A review of Super Cub

High school student Koguma lives alone in a small, nearly empty apartment. She wakes up early in the morning, makes breakfast, and goes to school on her bicycle. After school she returns to her apartment and isn’t greeted by anyone — she doesn’t have parents or any family at all. She doesn’t even seem to have any friends to spend time with.

On her way to school one morning, while pushing herself on her bike from her faraway apartment, Koguma notices someone riding a small motorcycle. Tired of having to pedal everywhere, Koguma goes after school to a local bike shop to see whether she can afford a motorbike herself. She’s discouraged after looking at some of the price tags, but the shopkeeper brings out a model just for her, and right in her low price range: a used Honda Super Cub.

After getting a helmet, riding gloves, and a basic lesson in motorcycle maintenance, Koguma is off on her Super Cub. Daily life is now a little easier and more convenient for her, but her life is about to change in ways she couldn’t have imagined thanks to her motorbike.

Trying out the new bike at the shop. In every other shot Koguma is wearing her gear, and aside from one massive and very weird exception near the end that I will get into, Super Cub emphasizes this sort of practical safety advice.

Super Cub aired just last year, but it totally passed me by until about a month ago when I saw it recommended because I’d watched Yuru Camp. I’d seen it recommended a lot for that reason, actually, but I didn’t know what a super cub was and kept putting off finding out for a while until finally giving in. If it were airing this year I’d probably have watched it as it aired, but I wasn’t yet on the extremely slow-paced slice of life anime train last year, not before I watched and loved Yuru Camp.

These two series do have some elements in common, so I get why I was recommended this. They are both relaxed slice-of-life series about high school girls (of course, it’s anime and that’s 90% of the slice-of-life genre at least) setting out on the road and learning about themselves. They even both take place in Yamanashi Prefecture, one of Japan’s few landlocked states and the home of Mount Fuji. Between these two series, Yamanashi looks like a great place to visit — both depict a lot of beautiful countryside and wilderness, even though the prefecture isn’t too far from Tokyo. Maybe this is one of the places Tokyoites go to get out of town when they’re able.

It really does look nice in spring. We get these cherry blossoms blooming in certain parts here, too. If you’re in the eastern US, go to DC to see it one April if you ever get the chance.

That slow pace is also important to note. If anything, Super Cub feels even slower-paced than Yuru Camp, with plenty of shots of Koguma and other characters riding around town, making lunch, and carrying out other daily tasks. The pace feels very deliberate — I don’t know if this is reading too much into it, but I get the feeling it’s meant to really pull you into this setting and especially into the slow pace of life in the Yamanashi countryside and how it all plays out for Koguma in particular. If that wasn’t the intention, it’s all right, because it still had that effect on me. I think watching Yuru Camp and Akebi’s Sailor Uniform softened me up a lot towards these slow slice-of-life series.

Super Cub makes plenty of room for these lengthy scenes since the plot itself is pretty thin: Koguma buys her Super Cub and learns to ride it, making two close friends along the way and becoming not quite as depressed as she used to be. I’d say those are spoilers, but they’re really not since you can gather all of it from the OP. (There will be spoilers following, but this is another not very plot-heavy series, so I wouldn’t worry about it too much.)

Koguma is an interesting protagonist. She might not seem that way at first, though. As she narrates herself, she has no friends, no family, no hobbies, no money, nothing at all. That’s not quite true — Koguma has an apartment and enough money at least to pay for her room and board and to eat. She refers to scholarship money she receives every so often, but it’s clearly not all that much considering she can’t afford more than a roughly hundred dollar used motorcycle and rice with some kind of flavor sauce packet for lunch every day. So it’s an extremely spare life for Koguma at first.

Depression life

However, once she gets her Super Cub, she starts to take a real interest in it, learning how to ride and maintain it properly. Even just cruising around the local roads without having to constantly pedal her bike is a nice enough feeling to bring her a little happiness. And her motorcycle soon gets her her first friend, her classmate and fellow Super Cub owner Reiko, who overhears her answering someone else’s question about her bike followed by their dismissal that it’s not a real motorcycle but more of a moped.

Reiko doesn’t feel that way. She’s so damn proud of her own modified Super Cub that she won’t shut up about it, and since she knows Koguma is part of the club now she has someone else at their school to talk to about it.

Man, I have no idea what you’re talking about but that sounds cool

Though she still doesn’t talk much and is extremely soft-spoken when she does, Koguma gets along with the far chattier Reiko, and the two build a solid friendship with their shared love for motorcycles, eating lunch down by their bikes every day and eventually visiting each other after school hours. And soon enough the third character in their group makes her entrance when Koguma and Reiko volunteer their bikes to carry an espresso-maker from a nearby high school to their own for an Italian café at their cultural festival. Shii, another of their classmates with a love of everything Italian, appreciates their help and invites them over to her family’s weirdly clashing western-themed restaurant, her father being obsessed with Germany and her mother with the US.

***

Now I’m going to break a rule of good blog-writing (at least I guess it is.) I wrote all of the above months ago. I should probably rewrite it and start over clean at this point, but I feel like I summed up the show’s characters and events pretty well, or at least that I wouldn’t be able to do better at this point. But Super Cub was a rare one for me. Usually when I watch an anime, play a game, listen to an album or whatever else, I have at least some idea of what I want to say about it, even if it might take a minute to get those thoughts together.

It took months for me to keep writing about Super Cub past the basic “here’s what happened” stuff you read above. Maybe because it’s an unusual series, a show about motorbikes full of product placement, which you’d probably expect to be full of excitement and speed Fast and Furious-style, but no — it’s very deliberately slow, so slow and dreamlike that it’s impossible to believe it was made to capture mass appeal. Super Cub is based on a light novel series that I haven’t read and that likely hasn’t been translated anyway, so I can’t say how this anime compares to the original work, but it certainly seems like there wasn’t a lot of concern about getting the blood flowing in the way you might expect from a motorbike-based series.

That aspect of Super Cub really worked for me when I watched it, and upon a very partial rewatch it still does. Some viewers might feel watching Koguma make her depression meals in her empty apartment or riding through the same sleepy countryside intersection for the fifth time is a waste or filler, but I’d disagree. Part of the appeal of Super Cub seems to be this replaying of her routine, and watching how it gradually changes for the better and somewhat less depressing as Koguma expands her personal horizons. As someone who used to live in a deep rut, I like how Koguma’s rise out into a brighter world plays out. And the show has a more literal way of depcting this “brightening” of her life, with an occasional shift away from its usually muted colors to a brighter look (like when she drinks the coffee, seen above — good coffee really can almost have that effect.)

An example of the goodness of coffee — the brighter colors in this screenshot are no accident.

Super Cub also features a lot of the usual “power of friendship” stuff you’ll also find in your Yuru Camp, K-On!, etc. sorts of slice-of-life shows, with the protagonist and her newfound companions helping each other out and supporting each other when necessary. The friendship theme is nothing new, it’s just the subject matter it’s attached to. I know nothing about motorcycles, motorbikes, or mopeds, and I certainly don’t know anything about Super Cubs, but I thought the show, for the most part, did a good job weaving Koguma’s growing bonds with Reiko and Shii into their shared love for Honda motorbikes and coffee.

While I enjoyed a lot of the slow-paced and relaxed feel of Super Cub and the growing friendship between the central trio, the series did hit a few bumps for me (sorry.) One of these was just how weirdly poetic Koguma sometimes gets about her Super Cub, especially in the inner monologues we sometimes get from her at the beginnings or ends of episodes. Clearly learning how to ride and maintain her bike has had a great and positive impact on her life, and the show depicts that well enough, but on occasion it gets a little over the top for me. I can take a lot of this in the right context, but in connection with the constant Honda product placement, it does feel strange.

To be clear, I’m not accusing Honda of having anything to do with this anime or with the original light novel series — as far as I know, it had nothing at all to do with either. But imagine a series about how soda truly brings characters together with its great, refreshing taste, and that soda just happens to be Coke or Pepsi. No matter how genuine the characters, their relationships and struggles, come off otherwise, we’re all so bombarded with product placement and advertisements in every other part of our lives that it would be impossible not to notice.

I promise this has nothing to do with the fact that the god damn AC condenser in my Civic broke completely out of nowhere last summer and that I had to pay well over one thousand dollars to get it fixed. And yeah, there is a settlement available… for the AC compressor, not the condenser. Assholes, they just fucked the whole AC unit design up apparently. I’m not still angry, no.

My other issue with Super Cub had to do with the turn it took near the very end, and specifically in its second-to-last episode (and here are the actual spoilers, though they’re not really much.) Shii joins the informal motorbike club near the end of the series, which is to be expected, but I guess the writer or writers felt she needed a dramatic moment to connect more closely with Koguma, or simply because they thought the second-to-last episode of a series needs a lot of drama to be a real climax. Because something really dramatic does happen: while riding her bicycle at night along a dangerous path in the woods, Shii falls into a ditch and can’t get out. She calls Koguma, telling her in a weak voice that she’s freezing and stuck and needs help, so off Koguma races on her Super Cub to save her friend.

That’s all fine, but what follows isn’t. Koguma gets to the scene, immediately starts moving Shii around (which I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to do in case something is actually broken.) Then, instead of calling emergency services or a doctor or anyone like that, Koguma places Shii in the basket in front of her motorbike’s windshield and drives her to her apartment to warm up and recover. That’s keeping in mind that Shii is freezing and exposed to the cold wind, now hitting her even harder since they’re driving.

No, I’m not a medical professional or a biker, but I’m pretty sure none of this is right.

I normally wouldn’t nitpick the events of one episode like this, especially since I’m an expert in exactly none of the topics Super Cub is about. However, I’d like to think I have at least a small amount of common sense — common sense that Koguma for whatever reason doesn’t exercise in this one episode. The place they live out in Yamanashi is remote and it’s late, sure, but it hasn’t been established that Koguma doesn’t have a hospital to call to get Shii and handle her properly in case she’s really messed up. Thankfully she isn’t, but this episode builds up the tension as though she might be.

And if you want to argue that this is still too much of a nitpick, here’s my answer: Super Cub otherwise seems to take a practical approach, almost teaching the viewer along with Koguma how to maintain a motorbike, with lessons built into the story about changing your own oil, modifying your bike to handle winter weather, and buying essential gear and accessories. A series like this can’t just take a vacation from reality for one episode, leaving behind this practical approach to give what seems like really terrible advice. And maybe all for the purpose of letting Koguma say to Shii near the end of the episode: Don’t thank me for saving you, thank my Super Cub. Yeah, thanks, Super Cub.

Maybe all of the above makes more sense in the novel series, or maybe it was an anime-only addition. And maybe I really am picking too much at this episode, but on top of the poetics about how wonderful the Super Cub is, this felt like way too much for me to take. If you happen to know the area this place is based on (if it is a real part of the prefecture) let me know if I’m really off here. I just don’t think Super Cub needed the drama this episode was trying to inject — it was at its best when it was doing its slice-of-life thing, which is thankfully almost the rest of the series.

Maybe if it were a talking motorbike like the car from Knight Rider (voice provided by the guy who played John Adams in 1776 and Mr. Feeny in Boy Meets World, fun fact) then I might feel this “thank my Super Cub” line was less cheesy and stupid.

All that considered, episode 11 feels so strangely out of place that it doesn’t actually ruin my enjoyment of the rest of the series. I didn’t want to go without addressing it, because it is there and it does stick out horribly, but in the end, I still have positive feelings about Super Cub. Even if I don’t have such positive feelings about Honda right now, feelings that won’t improve until they pay me back for that fucking broken AC condenser, the assholes.

But that’s not the fault of Koguma, Reiko, or Shii, and it’s not the fault of whoever was responsible for designing the various Super Cub models. I can’t say watching Super Cub motivated me to buy one — I’m old now and need a proper car, and there are hardly any motorbikes or mopeds around in the near-urban/dense suburban area of car-addicted America I live in. But I can see why it might have that effect, especially on a viewer in Koguma’s place in life. If you’re looking for another series in the vein of Yuru Camp, or probably of Yama no Susume (which I haven’t seen, but it’s also on the list) I’d recommend it.

In the end, Super Cub did win me over, all while getting away with some bullshit that wouldn’t have flown for me in lesser series. Nice job to author Tone Kouken and Studio Kai.

To my American friends and readers, happy bird-eating day and happy insane shopping day (both of which I sat out. I had dinner at Waffle House last night. I know, but I don’t care either.) I have no idea what’s coming next, but see you next time.

Advertisement

3 thoughts on “A review of Super Cub

  1. I have to say I have not watched this series but I have a friend who is an avid biker that LOVED it. He would often talk about how they get into the motorcycle culture and how he can relate. Though I’m personally not a fan of the ‘kick back and enjoy the vibe’ shows but hearing about it made me think of another series.

    My Favorite Carrera which is more or less about a girl how doesn’t care about cars what so ever getting he fathers Porsche Carrera leading into the series just talking about the nuance of car culture. It is in that same breath I think it shows how the corporate overlords have become (in a lot of cases) a part of the culture. In both the car and (little I understand of it) motorcycle world the brands and prestige plays a lot of part in how people react to certain vehicles.

    Then again I also just think its really cool they made a series just about some girl and her Super Cub. I never thought I’d ever type that sentence.

    • I felt like I was missing something here not being into motorcycles myself, and it sounds like that’s the case. I hope all the bikers out there can enjoy Super Cub for that. I’ve read that the Super Cub itself is a real favorite worldwide, so I guess it makes sense that it would have a series like this based around it.

      Haven’t heard of My Favorite Carrera but it sounds interesting. Agreed that brands have inserted themselves into our culture in serious ways too. Over here, I always think of Harley-Davidson as the main motorcycle makers, but Honda and Yamaha seem to dominate among the more standard or affordable types.

      As for these “enjoy the vibe” shows, I have enjoyed most of them I’ve watched, though not all. Super Cub was certainly a good one aside from those couple of issues I had. This genre has really worked for me as a wind-down/relaxation method.

  2. Pingback: Reflecting On Otaku Culture – Otaku Post

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.