The Spring 2021 Preview Guide
by The Anime News Network Editorial Team,
How would you rate episode 1 of
Super Cub ?
What is this?
Koguma is a high school girl in Yamanashi. She has no parents, friends, or hobbies, and her daily life is empty. One day, Koguma gets a used Honda Super Cub motorcycle. This is her first time going to school on a motorcycle. Running out of gas and hitting detours become a small source of adventure in Koguma's life. She is satisfied with this strange transformation, but her classmate Reiko ends up talking to her about how she also goes to school by motorcycle. One Super Cub begins to open up a lonely girl's world, introducing her to a new everyday life and friendship.
How was the first episode?
The first episode of Super Cub demonstrates several things:
Super Cub is an excellent piece of visual storytelling.
There is very little dialogue in this episode. Nearly everything we learn about Koguma, we learn visually. She talks to no one at school. All her meals are ready-to-eat. Her greatest struggle each day is the final hill before her school. Once she gets the Super Cub, we can see how excited she is—like a kid with a new toy. We see her panic when it suddenly won't start and despair when it dawns on her that she has no one to rely on but herself. Honestly, it's fantastic and I almost wish that the episode didn't have any narration at all. I don't think we needed it to understand her life and circumstances. And the story surrounding her buying a bike is easy enough to follow because...
Super Cub is a first-time motorcycle owner's guide.
Koguma knows nothing about motorcycles, other than the fact that having one will save her from pedaling up that damned hill. From choosing the right helmet and gloves to switching to the reserve fuel supply, this episode shows newbies what they need to know when buying and operating their first motorcycle. Of course, it's not quite as easy as it all seems as...
Super Cub is a bit less than completely honest.
Super Cub almost makes a joke out of how cheap and easy it is to get your own 50cc bike up and running: Koguma announces that she doesn't have a license, was given the answers to the written test, receives her license without ever having been on a motorcycle, and then buys one for a mere $91. While I've never seen a used Super Cub going for $91—regardless of how many people it's killed—that's still far less than what she actually paid for it. Even ignoring Japanese sales tax (10%), getting a moped license in Tokyo costs $71. Then it's another $71 for the bare minimum insurance, which you have to buy before a motorcycle can be sold to you. Of course, skipping over inconvenient details like this is expected because...
Super Cub is a commercial
I mean, there's a reason why every Honda product in the anime is styled in exquisite detail, while motorcycles/mopeds from other companies aren't even included. Moreover, every problem she encounters in this episode is solved by reading the user manual. Basically, all the good things about being a Honda motorcycle owner are highlighted, while the negatives are glossed over. That said, as far as brand tie-in anime go, this one makes for a damn pretty and surprisingly affecting one.
I'll be honest: I have roughly negative interest in motorcycles. If it has a motor, I'm pretty much only interested in it as far as its ability to get me from point a to point b. (Except trains. Trains are pretty cool.) So the chances of me connecting to Super Cub were pretty low from the start, since it's a hobby anime about a hobby I'm really not into. Still, if you do care about motorcycles, this one might be worth a glance.
Then again, this isn't really a typical hobbyist anime. There's no neon hair, or really any bright colors to speak of, since most of the episode is animated in washed-out, grayish shades to illustrate Koguma's depression. Koguma, who has no friends, hobbies, or interests, isn't particularly unusual for this kind of show, but she doesn't have a chance encounter with a cheerful classmate who pulls her into the exciting world of motorcycles. Rather, she happens to wander up to a motorcycle shop, where the old man owner takes pity on her and sells her a Honda Super Cub for cheap because it has a history of people getting hurt on it. He gives her a manual, and after that, she's pretty much on her own.
Koguma consults her manual as her bike refuses to start outside the convenience store, and while that doesn't make for the most exciting viewing, it is probably more realistic. The show seems devoted to creating a verisimilitudinous atmosphere from top to bottom. Everyone has black hair and relatively realistic proportions, albeit with typically anime features. I found myself wondering if Yamanashi prefecture, where it takes place, kicked a few yen toward the production budget for potential tourism dollars, because of how much time Koguma spends puttering along the beautiful, thickly forested mountain highways, with sound design that prioritizes natural background noises over music.
As a production by the newcomer Studio KAI, the animation isn't really impressive. Yes, Yamanashi is beautiful, and it's nice, if a bit gimmicky, that the world shifts from grays to color when Koguma is on her bike. There's also a lot of clunky-ish CG, particularly with pretty much any shot that involves a bike, whether it be motor or pedal. I really can't speak for how nice or realistic the motorcycles looked, since like I said, I know nothing about the damn machines, but I have to assume they have a lot of attention to realistic detail, considering literally everything else about the show.
Super Cub is not the show for me. Maybe if it were about cycling, or hiking, or some other non-motorized way of moving through the world, with a similar level of realism, I would be more into it, but I'm just eh about the subject matter. For those who are interested though, or want something quiet and relaxing, take it for a spin.
Super Cub is, to my great disappointment, not about a tiny bear with superpowers that goes around fighting crime. It is instead about a girl who buys a used model of the titular Honda Super Cub moped. Why does she do this? Well, as her voice-over narration frankly explains, Koguma has no parents, no money, no friends, and no goals for the future. She drifts in and out of each day without so much as uttering a peep to her classmates, she lives in a modest apartment that looks eternally shrouded in early evening shadow, and the Super Cub may very well be the first object that has roused her from her vacant routine in who knows how long.
This is a very odd show, and one I had no idea how to rate. Not that it is particularly bad or anything, but I also had to re-watch big chunks of the episode twice over because it put me to sleep. Super Cub's premiere is damned near a silent film, and what little dialogue we do get is sparse, utilitarian, and spoken with the barest minimum of energy and volume. Koguma lives such a spare, lonely, and silent life that at first, I was convinced that there had to be some shoe that was going to drop that would explain why we were spending so much time watching this girl listlessly drift from scene to scene. If there is something more to Koguma's life beyond her simply being an incredibly boring person, though, it isn't apparent here in this story.
Instead, we see her shop for the Cub, earn her license off-screen, buy the Cub, ride the Cub, think about riding the Cub, ride the Cub some more, forget how gasoline works, and then remember how gasoline works thanks to the Cub's owner's manual. The closest thing we get to a plot is the brief period in which Koguma cannot figure out why her gas-powered vehicle might not want to start. The single moment of relatable emoting arrives in the cute little shot where Koguma smiles and admires her new pal sitting in its parking space.
If Super Cub had more going for it artistically outside of some pretty landscape shots that get marred by clunky CG animation, maybe I would have responded to it with more enthusiasm. Heck, I might be more amenable to a show like Super Cub with a couple more hours of sleep under my belt. Most times, though, I tend to like my anime when they feel a little more…alive, I guess? Folks that need a warm-and- fuzzy dose of melatonin shot straight into their hypothalamus would do well to give Super Cub a shot. I'll keep on the lookout for a show with a little more rev in its engine.
I'm not quite sure how to pitch Super Cub, at least based on this premiere. Having watched enough seasonal anime, I'm familiar with the general realm of hobbyist series. Every season or so we get at least one show dedicated to teaching new people about some particular niche or nerdy topic; board games, fishing, heck we even had a motorbike show before in Bakuon!! a few years back. But those shows almost always follow a formula to welcome newcomers. Somebody totally new to the hobby stumbles into a club or a solo enthusiast, and proceeds to get a beginners guide to Whatever The Show Is About, all in an effort to essentially advertise the pastime to a presumed neophyte audience.
Not so with Super Cub. Our lead, Koguma, does gradually learn the basics of owning/driving a motorbike, but the typical peppy “isn't this new thing the COOLEST?” vibe of other hobby shows is totally missing, replaced with a morose, almost depressing atmosphere. Koguma herself comes off as nearly a ghost in the world around her, barely interacting with anyone until the equally gray owner of the local scooter shop strikes up the most deadpan conversation I've seen all year. Between that, the washed-out color pallet, and Koguma's new (used) bike apparently being related to three deaths, I was half-expecting a Sixth Sense-style twist. It's an extremely odd tone to strike for what would presumably be a slice-of-life show to relax to every week, is what I'm saying, and I'm not sure how well this will all work in the long term.
That said, by the end of things I did find myself rather charmed by Koguma's nervous excitement and anxiety over her new (possibly haunted) moped. Little details like going inside her house only to find a reason to go back out and fuss with it, or coming up with an excuse to take it for a late-night ride when she's too excited to sleep. While I've never owned a motorbike, I remember doing much of the same when I brought home my first car after getting my license, and it makes for a pleasantly relatable viewing experience. I especially vibed with her mortifying terror when the bike won't start after her late-night shopping trip – I have been there and it is always, always horrifying, but nothing compares to the relief of figuring out whatever the problem is and getting back on the road.
I probably won't continue with Super Cub – it's just not my preferred style of slice-of-life. But it's certainly a unique entry in this subgenre and managed to charm me more than I expected. I can't speak to how much it might appeal to folks already into motorbikes either, but if you're in the mood for a somewhat somber daytrip, this may be the one for you.
Are you looking for some soothing motor scooter porn? Then do we have the show for you! Super Cub takes the concept of the soft, slow-paced story and doubles down, giving us not only one sad orphan girl, but also quiet, detailed scenes of her local landscape, AND adding in plenty of detailed, loving shots of the Honda Super Cub bike she buys for the bargain price of 10,000 yen, ironically the same price that Hiro pays for his game in Full Dive. Even though Koguma gets her cub for so little because it either killed three people or three people died in an accident on or near it, I think she may have gotten the better deal.
Despite its obvious love for Honda scooters, Super Cub doesn't appear to be in the same boat as Wish Upon the Pleiades, the Subaru-sponsored magical girl show from 2015. It's instead based on a series of light novels, and while this episode zeroes in on the vehicle itself, the action (or perhaps “action”) of the show is more focused on the idea that buying the scooter in the first place was Koguma's initial step outside of her grey, closed world. She's a really sad character in a lot of ways, mostly because she can't seem to find any joy in anything she does pre-Cub. Even after she buys it, we see that she's very much stuck in her proscribed life – she even butters her breakfast bread in the same pattern every morning and takes a mild variation on the same thing for lunch each day. (Says she who took peanut butter every day K-12.) We don't know why she's alone, but everything about her just radiates sadness and unhappiness and by the time she's run out of gas at the convenience store, I just don't want anything more to go wrong for her.
That said, most of this episode really does focus on Koguma learning about her newly-purchased death scooter. She learns how to start it, that she needs to fuel it, and that riding it by big trucks is unsettling. She also spends a lot of time just looking at it and smiling a little. It's really not a show that's going to work for everyone, because even less happens here than in Kiyo in Kyoto, although somehow Koguma successfully switching to the reserve fuel tank feels more rewarding than anything that happens in any number of other quiet, slow shows. The best part is that when she's on her scooter the grimy filter over the images lifts, showing the world as a brighter, more colorful place. It's not subtle symbolism, but it works, and while I can't see myself watching more of this, it's perfect if you're just looking for something to unwind.
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