Yowamushi Pedal Volume 1 focuses on Sakamichi Onoda, a first year student at Sohoku High School. He’s an otaku who wants to join the school’s anime club, and he also rides a mamachari (a bulky bicycle that’s usually only used for short rides). Unbeknownst to him, his otaku tendencies and his bike will lead him on a different path for high school than he had anticipated.
Volume 1 opens with Sakamichi starting his first day of school at Sohoku High School, and trying to ride his bike up a very steep hill at the school’s back entrance. He’s noticed by Shunsuke Imaizumi, a first year who aims to be part of the school’s bicycle racing club. At the time, he just brushes Sakamichi off for being an idiot trying to go up such a steep slope on a non-racing bike. But little does Shunsuke realize that this is just the beginning of his encounters with Sakamichi.
Unfortunately for Sakamichi, he discovers that the anime club has been dissolved. However, if he can gather five members, the club can be reinstated. When he first sees the notice, he runs into Miki Kanzaki and her friend, Aya Tachibana. While neither one wants to join the anime club, Miki is intrigued when she learns that Sakamichi plans to bike over 40 kilometers to Akihabara on his non-racing bike. And it’s on this trip to Akihabara where he encounters and surprises Shunsuke again. Thanks to all his weekly trips to Akihabara on his bike, Sakamichi has unknowingly developed an impressive cadence that could potentially be useful to the bicycle racing club.
Over the course of Yowamushi Pedal Volume 1, Miki finds ways to make enhancements to Sakamichi’s bike in order to help him realize he should consider joining the club. By the end of the volume, we see that she’s become a kind of a cheerleader for Sakamichi, and that she will likely serve as one of his allies in the series.
Shunsuke, meanwhile, decides to race Sakamichi to see what he’s really capable of. It’s obvious which one of them would ultimately win, but it was still exciting to see Sakamichi constantly surprising Shunsuke by what he does. But at the end of the race, Shunsuke becomes another person who tries to nudge Sakamichi toward joining the bicycle racing club. Just in this volume alone, the reader sees Shunsuke begin evolving from a high and mighty cyclist that looks down on others to someone who actually cares about other riders and begins to give encouragement.
But it’s after Sakamichi meets Shoukichi Naruko in Akihabara and the two of them become friends that Sakamichi decides to give the bicycle racing club a try. When he joins, it’s encouraging to see the captain seriously giving Sakamichi a chance in the first-years’ race that’s about to take place, instead of looking at Sakamichi as a joke. This volume also introduces Terufumi Sugimoto, a classmate of Sakamichi’s who thinks he knows more about bicycle racing than he really does.
By the end of Yowamushi Pedal Volume 1, the reader has gotten to know Sakamichi and can easily cheer him on as he inches closer to the world of bicycle racing. Characters like Miki, Shunsuke, and Shoukichi are also likable and complement Sakamichi. The humor in this series is very enjoyable, and the scenes of Sakamichi racing on his bike are fun to read. It might seem like a manga series focusing on bicycling could be boring, but Yowamushi Pedal is able to make the racing scenes exciting while still providing exposition for readers who may not know anything about racing bikes or how bike races work. I appreciate that the explanations don’t bog down the story.
When it comes to the art, I have to admit that the characters look a little on the rough side. This may be due to the fact that I was exposed to Yowamushi Pedal through the anime and think of the characters with their anime designs. While the anime kept the characters’ likenesses the same, the animators smoothed up the designs so they wouldn’t look as rough as they do in the manga. But each character in the manga has a very distinctive look, and you can easily tell them apart. I also have to add that Watanabe does a fantastic job of conveying the action scenes that involve bicycles.
Yowamushi Pedal Volume 1 may be a sports manga, but it has all the elements and charm that should help it appeal to readers who enjoy reading shonen action series. Readers who enjoy stories that focus on an underdog protagonist finding some kind of success should also give Yowamushi Pedal a chance.