Title: Super Cub
Length: 12 x 24 minute episodes
Genre: Slice of life
Year of release: 2021
I think we all know why I suddenly reviewed Now and Then, Here and There a little over a month ago. Just a few days after saying that Super Cub was ‘making a bid for my favourite all time anime’… I happen to release a 10/10 review. Not that Now and Then is necessarily my favourite anime of all time, but it is certainly in the conversation, and so I needed to ask myself: which of these two anime is better?
It goes without saying, then, that Super Cub is a wonderful little anime.
But first, let’s give a little context, a little bit of a history lesson, because I’ve been hunting for Super Cub for some time.
I love the cute-girls genre – it is the ultimate in lethargic bliss. When you completely strip away plotting and skim character progressional requirements to the bare minimum, there is only one real reason left to watch – and that is because it’s a charming time sink. See, the cute girl genre has been theorised to be so popular because Japan’s tough working conditions make light, easy-watching become more popular amongst the exhausted populace who haven’t got the energy to pay attention to convoluted plots. I can relate in that need for some sweetness to make the day feel easier. There is no romance, no drama, no reason to get upset or stressed while watching ‘cute girls’ shows, because they have so firmly achieved this ‘charming time sink’ appeal with female characters and their sweet voices having silly little days go by amongst their friends in easygoing happiness. It’s just nice.
Through its connection to the yuri community (they’re all girls, of course people are shipping them!), I found my way into this genre in my earliest forays into anime, some… 8 years ago? Maybe? I really liked these anime, like Yuru Yuri and GochiUsa. They were just nice. A little funny, very charming, and really easy to watch. I never felt like I had to commit much to take part, and that I always found myself having a good time. Cute girls anime would follow these small casts of girls, sticking close to 4 or 5 and maybe extending up to about 10 girls at most, and show them spending time with each other – usually with reason, such as partaking in club group activities (like Koisuru Asteroid, or K-On), partaking in hobbies together (Long Riders or Harukana Receive) or even working together (New Game!). No matter how many you see, the same old character archetypes exchanging same old gags was always, just… nice. I really did always find myself having a good time.
But it was only ever that – a good time. Never a great one. I hadn’t lost hope that a great one would come about – I had decided it was more-or-less functionally impossible for a cute girl anime to be great, because the confines of the genre simply can’t allow that. I’d actually begun drafting a big ol’ essay post on why the cute girl genre finds it so difficult to achieve greatness; most just weren’t intimate enough, most just weren’t interesting enough, most just couldn’t create that X Factor to make a 10/10 and be great, because they weren’t interested in that at all. But Super Cub started making me cross through half of my paragraphs, because it did achieve greatness. It didn’t just show its contemporaries up – it was showing me up, too.
It goes without saying, then, that Super Cub is a cute girls anime.
If, perhaps, a little unorthodox. Super Cub is sort-of like a ‘hobby’ type of cute girl anime, where its main character takes up a new hobby and spends more time delving further into it. In this case, Koguma, our main character, buys a motorbike, because she was sick of cycling to school up a steep slope. It is the entirety of the first episode where we meet her, and she goes on to buy a bike and struggles when she runs out of fuel for the first time.
It’s in this first episode that Super Cub cements its audiovisual language. Unlike other cutesy cute girl shows, with popping colours and sweet character designs, Super Cub doesn’t look the part. It’s focused on greys, with a bone-dry colour scheme, but the line art and detailing is much more realistic. In fact, some users were enjoying playing ‘Spot the Location’ games with its detailed and accurate recreations. The camera, too, finds great meaning in small gestures, often from afar, and subtle changes in facial expressions, with angles often below eye-line to emphasise the frowns – or smiles, albeit rare. Super Cub is a very prettily animated show at times, too, with many of its hand movements being particularly fluid, though some scenes of riding on motorbikes can rely on… perfectly acceptable!… but slightly immobile CGI.
The soundscape was something that instantly drew my attention from episode one, too. I jokingly described it as an ‘ASMR Anime’, since the quiet tones of its voice actors were put against drab backdrops, of scenery sounds, gentle breezes. The music was scant if ever, with only a single piano melody, a tip-toeing double bass and a gentle, jazzy drum beat playing to the tune of Koguma’s first bike ride. Every sound in Super Cub is gentle, but with enough nuance to convey something deeper.
And it is through this language that we are shown that Koguma is lonely, because the shots are just as lonely, the soundscape just as lonely as she is. Koguma is, in many ways, an extremely unorthodox main character for the genre, because she may well be depressed, and talks in quiet monotone. It’s only through finding a bike that she seems to find happiness on her own, when she feels free, but she is still lonely. She sits in class with no friends, just getting by, and her home life is alone in a flat (we learn she is a scholarship student, which kindly explains this unlike most other anime), but she decides to get a bike and suddenly starts hoping other things might change. In one of my favourite moments of character introspection in this show, she daydreams of her classmates finding out she is a biker and suddenly becoming interested in her. This doesn’t happen… the way she wants, but one girl, a bike nerd, suddenly becomes very interested in her new vehicle.
Enter Reiko. A girl who has possibly the greatest grin of all time.
Now, let’s get something clear: I thought Super Cub was a tremendous little anime when Koguma was alone. It managed to be sweet, showing a great amount of catharsis at her feeling like a new person with a bike, and showing her mental state opening up to something more optimistic, too. But when Reiko came in, the anime shot up in my radar. Reiko is one of the most charismatic, yet still true-to-life characters I’ve ever come across. She’s excitable, blunt, kind, selfish… she has so many facets, and seeing Koguma butt her head against these made the anime really something special.
I love Reiko. I hate Reiko. I fully relate to Koguma’s feelings towards her, especially at first. She’s somewhat scary. She seems to only be befriending Koguma out of a curiosity, but at the same time… Koguma has nobody else, and Koguma is desperate, and there’s something nice about how offbeat Reiko can be. Through a handful of scenes of Reiko struggling to greet her the next day, we see this hesitation and deeply feel her anxiety. But she eventually manages, and the show is incredible for it.
The two instantly begin bonding over bikes, with Reiko dragging Koguma on trips to random businesses to buy their bikes off of them to rip parts away and modify her own. Reiko takes her out shopping to look at different bike gear, and she dominates scene with her sheer charisma. That charisma turns to chemistry very, very quickly – but, at the same time, it’s clear that they aren’t really… friends? They are bonding over a shared interest, but they go their own ways as well, with the pair leaving each other with not too much worry. They’re not joint at the hip, and it’s a very… interesting thing to see in anime, where friendships are often so much more binary between spending every waking moment together or being outright enemies. Even beyond anime, developing friendships through this stage is a very difficult thing to get right.
It’s a few episodes later, after the Summer Break, where they begin to hang out more, that they genuinely become great friends. They become so close over the series, and there’s no shortcut; there’s no sudden moment. It’s a gradual forming, and the slow creeps towards each other is what makes Super Cub so special.
Well, it’s among several things.
Remember how I said about how great Super Cub could be at catharsis? Well, during Summer Break, when the girls were split up, they both took on jobs to earn some money. Separately, with each taking up episodes of their own. Koguma’s episode is very sweet, doing what Super Cub had been doing all series long – showing her chugging away, enjoying time by herself but learning something new. There was this great scene where she was struggling with the rain, and so she bought a raincoat, and the little quip she gives to the rain as she’s sitting unphased by it (‘Take that, Rain!”) is both cute, sweet and delivered with only a smidgen more tone than usual – giving us that feeling of a small step towards her happiness. It’s so much more impactful this way.
And then we see Reiko’s Summer, which is probably the most inspiring episode of anime I’ve seen.
Reiko tries to climb Mt. Fuji.
On her bike.
Episode 5 of Super Cub feels much like a montage of attempts and failures to ride up unstable mountain paths. Reiko is so committed to this random, abstract goal that she can just keep getting up, repairing her bike, and trying again. And again. And man, it’s rough seeing her get hurt and her bike ruined, but as she struggles near the top, she doubts herself. She even becomes, for the first time ever, a little demotivated.
It really feels like this is some of the first adversity Reiko’s ever met, and she handles it just like… well, a teenage girl would. She does her best, and the sudden change to heavy metal is jarring but a welcome addition – it fits her character. Damn, damn, damn it all! She cries, and… this episode was hard to watch.
But then, through soul searching, Reiko finds the meaning in why she’s even doing this. She doubles down on two things that made this episode’s message so important to me: firstly, that she wants to do it and see it through, but secondly, that she can always try again next year. You want to see her succeed, but in the end, it doesn’t matter, because she did her best and that’s all that really counts. She got this far, and she should be proud whether she can make it or not. I love how well that message was handled. So much happy crying just thinking about it. That’s the kind of inspirational I watch anime for in the first place.
It got away with this without ever being cheesy, and that’s because Super Cub’s dialogue is terrific. Both Reiko and Koguma can be sharp with each other, but at the same time, the uncanny pauses between line delivery gets at that feeling of characters thinking things through… it lets you get just a little in their heads. And the anime never, ever seeps down to emotional blabbering. There is no purple monologues or whatever. It’s very real. Super Cub has terrific dialogue, yes, but it’s confident to let its camera work and character acting do the talking for most of the show, too – and that’s a rare feat, indeed.
After this Summer Break, the dialogue really shows how great it can be, with Reiko and Koguma’s closeness turning to bickering over small things and being able to make-up again wordlessly. While the Reiko episode is probably my favourite, the school trip episode – where Koguma is sick and misses the bus, only to scoot on over there in the afternoon after she feels better – is also probably my favourite as well, because the reuniting between the two shows how much they are best friends, and all the little disagreements they had before the trip were shed. They share food, even drink from the same cup, and there are times where they look at each other and nod because they’re so in-sync. The anime is incredible at describing that – but, with its final character introduction in the 3rd quarter, contrasting that. It’s not only a comparison against all the characterisation done thus far that the change in Koguma (and Reiko!) is compared against, but also against the new addition: Shii.
I must admit, though, that I felt a slight dip in quality when Shii was first introduced. The anime focused on the changing of seasons, and how, as bikers, Reiko and Koguma had to prepare for it. That was a fine couple of episodes, but it didn’t have the oomph factor of Koguma first learning, since her character development was somewhat stunted, and their shared relationship was already so well-formed. It was a charismatic couple of episodes, of course, but much like in the beginning, it chose to pace the growing friendship with Shii at a leisurely rate. It didn’t even feel like she was destined to be a lead character, but the methodica approach showed us that, indeed, anybody could be When the show got going again, I really respected it for doing that, but at the same time a teeny tiny bit more content could have been good. I would say it was these couple of episodes where Super Cub most felt like its peers, focusing very largely on the hobby as opposed to the character studies it had priorly taken part in.
Super Cub bounces back when it finds Shii’s character. In what is a very bold move for a cute girls show.
Now, Super Cub had enjoyed a lot of classical music up until this point. Much of it was very romantic pieces. When Vivaldi’s Winter blares, with its aggressive staccato strings, well… there’s a chill down the spine. The actual scenario is not ultimately melodramatic in scope – it’s a very realistic scenario, in fact – but there is still danger presented to Shii, and I panicked. The show had so much bludgeon-like foreshadowing up until this point that it was no real surprise, but the intensity of the situation was matched with the characters handling it with dead seriousness, and the visual stage’s poignancy tightening.
The actual scary event only takes up about a third of an episode, but it’s staggering. It traumatises Shii so much that she pays the emotional consequences for the rest of the series.
Shii, a once bright, sweet and caring individual, who loves her family and loves Italian cafes, seems to withdraw into her shell She gives up. Dialogue between her and other girls stings, because you see tinges of cynicism that just weren’t there before (and certainly can’t be found in any of Super Cub’s genre contemporaries)! There’s a scene where she is recuperating at Koguma’s flat, and after Reiko and Koguma have taken care of her, she insists on washing the dishes after dinner. She begins sniffling, trying not to cry.
I was already very impressed by the vocal deliveries all around, but the one character I felt was a little ‘cute girl’ generic surprised me with an incredible performance. Shii was moved to tears, but there were no tears. The ability to conjure that fine line between dignity and shame, that fine line between sadness and fear… it was fantastic. I was truly moved by the scene, and the cinematography’s excellent decision making, focusing on her hands, her slumped shoulders, was such perfect direction. Her trauma never once felt like it was used as a cheap trick, being used to cop a feel – the scene was hers, and hers alone, and the camera respected her moment of weakness.. The heart-to-heart she has with Koguma, too, is heartbreakingly awkward – Koguma is in no way equipped to handle this, still struggling to come out of her own depression.
Over the next few days, Koguma develops a little plan to make Shii feel better. The three go on a roadtrip, and in that finale, a breezy journey across Japan, Super Cub really cements what it does best: montages. The scant dialogue that was perfected all series long made montage scenes of travels feel effortlessly handled. They had just as much charisma as any other scene, just a little bit more music and even more landscape. In this final travel, all across Japan, the score opens up, the sunlight shines, nature blooms, and it really feels like Spring washed away all the hurt, all the loneliness, all the expended effort… and replaced with euphoria; the warmth in, not just each other and the friendships formed, but in oneself, and the reflection of the journey made to being more content, more fulfilled and, simply, more happy.
It goes without saying that I love Super Cub so much. You can probably tell. I think it’s audiovisually fantastic, with a clear creative language and impassioned scene direction. Its writing is terrific, a little bike nerdy at times, and has some of the tightest character chemistry, character bonding I’ve seen in the medium. But, and this is the key thing – the key reason I love Super Cub so much… it’s pure inspiration.
See, Koguma’s journey across the series was formed by one little thing. Motorcycling is never made out to be the key ingredient, though Koguma thanks it for being the one. In reality, it didn’t matter what happened or what she did – but that she did. She just needed to take the first step out her shell, and the whole world was waiting.
There were kind men willing to show her how to fix her bike.
There were friends waiting to eat lunch with her.
There were, quite literally, mountains she never realised she wanted to climb.
The world is already out there waiting to be found; life was there waiting to be lived; it only took one little catalyst, one little moment of independence, to step forward and embrace all of the things worth living for. Now that… all these little moments, of kindness, of friendship, of catharsis, of closeness, of overcoming adversity, of integrity, of salvation, of personal contentedness… all those, together, tied to a gentle narrative of the world opening up, that is what makes Super Cub truly, truly special.
But, at the end of the day: is this my favourite anime? Possibly. It’s got some stiff competition… All I know for sure is that I love these smiles, so damn much. I genuinely loved every moment with Super Cub.