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.