The Cycling Club makes a trip to the slopes of Mt. Fuji and learns what it takes to be an official club. Season Finale.
Episode 12 - "The Road Keeps Going"
Let's get some the annoying things out of the way. Since the start of the Night Criterium, this show has suffered a lot of lazy writing. I'll talk about that a bit more in my final thoughts, but the plot setup for certain plot points just didn't connect all the dots before getting there. This week, there were two events that just made me roll my eyes.
The first was Principal Grandma saying that to become an official club they needed to know that the most important thing is enjoying riding the bicycle. ... Sorry, I had to go run after my eyes since they rolled out of my head. Not only that, she drove all the way up the Mt. Fuji just to say that. ... Dammit, there those eyes went again. Obviously the girls were having fun riding their bikes, but they didn't put that down in their reports because they were told they needed "results." Whose fault is this, really?
The second bit of lazy writing was the confusion over Sandy going home to America. The girls thought that she might not have said anything because she didn't want to hurt their feelings. Sandy. Sandy the American from Colorado. Sandy who couldn't stop yelling "Kuma!" at the top of her lungs in a bear suit. Sandy who chased down Hiromi during the orienteering activity to race her on a mommy bike. That Sandy? ... I'm going to need some tape to keep my eyes in their sockets. Sandy was a pretty well written character, so keeping something big from her friends, especially since she's so expressive about the smallest thing, would have been out of character. The plot point was a nice idea, but how they got there was lazy.
Now, in addition to the lazy writing since that race, the animation took a nose dive too. They've done a good job of hiding it by at least having the scrolling pans of still images look nice, but they just didn't have adequate quality control this episode.
What you see above is what happens when the different groups doing backgrounds, characters and CG models do their work separately, someone else composites them and then the final check is not paying attention. I don't even know what's going on with Tomoe, because she looks too small to actually sit on that bike, but the main mistake is her knee somehow showing up in front of her handlebar. Same kind of thing happened to Sandy where part of her handlebar disappeared behind her hip. Now, if this were animated, the motion would have at least distracted the eye from these mistakes. But the cheap animation trick of panning on a still image made the eye look at these physical impossibilities the entire time. Meh.
Well, enough about the eye rolling aspects of this episode. Although, I will just say they started things off on the wrong foot with Principal Grandma making the girls wrack their brains over what important thing they were missing. It's anime. It's always love, or friendship or having fun. Duh.
Ha! One last look at Fuyune TV.
The girls should have known that Principal Grandma wasn't a stickler for rules, otherwise how could Mori-sensei give them a budget for their last touring trip when they weren't even an official club yet? This is all Tomoe's fault as the president, I believe. Dry reports that read like an expense report aren't going to include things like love, friendship or having fun on the bike. It's not that Tomoe doesn't think those things are important. She just didn't see them as tangible "results."
Then we had the terrible American English game of telephone with Mori-sensei thinking that Sandy was going home to America because her grandma was sick. Um, Mori asked Sandy's homeroom teacher when she was leaving, but she didn't ask when, or if, she was coming back? ... Sorry. My eyes rolled under the couch this time.
So, the girls thinking Sandy is leaving them and doubling down on the "results" column to form an official club, follow Hiromi's great idea to take Sandy on a climb up Mt. Fuji.
The elevation is "about 1 mile, desu ne!" Oh Sandy, never change your fake Japanese Colorado accent.
Fuyune did not need to hear from Natsumi how steep the climb was going to be.
Because this was a farewell party for Sandy too, the whole Flat business came along. Sorry, Cycle Bros.
This is how lazy the writing was. Because we met Korone's assistant Tsuru because Nagisa was absent taking her commercial trucking license exam. Why was that necessary? So she could rent this big huge camper van for their trip! Was that mentioned? Of course not! One extra line of dialog worth 2 seconds was all that was necessary, but noooo. ... Okay, reaching for the superglue now. This tape is not holding my rolling eyes in their sockets at all.
Oh ho! Sandy finally got her hands on Fuyune's legs. It's her last days in Japan, so I'm sure Natsumi was letting her have the cramp massaging duties.
What was up with Mori-sensei wearing a modesty skirt, when she never did while riding, but Nagisa is in cycling shorts, but no skirt? I don't understand why this show is so inconsistent.
Sandy started another race. Why does this keep happening? Oh, because it's the Minami Kamakura High School Girls' Bicycling Club tradition now. Sandy won, of course, but the other girls weren't that far behind Hiromi. They are getting in better shape. But Natsumi should be doing better than Hiromi because she only pulled back at the race because she hurt her shoulder. Ah, whatever now.
Oh, here come the waterworks. Sandy has no idea what is going on. The trip back home wasn't important because it was only for "wan wi~ku." That's right. One week home to see her lovesick grandma.
Come on. This really wasn't Mori-sensei's fault. Actually, yeah it was. She's supposed to be an adult and if you overhear something, you don't blab it to the girlfriends before you confirm with Sandy what's going on. Asking the homeroom teacher about an absence but not the length of an absence didn't make much sense either. Okay, it's not Mori's fault. It's the writers' fault.
And then Principal Grandma was there for some reason. Let's see, I'm pulling the Power of Friendship card, right? Oh, so close. It was the Activity Is Fun card. It's Important. ... Oh, I'm just typing blind now. Those eyes will roll back here soon enough.
I love how Hiromi says "Everyone!" It's one of the good things I'll remember from this show.
We got one last look at Mori's Neil Pryde, the girls' bikes, flat pedals on a hill climb, Sandy double tapping her gears and Fuyune just having to stop and hold her lower back.
Mori must have been in a hurry, because that is not how you chain a road bike to a tree. Both tires have quick release skewers, so the chain should be threaded through the front and rear tires. Still, it's a nice covered chain so the metal parts don't scratch the paint.
All that climbing on flat pedals is ambitious. My knees and calves would be screaming after that, if I also couldn't pull up on the pedals.
I've actually seen someone just pull over on a long climb to stretch out his back. It was on Angeles Crest Highway between Clear Creek and Red Box. Depending on where he started, if he had started down in the valley, he would have been doing at least 12 miles of climbing by that point. It's important to change up your position on the bike to let other muscles rest for a bit.
Goodbye, Hiromi. You were a fun character and so was the show for about half the season.
Anything with cycling in it is going to grab my attention and I was looking forward to something animated by a different production company than the delay-ridden Actas. Unfortunately for J.C. Staff, they did not have their best writers and editors on this show. So while I enjoyed the story-telling of Long Riders!, but was disappointed with production delays and inconsistent animation quality, I had the reverse experience with MinaKama.
The writing and the production values were great for the first 6 episodes. But then that race started and whole plot points felt insufficiently prepared. Natsumi needed a handicap, so she all of a sudden forgot how to clip into her pedals with Mori yelling something about practice when that had not been established. Then there were all the annoying race tactics explanations which should have been handled during training. From a cycling hobbyist's perspective, it looked like the show had certain plot points to hit, but didn't set them up properly. That's when it started to feel lazy and no longer a cycling show.
One major example of this was how Fuyune got a flat on their trip to the Miura Peninsula and Natsumi said they could change it themselves because she brought a spare inner tube. Their bikes are strapped to the gills with bags and so are their pockets. What did they pack them with, if not spare tubes, hand pumps and food? Things started breaking down from a narrative perspective.
What was once a beginning cyclist's show with some Kamakura tourism turned into a tourism show with some beginner's stuff thrown in but without any verisimilitude to match it. Pace lining theory and practice should have been done before the race, since they had 3 or 4 weeks to prepare. Positioning on the bike and how to pedal should have been done much earlier and by their local support groups instead of random women they met.
Perhaps from a young woman's perspective, the shoujo elements would have been enough to distract from the poorly planned cycling elements. Certainly the introduction of Unico, the flying unicorn mascot for Hiromi's bike was a nod to the genre. But if you're going to use the structure of entering the culture of road cycling to enervate the shoujo plot elements, you still have to write the road cycling aspects correctly.
If this show ended at the 6th episode as they counted down to the start of that race, it would have been pitch perfect as a cute-girls-cutely bicycle around Kamakura. I'm just sad that Sandy's character was introduced into the jumbled mess of the latter half of the season. Even the orienteering activity was only a rebranding of Hiromi's Kamakura tour with Tomoe.
Unfortunately, I can't recommend this show to a cycling enthusiast. The writing in the race episodes and the long tours would be too distracting for the manufactured drama. If you are curious, just watch the first 6 episodes and then stop. Even at that point, the cheapness of the show started showing itself, so maybe stop at the 5th episode.
If you know nothing about cycling at all, then maybe you can get around the lazy writing, but then you might notice the cheap animation tricks of scrolling slideshow montages during the 2nd half. You also might get annoyed at the lazy writing of the last episode. So really, you should stop at the 5th episode too.
It's too bad. Those first five episodes were some of the most fun I've had watching a girl's club anime. Plus, there were actual bike brands in an actual bike shop! But the starting with the Race episode, things got cheaper and lazier and stayed that way until the end.