「HIGH TOUCH あなたは私を笑顔に作られました」 (HIGH TOUCH Anata wa watashi o egao ni tsukura remashita)
“High Touch – For You, Who Gave Me the Smile”
Prince of Stride Alternative has finally reached its full potential.
This week’s episode of the show is its best by far. Week after week we’ve been subjected to the various struggles Honan has had with coming together as a unit. They’ve stressed in episodes past the cracks in their camaraderie, from Kohinata’s initial contempt towards Kuga, to Yagam’s perpetual complications with Fujiwara. Hell, from the first time we were introduced to club, we were met with a shattered, broken down shadow of a team. Now finally, all the bumps have been smoothed over, and we’re left with a refined, powerhouse of a team.
The initial scenes before the start of the race beautifully conveyed the harmony of the team, as Kuga effortlessly calmed Kohinata’s nerves and Yagami affirmed his new-founded appreciation for his fellow first-year. As smiles beam from one teammate to another—radiating fresh confidence and determination—the viewer can’t help but feel like they’ve earned this. After experiencing first-hand the discomforts of Honan’s division, and then subsequently watching them overcome it problem by problem, we but feel immensely proud of our main cast. Now they can give their all with no regrets—knowing that they were the best they could possibly. After weeks of grueling training—both physically and emotionally—the team is now ready to stand side by side with the best of the best. The whole show has worked up to this point. This is finally their moment.
As a result, the subsequent raceis the series’ best so far. During the first few weeks of its airing, the show’s races—while exciting and riveting to watch—lacked a substantial emotional investment. However, week by week, the races started getting more and more engaging as the characters became further developed. Now, Honan’s final match with Saisei is the most captivating the show has ever been. This is not only a result of the progression and gratification we feel with Honan, but also the connection they share with their rival team. The show has done a stellar job of forming a real emotional bond between these two schools—as rivals, as mentors, and as friends. Just the banter they shared immediately before the start illustrated their mixed relationship—as friends who want the other to succeed, and as rivals who wish for their own success. Thus, we’re left wholly immersed in this climactic showdown—a culmination of their tireless efforts and genuine friendship.
The race was itself a dazzling spectacle. The animation was definitely kicked up a notch for this installment—the tricks were framed clearly, the risks were heart-pounding, and the music was on point. Each track not only perfectly complemented the action on screen, but also instilled all the right emotional beats. From Heath’s dangerous landing (which no doubt made nothing good of his already injured ankle) to Kuga’s leap of faith, the race never left us bored for a second. Every risky connection made by our runners would not have been possible two, three episodes ago. They cleverly affirm the deep level of trust the Honan runners have painstakingly forged among each other. Even the environments were fresh and exciting—occasionally departing from the traditional urban landscapes for more rustic scenery.
The writers were also able to sneak in some development for Fujiwara at the last second. While a previous episode or two has hinted at the history shared between the first-years, this week reveal everything in its fullest. While the realization itself wasn’t anything spectacular—turns out, yes, they were friends at one point during their childhood, yay–its visual implementation into the narrative was seamless and profound. When Yagami runs absolutely exhausted into the home stretch, dripping with sweat and heaving at every step, the episode cuts to shots of Yagami and Fujiwara as children, enacting the same situation. Child Yagami sprints with all his might in much the same way as his older self does, but the Fujiwara each runs toward is wholly different from one another. Child Fujiwara is nervous and tepid—this is his first stride as he later recalls, and so, the more experienced Yagami (at the time, at least) runs at him to transmit his love of the sport. In the past, Yagami was the mentor figure, who gave little Fujiwara the strength and passion he exhibits today. As current-day Yagami darts towards Fujiwara, though, the tables have been flipped. Fujiwara almost singlehandedly helped Yagami overcome years of trauma, and renewed his sense of confidence and love for the sport. In a way, Fujiwara was reviving in Yagami the very things Yagami once instilled into him years ago.
It’s this weirdly beautiful cycle of friendship—if Yagami never shown Fujiwara his love of stride during their childhood, Fujiwara would never have been able to heal Yagami the way he did. They affirm one another. The fact that Fujiwara attended the decrepit Honan when his talents would have landed him at any school of his choosing—in order to fulfill his promise to the dude he owed his lifestyle and passion to—illustrates the guy’s loyalty to his friends, his teammates, and to the sport. The relationship between the first-year duo is thus strengthened ten-fold, and all while blended into the heart-pounding excitement of this race. Absolutely phenomenal (if a little unbelievable—did Yagai and Sakurai seriously not recognize Fujiwara? Whatevs tho iss fine).
This week’s episode of Prince of Stride Alternative displayed the show I’d hoped to see at the start of the season. Fast, engaging action, enriched characters, and superb presentation—episode eleven has got it all. It’s an affirmative confirmation of the weeks of organic progression that not only the characters—but also the quality of the show itself—has undergone. The concluding development between the first-year runners was a beautiful progression of the plot—the fact that Yagami professes resolutely afterwards he is no longer afraid to race his brother, and in fact, looks forward to it was chilling indeed. He’s come a long way from the insecure, naïve child we were first introduced to. As both teams celebrate during the episode’s final scene, and b-roll plays of all their memories bonding and training together, I couldn’t help but feel a little sad saying goodbye to Saisei. I’m gonna miss them and all their boy band glory. An utterly sublime installment in the series, and one which bodes well for the impending season finale.