The Winter 2017 Anime Preview Guide Minami Kamakura High School Girls Cycling Club
How would you rate episode 1 of
Minami Kamakura High School Girls Cycling Club ?
What is this?
Hiromi Maiharu is on her way to her first day of high school in a new town, and she's determined to get there on a bicycle. The only problem is that Hiromi hasn't ridden a bike in years, and her skills have gotten so rusty that it even takes her a minute to remember that she needs to pedal to make her bike move. Hiromi inevitably ends up careening down a hill and crashing, but she's helped out by another new student named Tomoe Akitsuki. They eventually make it to the entrance ceremony, where a new school year awaits. Now all Hiromi needs to do is figure out how to ride that bicycle. Minami Kamakura High School Girls Cycling Club is based on a manga and can be found streaming on Crunchyroll, Fridays at 12:00 PM EST.
How was the first episode?
In the time and place where I grew up, most kids I knew were avid bicyclists until they were old enough to get their driver's license (at which age bike use almost disappeared unless their family couldn't afford an extra vehicle). I was the same, so I can very much relate to protagonist Hiromi's ruminations about how bicycling pretty much equates to freedom for someone of that age. Because that's what it represented in a suburb with no public transportation or amenities within easy walking distance: a way to get to a friend's house or a pool or an ice cream shop or even an arcade (yeah, I know I'm dating myself here) that might be a couple of miles or more away without having to rely on parents. Because of that, I felt a certain amount of empathy towards Hiromi and some of the things being said in the series, and I'm sure that kind of reaction is exactly what both the original manga-ka and director Susumu Kudo (Mardock Scramble, surprisingly) were banking on.
That doesn't necessarily mean that I'm going to watch this, though. Every indication is that this is going to be a very moe female version of the popular Yowamushi Pedal, even down to the protagonist eventually joining a biking club and getting fairly serious about it; in other words, this is “cute girls on bikes.” It comes out with guns blazing on that front, too, with prolonged sequences about Hiromi's clumsy efforts to learn to properly ride a bike with the help of newfound apparent new best friend Fuyune. These scenes can be cloyingly adorable if you're into that kind of thing and tedious if you aren't, although the writing also finds room for some light but effective humor. Also charming is some lovely background art (the series goes all-out to highlight the scenic vistas of its Kamakura setting), and a biking-oriented new teacher who is going to be Hiromi and Fuyune's Homeroom teacher also holds some promise.
Beyond the backgrounds, though, the artistry and animation aren't anything special. In fact, the animation is actually a little on the short side because of a live-action segment at the end concerning what to look for when shopping for a bicycle. (This kind of thing is apparently not totally unusual, as I can recall broadcasts of a couple of other sports-related anime which did something along these lines.) The content is fully wholesome and inoffensive, so it's definitely a family-friendly series. It's just all a little too mundane to be likely to take fire in the anime community.
Minami Kamakura High School Girls Cycling Club dedicates almost all of its first episode to establishing its main character: the city of Kakamura. Portrayed through a lavish series of backgrounds and given context through obliging local Tomoe Akitsuki, Kamakura comes off as a beautiful and inviting tourist destination all through this episode. From its rolling hills to its shining seas and lovely view of Mount Fuji, there is much to enjoy in Kamakura. Congratulations, Cycling Club, you have convinced me Kamakura is worth a visit.
The show's beautiful backgrounds give it an inherent leg up over last season's fundamentally similar Long Riders!. A show that's intending to portray the fun of riding a bicycle has to be able to sell you on the wonder of long trips, and beautiful background art is a great first step. Kakamura seems like a city well worth exploring, and this episode also does a good job of minimizing the awkwardness of its occasional CG. Visually, this is already a pretty compelling package.
Unfortunately, those pretty visuals are basically all I got out of this premiere. The actual plot of this episode is “Hiromi goes to her new school's orientation assembly, and makes a friend along the way.” Most of the running time is dedicated to Hiromi and Tomoe rambling about bikes and Kamakura, but Cycling Club lacks the wit, animation, or level of character writing necessary to make those conversations interesting for their own sake. Both Hiromi and Tomoe are simply “pleasant” - Hiromi is pleasant and kind of dim, Tomoe is pleasant and, uh, wears glasses.
In the end, Cycling Club is a harmless and kind of boring piece of fluff. It doesn't seem interested in exploring cycling as a sport, and will likely be hewing closely to the standard “girls have a nice time in a school club” genre template. If you're a big fan of that genre, this one might be worth a look, but nothing about its writing or visual execution (background art aside) makes it worth checking out if you're not already convinced.
After the adrenaline-fueled and death-defying Yowamushi Pedal, which helped usher in a new wave of popularity for cycling amongst Japanese women, Minami Kamakura High School Girls Cycling Club is, unfortunately, a little dull. It's also a little too precious, though it may speak more for myself than the show that I was getting exasperated with how much time we had to watch Tomoe help Hiromi ride a bicycle. "You should've figured this out before school started!" I kept thinking, obviously more worried about their schedule than they were themselves. If there's a future upside to all these baby steps, it's that it'll be more rewarding watching Hiromi blossom into a road racer from a newbie, rather than your typical anime savant.
But the thing I can't seem to shake is that there's something very artificial about this show. Usually there's a tailor-made audience for this kind of languid, semi-slice-of-life, lushly illustrated type of series. The kind of audience that will laugh at Hiromi being chased by hungry kites, or nod appreciatively about Hiromi's insecurity about making friends (even though a strange girl just wasted her entire morning teaching her how to ride a bike?). Usually, I'm part of that audience. I eat this kind of stuff up. But something about Minami Kamakura High School Girls Cycling Club just isn't clicking with me. It may just be that the characters are all too nice, and everything's just a little too twee, from the bear mascot that some marketing professional has undoubtedly already ordered 10,000 units of, to the sleepy seaside setting, whose real-life town is undoubtedly already setting up photo spots and themed mochi stands to make a quick buck from anime fans.
It feels staged. Hollow. And not just because I'm suspicious of anyone who would devote half an hour (or more?) teaching a stranger to ride a bike, and then walking them to school. The crystal-clear product placement is a little off-putting too (though to Bridgestone's credit, I didn't know they made bike seats). It all combines into this surreal Stepford-like feeling, where everything looks good and seems like it's made for me, but it just doesn't feel right.
I did feel a surge of emotion right at the end, though, when Hiromi gazed in wonder after a couple cyclists. The happiness in her voice when she noted that the riders were girls, then exclaimed, "I can go anywhere!" made my heart flutter, and in that moment, I couldn't wait to see her join the cycling team and ride all over the town that's probably right now making thousands of MKHSGCC-packaged dried squid. But then the after-show edutainment segment started, and I felt cold again. I'm usually a sucker for post-episode info segments, but this one just felt empty. Minami Kamakura High School Girls Cycling Club wants so badly for everyone to fall in love with it, but maybe that's the problem.
Minami Kamukura High—um, "MKHSGCC?"—has one unexpected thing going for it: this is Immaculate Background Art the Animation. Almost every backdrop in the show has several different layers of bold colors and dappled light playing over the incredibly detailed vistas that surround our show's heroines. Unfortunately, when it comes to the girls themselves, and really everything about this show that's not the scenery, it's mostly lame paste.
Of course, this stands to reason considering this show was likely made to promote tourism to Kamakura. So making the region these girls live in look its absolute best regardless of the nothing going on in the foreground would be paramount, right? That's not to be cynical about this sort of thing, since promoting tourism doesn't inherently make a show better or worse. Last season's Poco's Udon World was clearly produced in cooperation with promoting tourism to Kagawa Prefecture (complete with next-episode previews narrated by the Vice Governor), and that didn't keep it from being a touching little dramedy in its own right. I think it's possible to make promoting just about anything into a quality entertainment experience if you care enough to try. (Just look at Rage of Bahamut Genesis for the quintessential smartphone-game example!)
Sadly, this doesn't look like it will be the case for MKHSGCC. Its only other distinguishing feature is hosting a cast of possibly the capital-D Dumbest heroines I've seen in an anime for quite some time. Our poor protagonist is so empty-headed that she literally forgot how to ride a bike in the short window of years between childhood and adolescence. I don't mean she forgot how to maintain her balance or something more reasonable like that, I mean she completely forgot that you have to use pedals and brakes to make the bike go or stop. The other girls manage to be equally facepalm-worthy in various ways, and I grew increasingly concerned as the episode wore on that they were going to get themselves killed by losing all sense of direction in the middle of traffic or repeatedly trying to eat lunch amidst a swarm of sandwich-stealing birds of prey.
Anyway, MKHSGCC is hopelessly boring and bland, so I wouldn't waste your time unless you're dying to relax with a healthy dose of scenery porn. Maybe you should visit the fair city of Kamakura on your next week off, wink wink nudge nudge!
I have to admit that I was hoping that this would be more Yowamushi Pedal and less Long Riders!, and maybe it will be going forward. The extra after the episode, which is a live action mini-segment about picking out a road bike based on your intended use, height, etc., certainly implies that later episodes of Minami Kamakura High School Girls Cycling Club will focus more on the technical and competitive aspects of cycling. This first episode, however, feels more like an ad for the “Visit Beautiful Kamakura” tourism board combined with what are supposed to be the charming antics of Hiromi, the least bike-savvy individual ever to put foot to pedal. In fact, she doesn't even realize that she's supposed to put her feet on the pedals – most of her first foray into cycling has her shrieking with her legs sticking out to the sides, which seems counterintuitive even for a character who's supposed to be adorably clumsy. That she doesn't know where the brakes are also feels like a stretch (although by not having her touch the pedals, pushing them backwards to brake is off the table), but what takes the cake is that her bike somehow doesn't move when she's got it facing downhill without pressing the brakes. Gravity may work differently in this show's world.
This is not to say that the episode is entirely without merit. Hiromi and Tomoe form a fast friendship equally based in Hiromi's sunny personality and Tomoe's willingness to be helpful, and what starts as a semi-forced exercise in teaching Hiromi to ride morphs into the kind of close friendship that can suddenly spring up between two seemingly disparate people. It's clear that Tomoe, a lifelong Kamakura resident, doesn't need Hiromi the same way that Hiromi needs her, but she likes her enough that she's willing to take her under her wing. The school also appears to be more supportive and cheerier than many an anime institution, although the sheer number of inspirational speeches (okay, two, but it feels like a lot) is a bit much.
Unfortunately for a show based around a sport, the animation feels stilted, although this is mostly when people are walking, not riding. There's something odd about the way the characters interact with their surroundings as well, as if they're placed on top of the backgrounds rather than living in them. The people themselves have a slightly old-fashioned look to them, as if the show dated to the 1990s rather than 2017, but that's actually kind of pleasant, especially against the idyllic scenery.
It's clear that this show has a long way to go in order to get Hiromi up to cycling club standards, so how the series is paced going forward feels like it will be important. If it takes too long, there's a risk that this could drag, much as this first episode did, bogged down in Kamakura tourism and Hiromi's antics. But if it can get its heroine up to snuff organically and before too long (i.e. without feeling rushed), there could be some potential for a girls’ sports series after all.
Minami Kamakura High School Girls Cycling Club has some very pretty backgrounds. I'm opening with this observation because the background art was the only thing that stood out to me in this first episode. The rest of the show appears to be inoffensively bland in the way that only a second-string slice of life series can be. It's hard to point to any one flaw as being truly awful, but there's so little substance here that I can't think of any compelling reason to watch it.
Hiromi and Tomoe get the majority of screen time in this episode, and they come across as a weak copy of countless other leading duos. Hiromi is the ditzy, energetic one who will likely end up instigating most of the group's adventures and remarking out loud about how amazing and lovely everything is. Tomoe is the kind but serious voice of reason, and I imagine it'll fall to her to help Hiromi achieve whatever ambitions she comes up with. They've also got an earnest homeroom teacher who just so happens to be an avid cyclist, and we catch brief glimpses of the other girls who will presumably join the cycling club at some point. At the moment, this cast is as standard-issue as it gets.
A bland group of characters would be all right if they had an interesting or amusing story to go through, but we don't really get that either. The lack of unique or dynamic personalities means that the character humor tends to fall flat, and the comedy in general is so mild-mannered that it struggles to find even the occasional laugh. The plot takes its sweet time in this episode, and we reach the end credits before anyone even mentions the words, “cycling club.” A handful of pleasant but generic platitudes about youth that get tossed around during the entrance ceremony, which suggests that this series will be more about making friends than any sort of competitive cycling.
If you didn't get your fill of girls on bicycles with last season's Long Riders!, then this show is pleasant enough to be worth a try. As long as you ignore the underwhelming character designs and focus on the scenery, it's at least nice to look at. Of course, in a season that will also contain the latest iteration of Yowamushi Pedal, I'm not sure why you'd want to watch a less exciting series about the same sport. Even slice of life fans may find this one to be a bit of a snooze.
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