Anime review: “Long Riders!”

The title card for “Long Riders!”

Okay, I see what you’re thinking. Why is a cycling blog reviewing an anime series? Well, I basically grew up with anime, having developed a discerning taste for it, as it frequently delves into more mature themes Western animation is hesitant to explore. If it can combine with my love of bicycle riding, then why the hell not?

A QUICK HISTORY OF CYCLING IN ANIME

Cycling as a subject matter for anime is actually very under-represented. The earliest I remember is a 1998 original video animation (OVA) called “Nasu: Summer in Andalusia.” This one-shot OVA detailed a professional multi-day stage race where Spanish rider Pepe Benengeli tries to win the current stage he is riding, despite the harsh realities of being a professional cyclist and his own personal issues. Since then, there haven’t been a lot of titles…but it’s also seen something of a surging boom beginning in 2013, when Wataru Watanabe’s anime “Yowamushi Pedal” blew the world sideways with its take on high school bicycle racing.

A review of that 500-pound gorilla will have to wait for another time.

SO WHAT IS “LONG RIDERS!” ABOUT?

Refreshingly for viewers like me, who are sick and tired of the current anime fixation on high school, this series follows college freshman Ami Kurata. Clumsy and not very athletic, one day she is smitten by a passing 16″-wheeled folding bike, and decides to buy one to join her friend Aoi Niigaki, who is already a moderately experienced cyclist.

(L-R) Aoi Niigaki, Ami Kurata, Hinako Saijou, Saki Takamiya, and Yayoi Ichinose of Team Fortuna.

Along her growing appreciation of the sport, Ami meets more people, makes cycling friends, and broadens her horizons. Eventually, she forms Team Fortuna with Aoi and her riding buddies Hinako, Yayoi, and Saki. As de facto leader, Hinako sets ever higher goals for Ami to scale, while worrying that she may get frustrated and give up cycling altogether, as there are very few female cyclists their age around. Even when she is faced with failures such as mid-ride bonking and cramping, her optimism and love for the sport prevails, making Ami a good example to follow for new riders — especially new female riders.

Ami discovers just how light Saki’s road bike is – even in bikepacking guise.

It’s an organic kind of growth, and as my friend Arvin mentioned, it parallels my real-life experience of starting from a folding bike and making my way up to a road/cyclocross bike as I became a stronger rider.

NO RACING, JUST RIDING

Another refreshing thing about “Long Riders!” is that unlike “Nasu: Summer in Andalusia” and “Yowamushi Pedal,” nowhere in its twelve-episode run does bicycle racing even get mentioned. True to its hiragana-spelled English title, this anime concentrates on the simple joys of riding longer and longer distances…all for the sake of it. This anime has a randonneuring heart firmly beating inside it.

It so happens that Ami’s cycling adventures all occur around Japan, whose culture is innately, notoriously friendly towards bicycle traffic…despite not having bicycle lanes and cycle paths everywhere. How this series promotes the longer distances and bigger challenges Ami encounters is by providing incentives along the way, and those come in either delicious regional foods and delicacies, or majestic tourist sights, such as the beach of Miura, the climb to Mount Oyama via the Yabitsu Pass, and the famous Shimanami Kaido seaside cycling road. In a sense, “Long Riders!” doubles as a tourist and foodie brochure for Japan.

Hinako and Yayoi enjoying some Hassaku daifuku at a rest stop in Innoshima.

Hinako teaching Ami the pleasures of a post-ride gelato.

Be warned: this anime can make you hungry

FUN, FRIENDSHIP, FITNESS, AND FOOD

I like how this series pokes fun at the less-than-savory aspects of our sport. Good bicycles are seldom cheap, illustrated to hilarity by Ami’s repeated visits to the fictional Alpaca Cycle bike shop, and how everybody works part-time jobs for better equipment. Not only does the expense stop at the bike, but things such as lights and apparel come into it as well. The sickening sweetness of energy gels isn’t spared its ridicule either, as Ami has to take one to recover from a bad mid-ride bonk.

Yes, Hinako, the struggle is real.

Ami’s reaction to her first energy gel. Priceless

 

Visually, this anime looks nice enough. The 3D computer-rendered animated riding sequences and bicycle models are okay, but can be a bit jarring when put next to the 2D characters. Then again, with the more laid-back vibe of the show, the visuals are perfectly serviceable as is. Much of the show is focused on Ami, but the other characters are all given a decent time to develop within the short twelve-episode run. If I were to make parallels to other anime series, I’d say “Long Riders!” is closest to “K-On!” but with bikes instead of a rock band.

“Yowamushi Pedal” and its hot-blooded bike racing action may hog all the headlines, but I think “Long Riders!” is a more inclusive show, and much more relevant to the road cycling beginner.

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