The episode opens with the scene that ended the previous one, which was a flashback of when Kuroda and Manami were catching up with Imaizumi and Sakamichi. We hear Kuroda telling Manami to take it easy and let him do the work until they catch up with the Sohoku riders, and then establishing that he’s going to reminiscence about the past.
We then head to a flashback inside a flashback, and it starts with the race to determine the participants for the previous year’s Inter-High. It shows Kuroda losing to Manami and how Kuroda felt about the situation. The guy who thought he was the best at everything and assumed he’d get a spot on the Hakone’s Inter-High team was beaten by a first year, and you can imagine that Kuroda didn’t take this loss well. He couldn’t stand Manami then, to the point where he couldn’t even look at him. His one ray of hope was hearing the rumor that Arakita, a guy he didn’t like during his first year in the club, was arguing that Kuroda should have been the final member instead of Manami.
However, Kuroda had a serious wake up call at the end of the previous year’s Inter-High when Hakone Academy lost. But it’s through an interaction he has with Arakita right after that race that inspired Kuroda to become the rider that he is now. After becoming vice captain, we see that Hakone enters races they hadn’t previously in order to have more training before this year’s Inter-High. During one of these races, Kuroda has an encounter with someone who was the captain of their middle school basketball team and had played against Kuroda’s school when he was a substitute player. Kuroda’s previous attitude comes back to haunt him when the other racer gets revenge for something that happened back then. But the Kuroda of now overcomes the obstacle that happened and goes on to win the race using his new attitude.
I really appreciated this flashback, because it helped to flesh out Kuroda’s character even more. Yes, we had the earlier flashback this season of when Kuroda joined Hakone Academy’s team as a first year and butting heads with Arakita, but this one fills in the gap of his time as a second-year on the team. During the first two seasons of Yowamushi Pedal, Kuroda was referenced and was seen a couple of times, but he wasn’t a major character. He didn’t come to the forefront until Yowamushi Pedal: New Generation, when he became vice captain of the team. We’d heard references to the race where Manami beat Kuroda, but we’d never really seen him much as a second-year prior to this flashback.
I also appreciated this flashback for showing Izumida and Kuroda leading the team over the summer, and learning what Izumida had come up with to help prepare their team for this year’s Inter-High. Getting to see Hakone Academy participating in a race they normally would have ignored really reinforced the idea that they didn’t take their loss at the previous year’s Inter-High well. We also got to see how some riders reacted to seeing Hakone Academy riding in a race that had previously been seen as being beneath them before… and having Hakone’s loss at the Inter-High to a first year being thrown in their face. This felt realistic, and it also helps to fill in a gap and explain why we’ve seen the riders from Hakone acting the way they have during this Inter-High.
At this point, we leave the flashback within a flashback and return to Manami’s initial flashback. We see Kuroda and Manami catching up with Imaizumi and Sakamichi before returning to the current point in the race where Manami and Sakamichi are competing for first place.
At the point where we return to the current time, Sakamichi is in the lead. He starts to feel the pressure of being at the front near the finish line and almost loses his focus. Fortunately, he shakes it off and keeps on going. However, the tide turns in Manami’s favor and he not only gets ahead of Sakamichi, he gets ahead by a significant amount. But when it seems like Sakamichi may have given up, he utilizes a certain technique that he;s become known for to raise his cadence and catch back up. By the end of the episode, Manami and Sakamichi can see that the red flag of the finish line is only one kilometer away.
However, that isn’t the ending scene of the episode. We see Manami’s friend at the finish line, and she borrows the “Best Boy” hat that Sakamichi had given to Manami earlier at the Inter High. After she puts it on, she has a reunion with Sakamichi’s mother, who has just made it to the finish line. The episode ends with the two of them recognizing each other, and I thought this was an amusing way to end it, especially after how serious most of the episode had been up to that point.
Now we’re at the end of Episode 21, and there’s only one kilometer left until the finish line. This episode managed to kill some time with the flashback, since it lasted for most of the runtime leading up to the commercial break. However, I’m trying to figure out how this series will last for three more episodes, since I’m assuming this will end with Episode 24. The final episode would likely be a cool down episode that takes place after the race, but there’s still two episodes to fill to get through that last kilometer. I’m assuming there will be flashbacks and focusing on some of the other characters to break up the remainder of the race, but can they pull it off without making it feel like they’re stretching the end of the race out?
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