Hi, I’m Benjamin Wagner, this is my blog and today… I reveal a secret about myself. That secret is that, for over 12 years now, I have been a massive fan of road cycling. Whenever I can I watch events on TV, I rarely miss a stage of the Tour De France and I have put multiple thousands of hours into the various iterations of the niche gaming series Pro Cycling Manager. So, when first discovering the artforms of anime and manga back in around 2016, imagine my delight to find a popular manga based on the trials and tribulations of road cycling. I was sat on a break at my family’s dreadfully dull factory and tried reading a chapter. Over an hour of not working later, I was over 50 chapters in and fully engrossed in the beautifully paced sporting epic that had begun to be crafted. Unfortunately, after this, I did have to do a bit more work but that evening, I did binge on the nourishing teat of Yowamushi Pedal. Weeks, maybe even months later, I sat down with my non-anime liking brother and consumed the 3 seasons of anime available. He has since rewatched the show 3 times. This story was so good that it truly engrossed us. Such is the power of the Yowamushi.
This personal anecdote was to establish the connection I already had with this story before consuming the Live Action movie earlier this year in 2021. I am already biased on the way in; I go in with expectations. This can work for or against a show, as preconceived ideas can hit your enjoyment if they don’t match or bolster them if they manage to improve on the source. Let’s hypothesise for a moment and say that some characters from one of your most treasured media had been forced to undertake some big personality changes in the transition to live-action, for example, and if you were a fan of the original manga iteration, I suspect that this would negatively impact your impression. The question is, how did Yowamushi Pedal do? Did it live up to the pedestal I put it on, did it fall down the mountain side or did it plateau somewhere in the middle. Will I make more laboured cycling puns? Find out as I review Yowamushi Pedal: The Movie.
Literally translating as ‘Weakling Pedal’, Yowamushi follows the eponymous weakling, Onoda Sakamichi as he is roped into the world of cycling. A self-professed otaku, Onoda rides from his home to the famous electric town, Akihabara in Tokyo. This 90 kilometer ride is made on a small, inefficient Japanese style bike, known as a mama chair, and with the undulations of Japanese mountainous roads, this is no small feat. Onoda simply wishes for some like minded friends to talk about anime with. However, he gets something a little different when he meets Imaizumi, a passionate and skilled cyclist who aims to become an ace bicycle racer. Spurred on by Onoda’s natural climbing talent on a bike, Imaizumi invites Onoda to the world of cycling and their journey to become inter-high champions. This movie doesn’t adapt the entire, ongoing saga and instead only focused on the very earliest chapters; introducing the characters in the school cycling team one by one and presenting the Inter-High Qualifiers as the final challenge for this new cycling star to overcome. So… where do we begin?
Well, we begin by taking the two most important areas of a movie (to me) ; the characters and the story and we will see if they are up to snuff by asking a pertinent question about each and then attempting to answer said query. We will then attempt to evaluate any lingering criticisms or problems I have with the media before wrapping things up in a beautifully written, metaphor-ridden conclusion. All good? So let’s do it!
How successfully have the characters made the transition to Live Action? (I.e. Good or bad character portrayals)
Let’s begin with Onoda. The main man. The chief. The likeable little nerd that this story revolves around. Actor Nagase Ren literally could not have done a better job at presenting this shy, lonely high school boy and his unbridled passion for the things he loves and the willingness for him to share his joy with those around him. From his classic otaku looks to his occasional stuttering and awkward apologies, the Onoda on this movie is a perfect recreation of his manga and anime selves and this is crucial to the success of the movie. In a story such as this one, the main character and surrounding cast need to be likable. They need to make you root for them. And, with Onoda. You most certainly do.
The main focus of this movie adaption is Onoda’s relationship with young Imaizumi and, whilst differing slightly from his portrayal in the manga, Ito Kentaro also excels in bringing Imaizumi to life. Whilst the manga iteration, especially early on in the still ongoing epic is cold, driven and distant, and Ito’s portrayal definitely borrows some of this, movie Imaizumi seems a little friendlier and a little more willing to open up to others than the original source material. This was most likely done due to the fact that cold distant characters work in the manga because it is manga. If you saw a guy walk around a school, blanking everybody and generally being a stuck up dick about things, you wouldn’t shout ‘He’s so cool (あー格好いい！）’ but instead you’d shun, ignore and not interact with him. This more human Imaizumi still goes through the required character arc but by bringing his personality out a little sooner in this adaption, it helps to create a strong first impression of both lead roles. On an aside, I knew Ito Kentaro from his work as a panellist on Terrace House and was overjoyed to see how good of an actor he truly is. Not an important aside, but one I am happy to bring up because if an excuse to speak about Terrace House arises, I will take that opportunity to speak.
The supporting cast is, on the whole, great and at very worst, at least competent. The cycling team members are all brought to life nicely, although I find Bando Ryota’s portrayal of Naruko to be a little stiff, with Naruko’s fire and enthusiasm shining through but losing some of his kindness and bond with Onoda along the way. The captain of the team also suffers from this but this is less because of the actor and more because of the character’s role in the movie. In the earlier chapters of the manga, the character was more sunglasses than personality and the attempt to bring this into the real world is admirable, if not a little daft. Besides these, I feel like all of the performances do enough to support the stars sufficiently and also went a long way in allaying my fears and doubts about Japanese live action. This was the first J-Drama Live Action I attempted to watch. This was in part due to my hypothesis that Japanese acting was very different and of a lower standard to Western acting. The more I watch J-Drama, the more I find this to be a complete fallacy that I had made up. Yes, as this is an adaption of a manga, there is some silliness, but this is a small price to pay to seeing this wonderful story on the big screen. I’m not going to go through the secondary cast one by one because that would be tedious for you and me but, suffice to say, I was more than satisfied with the level of talent on display here.
So, the acting is good. Wonderful. That leads us to the second point of inquiry; the adaption of a 500+ chapter manga into a 2hr feature.
How does one bring such a vast story into a 2hr movie format?
Well, the answer to this question is far from easy to work out but the decision that the producers and writers went with here was probably the right one. They could have rushed through the early parts of the story to bring us a story of the inter-high, arguably the peak of the original work but instead, no. They bring us the origin story. How it all began. The start. And this was the right call. This decision allows the story time to breathe as you get to know the characters, their relationships and personalities slowly progressing and allowing you to understand these characters over the first hour before then seeing their first real signs of genuine growth in the final hour; the qualifying race. The climax. By the time the action begins building, you already feel connected to the team and want them to succeed. You’re rooting for them to overcome their weaknesses and reach their goals. You want the Yowamushi to succeed and conquer, so to speak. So, on the whole, yes, the movie does a remarkable job of adapting a fraction of the source material and puts it into a format that both doesn’t overstay its welcome and invites a follow-up that could adapt the more interesting and dramatic material into a sequel down the line.
It’s difficult to speak about the story of a movie, show or video game without spoiling anything. I don’t give a jot about spoilers; I know so many spoilers about things I have never seen, read or heard that I couldn’t list them all. However, out of respect to the public consensus, I have resolved not to spoil anything (purposefully, at least) unless I give a specific warning beforehand. Fortunately, I do not feel obliged to do that on this occasion due to the nature of the story. The movie is about high school bicycle racing. With this knowledge alone, a consumer will have a fair idea about what they are getting into. The high school sports genre is big business in Japan and, if you like one, chances are you’ll find something to like in Yowamushi Pedal as well. I certainly can’t complain.
On the side of criticism, I don’t have very much at all. Everything was shot cleanly, the picture seemed to have a decent size budget, thanks to the polished feel the show exudes and the ability of its acting talent on the whole. Yes, I found a couple of the characters not to be to my tastes and I do lament the exclusion of the Inter-High arc from the movie itself (despite understanding that including this would increase the run-time to about 5 hours), Yowamushi Pedal gets through with nary a scrape. The movie very much feels like it is for fans of the source content but also does enough to draw a more casual crowd in due to the slow, walking pace in which the story opts to start out with. It won’t be for everybody but if you can appreciate this directorial choice, and the strong performances of the main cast, you will leave the show feeling like you have invested your 2 hours very strongly indeed.
Going into the final day of the Tour De France, wearing the yellow jersey is the dream of every wannabe cyclist. You know your hard work is done. You have won the race. You simply just have to ride the final 100km to the finish line with your team on a ceremonial final day, in which other riders won’t try to beat you as a sign of respect for your accomplishments. Yowamushi Pedal is the yellow jersey of sports J-Drama and an excellent movie. Yes, I think a sequel could easily expand and improve on this groundwork but evaluated on what this is, Yowamushi Pedal is a fantastic ride.
8.5/10– A movie perfect for old fans and new onlookers alike