In the words of James Matthew Barrie, “I’m youth, I’m joy, I’m a little bird that has broken out of the egg.” If an anime fit this description, it would be Over Drive – trite, pathetically idealistic, yet rapturously poetic all the same. The show, on the surface, appears your run-of-the-mill sports firebrand for the burnt-out and indifferent, packaged within a cycling medium. It remains so in many ways; in others, it transcends to take on a more universal subject: the vastness of the human potential. Yes, we’ve heard this before. But Over Drive presents the hackneyed theme in a relatively beguiling way that, at the end, left me surprisingly affected.
Mikoto Shinozaki, with the help of his crush Yuki, discovers the bicycle, and in the course of twenty-six episodes, he blossoms from a bullied nobody to a determined athlete. It is in the show's teens that the weaknesses of the story begin to unfold. A single road race engulfs the majority of plot, which hurts the overall pacing, and intermittent flashbacks that pop up along the way quickly reveal themselves as unsophisticated devices to vary the flow of an overly simplistic premise. Because of the show’s measly one month time span, the characters move in a sort of strong current, where they are pressed in to fit the story and have no room to grow as people. The fact that a six-hour road race becomes the overarching storyline lends to repetitious elements and a feeling of tedium. Such naive ploys, in a certain sense, relegate Over Drive to the attentions of a less intelligent audience.
However, the bigger picture – a message that can communicate with essentially everyone – manages to make the anime’s inelegant shortcomings forgivable. Mikoto and his friends smolder with latent possibilities for greatness, and we in turn envision possibilities in our own lives. While presented in the manner of the usual shounen school, this uncanny element exists underneath the typicality to render Over Drive an inspiring piece of work. Perhaps I’m a sucker for worn idealism after all. As the series drew to a close, I found myself clutching my shirt, mind whirling and lips whispering melodramatically, “Ah, youth!”
The animation is without a doubt Over Drive’s most impressive feat. From vibrant shades of sky to appealing backdrops to the incredible use of CGI animation, the show brings beauty to every scene and cyclist movements that run like silk. While titles like sola or D.N.Angel have a somewhat “flattish” quality to them, Over Drive molds its characters into lush frames that radiate a solid, three-dimensional look. Nuanced rendering supplies each setting with a unique feel, whether it be the mountains of seaside Japan, the streets of France, or the hallways of high school. The sheer neatness with which the animation is done will give the viewer a reason to continue where the unremarkable plot leaves off.
In the spirit of youth, bicycles, and glory, Over Drive’s soundtrack bursts with charged rock music. The clanging overtones come off as one-dimensional and ridiculously cheesy, but they nevertheless serve as an important aspect for the series, becoming a virtual identity for the grit, drive, and power that the show stands for. It does not feel the need to blare out ubiquitously, but chooses appropriate times in which to stir up drama and excitement. Unfortunately, this same element squeals to a standstill during more intimate scenes, lost in what to say, which only exposes the musical selections’ lack of flexibility.
The voices gauge themselves well to their characters and are compellingly performed. Yuuki Kaji takes the spotlight as Mikoto Shinozaki: The overzealous, slightly throaty tinge to his voice captures his character’s dorky side perfectly.
Character-wise, Over Drive lays down promising foundations, which unfortunately cement into intractable, colorless slabs. What is refreshing is that most of the cast (excluding the megane Yamato and the maganeko Asahi) manage to avoid the ever-dangerous stereotype ruts; however, all of them eventually fall into ruts of their own. Each person is packaged with one or two defining “themes,” ranging from Mikoto’s desire to change, Yousuke’s quest to win, Yuki’s emptiness, Yamato’s connection with a European boy, and more – take your pick. To the end, the show milks these themes for much more than they’re worth. Yes, the cast members have their unique personalities in a superficial sense, but Over Drive fails to develop those personalities until the last episode. Instead, the show continually flogs a dead horse with these unnecessary "themes," leaving the characters ultimately one-sided and static.
This lazy method of characterization probably lends to the fact that protagonists aren’t too likable. Mikoto, despite his admirable willpower and passion, is a downright pervert. Yousuke hardly reveals a soft side. Yuki becomes a despondent ice princess. It is only after the road race, in the last episode, that the show decides to supply humor to their characters, but by then it’s too late.
Strangely, I feel that despite Over Drive’s blatant weaknesses, the story’s message and the absolutely stunning animation cover the show in an enticing gauze. It may have been wrapped clumsily, but for a sports anime, Over Drive fulfills its purpose and in some ways even exceeds the genre’s standards. There are many sports-related titles that never step beyond the “I love [name sport here]!” theme. On the other hand, Over Drive asserts, “I love [cycling]! Because it gave me this.” And who wouldn’t see the value in that?
Mikoto Shinozaki is a normal high student with unfortunate normal problems: he's terrible at sports, has no special talents and is bullied by everyone at his school. That is, until one day Yuki, his beautiful, long-time crush, asks the boy if he'll join her brother's cycling team. Desperate to gain her affection, Mikoto tries his best to learn how to ride a bike to not look foolish in the process, soon discovering that he actually enjoys the sport! Now, Mikoto will try his hardest to become the best cyclist in the world, encountering hardships, trials and successes along the way.
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When I first stumbled upon the anime scene, I demanded only slice-of-life high school romance and Naruto (Weird combination!). I've opened up a little bit since then, but I suppose the high school shoujo type will always be my "comfort zone."