by Mercedez Clewis,
How would you rate episode 5 of
Super Cub ?
Episode 5, “Reiko's Summer”, delivers what a lot of viewers probably wanted last time: a peek into Reiko's summer vacation. It also drops viewers directly into her perspective, offering a refreshing, Reiko-centric episode that, as the kids say, positively slaps.
We start from the end of episode 4 when Koguma bikes over to Reiko's during summer vacation. So far, it's been clear that Reiko feels hemmed in by the social expectations that come with being the daughter of a politician. That's partially why she loves her bikes so much: they allow her to escape those boundaries and do as she wants in the world.
Post-OP, Koguma wheels her bike into Reiko's own private little garage, and once the girls are settled, Koguma gets to work making a personal favorite of mine: okonomiyaki, which is the best easy-to-make dish to ever exist. Of course, Koguma's okonomiyaki looks as good as Reiko says it is. It's also here that we flip perspectives back to Reiko's summer vacation, which is really where the meat of episode 5 is.
Reiko, just like Koguma, took on a summer job. In her case, it was loading supplies and working as a courier for a company, rather than her high school. Once she wraps up her duties on site, she tells the chief that she'll be heading out to check the trails. Naturally, she's going to do it on the back of her bike.
What ensues is a scene with high-paced music playing. I imagine that we're actually hearing what's playing in Reiko's helmet through a pair of headphones, or even from some speakers, though it's also incredibly diegetic and dies out the moment Reiko hits a rock...and goes sailing onto the ground. It's then that Super Cub takes a moment to go back inside Reiko's head as she tells viewers that in the summer of her second year of high school, she's going to climb Mount Fuji on her Super Cub. And y'all: this sets up some delightful plot, as well as a solid Reiko infodump.
Reiko's interest in Super Cubs came about when she learned about the history of riding cubs up Mount Fuji. Despite the changing rules about off-roading up Japan's most famous natural site, Reiko quickly becomes enthralled with the idea of swapping out parts on her bike so she can finally ride up the mountain. She's just missing one thing: permission. However, on her job application form, she states that as her main goal. In fact, she doesn't mind the labor nor even checking the trails ahead of the Caterpillar machine leaving out with its daily load. Reiko is very clearly here to scale Mount Fuji. It's just a perk of the job that she gets paid to do so and has a residence with a gorgeous view of the mountain.
You remember those rule changes I mentioned? Well, that's because the path up Mount Fuji is riddled with rocks. Rocks that Reiko repeatedly bumps into and skips over as she attempts to scale the mountain. Many times, she uses the grooves of the Caterpillar's wheels to ride up, and by the middle of the episode, it feels like she's going to succeed. Then all the sound drops out save for a deep, echoing ringing, and the viewer realizes that Reiko has altitude sickness, thus stopping her progress for the day.
A lot of the episode is spent watching Reiko spill and tumble and scrape across the rocky road leading up to Mount Fuji. It's tough to watch because Reiko is a genuinely good kid, and you can see how positively pissed she is at the notion that she can't scale the mountain. Yet it's clear that Reiko will eventually figure out what she needs to do. Also, she has a great boss who suggests that she “bring herself” along for the ride, and not just take on Mount Fuji headfirst without consideration.
Then that music kicks up and we watch as Reiko carefully, thoughtfully scales Mount Fuji with all her heart, screaming and cursing as she and her Super Cub brave the mountain and refuse to buckle in its wake. Things fade to white as Reiko flashes back to school, and with it, to the times she's spent with Koguma, the only other cub lover in her life. Those memories are what give her the final bit of energy to overcome her altitude sickness and exhaustion as she pops a wheelie, and finally, finally… crashes and rolls down a hill to the path below.
Which also, unfortunately, busts up part of her bike's oil container – and her entire bike, really. It's honestly a bit of a heartbreaking scene, if only because you just really want Reiko to succeed.
In a way, I wanted so desperately for Reiko to make it all the way to the top. I really wanted to see a gorgeous, sprawling view of rural Yamanashi from the summit. I kind of even wanted a moment where all the sounds drop out, and it's just Reiko breathing inside her helmet as finally, dusty, bruised, and exhausted, she sees her summer goal through. Instead, we're treated to a scene between herself and the chief of the loading company on that path as he and the Caterpillar head back down. It's not the summit of Mount Fuji, but honestly? I felt seeing Reiko fail was more realistic, and means that she'll continue to have a tangible goal to strive for, if the series ever returns to this moment.
Back in the present, Koguma remarks that it's kind of silly of Reiko to ride her cub all the way up to the summit, yet it's clear that Koguma also understands Reiko's feelings. It's said as a thought, rather than a statement of fact or even an opinion against Reiko. It's just a friend taking in a story and essentially just saying “That was silly and kind of dangerous, you know?” After that, the girls chat, and eventually, it's time for Koguma to leave… then Reiko tosses her a sleeping bag and for the first time since the show began—and maybe the first time in Koguma's life—she spends the night outside of her quiet, solemn apartment.
It's so nice to see the girls just being kids together. While they're still not good friends, episode 5 demonstrates that Koguma and Reiko are friends now. They're no longer just two students who happen to really love Super Cub. They're two girls who love Super Cub and while Koguma and Reiko initially bonded through that, they're at a point where that's no longer the sole reason for them chatting with one another. They have a genuine friendship, and it's really, really wonderful to see. Plus, their friendship is even pushing Koguma to get her motorcycle license, which I bet we'll see in the back half of this cour. (At least, I really hope so! I wanna see this kid pass her test!)
Additionally, it's nice to shift perspective for the bulk of an episode. Koguma is a fascinating character to see the world through, but so is Reiko. While she shares the same love for Super Cubs as Koguma, she's a markedly different person, and uses her cub for very different reasons. Koguma's cub offers her adventures and moments where she's able to see the world from different angles and literally, a different pace and height. For those moments, Koguma's BGM tends incredibly atmospheric, leaning on pianos and woodwinds with a mixture of rural sounds.
On the other hand, Reiko's Super Cub offers her a literal escape from being the daughter of a politician and the daughter of a company president. While her life is marked by the absence of her parents, she's clearly striving to escape to be the girl she wants to be, bike and all. In episode 5, all of Reiko's riding music echoes Initial D in a very charming way that made me chuckle. I could easily imagine her drifting around a corner or two. Well… that's after she hauls her bike up from crashing. Then there's that similar silence to Koguma, until the music comes thrumming back in like a racing heartbeat.
What I'm saying is that it's very, very good.
Episode 5 solidly cements Super Cub as a brilliant show with a lot of heart. It's hard to imagine it ever failing viewers, especially fans of the slice-of-life genre and coming-of-age stories. Even the quiet, interstitial scenes where Koguma is just existing or Reiko is simply attempting to scale Mount Fuji feel really, really impactful. I suppose that's the subtle power of animation: anything can be moving when it's well-structured, and Super Cub is just that.
What a gift it is to be able to review such a powerful story. I look forward to doing so until the end of this cour.
Super Cub is currently streaming on Funimation.
Mercedez is a JP-EN localization editor & QA, pop culture critic, and a writer who also writes & reviews at Anime Feminist and But Why Tho?. There, she gushes about idols anytime someone lets her, which is… not often enough. This anime season, she's all about Super Cub, which is great because she's also reviewing it here on ANN. When she's not writing, you can find her on her Twitter, where she's always up to something.
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