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Monday, March 02, 2020

Review: Yowamushi Pedal (Vol 1-4)

Unlike American comics, which are dominated by the superhero genre, Japanese comics have a wide subject matter (yes, there's even a comic-book about the board game Go). So I wasn't too surprised when my brother told me that there's a comic book called Yowamushi Pedal about road bike racing. It's even been made into a TV-show!

Ok, I'm a cycling enthusiast and have even read several books about bicycle road racing, but paying $13 a volume for cycling books is a bit much. Fortunately, the local library has the entire collection, and nobody ever checks it out, so I just dropped by one evening and grabbed the first 4 volumes.

It's not clear to me who the audience for the comic is. On the one hand, if you're already a cyclist enthusiast, you might not need the introductory-level style of a comic book. But if you're not one, why would you pick up a cycling comic book? I guess in Japan you might, just out of curiosity.

The story starts off very cute, Evelyn Stevens style. Sakamichi Onoda has long been making the 90km roundtrip to Akhihabara on a heavy commuter bike so he could spend more of his allowance on capsule anime toys. Upon entering high school, the local cycling champ watches him climb the steep grade to the campus while singing, and challenges him to a race. The local cute-girl bike shop mechanic helps him out by setting his seat height properly and cheering him on, and he discovers that his weekly commute has made him pretty strong. From then on, he joins the cycling team (supported by the love interest bike mechanic) and learns about serious cycling.

It's corny, and it features situations that would never happen (no, you can't just slap a front deraileur on a single-speed commuter bike to turn it into a 2-speed), but you have to approach the series with the wide-eyed sense of wonder that a little kid would have. Imagine what it was like the first time you had a bike with gears, or saw that people would wear special shoes to ride a bike. That's how you have to approach the series.

The plots are simple, and the characters stereotypical, but the author/artist clearly loves bikes (the books are broken up by little segments introducing a Japanese pro bike racer, or teaching you how to pack a bike to bring on a plan, all illustrated better than most cycling books). What really brought me over is the sense of joy he manages to convey on the page:
There's a sense that it's not just a sport. (There's no cycle touring in the books so far, more's the pity)

The bad parts of the book: well, for one, it's entirely about an all-male high school bike racing team, with all that entails. I don't know if this book would make any girls excited about cycling. The training regiment the team sets for its freshmen contradict any modern theories about how to properly train and rest, and the characters are just that bit over the top. The books are easy reading, and the art style while verbose (the author will happily take 20 pages to depict 10 critical seconds where somehow the characters manage to have back-and-forth dialogs that would take you a few minutes to talk through at normal speed), is not bad. I'll probably go back to the library and pick up the rest of the series.


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