understand what’s going on. This is of course, Shingo who is the one who (at least for the first two seasons) is the captain and person the rest of the team tries to get in a good position so that he can finish the race in first place. The team constantly talks about how important it is to get him in the best possible position to finish the race. So much focus is put on the actual journey that hardly any is put on the ending. I can’t tell you for the life of me what Shingo’s abilities are and why he is touted as the most important rider on his team. Actually, y’know what, I’ll look on the wiki and see if there’s anything on there which explains all this. Bear with me…

He is known as the “Snake of the Stone Path” (sekidou no hebi) due to his determination to tail and overtake opponents. His perseverance has also earned him the nickname of the “Man Who Will Never Give Up” (zettai ni akiramenai otoko). He has impressive bike maneuverability, illustrated when he makes a tight U-turn while riding at full speed in order to catch Onoda from falling onto the gutter. He controls his bike like it’s an extension of his own body.

– Yowamushi Pedal Wiki, Kinjou Shingo

This tells me nothing. It explains nothing. The biggest takeaways are that he has determination and is good at moving his bike. That’s the exact same as everyone else in this goddamn series. See, the show knows this. It knows we have no reason to believe he could ever be considered special in this series or that he could win a race if his competitors had actual abilities so the show hides this by ass-pulling scenarios where he can catch up and devolve into shaky animation and loud music/voice acting to create the illusion of excitement. It also makes sure that his rival captain/ace is just as underdeveloped as he is and that the antagonist of the series – Midousuji – gets completely neutered by the end of the race even though the show spent a good majority of the second series building him up as the strongest racer there.

That’s my other problem with the show and how it doesn’t portray excitement in its finale: the lack of real competitors. I’ll use two of my favourite sport anime as examples – Kuroko no Basuke and Haikyuu. In Kuroko no Basuke there are a good six well-established teams which have a real shot at winning before going into it’s final competition and in Haikyuu there are four or five teams well established as strong and have had their team strengths showcased before going into the big tournament. In Yowamushi Pedal there’s the three aces who only come into play at the very end of each race. Granted Midousuji is a larger player in the whole of season two but really just breaks before the finale so that the two main teams are really the only ones in proper contention.

Don’t misunderstand me here though, I am not saying that you are wrong to like this show or that you are wrong to think that it cannot provide entertainment. I have conceded at the start that there are major things in the show that I like. It’s just that whilst viewing it a second time round in preparation for the third season that I noticed just how uninteresting the show becomes near the finale of races, near where it has no choice but to focus on its least interesting and most underdeveloped characters and where it uses still frames and jump cuts instead of the fluid and overall much cooler animation for other parts.

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In defence of slice of life and why they’re not the same as comedies

Ah slice of life. The genre in anime which is as over-saturated as it is criticised. Most of these criticisms boil down to “well, nothing happens it doesn’t have a story” or something else which irritates me to no end: “the comedy in these shows aren’t funny.” NO. Stop. You’re putting forth a very specific criticism for a slice of life show that happens to also be a comedy. You are not criticising the slice of life genre as a whole.

My own personal definition of a slice of life show is one that has to be propelled forwards by its cast. The story has to be very character driven and spend most of its time getting us so attached to the characters, their relationships with each other and the fun/struggles/drama that comes in their daily lives that we want to watch the next episode of the show and also the next episode of their lives. Good slice of life shows have made me want to continue experiencing the journey of these characters in the next part of their lives and so it’s not strange that some of my favourite overall casts in shows have been those belonging to slice of life ones. The other part of this would be that the show also shouldn’t have that much of an overarching plot. Now I know that this seems like I am trying to agree with the stereotype that ‘slice of life has no plot’ but hear me out when I mean overarching. Having a story is fine, and necessary, but the story arcs should be just that – story arcs. They should be about our characters and each episode should try and further their small arcs until we reach their conclusion at the end of the show. These arcs could be concluded all by the same event or decision which the show has been leading up to and this can give the illusion that there is an overarching plot and give the illusion that the show is not in fact slice of life but these loose ‘plot devices’ (I use this term for a lack of better words to convey what I want to say) are just tools to wrap up the character stories in a fitting conclusion that feels satisfying to the viewer.

I’m aware these two requirements are very loose and could include shows that you and the majority of people do not agree are slice of life shows and exclude shows which are marketed as slice of life. But I’ll be happy to show you exactly what I mean by using a few examples:

  • Clannad and Clannad: After Story – Not comedy shows and are more focused on the drama and romance between the characters and use it’s supernatural story elements to facilitate the character’s arcs.
  • Kokoro Connect – I like to consider this show a lesser Clannad as I would explain it in exactly the same way as I explained Clannad. About the characters. Uses its supernatural story elements (the characters switching bodies) to further the characters in their understanding of each other. Also not a comedy although has comedic moments.
  • Cowboy Bebop – Yeah. Don’t get angry. I know Cowboy Bebop has what many would consider a ‘main story’ across it’s largely episodic run but this is mainly pushed to the sidelines for most of the show. I believe there is only around six or seven episodes that actually focus on this ‘main story’. The rest of the episodes exist to show us literal slices of the characters’ lives and the main takeaway at the end of an episode is that the episode was just a small event in the life of the characters. That they will live their lives out as normal. That they have seen this shit all before. Not a comedy.
  • Mushishi and Natsume – I pair these together as they largely have the same style of telling their stories. Again very episodic which contributes to the feeling that we are only seeing portions of the lives of our main characters. Lacks an overall story other than the general premise of the series and is more focused on the characters’ individual stories. Natsume more than Mushishi does start to focus on the relationships between the title character and the supporting cast as this is part of his character arc. Also not comedies.
  • Nana – I mean c’mon. Nana practically wrote the book on how to create interesting characters and using them to create a character driven story. Not really a comedy although it’s labelled as one.

I think I’ve made my point here. Another interesting thing to point out is that all of the shows I used as examples here are often touted as some of if not the best slice of life anime in existence (with the exception of Cowboy Bebop and Kokoro Connect which doesn’t have nearly as much praise as the others on this list). And they’re also not comedy shows. So we have five of the best slice of life series of all time and they just happen to not focus on comedy and also happen to have a lot of story to them. That seems strange for a genre where “nothing happens other than comedy”. Granted, the genre does have an immense over-saturation of school comedies without a plot but these are unfortunate by-products and should not be used to define a whole genre of worthwhile shows. Hell I’ve seen at least one of Clannad, Nana or Mushishi on practically everyone’s favourite anime of all time lists. The genre must be good for something.