[Review] Minami Kamakura High School Girls Cycling Club – episode 1

Hiromi, the kind of girl who probably still needs marks on her shoes to be able to get them on the right feet, decides to ride a bike to her new school in a new city. She hasn’t ridden for years, but that’s okay! It’s just like, well, riding a bike!

On the way she realises she doesn’t know what pedals are or what contribution they make to bicycle movement. Fortunately she meets Tomoe, the kind of girl who will stop everything she is doing and change her entire morning commute on her first day of school to help a girl who crashed into her due to not understanding the concept of brakes. Tomoe notices they are wearing the same uniform and asks Hiromi if she is going to the same school. Hiromi thinks Tomoe is a genius. Compared to Hiromi, she is.

Close-up of a bicycle pedal. Subtitle: "Oh, right. Bicycles don't move forward unless you turn these things, right?"

There’s more, but it’s excruciating. Here are some lists to give you an idea.

Hiromi trying to figure out how to ride a bike:

  1. Stand over the bike and wish really hard
  2. Push off with one pedal and wait for the bicycle to activate
  3. Convince a complete stranger to push you until you can somehow remember to pedal continuously

Hiromi, a girl with chin-length brown hair with yellow ribbons in it, stands astride her bike, holding on to the handle bars and staring intensely ahead as she waits for it to move.

Tomoe’s first journey to school:

  1. Walk to the station, planning to get on a train
  2. Give a complete stranger an impromptu cycling lesson
  3. Replace your train journey with a stroll to school
  4. Stop to look at the ocean
  5. Arrive at school just in time, forgoing whatever activity she had intended to fill the hours if she had got the train as planned

Tomoe stands and shouts after Hiromi as she cycles away in a small area next to the station, with blooming sakura trees arching over them. Subtitle: "You're forgetting to pedal again!"

How long it takes to see women cycling:

  1. First time Hiromi rides without help: 8 minutes
  2. First woman cyclist: 11 minutes
  3. First appearance of the Minami Kamakura High School Girls Cycling Club: N/A

Apparently the purpose of naming this anime something as boring and unwieldy as Minami Kamakura High School Girls Cycling Club was simply to give us hope. Fear not, gentle viewer! At some point we will encounter teenage girls who can comfortably use both pedals and brakes on this childhood vehicle! It’s not surprising they’d want to draw out such a wondrous sight.

Hiromi stands with her back to us and looks out downhill at the view of Kamakura spread out before her on a sunny spring day, mountains in the distance.

This is an anime that should have spoken to me. One of my new year’s resolutions was to start cycling again, and overcoming that scared, wobbly stage after time away is a real psychological obstacle. However, I took up cycling as an adult for the first time when I lived in Japan, having not ridden for a good 12 years. I somehow still managed to remember how pedals and brakes worked, if nothing else. I don’t think that makes me particularly advanced. Hiromi is just implausibly stupid.

This isn’t stupid defined as “genuinely has learning difficulties and you shouldn’t use that word” or “outwardly flaky but actually booksmart”. This is “creators think helpless girls are endearing so removed any semblance of capability” stupid. It isn’t restricted to cycling matters either; at one point, Hiromi has a mental crisis about the prospect of not making any friends at her new school while sitting next to the new friend she made on the way to school. I try not to call people stupid, to avoid inadvertent ableism, but Hiromi isn’t people. Hiromi is a very specific fantasy.

Three men in cycling gear, characters who appear in the opening credits but have not been introduced yet, stand next to each other with their bicycles, smiling at us.

There are plenty of typical new rider mistakes which Hiromi could have made without needing to go full brick. Yowamushi Pedal, which I started watching recently, has main character Onoda fall down on hills at first because he doesn’t adjust his sitting position properly. Onoda is an experienced rider who still has a lot to learn about the difference between casual cycling and getting the most out of a bike.

Yowamushi Pedal is currently the cycling anime gold standard, but I even found the first episode of last season’s Long Riders more engaging than this. The shots of the main character going on her first bike ride and looking at the scenery in wonder conveyed much more about the freedom you gain from cycling ability than, say, the voiceover about freedom over the image of a bicycle in this episode.

Soft focus image of a blue bicycle with a basket, parked next to a tree on a sunny day. Subtitle: "No, if you wanted to, you have the freedom to cross oceans and go wherever you want."

Hiromi’s awful, but everyone around her so far is just bland. Tomoe is unbelievably generous and kind to a girl who has so far been 96% inconvenience, 4% whimsy. The new teacher says nice things about enjoying life and freedom to students about to enter the hardest years of their academic lives. Hiromi’s mother’s most distinguishing feature is that she seems to have borrowed her outfit from the 1800s, or a Studio Ghibli film.

Spending eight minutes teaching Hiromi how to ride a bicycle then another six just getting her to school was a mistake; they should have been introducing the titular cycling club, and hopefully some personalities along with it. They didn’t even need to sacrifice the beautiful background shots – just encounter a member or two of the club along the route. They found a way to meet a teacher running late, why not students who are on time?

Tomoe stands in the middle of a street with no cars, looking at her phone after taking a picture. Subtitle: "This station really is picturesque."

As for positive things to say… the backgrounds are stunning. The other members of the cycling club may improve things. It’s nice to see shows set outside Tokyo. Can you tell I’m struggling? After Yowamushi Pedal inspired more Japanese women to become road cyclists, there should have been a series made for and about them, not just a vehicle for severe moe helplessness on a pretty backdrop.

I thought Akiba’s Trip would be the winter 2017 anime I disliked most. Then I was convinced it would be Masamune-kun’s Revenge. Maybe Fuuka? But this, this has to be it. This has to be the worst, most frustrating representation of women of this season.

Please. It took me two hours to make it through this one episode. This has to be as bad as it gets.

Read the ANN Preview Guide review.

 

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  • AntonyShepherd

    I was wondering how this show would manage to differentiate itself from last season’s “Long Riders”. At this point the background art is pretty much the only thing it has going for it.