After a brief recap of what happened at the end of Episode 17, the story moves on to what’s happening with the lead pack. But, what’s happening is the discovery that the rest of Sohoku’s team is finally catching up. Hooray!
Sakamichi pulls up alongside Manami and says he got permission to pull ahead so the two of them can have the race they promised to have with each other during the Inter-High. One of the saner members of Kyoto Fushimi (I’m blanking on his name right now) seems to be in disbelief that Sakamichi fought to reach the lead pack so he could race someone. Yes, I’m sure this would seem rather odd to someone who really doesn’t know Sakamichi personally. But this is one of things that I find endearing about Sakamichi.
But Manami has to break the bad news to Sakamichi — that they probably can’t fight like they were hoping to under the circumstances that they currently find themselves in. Sakamichi doesn’t understand at first, until it’s pointed out that not all of the teams are in this pack. Naruko isn’t there, and there are members of both Hakone Academy and Kyoto Fushimi who are missing. They realize that this ISN’T the lead pack after all. Gosh darn it! Sohoku still isn’t out of the woods yet!
In light of this, Teshima changes Sakamichi’s orders: Sakamichi and Imaizumi are to race up Mount Haruna and do whatever it takes to catch up with the lead pack. Poor Sakamichi seems to be in shock and disbelief, so it takes him a little bit to process this new order. Hopefully this won’t deflate Sakamichi’s spirit too much. Yes! Sakamichi finds the determination to carry out his orders and starts going on ahead. There’s a really nice monologue from Manami at this point, where he shares his admiration for Sakamichi. Too bad Sakamichi didn’t get to hear it!
We see Sakamichi catch up with Imaizumi, and the two of them talk about what they need to do. But the good news here is, since Sakamichi had conserved his energy in order to race with Manami, he’s going to have the energy he needs to catch up with the lead pack and be able to put up a meaningful challenge. But this is a great bonding moment between Imaizumi and Sakamichi, even if Sakamichi doesn’t seem to realize it. Is it just me, or does it seems like Imaizumi is being poised to become the next captain of the team after Teshima and the other third years graduate? Imaizumi’s personality has really changed since the first Inter-High, and he’s much more focused on encouraging his teammates than he is in just looking out for himself.
Back with the “not lead pack,” Kaburagi thinks something isn’t right and wonders if everyone really wants the mountain result so badly. Teshima explains the situation to his clueless underclassman, which also provides an opportunity for the audience to get an explanation as well. Ah… the mountain line and the finish line for the second day are pretty close together. So it seems like it’s being set up that whoever can win the mountain line will be the most likely to be the first to cross the second day’s finish line. Ah… that makes sense.
We get to see Miki, Sugimoto, and the others in the van. When Miki talks to her friend, we get an explanation for how the strategy changes in a road race when the mountain line and finish line are close together. Miki is very serious during this, and she’s giving me the impression that she thinks it’s impossible for Sohoku to be able to have a chance due to this change in strategy.
Now we see the true lead pack, with Midousuji pushing his riders on so they can push ahead. Two Hakone Academy riders are right on their heels. Kiriya, Kyoto Fushimi’s climber, has really been pushed to his limits and begs to switch. Mizuta is trying to act like Midousuji, arguing they have a plan. Poor Kiriya says he may have to drop out of the Inter-High if this keeps up, but Mizuta just tells him to power through it. Midousuji also gives Kiriya an ultimatum. I don’t really know Kiriya very well as a character, but I am feeling sorry for him. Midousuji just seems to see him as a pawn to use until they reach a result, and then he can be easily discarded.
Now Midousuji has a flashback as to what happened between the time Kumamoto Daiichi tried to get to the front and when Sakamichi and the others joined up with the “not lead” pack. We then return to the present, and see the two members of Kumamoto Daiichi’s team who are in front of the rest of their teammates. Through them, we see that Naruko was right behind Midousuji, Mizuta, and Kiriya when they jumped ahead… but where is Naruko now? We didn’t see him in the previous scene with the three members of Kyoto Fushimi.
Oh, hey! My question is answered with the very next scene. Naruko is still right behind them, but the way the previous scene was framed, we didn’t see him. I should have figured Naruko had to be nearby, since the episode is titled, “Naruko’s Determination,” after all. But just as we get this reveal, Kiriya has to drop out of the race. So now Mizuta is being forced to go faster that they lost the “dead weight” of Kiriya. And now Mizuta’s wondering if he’s going to be discarded when Midousuji’s done with him. Talk about karma…
Hahaha. Naruko is lecturing Midousuji because he didn’t give praise to Kiriya for help to get them this far. Midousuji just sneers at Naruko, though… but Mizuta seems to be getting the idea that Midousuji could very well discard him after getting the result he wants. You better watch out, Mizuta… you may be the team captain, but Midousuji seems to wear the pants when it comes to being in charge of the team. Midousuji tries to do his psychological manipulation yet again, telling Naruko that he must be at his limit and that he can fall back now. I don’t think Naruko is going to fall for this. Come on, Midousuji, your psychological manipulation hasn’t worked yet in this Inter-High, why do you think it’s going to work now? And with that, Midousuji and Mizuta start accelerating again.
But we hear Naruko’s thoughts… he is almost at his limit, but he’s determined to keep going because he’s made it this far. Naruko finds his determination, and starts passing Mizuta and Midousuji. Come on, Naruko, you can do this! Heh… Mizuta and Midousuji yell at Naruko as he gets in front of them. Deal with it, Kyoto Fushimi! Naruko is determined to block them, even though they try to move ahead. This is a nice contrast between the panicked Midousuji and the cool and calm Naruko. And here’s Midousuji trying his psychological warfare again. Naruko’s putting up a good fight here, but it’s becoming obvious to the audience that he’s running out of steam. Please, Imaizumi and Sakamichi, catch up with Naruko soon!
And this is where the episode ends. I really hope Imaizumi and Sakamichi can catch up in the next episode, and that Naruko’s efforts and determination aren’t for naught!