The Fall 2017 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Two Car ?
What is this?
How was the first episode?
There's certainly potential for a decent show about sidecar racing, though as a sports drama vehicle, racing comes with some inherent challenges. The main issue is that it's harder to make a sport about “who crosses the finish line first” feel like an actual battle with tangible stakes. It's tough to create a sense of dramatic back-and-forth between competitors who aren't directly interacting, and on top of that, the details of sidecar racing are so esoteric that you'd need to work hard to establish the fault lines of battle in the first place. But if you could accomplish all that, you could definitely create a strong show.
TWOCAR is not that show. This first episode is constructed around a major exhibition race, which would theoretically allow the narrative to put its best foot forward—but when it comes time for the race itself, there's no real sense of drama or urgency. The show's enthusiastic commentators try their best, but it never feels like any of these competitors move ahead or behind for specific reasons. As a sports spectacle, TWOCAR peaks with its charmingly absurd character introductions—everything from the starting line on is pretty boring.
TWOCAR also doesn't really work as a character drama. Our two protagonists Yuri and Megumi never establish meaningful personalities, and their friends' taunting about them being basically the same person rings too obvious to be funny. Their principal motivation so far seems to be “impress the coach that we're both in love with,” which makes it hard to invest in their struggles, and the scenes of them interspersed between the racing segments feel haphazard and dramatically inert, giving us very little context for why we should care about the racing parts.
The show's visual execution is pretty middle-of-the-road in all regards—not much animation, okay CG, generic character designs, kinda flat backgrounds. On the whole, while TWOCAR isn't a terrible show in any way, it also doesn't present any convincing reasons to keep watching. This one's an easy skip.
I had never even heard of motorcycle sidecar racing before TWOCAR was announced, so imagine my surprise when I discovered that it might be the single most impressively insane and dangerous type of racing I've seen in a long time. I'm no motorbike aficionado, so you would have to pay me a hefty sum to even think about clinging to the side of a speeding metal deathtrap like that. Suffice to say, having a bunch of pretty teenage girls fall into the sport is a novelty in and of itself, though I'm not quite sure TWOCAR is in the same league as the prominent sports series it seems to be striving after.
My main sticking point is with the story's framework, where Yuri and Megumi are rivals not necessarily because of their passion and internal drive for the sport, but because they both have a crush on their coach. They mention their inherent differences in personality and whatnot too, but the episode goes out of its way to make their romantic competition the driving force behind their interpersonal conflict, which is just tired and uninteresting. The coach is also portrayed in that annoying manner where his face is perpetually blocked by random objects, which gives the impression that he's supposed to be some sort of audience self-insert character. This doesn't just make the coach feel like an underwritten way to pander to TWOCAR's audience; it cheapens the characterization of both our leads by reinforcing the tired old stereotype of women only being competitive when they can impress a man, not to mention framing that man as the potential viewer. The coach's final interaction with the girls is even shot from his POV, which gives the viewer the pleasure of having Yuri and Megumi tell them that “We're doing all of this to impress YOU!” It's easily the worst part of this first episode.
Outside of that, the show is an entertaining (if not preposterous) ride. When I ignore the weakness of the character writing, I can get behind the show's aesthetic thrills. Studio Silver Link is producing this show as their 10th anniversary project, and you can tell that there's been a lot of work put into the lush colors and fluid animation of this world. The racing sequences themselves are exciting and well-directed, and the use of CG is both appropriate and well-integrated. Anyone looking for a good time at the race track might very well love this premiere, especially if they wish their vehicular sports included more cute anime girls.
As for me, I can take or leave TWOCAR. The characters just don't interest me yet, and that's usually essential to an effective sports story. Exciting race scenes are all well and good, but without a hero or home team to actively root for, a competition is meaningless for anyone but the athletes involved. When TWOCAR does show the girls' genuine passion for the sport of kneeler racing, I just wonder why their rivalry and presumable friendship couldn't simply spring from that alone. Instead, the episode ends by having the girls literally punch each other out after their first win, because God forbid they care about their own personal victories if their teammate after their man. That was when I knew that TWOCAR probably wasn't going to be for me.
It's Sidehackers the Anime! Or rather, Two Car falls somewhere in between the original 1969 film (which is horrible) and its 1990 Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode in terms of entertainment value – it's good enough to watch, but not terrific. In part this is because of the non-linear episode's format; the girls' race is intercut with flashbacks of them training with Tanahashi the Faceless Coach, a man both girls are crushing on. He's not only the one who got them into kneeler racing, but he's also the reason the two of them are currently in the middle of a falling out – just before he left for the Isle of Man, both Yuri and Megumi tried to confess to him, only to discover that they'd both written him letters to meet them at the same place and time. Since neither confession happened and he's now gone, both girls are stewing.
It's not a bad premise for a show about a team sport, largely because it's different enough from the norm to make it interesting. It isn't that Yuri and Megumi have to form a cohesive team, but rather that they have to not kill each other when they're not racing, which may be easier said than done, given that they both punch each other out even after they pull off a dark horse win in the exhibition race. Is it possible to be a good team while being so angry at your partner? Eventually that's going to affect their teamwork while racing, so I can see it being a driving force of the story.
It's also a draw that the star sport isn't one we see often while still being real (it's an off-shoot of motocross). It's an interestingly dangerous activity, and it provides plenty of opportunities for the camera to linger on a taut behind in a skintight suit or show girls leaning over bikes and each other sinuously in pursuit of the perfect turn. I'm going to go ahead and assume that's part of the reason why this show focuses on high school girls participating in the sport, and as fanservice goes, it isn't nearly as prurient as it could have been; it even leaves the opportunity for a panty shot alone when Megumi is side kneeling in her school uniform.
The juxtaposition of idyllic island scenery and the sound of motorbike engines is another plus, as it gives a real image of what life must be like in a rural town where this is THE sport. The opening scenes of girls talking over gorgeous scenery does feel like a bit much, however, as does Yuri and Megumi's habit of saying the same thing at the same time. Yes, it happens when you're close to someone (my youngest sister and I do it an alarming amount), and it does demonstrate how alike they are, but it also gets annoying. Plus the show has those twin characters for that; do we really need two pairs?
Two Car's first episode feels like a decent introduction to both the sport and the main characters. That the former is more interesting to me than the latter may be an issue going forward, because the girls' rivalry is largely annoying. But it's also something a little different in a sports show, so it may be worth keeping an eye on just for that.
Two Car is not the first anime series to feature the sport of kneeler racing; it also figured prominently into Ah! My Goddess: The Movie. However, it's the first anime that I'm aware of to make the sport its focal point. Though the contribution that a passenger makes in the sport to assist the driver can be interesting, it's not the most exciting of sports, so why not spruce it up for otaku by making all the teams pretty girls?
That seems to be the entire idea behind this anime-original series. In fact, the first episode goes so far with this concept that only one male character – the main duo's coach – appears at all, and he's conspicuously shown only from the shoulders down or with a helmet on. It's an odd choice to be sure, but his announced departure could clear space for potential yuri teasing if the girls can ever get over being romantic rivals. That may be too cynical an attitude to take, since nothing in the first episode overtly plays up the yuri fanservice angle, but I still get the impression that their relationship won't be entirely cutesy, either.
The central duo follows the standard principle of one dark-haired and one reddish-haired girl, but they deviate from the norm by having too-similar personalities rather than starkly contrasting ones. This is highlighted through a series of brief flashbacks as the featured exhibition race plays out, showing that they've been long-time neighbors, their families run similar businesses, they both got into racing the same way, and yes, they both have the same taste in men and ideas about confessing their feelings. This could lead them to be in sync as partners, but they bounce off each other when they see a reflection of what they don't like about themselves in the other. That leads to the eye-opening last scene, where they punch each other's lights out at the end of the race instead of congratulating each other, which in retrospect seems like a fitting resolution.
The emphasis placed on briefly describing the other six teams in the race suggest that they aren't one-shot appearances, though there's nothing special about any of them yet. There's also nothing special about the technical merits beyond the precise visual details of the sport. The structure of the first episode works well enough, and Yuri and Megumi are at least a mildly interesting duo, so this could be worth checking out down the line. In an already crowded weekend schedule, however, I don't expect it to stand out much.
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