Written by Toshizō Nemoto, directed by Toshiro Fujii for Studio Kai. Based on the light novel written by Tone Kōken and illustrated by Hiro, published in Japan by Kadokawa Sneaker Bunko. Released in North America on the Funimation Streaming Service.
I review anime series on my site basically never, but something about Super Cub makes me want to talk about it. It wasn’t the most popular series of Spring 2021 – that’s probably Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song. It doesn’t have an amazing original music soundtrack – though the sound design is incredible. It doesn’t have an all-star cast – indeed, the lead role goes to a relatively new actress. It lacks exciting battles or romantic drama (no, sorry folks, much as I enjoyed teasing about it, this is not a yuri series.) And yet for a select few folks, every Wednesday suddenly became Super Cub Wednesday, a time to sit back and watch an introverted, quiet, and depressed high school girl slowly find friends and a purpose in life thanks to the purchase of a Honda Super Cub.
Contrary to the belief of a lot of fans of the series, it was not created by Honda as an advertisement for their Super Cub line, though I’m sure they were delighted to sponsor the series. It’s based on a still-running light novel series about a high school girl named Koguma, who lives alone in a small apartment in a small town in Yamanashi Prefecture. When we first see Koguma, her life is very sterile. She gets up, shower and gets dressed in her uniform, makes a simple breakfast and a simple lunch (which she will eat cold, as there’s always a line for the microwave), and then ride her bike to school, which involves a hill and exhausts her every morning. After being passed by faster bikes and scooters, one day she decides to turn towards a motorcycle store, where (after seeing new scooters are 100% too expensive for her) she buys, quite cheap, a Honda Super Cub. Over the course of the next twelve episodes, we follow her and her Super Cub as her life grows larger and more enriching with every episode.
There are so many things I could talk about. The cast of the series is minimal – while there are supporting characters, for the most part it’s three girls. Koguma; Reiko, a pretty but distant girl in her class who turns out to be a massive Cub otaku (and also a very eccentric young woman); and Shii, a very small girl in Koguma’s class who rides an Alex Moulton bicycle and gradually begins to idolize Koguma and Reiko. With the exception of the cliffhanger to one episode, the series never gets too big or dramatic. It relies on small, realistic moments, like Koguma’s fear when her Cub doesn’t start after midnight in the local convenience store (out of gas), or Koguma’s part-time job, which involves a 45-minute commute each way; or Koguma and Reiko’s increasing struggles with the elements and nature.
I do love the other two characters. Reiko is delightful and wacky, even if she’s a little too happy to walk around naked in a “this novel is for guys” sort of way. She gets her own focus episode where she tries to climb Mount Fuji with her Hunter Cub, and it’s a delightful examination of sheer stubbornness and perseverance. Shii’s story takes up much of the back half of the series, and leads to the series’ only real cliffhanger, where her desperate attempt to stay on the same pace as the “cool kids” leads to an accident. She has the emotional journey of the series, and seeing her, at the end, buying her own Little Cub, a vehicle as adorable as her, warms the heart. That said, Koguma is the star, and Koguma is the character that I was most invested in, every episode.
Koguma, after buying her Super Cub, gains new friends, has new experiences, shows more of a rebellious side, and also shows off her delightfully understated sense of humor, which was one of the high points of the series. At the same time, she does not change all that much. While we do see her smile more and more (and her smiles are delightful, trust me), her default setting is still quiet and emotionally guarded. She is careful about money, tries not to have to trust other people, and tends to deflect any and all praise of her actions, increasingly crediting the Super Cub with anything she did herself. The Super Cub, as Koguma herself admits in the final episode, is not a magical girl mascot that can heal all your issues – issues Koguma still deals with even towards the end of the series.
That leads to the series’ most controversial moment, when Shii, taking a “cat path” shortcut to go shopping, ends up crashing her bike into a stream off the side of the trail. Looking in a lot of pain, she calls… no, not her parents. No, not 119. She calls Koguma, the girl she has put on a massive pedestal by this time. And Koguma comes to the rescue in her Super Cub, getting Shii out of the water (slapping her to keep her awake), struggling to hoist them both back onto the path, and then… sticking Shii INTO her Cub’s front basket (Shii is teeny weeny) and driving her back to her apartment for a hot bath. This, to put it mildly, upset fans. Why did she not call for an ambulance? What was she thinking? To me (and several others), it seemed far more obvious: Koguma hates relying on anyone else, ambulances and hospitals might mean paying money she doesn’t have, and Shii seemed to mostly just be cold. You could argue it was a bad decision, but: a) who says characters have to always do the correct thing?, and b) we’d literally seen Koguma disobey her teachers – twice! – in a previous episode. She is not a good citizen sort – she’s an introverted teen worried about her friend. (Oh yes, and Shii’s trail was apparently 500 yards from Koguma’s apartment.)
Let’s talk about the animation and sound design. Super Cub does not do anything flashy – it’s fairly standard animation, not a lot of CG work or 3D flashiness like So I’m a Spider, So What?. That said, there was never any moment in the series where I felt “ah, this was the cost-cutting episode” or “this is where they ran out of time” – unlike, say, So I’m a Spider, So What?. It had a shtick which worked wonderfully throughout the series – it used muted colors, but when Koguma had a “Eureka moment” or emotional revelation, the colors would brighten. It was terrific. Meanwhile, the sound design was so good it was being praised immediately even by people who did not normally notice things like that. The soundtrack mostly consisted, at dramatic moments, of public domain classical music, ranging from Debussy and Vivaldi to Erik Satie. But the show was not afraid to have long stretches with no music at all, featuring Koguma silently starting her day, with the cooking of rice and buttering of toast showing off the quiet depression that is her existence as she starts the series.
I would definitely argue Koguma is depressed as we start the show. It’s a very quiet, normal depression, the sort that you wouldn’t even notice if you were a classmate (and indeed they don’t). Koguma describes herself as a girl with nothing in the first episode – no friends, no family, no goals, no plans for the future. At the end of episode 12 (to the consternation of some folks who wanted her to acknowledge what Reiko and Shii mean to her), she repeats the exact same monologue – but says that she now has a Cub, which gives her the determination to find those things. It calls back to the previous episode, where Shii, devastated at the fact that her bike was destroyed in her crash, begs Koguma to take the winter away, to make this season just stop. After a long pause, and it sounds like she HATES to say this, Koguma admits, “that’s not something my Cub can do”. That said, the very next episode, she does decide – yes, we ARE going to take Shii to Spring, and while the Cub is the means, it does not make the decision – she does. The Cub gives her confidence and energy that she completely lacked before.
I could go on – indeed, I have, this is much longer than my light novel and manga reviews. But that’s just how much I got out of this superlative anime. I don’t expect it to win any awards or anything, but if you like character-driven pieces with strong writing for teenage girls and a lack of “message” moralizing (unless that message is to buy Honda products), then Super Cub is a must-watch. I hope the series gets licensed for Blu-Ray release, I’d love to own this to rewatch for years to come.