Minami Kamakura High School Girls Cycling Club
Moving to Kamakura to start high school was supposed to be a new starting point for Hiromi Maiharu. Meet friends, maybe join a club. But before that, she has to face her own starting hurdle; relearning how to ride a bicycle.
You'd think getting used to riding a bicycle again wouldn't be the biggest hurdle to overcome for an adult or near adult too, but then, you are not Hiromi Maiharu, who apparently needs to be reminded what brakes are, or that you have to step on and turn the pedals to get the bike to move. And even then, she has to literally redo her first biking lessons. That's just the kind of idiot she is, and it's basically the first hurdle you have to overcome if you plan on surviving the adventure that is Minami Kamakura High School Girls Cycling Club.
Of course, at around the same time I started watching this show, I also found a little something called BanG Dream... which had a female lead that made Hiromi come across as a certified genius by comparison, so I kept reminding myself that it could be so much worse. Still, Minami Kamakura High School Girls Cycling Club spends literally almost the entire first episode having Hiromi relearn how to read a bike and then a little bit near the end having her attend the entrance ceremony to her new school, so to say the show has a few pacing issues would be very accurate. Which would be bad enough had this been an action show or a drama, but to hear that for a slice-of-life show is even worse.
Another strike against the show is that the characters are relatively unremarkable. Hiromi is a bit of an idiot, the kind that was popularized by K-On's Yui Hirasawa, but her friends are kind of one-note characters too. Tomoe Akizuki might look like a book smart girl, but she has to be introduced to the concept of bike gear shifts, which should be elementary physics at best. I'm not saying she should've grasped the concept right off the bat, but the gears in her head should at least be turning somewhat when she sees it in action. Thankfully, Natsumi Higa -- vaguely tomboy-ish short-haired girl -- seems to be a lot more level-headed than both of them, and Fuyune Kamikura -- resident rich girl -- isn't exactly stupid either. She's just a little bit too accustomed to having money solve her problems for her.
It's particularly weird seeing as Minami Kamakura High School Girls Cycling Club has apparently taken it upon itself to teach you (almost) everything about using and maintaining a bicycle. As one who has once owned at least one, I don't think this is a bad idea at all. And contrary to what Hiromi Maiharu might make you think, not knowing something does not make you an idiot. That goes for everything you might very well end up using in real life; bikes, computers and other pieces of helpful equipment. Then again, while Hiromi might need to be reminded what pedals or brakes are, rich girl Fuyune picks that up more or less immediately.
Like a lot of slice-of-life shows that centers around optimism and being helpful, the atmosphere in Minami Kamakura High School Girls Cycling Club is very pleasant in general. Despite Hiromi's almost hilariously paranoid fantasy about ending up a friendless shut-in, the girls bond fairly quickly, and the rich girl who would normally be portrayed as snobby and/or standoff-ish comes across as a nice girl when you get to know her despite never really coming across as snotty or mean to begin with. In a weird way, Minami Kamakura High School Girls Cycling Club kind of nails the "living at a completely different standard" without having her come across as antagonistic. And while Bakuon once proved that a show with jerks, snobs and idiots can be entertaining in its own right, this is one of the more positive aspects of the show. The club also gains a fifth member in Sandy McDougal, the resident "weird blonde American girl", who is surpremely strong and energetic and pretty much speaks like most other American girls in anime: heavily accented, but otherwise fluent Japanese.
If you're here for the scenery porn, be prepared to have your eyes overwhelmed. The backgrounds in the show are flat out gorgeous. The show is centered around the real-life city of Kamakura, a coastal city of Japan, and some of its surrounding areas, like Enoshima, and it's replicated here with astounding detail. Of course, I've never actually been there, so how authentic it is, I can't say, but I'd like to think that the animation team went there for research. But really, the show is consistently gorgeous the whole way through, so if scenery porn is your bread and butter, prepare to have your appetite truly sated. Even the CG backgrounds used for more dynamic camera movements are unusually well made, especially seeing as this is a TV series.
The characters are a bit blandly designed, but are animated pretty well... most of the time. The show does use CG for the characters too, when they're riding their bikess, and especially in larger groups like... say, a race event. It's not a bad use of CG, but it does have a problem of making the characters look rather stiff, which you'll see the most easily in the opening animation, but also in said bike race -- again, more on that later. That said, even if you take out the gorgeous scenery, I don't really have any complaints about the visuals. Well... no big ones anyway. It does go into the occasional montage of stills, but with the scenery being the way it is, it works out better that way. The character designs themselves are fairly consistent, but you can see the downgrade in detail every now and then. It's a bit above average in general.
I can also appreciate the adventurous spirit of the show. Instead of being a show about reaching the top in bike races (though Minami Kamakura High School Girls Cycling Club has a bit of that too; more on that later), it's about reaching the end of a journey as well as the things you get to see on that journey. If I had one wish from this show, both after reading its concept and enduring its excruciatingly dumb first episode, then that would be that it took me on that journey. To its credit, the show spent quite a few episodes doing just that, though not before throwing quite a few hurdles in my way. That said, Minami Kamakura High School Girls Cycling Club also showcases a nice sense of camaderie, and not only between the main girls. When Hiromi manages to get herself lost in the new city without her phone, local cafe owner and friends of the other girls rallies a local biking group by promising them pastries if they succeed to find her, and when she later sets out to aquire a bike more appropriate for cross-country traveling, the same group allows her to have their leftover bike parts for free, a boon considering the average economical status of a high-schooler. (Well... not counting Fuyune, who is a rich girl and can buy everything she needs right off the bat.) If you think it sounds bad that Hiromi is basically getting bike leftovers, the show quickly points out that she's basically getting them from huge biking enthusiasts who swaps out bike parts whenever something newer and better shows along, and many of the parts she gets are almost as good as new.
For one thing, the show is dense with bike trivia and/or worship. Don't get me wrong; I think bikes are a pretty awesome mode of transportation for a large variety of reasons, but it's like Minami Kamakura High School Girls Cycling Club just can't shut up about bikes for even a second, except maybe when it's talking about the town. Since Hiromi is a bit of an idiot, there seems to be no end to the unasked questions that needs to be given an answer, and that extends to the live-action segments starring Hirose Yuki and Fukuo Yui, who play the character of Tomoe and her little sister Yuika respectively. The two can be seen pasted into various comic-like segments asking questions about bikes and having a chat with a bike shop manager about bikes and equipment after being overwhelmed by the sheer amount of choices. While the tips given in Minami Kamakura High School Girls Cycling Club are never unhelpful, it feels kind of unnatural that anyone would talk so much about things they love to the complete exclusion of everything else. In fact, the after-show live action sequence should've served as the main source for all the bike-related information, which would allow the girls to focus more on... well, just about anything else... to a larger degree than they do. Like their families, or whatever other interests the girls have outside of their bikes. Future plans? Anything? Well, like I said, the girls do eventually get to go on a road trip where they don't have to "win" anything other than the experience of going somewhere and the feeling of accomplishment when they succeed.
But before that, the girls attend a race, and the show spends three episodes on that race. I mentioned earlier that the show had some pacing issues, so to waste three episodes in a twelve-episode run on this is pretty bad. Especially since there were absolutely no stakes in it; it merely served as, you guessed it, another way for the show to info-dump on you, this time about bike racing strategies (which isn't the show's main topic) and the girls' supposed technical strengths (which would be fine if not for the limited scope of the episode.) But more than anything, the presence of the race wouldn't be so bad if it hadn't been allowed to take up ONE FOURTH of the show itself. No, the race itself doesn't swallow up ALL the time, but the whole event lasts almost all of that time, including a segment after the starting pistol has been fired. One of the girls fall down due to being elbowed by one of the other competitors, and she spends an agonizingly long time talking with the others about finishing the race as a group and team play and whatnot, which, while a nice sentiment, is the sort of talk they should have had before the race, and not when time is of the essence. Of course, when I watched this, I had to wait one week for each episode, so maybe watching these episodes in one go will make it feel less severe.
That said, it's not like the show looks down on competitive people, and I can certainly respect that. Natsumi Higa was originally targeted by the swim team, and when she were going to join the bike club, Azuma Hiroko -- the swim club's leader -- sought out the club and challenged them to a competition over her. In the end, though, she proved to be a good sport about the whole thing, and while she continues to be a very competitive person, she -- and by that extent, the show -- continues to showcase why there should be room for both kinds of people: those who challenge themselves and those who challenge others. (Though the latter does also technically include the former, you could also say that for the former, the goal itself is the challenger. FUN WITH SEMANTICS!)
I... mostly enjoyed this show. Exploration is always a fun topic for me, whether in shows or in games, because it's something I also like to do in real life. Having an abundance of nature nearby is also the reason why I find Minami Kamakura High School Girls Cycling Club at least partially appealing, considering the level of scenery porn we get here. However, the show also wants to come across as one of those gentle slice-of-life shows, and this is one case where too many of the characters acting like complete airheads hurts the show a bit. I kind of get the impression that the show wants to go for the happy-go-lucky kind you see in shows like Aria or Tamayura, but I never wondered how the girls in those shows managed to dress themselves without hurting themselves each morning. I did enjoy that the male characters in the show, however briefly we get to see them, acted like normal human beings without resorting to turning them into mindless drool-beasts for comedy. Since the show is about a group of girls attending an all-girl's school, the lack of male characters didn't really stand out as strange to me.
In the end, it's going to depend on what you want out of it. If you are here for the scenery porn, this show will scratch your itch for days on end. If you're here for cleverly written characters and good comedy, you... might want to go somewhere else. If you are here for pleasant atmosphere and a friendly attitude, the show certainly has enough of that. If you're here to learn about bikes... boy, does the show ever deliver. Aside from that, the show has some pacing issues, like the aforementioned three-episode race that kept me wondering if it would ever end, or a tendency to flip-flop by having the girls being allowed to start a club, and then reject it on various rather odd grounds for not finding vaguely described goals; they're basically tasked with producing results. Which results, you might ask? Well... WE'RE NOT GOING TO TELL YOU! Now, GO!
But at least you get to enjoy this.
On average, the show is fine, if a little bland. It has a ton of caveats, though, so add or deduct stars depending on what's important for you from the things mentioned above. — Stig Høgset
Recommended Audience: There isn't much to be concerned about regarding this show. The only thing I can think about is that you get to see some fairly curvy girls in tight biking outfits, but this isn't really a sexualizing thing, except maybe that one scene where Fuyune touches Natsumi's butt so the show could point out that biking shorts have padded butts for rider comfort. See? Even when the show tries to be a little bit saucy, it can't shut up about bikes or biking equipment.
Version(s) Viewed: Digital stream on Crunchyroll, Japanese with English subs.
Review Status: Full (12/12)
Minami Kamakura High School Girls Cycling Club © 2017 A.C.G.T, J.C. Staff.
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