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Gives an overview of pro cycling; a lot of commentary, some inter-personal issues, but didn't penetrate emotionally to me much in the end.
While some may select a certain genre for the specific topic and perhaps nothing else, it's usually what is in between that defines the rest. Now, while there is something other than that which the narrative concentrates on mostly, it is actually side characters that get most of that 'in between' narrative, while the protagonists are mainly confined to the sport itself for most of the time, which, as it happens, isn't repeated in the sequel.
As such, I suppose this isn't absolutely great as an 'introduction'... to professional cycling, sure, even those new to it could catch up with some terminology (it's about five words I ended up searching for, which in comparison to baseball isn't much at all, although basketball has terminology more intuitive than 'peloton'; if all one does is ride by oneself then that certainly is an irrelevant definition) - as it happens, also, the sequel has none of this and more characterization, which is why I thought it was an improvement upon this original.
This, though, doesn't mean the animation itself isn't 'strong'... at this point Madhouse had been in the industry for decades already, even though this film is 'old' as of this writing... the barren lands, the Spanish terrain... all lend themselves to a certain atmosphere that, when culturally appropriate music is included, really does feel almost like a tourist advertisement or such... it isn't really that blatant, despite the pseudo-product endorsements which are mostly there for a little comedy, but I'm still not sure if a song literally about the place in the title, which itself is often repeated, comes across as a bit too strong in the negative sense.
The marriage that parallels the race is most of the drama outside of the sport itself, which isn't much, and not quite as deep as the drama in its sequel which does touch upon some heavy topics. I suppose the marriage is there to provide a reason behind the protagonist's choice of career, but beyond that there isn't really much substance behind it (then again, unless it is one's own marriage, others' usually lack substance too, but it's merely a symbolic act at any rate).
I think one could say a certain highlight of the film, despite not saying 'much', is... the cat. Well, an interesting diversion, at the very least. Also, one cultural parallel between both films is the eggplant (where 'Nasu' comes from), which apparently in Spain is pickled, whereas in Japan it's dark and spicy.
In my opinion, though, what this film had too much of that the sequel rectified is with its ratio of sport:drama - the drinking of wine, eggplants, even the marriage were all merely minor, side dramas that were never too 'powerful' to begin with. There was some comedy, but not too 'strong' either... some tinkering with some glasses gadget that reminded me of some Ghibli films, that yet again had some minor comedy and little commentary about the differences between the young and old, but it was kept very much in a corner, kind of like the television they watched the race on, which to the audience isn't just confined to a television-within-a-television.
But, this is merely my opinion, which I think the sequel improved on... it doesn't take away from the solid animation or the culturally accurate (I assume) additions to the narrative... this, though, turns out to be more like the real-life versions which usually have no drama outside of the sport itself, than most anime in such a genre (and the slice-of-life aspect is usually what I'm looking for, which the sequel had satisfactorily).
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