「壁 – 追跡,まだ遠く離れ」 (Kabe – Tsuiseki, Mada tooku hanare)
“Wall – Chasing, Still So Far Away”
A strong entry which develops multiple characters at once.
It’s finally time to start End of Summer—Japan’s most premiere Stride tournament. Though this week’s race was only a time trial, it allowed for a bevy of character development and revelation. We learned what Stride has meant for the personal lives of many characters.
Connection and Separation
A good deal was done to flesh out Sakurai—in tandem with the introduction of her father, Joe Sakurai the “king of stride,” responsible for popularizing the sport to its current status. From a young age, Sakurai loved stride with all her heart, showing her deep, natural passion for the activity. However, the sport which she cherished kept her father—her only parent—from staying with her as she grew up, which clearly engendered a bit of trauma in the poor girl. When she sees him for the first time in years, it’s not from a personal visit (as it should be), but from his title being boasted on a jumbotron. Even when they finally come into each other’s presence after the race, he looks coldly at her through sunglasses—as an opponent and not as family. This shows that she is only exposed to her father within the realm of Stride and not as her actual father. In this sense, stride is both a blessing and a curse for her.
On the upside though, her brief interactions with Natsugani added some depth to the idea of a Stride team. When her mind becomes clouded with doubt and worry before the race, Natsugani comforts her with by emphasizing the unity of a stride team—that it is a collective. Her concerns and anxiety are not alone amongst her teammates—they possess their own unease, but also carry the weight of each other’s. This very apparently makes her stronger when—after being announced for everyone to hear that she is the daughter of the “king of stride”—she does not react with further anxiety, as one would expect, but instead by expressing calm and collected confidence.
The Team and the Self
Yagami’s relationship with his brother also got some time in the spotlight. Tomoe is an individual wholly devoted to stride—but to really nothing else as far as we can see. Throughout the their childhood, Tomoe treated Yagami more like a potentially great stride athlete than a little brother (at least in the eyes of Yagami). When Yagami furiously decides to quit the sport, Tomoe solemnly shuts the door, at the cue of a resounding thump. This is the last scene we witness of their interactions in the past, illustrating that when Yagami lost his will to continue the sport, he also lost his brother, who subsequently transferred to America to develop his skills as a stride athlete (which shows once again that Tomoe lives his life solely for the sport).
Yagami pushed himself as far as he could go in order to catch up to his brother in skill, but just couldn’t get it because he lacked this exclusive focus—enforcing the thematic rift between the two. To Yagami, Stride is something which never let him connect with his brother—and in a show where connecting is literally the symbolic method by which two characters share emotions and bonds, that’s quite the fissure. Since Yagami reasonably (and angrily) compares Fujinuma to his brother, some conflict between the two teammates is likely to follow.
Tomoe’s absolute devotion to the sport is further emphasized in his interactions with Kuga. A clever visual metaphor conveys Tomoe’s realization—that the two are not as similar as he thought. Unlike Tomoe, Kuga runs only for Honan—for his teammates. He fully subscribes to everything that the show tells us that Stride team stands for—committing to one another, sharing each other’s sentiments, existing as a collective, and so on. Tomoe is drastically different in that he puts his own individual connection to stride over all that, taking him from team to team and country to country in pursuit of greater skill (an individual pursuit illustrated by a single staircase, which only he can climb). Kuga, however, is wholly devoted to his team, and runs for nothing more than them. For Tomoe, stride is an individual passion while for Kuga, it is the means by which he connects with his teammates.
Overall, an absolutely dynamite episode. Strong thematic and personal growth for many of our central characters—we now know what this sport is to them, and why they run. In addition, the match—though understandably terse—was absolutely delightful to watch. The prestige of this tournament is very much evident. A larger crowd, a grander and more intricate course, flashier lights, photographers dotting the track, a freakin’ jumbotron—we get the sense that this is the event within the stride world, adding all the more pressure for our main cast to prove themselves and succeed. I’m nothing but excited for all the madness to come.