yowapeda anime characters standing in street

This summer, Japanese anime fans are going cycling

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Nothing says summer like shounen sports anime, the fun-loving side of anime geared toward pre-teen boys that anime fans of all ages enjoy.

Every year it seems like a new and popular sports anime makes its mark on the anime stage, often shorthanded as simply “the tennis anime,” “the board game anime,” or “the basketball anime,” for bystanders. If it’s lucky, like last year’s Free!, a.k.a. “the swimming anime,” it will cultivate a lasting fandom and promote a resurgence of popularity in Japan for the sport it’s built around.

The latest anime to do just that is “the cycling anime,” Yowamushi Pedal. Yowapeda, as it’s affectionately known to fans, may be an unlikely subject to garner a devoted fandom on both sides of the Pacific; but that’s just the first of many surprising things about the Yowapeda fandom.

Photo via yowapeda_anime/Twitter

In many ways, Yowapeda is utterly typical for a shounen series. It has all the quintessential elements of the genre, including a plucky young outsider (Sakamichi) as the main character who needs to be integrated into the welcoming environment of a team, with all the coming-of-age wisdom about teamwork and camaraderie that the trope entails. It has a large ensemble cast of quirky characters who form the basis of the various rivalries that make up the series’ competitive arcs. And like many of its successful predecessors, it already has a stage adaptation, despite only having one season of anime.  

The creator, Wataru Watanabe, created a main character who strongly resembles himself. Here’s Watanabe appearing at the Tour de France:

Here’s his main character, Sakamichi Onoda.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Over the course of the series, with the help of his racing teammates, Sakamichi becomes focused and intense on the sport of cycling.

Photo via Yowamushipedal/wikia

In some ways, Sakamichi is the classic fun-loving, dorky genki kid who dominates shounen sports anime. In others, he’s fairly atypical. For one thing, unlike 99 percent of other shounen heroes, he’s not out to become the best cyclist in Japan. In fact, his goal makes him the antithesis of the typical shounen hero. He’s an anime otaku, an obsessive fan, and all he wants to do is start his own anime club at his new school. Everything he does as an awkward freshman at Sohoku High School is about achieving his ultimate goal of having more people to talk with about anime.

Photo via ojisanji/Instagram

The name of the series, Yowamushi Pedal, pokes affectionate fun at Watanabe and his geek status. The title means “wimp.” Each of the episodes have similarly tongue-in-cheek titles that poke fun at the angst, drama, and intensity of other anime series. (Example: "Ride 3. I don't have any friends.")

While Sakamichi is clearly a self-insert-character, the storyline of Yowapeda wasn't originally intended to be that way. In fact, Watanabe had originally envisioned the story to be about a girl. In a hand-drawn section of the manga, scanlated by fans, Watanabe describes his initial idea for the series: "How about a love story? At a school or something. With this guy that cries... and with a female protagonist?"

As you might expect, this didn't go over well with the editors of Weekly Shounen Champion, i.e. a boys' manga publication. 

Screengrab via Manga Here

So, no quirky sports-loving anime fangirl heroine for us. Sigh. Still, Yowapeda has used its nerdy charm to good advantage. It’s culled serious loyalty from viewers. For one thing, it’s a great example of a recent series that hasn’t needed to wait for official translations to capitalize on its English fandom. Although the first season of the anime recently finished airing in Japan and in the U.S. through Crunchyroll, the manga on which the anime is based is still unlicensed in the U.S. But although there’s a bit of an accessibility curve for English fans wanting to read the manga, it hasn’t slowed down the fandom. The official Weekly Champion Twitter account, which is mostly currently devoted to Yowamushi Pedal, has more than 65,000 followers—impressive for a Twitter account that’s nearly entirely in Japanese.

Not only that, but the popularity of the show has caused more fans in Japan, particularly more women, to take up cycling as a pastime. Witness one comment from a Crunchyroll viewer:

[N]ever thought I would get interested in bicycling, I mean I ride a bike since I was a kid, but not the sport of bicycling. After 4 episode I'm ready to jump on a bike and start cycling. The power of anime and manga...

The Yowapeda fandom is as quirky as its main character. Recently, employees of a telecommunications company in Japan created their own hilarious parody of the show’s opening theme, complete with exaggerated expressions to match the stylization of anime.

It's also a diverse fandom. Naturally, there are the regular gamut of adorable ask Tumblrs and popular slash pairings—shipping Sakamichi with his mentor and resident hottie Imaizumi is popular, as is the shipping Toudou and Makishima, i.e. these two guys:

Photo via backgroundorigame/Tumblr

Like many similar anime series, Yowapeda has its share of homoeroticism.

Screengrab via Crunchyroll

But what makes Yowapeda particularly interesting is the number of fans who believe that one or more characters on the show are actually transgender. Makishima in particular (the green-haired one) has his fair share of fans portraying him as trans or genderqueer. 

There’s even an entire Tumblr, transbikes, devoted to showcasing Yowapeda “trans headcanons,” or people’s ideas about the existence of transgender characters in the series. Given the lackluster track record that anime has when it comes to actual trans representation, it’s fascinating to see a growing number of fanbases attempting to create transgender representation where none exists.

The second season of Yowamushi Pedal begins airing in October. For now, you can catch up on the first season at Crunchyroll, or find fan scanlations of the manga online.

Or you can grab your bike and celebrate it like thousands of other fans around the world.

Photo via animepass/Twitter

Photos via Yowapeda | Remix by Jason Reed