That you can portray biking as an engaging, entertaining sport by clashing nerd culture with sports culture is a good way of summing this manga up.
yowapedaTitle: Yowamushi Pedal
Genre: Sports, Cycling
Publisher: Akita Shoten (JP), Yen Press (US)
Artist: Wataru Watanabe
Serialization: Weekly Shonen Champion
Translation: Su Mon Han
A review copy was provided by the publisher.

While everyone in Chiba Prefectural Sohoku High School is going to concerts or doing something active with their friends, Sakamichi Onoda is biking to Akiba alone.

If that doesn’t sum up Wataru Watanabe’s Yowamushi Pedal, then maybe the notion that you can portray biking as an engaging, entertaining sport by clashing nerd culture with sports culture is an alternate way of summing this work up.

Yowamushi Pedal has the elements of a title that does poorly in the West:

  1. It’s a sports manga. They don’t sell.
  2. It’s a biking manga. How popular is cycling in America anyways?
  3. It began serialization in Akita Shoten’s Weekly Shonen Champion in 2008 in Japan. It’s 2015 and coming out now here, in English. That’s volumes of manga that’ll make marketing teams writhe in despair.

Yen Press, however, believes there is a market for sports titles, so Yowamushi Pedal happens to be that title for them to see if this is true. At least they picked up a good title that has potential, even more so than what the anime showed.

I watched the entire first season of Yowamushi Pedal, and wasn’t exactly blown away. Aside from the early episodes and when they got into a race against Midousuji or the dude who gave names to his pecs, it’s training montages and cycling. It’s people riding a bicycle across a road. There’s some strategy involved, but all it comes down to is how much faster and how much energy you have to win the race. In essence, it’s almost safer NASCAR or IndyCar, but with obvious differences. That’s what it came down to with Yowamushi Pedal, and that’s how it’s limited.

The manga version of the series, however, seems superior in key elements. It starts with the characters. Sakamichi Onoda is an otaku in looks, actions (as in he doesn’t talk to people, knows everything about a series, etc), and motivations, and he attended Sohoku to start a new life after middle school kept him mostly quiet. The problem is the anime club he wanted to join was dissolved due to lack of members. He decides to restart the club by posting up flyers, but on his way he meets two people who change his actions immediately — bike otaku Miki Kanzaki, and brooding cyclist Imaizumi Shunsuke who’s determined to best his rival, Midousuji.

As the anime is based off the manga, there’s not a lot of differences between the two. What it comes down to is aesthetics, which comes out from the manga more than the anime. Just seeing Imaizumi have the gall to not acknowledge one of his fangirls, or his reaction to Onoda singing a part of the Love Hime song, “Lovely chance, little flat chested one” as he’s biking in drawn form instead of animated sets the table for what the series is about. It also has a rough style that looks childish or poor — just take a look at Kanzaki’s appearance when she first meets Onoda. But sometimes that style conveys the necessary emotion, and none better than when Onoda expresses his determination to beat Imaizumi in a race.

One of the early challenges Onoda has to deal with is finding members for his club, and his personality combined with knowing no one is exasperated when a Rugby Club adviser rips his (poorly made) flyer and challenges him to be a man and recruit face to face. Just when Onoda’s ready to rule off jocks forever, in comes Imaizumi, who he met when riding his mommy bike up the school’s slope. As Imaizumi’s determined to quash any challenger in his path to beating Midousuji, the fact that Onoda was able to climb a hill with a bike not designed to really go up hills irks him, so he challenges Onoda to a match. Onoda believes there’s no reason to do this until Imaizumi says he’ll join his anime club — that’s when he doesn’t flinch and accepts.

It’s during this race that Onoda finds an unexpected calling — cycling. It doesn’t matter how athletic you are, if you can use your legs, you can compete with the best of the best, even with a mommy bike. It’s because of this calling that changes his mindset and starts him on the path of wearing the gear you see on the Volume 1 cover.

As this combines Volume 1 and Volume 2 in Japan, Yowamushi Pedal is long (386 pages), so you should be prepared to set close to an hour to read this. It thankfully is not a slog, even when history is explained, like reminding us how important the Tour de France is. Now whether you’ll be prepared to keep up with every volume of this series we’ll have to see, but, aside from some art woes and failed joke attempts, the best way to be convinced a sports manga is worth reading is having awkward characters attempt to bike and be good at it, so we’re good here.