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Yowamushi Pedal: Brains, Heart, and Body

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As a sports manga and anime with an enormous cast, Yowamushi Pedal is home to a variety of characters designed to contrast with each other in terms of personality and approach to competitive bicycle racing. This certainly applies to the first-years when the series begins, as all-rounder Imaizumi Shunsuke, speedy Naruko Shoukichi, and high-cadence protagonist Onoda Sakamichi are all differ from one another significantly. In looking more closely at these three characters, however, I find that they resemble professional fighting game player Laugh’s theory of the Three Fighting Game Player Archetypes. My aim here is to elaborate why I believe this to be the case, and which archetypes apply to these three.

As described by the video above from Core-A gaming, the three categories of players are brains, heart, and body. While this distinction is not exclusive to fighting games or even gaming or competition in general, I find that Yowamushi Pedal with its theme of cycling has a lot of parallels with fighting games. Although fighting games are typically 1-on-1 matches and bicycle racing is shown to be a team sport on the biggest stages, the emphasis on how a human being competes through the use and fine-tuning of their equipment is a point of commonality. At one point, a character in Yowamushi Pedal even talks about how, unlike other sports, you don’t need to be the biggest or the strongest because what matters is how you work with your bike. Replace that with “joystick” or “controller,” and the similarities start to become clearer.

In the training camp arc of Yowamushi Pedal, where the characters compete to see who will represent Sohoku High School in the Inter-High National Tournament, club captain Kinjou purposely messes with the first-years’ bicycles in order to challenge them to work on their major weaknesses. In doing so, he reveals the archetypes that Imaizumi, Naruko, and Onoda embody.

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Imaizumi is a “brains” type, or someone who relies on superior knowledge and study to win. When Kinjou removes his ability to shift gears, it initially throwsImaizumi for a complete loop. Just as a brains-based fighting game player knows frame data like the back of their hand, Imaizumi had up to that point relied on his optimal knowledge of gear shifting to tackle any level of slope while cycling. Although he eventually overcomes this flaw during the training camp, his sheer joy when he’s finally able to reunite with his cherished gear shifters shows just how much the “heady” part of bicycle racing factors into Imaizumi’s approach to the sport.

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Naruko, then, is a “heart” type, who prefers to “feel” things out. In fighting game terms, this is someone who is confident they can outmaneuver you in unorthodox situations and “mind game” you. His advice to Onoda to surprise Imaizumi with a technique in a previous race, as well as his own “Sprint Climb” maneuver, are indicative of a similar quality. At the training camp, Kinjou removes his lower handle bars, thus limiting Naruko’s ability to adapt and be as creative as he’d like. Unable to do things “in the moment” as a result, Naruko is forced to work around it.

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That leaves Onoda as the “body” type. While this might not make sense given how Onoda is the “heart” of the team, that’s a different kind of conception of heart as a spiritual center. Instead, the reason why Onoda is a “body” cyclist is because of the fact that his high cadence is the linchpin of his riding style. Just as a “body” type in fighting games always has things like technical precision and perfectly executed high-damage combos to fall back on, Onoda’s ingrained ability to raise and lower his cadence like the pedals are an extension of his body lets him overcome situations where he might be “strategically” beaten. And just like the other two, when his ability to freely pedal as quickly or as slowly as he’d like is interfered with, he starts off feeling utterly helpless.

Imaizumi the brains, Naruko the heart, and Onoda the body. Together, they create a complete being, which is perhaps why they work so well together. What about the other characters, then? I’ll leave you to figure them out.

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