Super Cub – 12 (Fin) – Girls’ First Tour

Koguma says “I’m off” to no one as she leaves her spartan apartment (put up some Super Cub posters!) in the early morning to meet up with Reiko and Shii at Buerre. Back when Shii begged her to use her Cub, which had rescued her from the ravine, to take Winter and send it away, Koguma said her Cub couldn’t do that. But one thing it can do is take them to where Spring has sprung so they can seize it and bring it back home.

After Shii’s doting parents see them off with their blessing and some military-grade komisbrot, Shii rides double with Reiko and the girls set off on their grandest tour yet, headed all the way down to Kagoshima, on the southwestern tip of Kyushu. There lie the first cherry blossoms. After just their first hour on the road, known as “the devil’s 60 minutes” Koguma and Reiko stop to check their steeds from stem to stern.

They take the famous historic routes used in the Edo period, which happen to include many cute cafes where Shii can gather some pointers. They also enjoy a quick lunch of the hearty rye bread with cream cheese and local smoked salmon—very Scandinavian!

They spend their first night at an economical business hotel near Lake Biwa, where Reiko again demonstrates her complete lack of modesty, claiming curry should be eaten while naked; Koguma is having none of it. They pass the stirring Shirahige torii gate, pass the Tottori dunes, shell out for some seriously huge crabs, reach the far end of Honshu, then spend the night at a net cafe in Kyushu.

As they ride through all of these famous places and take in the sights and tastes, there’s a very straightforwardness to it all; it’s essentially one long breathless montage with only a few brief stops to eat or sleep. Through it all, the three girls grow even closer and more comfortable with each other.

When they finally reach their destination of Kagoshima, the rewarding feeling of having made it all that way there on two Cubs (no cheating with trains!) is matched by the ephemeral gorgeousity of the bloossoms. They set out to find out if they could achieve this, and they did it: they seized spring and basked in its beauty.

By the time they return home, Spring arrived there as well, as if they had brought it with them. And in the midst of Spring, Shii reveals she decided to buy a Cub of her own, an elegant “Little Cub” in her preferred powder blue. When she can’t help but pet it like a new puppy, Koguma and Reiko break into laughter, having both been there and done that!

The series closes on a triumphant shot I had been hoping for since Shii first entered the lives of the rich politician’s daughter and reserved loner: the three girls on their three Cubs riding together in single file. Koguma’s final voiceover says if you sit back and do nothing, a Cub can’t and won’t help you, but if you hop on and decide to take a corner you’ve never turned at before, that Cub will be right there with you for whatever may come.

I’ll admit it: I’m a lot more enticed to buy a motorbike than I was before watching this show! I also have a similar affinity for my trusty Civic. What I thought was a gussied-up advertisement turned out to be one of the most earnest, heartfelt, unique, and beautiful stories of friendship, love, adventure and accomplishment to come along in a long time. I’ll miss my Cub girls!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Super Cub – 11 – No More Enemies to Fight

When Shii’s in big trouble, Koguma answers the call…literally! She’s able to spot a snapped twig on the cat trail and find Shii awkwardly submerged in water that must be somewhere in the forties (though the fact it’s not frozen solid indicates it’s not that cold out). Even so, Koguma took a risk she could find Shii fast enough, and that Shii—who is effin’ tiny—wouldn’t suffer hypothermia.

Everything works out, as Koguma, a picture of calm and collectedness, helps Shii out of the ravine, picks up all 70-or-so pounds of her, and plops her in her front basket for the ride to her place. That’s right, Koguma stole Reiko’s dream of carrying Shii along this way—but quite by necessity!

Once home, Koguma draws a bath and cooks a dinner of curry udon. Reiko, whom she called earlier, arrives with Shii’s ruined Alex Moulton, takes a bath of her own, and joins the other two for dinner. It’s the first time Koguma has had company, but she doesn’t make a big deal of it; but just slurps up her udon with the others, enjoying their company.

While washing the dishes, Reiko lets Shii know—quite tactlessly!—that her Mouton is donezo. Shii breaks down, cursing winter and begging Koguma to use her Super Cub to end the wretched season. Koguma deadpans that her Cub can’t do that…and seems a little sad that it can’t.

The next day, Shii’s parents thank Koguma and Reiko with a pass good for a year’s free coffee, sandwiches, and bread items, which they begin to cash in on immediately, much to Shii’s relief. If Shii ever thought they’d stop hanging out with her after her incident in the creek, then she needs to have more faith in her friends!

Shii gets what Koguma ruthlessly declares a “granny bike”, and the days of Winter continue on, only with no more preparations to make to their bikes or clothes. Then one morning Koguma hears on the radio that the cherry blossomes have bloomed early in Kagoshima. She proposes they go see them…together, escaping the winter by going where—as far as those trees are concerned—it’s already over.

It’s just what Shii needs to cheer up, and when she takes Koguma’s hands in friendship, Koguma’s world colors up bolder and faster than ever. She recounts how when it was her trudging her way uphill on her bike that she saw Shii glide past her on her Moulton, eventually inspiring her to buy her Cub, which led to her befriending Reiko.

Shii may not know it, but this all started with Koguma chasing her and her cooler, faster bike. What better way to thank her for the inspiration by giving her an early taste of spring?

Super Cub – 10 – The Girls of Winter

For me, there are few things better than waking up in a warm cozy bed, pulling open the curtains and discovering that the world has become white—or silver, as Koguma puts it—with a fresh, immaculate coat of snow. So when Koguma does just this, I can relate.

And while she prepares for a day in, as she doesn’t want to try to ride on the slick roads, Reiko gives her a call demanding she come to the cabin, and Koguma braves the suddenly very steep and terrifying hill from her apartment building. She’s rewarded with tire chains for her Cub.

Once properly affixed to the tires, Koguma and Reiko can truly go wherever the fuck they want, and they decide to head up into the mountains for a bit of mechanical horseplay. Koguma crashes her Cub for the first time ever, but thanks to the thick, soft snow, she’s able to pop right back up and remount her trusty steel steed.

She even follows Reiko in doing some jumps and then basically riding around so wildly that they both crash almost on purpose. Especially when they remove their helmets and layers, I kept waiting for a chime and message to pop up saying “Do not attempt. Messing around on motorbikes can cause serious injury or death”…but it never came!

We’ve seen Reiko continually battle Fujiyama, but this is the first time we’ve seen Koguma really cut loose and go wild, following her friend’s lead. There’s a wonderful sense of momentousness mixed with mundaneness in watching them share their usual bikeside meal with such a majestic alpine backdrop.

After lunch, it’s back to playing with their Cubs in the snow. Reiko starts a snowball fight, but Koguma escalates by peeling out her Cub so it shoots loads of snow on Reiko in retaliation. They wrap up their fun but tiring day with a relaxing cup of joe at Buerre, assuring Shii that she can join them next time, with Reiko joking that she’ll stuff her in her cargo box.

As winter goes on, Koguma and Reiko continue to augment their riding kit with ever-thicker, warmer, tougher gear. All the while, Koguma can tell Shii is working hard on converting part of Buerre to an Italian café. While having coffee there with Shii out, her dad says he’s glad she’s finally enjoying the quirky Alex Moulton bike he gave her, and that it’s as if she’s trying to catch up to Koguma and Reiko. But for the record, he’s happy the girls are insipiring Shii.

Unfortunately, while neither Koguma nor Reiko have ever suffered any serious injuries from riding, Shii isn’t so lucky on her Moulton. I’d say it was inevitable the winter would claim someone, but I figured it would be one of the girls suffering a fever or something. Certainly not the realization of a parent’s worst and most absurd fears: “What if you were in a ditch somewhere?!”

Well, Shii is in a ditch, half submerged in icy water and apparently unable to move. Thankfully she’s able to call Koguma, and Koguma answers. Hopefully she (perhaps with help from Reiko and Shii’s parents) will track her down and she’ll be okay. But that doesn’t lessen the sheer horror of seeing Shii in that position, or the audacity of the episode simply ending without getting her out of danger!

Super Cub – 09 – Winter Is Coming

An autumnal cold snap suddenly makes real what had merely been abstract: Koguma and Reiko aren’t quite ready for the full-on chill of Winter. Little things like Reiko warming her feet on her Hunter Cub’s motor offer temporary relief, but more stringent measures will soon be needed.

Despite the cold, Shii braves the outside to ask if she can eat lunch with Koguma and Reiko. These two are so tight-knit now it won’t be easy to penetrate their circle of two, especially without a Cub of her own, but Shii does have one thing at her command: copious amounts of delicious hot drinks.

Her hot Italian milk tea with a touch of grappa is so good, Reiko jokingly contemplates stuffing the tiny Shii in her cargo box so she can always have a hot drink when she needs one. And speaking of knit, when she hears of Koguma’s money problems, she offers her an oversized cardigan made of durable, minimally processed abrasive wool.

While it is indeed warm, it’s also big enough to sleep in, but Koguma hatches a new plan, Reiko removes her cargo box, and Shii rides double with her way too fast for her comfort as they race back to school before the gate closes. There, the home ec teacher regards the rare material with awe, and is more than happy to convert the huge cardigan into a jacket liner and stockings for Reiko. There’s even enough for a Thermos cozy for Shii!

The first time Koguma rides with the new woolly lining, she beams with joy and the episode’s color bumps up. Reiko is also happy that she can be warm and fashionable with her stockings. With the more saturated color comes another patented Super Cub wordless sequence, accompanied by an austere, minimalist piano and trumpet piece.

Unfortunately, the woolly upgrades only last so long, as soon both Koguma and Reiko are uncomfortably cold on their steeds. Even so, Reiko is adamant about not procuring a windshield, which she dismisses as deeply uncool.

In another example of how Shii hasn’t quite clawed her way into their circle of two, they leave her in the dust with nary a word to her when they ride off to the store. Poor Shii! Still, I’m sure in time she’ll be as close to the other two as they are to each other; this stuff doesn’t happen overnight.

Koguma is staring at the 4000-yen price tag of a Super Cub windshield when a clerk removes it from the display and sells it; turns out it’s the last one. An affiliate has both Super and Hunter shields in stock, but the girls shake their heads: Koguma can’t bear the cost, while Reiko can’t bear the lameness.

Even so, they visit the resident Cub collector from whom Koguma procured her cargo box, and each of them tries out an old battered Cub with a windshield…and they’re both sold!

They order their shields, and then work together mounting them to their bikes without anyone else’s help. Once they’re done, they hop on, the color bumps up again, and they just keep riding, thanks both to the protection of their windshields and their high spirits.

As Reiko admits while drinking more of Shii’s coffee (honestly I worry about the girls’ caffeine intake now that they’ve met Shii): “If it works better, it’s not ugly.” She initially pooh-poohed windshields, but that was before she experienced just how much of a difference they make. They don’t just make winter riding bearable, they make it fun.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Super Cub – 08 – United Nations

The bike wives have become so close they’re now casually drinking out of one another’s Thermoses. Fall is transitioning into winter, which is no joke for riders. Kitting out their rides to battle the coming cold (Koguma’s first, by the way) means having to spend a lot of coin, which means vending machine coffee is a luxury best avoided.

It’s karmic providence, then, when Shii invites the girls to her family’s café, which looks like an inn straight out of Tyrol (in Austria), but has the French name Buerre, while inside resembles both a german bakery, a British sandwich shop, and an nifty fifties American diner. It’s about as all over the place as Koguma isn’t, but it has its charm.

More to the point, the coffee is free due to their herosim during the cultural festival, and it is also excellent, whether it’s Shii’s or that of her father, who quit the corporate rat race in Tokyo to pursue his scattershot passion. The coffee is so good, the color in Koguma’s world gets jacked up to eleven!

When not mainlining caffeine at Shii’s place, Koguma and Reiko hit up a job lot store for discount winter outfitting. Reiko is quickly distracted by rare firearms, drawing Koguma’s subtle ire, but then Koguma falls in love with a particularly nifty bento box that reminded me of Rin’s little portable camp grill—and may well be similarly much sought-after on the internet marketplace!

It may not be a purchase that helps winter-proof her Cub, but it’s a sign that Koguma will spoil herself on occasion, and has also begun to cook better lunches than the glorified microwavable salt pouches she choked down at the start of the series. She also manages to procure some handlebar covers within her budget, and is immediately glad she did so, as they keep the cold wind off her hands and out of her jacket sleeves.

While Reiko initially pooh-poohs the mod as too “old fogey”, one ride on Koguma’s Cub and she’s totally sold, hopping on the ‘net to buy the exact same pair of covers. They return to Shii’s family’s café and meet her Americanophile mom, whose yellow pickup truck and 50s outfit explain the diner half of the business. While her mom is Mrs. America and her dad is Herr Deutschland, Shii is a “tiny sliver of Italy”—tiny, but tenacious!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Super Cub – 07 – La Vita in Moto

Koguma has owned her Cub for half a year, while Reiko bought a new Hunter Cub. Not only do they carry themselves like the motorbiking equivalent of old salts, they  come off as old, close friends. They hang out a lot more, their earlier clipped greetings replaced by more consistent banter. Koguma even messes with Reiko, fining her for saying it’s cold, then accepting a ginkgo leaf plucked from her hair.

Everyone is saying its cold because autumn has arrived, and with it the school’s cultural festival. Koguma and Reiko’s tiny classmate Shii leads the executive committee, who have decided on an Italian-style coffee bar. Reiko knows Shii since her family runs a bakery she frequents, but when Shii asks for after school volunteers, Koguma puts Reiko’s dire need for new riding gloves first.

Why Reiko’s wealthy parents would let her go around with holes in her gloves, I can hazard a guess: they don’t know what shes up to and are too busy with their own stuff to ask. I love how Koguma keeps their shopping trip focused by taking Reiko by the arm; it’s so nice to see her being so assertive!

Koguma’s dry but fertile sense of humor continues when the two head to Reiko’s cabin to hang out, as Koguma has little patience for Reiko’s waxing poetic about non-slip work gloves. The next day, quite by accident, Koguma and Reiko end up drawn into Shii’s café plan.

When the teacher flakes out on transporting the equipment they need from the Kofu school, and Koguma overhears the committee pooh-pooh a motorbike’s cargo-carrying abilities, she steps in and volunteers to assist: partly to uphold her Cub Pride, but also because she and Reiko have the means to help.

Those means include a trailer from the gym and a frankly ingenious damped rig for carrying delicate cargo (including soba in breakable bowls!) The bike wives don their jackets in the autumn chill and get to wrenching on each others’ rides, until they have themselves a pair of pack Cubs.

When Shii comes out to see them off, Koguma and Reiko give her some percolators and tell her where she can find everything else she needs for an “classic American saloon”-themed café, in case they fail to get the equipment back in one piece. Showing her true biker-girl colors, she says you should always have a backup plan.

The resulting ride is all too familiar to Koguma, who rode to and from Kofu dozens of times for her summer job. Her teacher friend greets her with a handshake, and when she sees the girls’ bikes, she’s impressed and even inspired to procure a relative’s used Cub. When Koguma says she should get a new one and Reiko adds that old ones are “nothing but trouble”, the teacher says she “wouldn’t mind that kind of trouble.”

Thanks to Koguma and Reiko’s motorized heroics, Shii and the class’s Italian cafe is a resounding success. More importantly, a great weight of anxiety has been lifted from Shii’s slight shoulders as she pulls off her plan with aplomb. As she switches on the espresso machine and it starts to make those satisfying brewing sounds, she unleashes a beautiful smile very similar to those Koguma flashes when things go her way.

Koguma and Reiko are ready to make an Irish exit when Shii comes out and offers them some Italian coffees, a humble token of her gratitude for everything they did for her. The biker wives chortle together and gladly accept the warm drinks. Then Shii compliments their bikes as “terrific”—an adjective Koguma had never thought to assign to them.

Shii says she wants to right one someday, but is afraid she’d fall off like she often does on her regular bike. Koguma tells her Cubs are made so that “you have to want to ride them, or they won’t let you,” saying a spooked rider will spook the Cub. I don’t doubt her, as she’s logged a good many kilometers.

Still, I hope that Shii, this “delicate young lady” of whom Koguma once had a “washed-out light blue” impression, but now sees in her the bright sunny azure of a summer sky, comes to befriend our Cub Girls…She couldn’t ask for cooler people to befriend, and maybe she’ll muster the courage to join the club!