“Happiness is the frequency, not the intensity, of positive versus negative affect.” –Ed Diener, Ed Sandvik, William Pavot, Assessing well-being: The collected works of Ed Diener (2009)
Koguma, Reiko and Shii head off on their trip to Kagoshima. Koguma had planned out a route along the Nakasendo, and after their first hour, Reiko and Koguma stop briefly to inspect their vehicles. They explain to Shii that this is to ensure their vehicles are in proper condition and that there’s also a bit of a superstitious piece, too. As they drive further south, Koguma notices that Shii is looking uncomfortable and suggests they stop for lunch. Koguma had fully intended on whipping up some rice for lunch, disappointing Reiko, but Shii’s picked up some smoked salmon and decides to enjoy the loaf of komissbrot that Shii’s father had given them. Shii is all smiles during their journey: the group passes through Nagoya, Kyoto, Tottori and into Japan’s sothernmost reaches. Koguma had intended to hit Cape Sata, japan’s southernmost point, and on their third day, they arrive in time to admire the cherry blossoms, which are in full bloom. By the time Koguma, Shii and Reiko return to Yamanashi, the first signs of spring also begin appearing, with cherry blossoms beginning to bloom here, as well. Inspired, Shii ends up buying her own Little Cub and joins the other two on their adventures. Koguma feels that, while the Super Cub is an amazing asset, it was ultimately something in herself that allowed her to open up and have such experiences. This brings Super Cub to an end, and the finale proved quite surprising in condensing an entire journey into the span of a regular episode, speaking to the fact that in this series, having come far enough to go on such a trip is a significant accomplishment, and that with the sum of their experiences, Reiko, Koguma and Shii are going to be fine as they get spend more time with one another and continue enjoying the liberty that having a bike confers. This finale is therefore a satisfying and well-deserved conclusion to a series that, while possessing its share of controversy, was one that nonetheless conveys a very meaningful message in a clean and direct manner, doing more with less.
Koguma’s final monologue in Super Cub speaks volumes to what the series’ themes were; after the first three episodes, I’d suggested that Super Cub was going to be about the experiences and discoveries Koguma has as a result of her own initiative. Early on, she hadn’t met Reiko yet, but instead, takes it upon herself to get an operator’s license, and spends time familiarising herself with her new ride. Meeting Reiko and Shii accelerates Koguma’s growth, allowing her to expand her horizons and appreciate friendship in the process, but the journey had begin because Koguma herself chose to do so. Thus, while Koguma is fond of praising her Cub for a job well done whenever a situation arises where her Cub had been helpful, it is clear that Koguma is aware of the fact that the Super Cub itself is simply a sixty kilogram amalgamation of stamped steel and plastic, unable to do anything if there were no operator. However, because she’s able to see new horizons with her Cub, Koguma becomes more open-minded and inquisitive, eager to push her limits further while at the same time, doing so at her own pace. Super Cub thus remains incredibly consistent in its themes throughout its run, and it becomes apparent that while Koguma began the series with nothing, a part of her had always yearned for something. Here, that something turns out to be anything that breaks up the monotony of her everyday life. From her first ride to the convenience store at night, to a full-scale road-trip with her friends, Reiko and Shii, Koguma has come very far in the series; while perhaps not always the most tactful or able to read the moment, Koguma comes to demonstrate that she also has a sense of playfulness and her own sense of humour. Having something to cherish and look forwards to opens Koguma’s mind, but ultimately, full credit goes to Koguma for having chosen to take that first step of her own volition. For her troubles, Koguma begins to discover the joys and costs of friendship, as well as the fact that there is much more to the world than she’d initially thought.
Screenshots and Commentary
- Before we accompany Shii, Koguma and Reiko on their capstone experience of the season, I will note here that Super Cub‘s author, Tone Kōken, had initially written Shii to be a secondary character. However, Shii eventually became a very intriguing character to write for, and Kōken began to feel that with her love of coffee, intent to become a barista and small stature, she was the equivalent of GochiUsa‘s Chino Kafuu. Shii thus gained a more substantial role in Super Cub, acting as the younger sister figure of sorts, someone who Koguma could also impart her own knowledge on and look after as a part of her own growth.
- Reiko, being a boisterous and experienced biker, acts more of a mentor to Koguma, but it is often suggested that people really learn the most when they are asked to teach, so Kōken’s choice to make Shii a more regular character serves to really drive things forward. On the day of their big road trip to Kagoshima, Reiko and Koguma swing by BEURRE to pick Shii up and assure her parents that in their company, Shii’s going to be fine. Koguma’s Super Cub is a single-seater, so for the duration of the journey, Shii rides with Reiko.
- At the series’ halfway point, Japanese viewers on Twitter called out Super Cub for portraying Reiko riding with Koguma despite Koguma’s bike being only built for one. This snowballed into outrage, but the movement was met with a swift and immediate response from Kadokawa, who reminded viewers that this had been a work of fiction, where liberties would naturally be taken to accentuate the themes and motifs the story intended to tell. The series is therefore free to do what is required to convey the character’s story, and in no way endorses a course of action that violates traffic law. This was an excellent move on Kadokawa’s part – rather than yield to outrage, they came out, stood their ground and reminded people of what Super Cub was intended to accomplish as a work of fiction.
- Further to this, Kadokawa openly states that there is a distinction between fiction and reality, and that Super Cub falls squarely in the realm of the former. In mentioning this, Kadokawa subtly implies that those making the complaints are unable to differentiate between reality and fantasy. This was a mic drop moment for Super Cub, and subsequently, all complaints about realism became much more muted. This has always been a longstanding problem with fiction, and while I’ve got no qualms with realism being sacrificed for the narrative, this is a thought that not everyone shares; some insist on realism over authenticity, and I’m admittedly curious to hear the rational behind this mode of thinking.
- The entirety of Koguma, Shii and Reiko’s road trip is vividly coloured – Super Cub‘s finale conveys a great sense of warmth that was absent throughout the anime’s run, and it really does feel like Spring thanks to the richer palette that accompanies Koguma. While some feel that the colour is meant to symbolise moments where Koguma is particularly happy, it is more appropriate to say that such moments are memorable. Sharp-eyed viewers would have noticed that colour became increasingly frequent as Super Cub progressed, corresponding to the fact that Koguma was finding more to appreciate each and every day.
- While the moments might not be very intense, they become more frequent – this brings to mind a 2009 publication by Ed Diener, who argued that well-being is characterised by how often people experience positive feelings, rather than how strong these feelings were. In this publication, it was supposed that the amount of time people have with positive feelings would contribute to an overall sense of happiness, whereas intense moments of happiness and the associated expectations can cause seemingly minor negative moments to feel that much worse. Super Cub definitely seems to follow in this publication’s path: while Koguma does not experience overwhelming joy after buying her Cub, she gradually opens up, learns new things, has new experiences and ultimately, improves her well-being.
- Thus, viewers come to look forward to each and every moment that Koguma smiles: while not as dazzling as Reiko’s grins, or adorable as Shii’s moments of bliss, Koguma’s smiles are special because they represent a moment that she finds significant. The finale isn’t euphoria, but rather, a steady and consistent sense of contentment and fulfillment for Koguma; this is why much of the episode is rendered with stronger colours. One of the things I did feel as a result of the saturation was that the anime felt a lot warmer than it actually was, and Koguma’s snowsuit seemed a bit overkill for the weather. This is because in other anime, colour and lighting is often used to denote temperatures. Yuru Camp△ is an excellent example of this – colder conditions are reflected by reduced saturation, while warm weather features more vivid colours.
- As a part of their journey, Koguma, Reiko and Shii arrive in Narai-juku, the thirty-fourth of the famous sixty-nine stations on the Nakasendō, one of the five routes that linked Kyoto to Tokyo. This particular route runs inland through mountainous terrain, but because of how well-maintained it is, was a very popular one. Narai-juku has the highest elevation of all the stops on the Nakasendō, and owing to its positioning, had a flourishing postal service. Much of the buildings here are preserved from the Edo period, and Koguma had chosen this route so she could check out some of the spots. As a break, the girls stop in a teahouse along the route.
- In 2017, while visiting Japan, I had the pleasure of travelling along the Nakasendō, as well: my route was a little different, and I ended up swinging by Magome-juku, the forty-third station with a well-preserved old town along a steep slope that offered stunning views of Mount Ena. After travelling from the top of the road to the bottom, we stopped here for a traditional Japanese lunch, which was completely rejuvenating and set the stage for our travels onward into Nagoya and Gifu.
- Once their tea break is over, Koguma, Reiko and Shii press on. The previous episodes might’ve suggested that Koguma is quite unable to read how others are feeling, but in the finale, viewers see that Koguma is changing gradually – after spotting Shii squirming on Reiko’s bike, she conjectures that Shii must be feeling uncomfortable after a long ride and suggests to Reiko that they break for lunch, without embarrassing Shii in the process. While much vitriol has been directed at Koguma in the past few weeks, I’ve long felt this to be unwarranted: people make mistakes and choose courses of action that, in hind-sight, might not be the best, but the fact is that Koguma cares for those around her and is simply doing what she can in that moment. Experience and maturity will allow Koguma to better handle challenges in the future.
- Of course, wherever money is concerned, Koguma remains rather touchy about things, and she looks on disapprovingly at thought of having to spend money on lunch. This is understandable: things’ve always been a little tight on Koguma’s end, and she prefers doing whatever it takes to save money where possible. However, Super Cub also deliberately speaks to the importance of friendship; friends look out for one another, and before Koguma can reply to Reiko, Shii reappears with some smoked salmon in tow.
- The time has therefore come to put the komissbrot to use: this German rye-and-wheat bread is renowned for its shelf life, and has been a military staple since the sixteenth century. After World War One, the bread became available to civilians, and the recipe was modified to make it more palatable. I imagine Shii’s father would’ve baked this softer, post World War One version; komissbrot is presently served with things like sausage, cold cuts or cheese.
- Shii’s recipe, of cream cheese and smoked salmon, is reminiscent of the classic lox bagel, which is renowned for its omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin B as well as a rich flavour. The end result is delicious, and I recall a company trip some two years earlier, where I ordered such a bagel while out in the mountains. One of the things that Reiko therefore comes to appreciate is that, while she may always be fond of going big, there is something to be said about getting creative while on a budget. As a result of spending time with Koguma, Reiko finds herself doing things that would’ve appeared unthinkable, and this was most noticeable when she does end up buying handlebar covers and a windscreen despite her vehement objections to it.
- Koguma et al. reach Nagoya, which was one of the stops during my 2017 Japan trip: in fact, they pass under the Nagoya Expressway No. 3 Odaka Route (a toll road), and a sign here indicates they’re headed westward towards Atsuta Shrine, which I did end up visiting. Super Cub‘s time spent in Nagoya was as brief as mine: the objective that day was Gifu, where we spent our fourth night. I immediately recognised the elevated freeway in Nagoya here; the No. 3 Odaka Route cuts right through the heart of the city, Japan’s fourth largest in terms of population.
- While Koguma prepares dinner, Reiko takes a shower. Her nonchalance about walking around sans clothing was something that readers had noticed: she’s very carefree and at home with herself, possessing enough confidence to wander about without worrying about what others might think of her. Koguma, possessing a more ordinary sense of modesty, pushes Reiko back into the bathroom so she can finish changing (and not get water everywhere), before turning to glance at Shii, who’s absolutely enthralled by their room’s view of the harbour. Shii’s amazement suggests that she’s not accustomed to other sights, and so, an opportunity to travel like this would be a turning point in her life, sparking in her a renewed sense of motivation.
- Travelling further south, Koguma, Reiko and Shii pass by floating torii. The Itsukushima Shrine near Hatsukaichi in Hiroshima prefecture and its floating torii are the first attraction that comes to mind, but a cursory glance at Itsukushima Shrine suggests that the floating torii seen in Super Cub might not be Itsukushima owing to the placement of roads around the real world shrine. Super Cub‘s largely been faithful with its real world locations, to the point where I’ve located Koguma’s apartment and school, but I imagine that like Yuru Camp△, some liberties may have been taken to accommodate the story.
- Down in Hiroshima, the weather is very mild, with temperatures in March hovering between 4°C and 14°C: by the time the crew reaches the Sea of Japan, it’s warm enough for surfers to be out and about. Koguma is seen gazing at some surfers, and Koguma wonders if Reiko might be thinking to herself, wouldn’t it be nice if she could trade her Cub for a surfboard and frolic in the waters. However, when Reiko turns the tables on Koguma, Koguma actually wonders how much she could fetch for her Cub. Despite her no-nonsense manner, Koguma has begun having more flights of fancy of late.
- Whereas I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Super Cub, discussions out there have been generally lacking, being quite boorish and immature in many cases. Outside of folks like myself, who simply wish to kick back and relax, slice-of-life anime always seems to attract a people of a certain mindset, who have something to prove by aggressively criticising a series and pointing out flaws each and every week. I can never be sure as to why this is the case, but what is certain is that I am likely to have a better time of watching slice-of-life shows if I pay no mind to the polarising discussions out there. For the summer season’s Aquatope of the White Sands, I will be watching the series in a vacuum, since I’ve heard that the dislike for P.A. Works is particularly strong, and I have no desire to trade with folks who have unlimited leisure time.
- While browsing about at a fish market, Reiko and Shii share a laugh when they spot Koguma’s reaction to the price of fresh-caught Red King Crab and attempt to photograph her, only for Koguma to go after Reiko, who seems quite unconcerned that Koguma’s salty. The moment is all in good fun, and Reiko is subsequently seen posing with some of the staff and fishermen with a fish in hand. The cost of seafood is indeed nothing to sneeze at, especially somewhere as land-locked as the foothills of Canada; seafood is a pricey and therefore infrequent treat, so whenever I have it, I take care to really enjoy the moment.
- While I’m a major fan of seafood, I’m not quite as adventurous as Reiko, who poses for the camera with their crab dinner. Crab and rice go very well together, and while I’m most familiar with Dungeness Crab, which is best served by steaming it with spring onion and ginger, larger crab like Alaskan King Crab or Red King Crab is very juicy and succulent: even without anything, they’re absolutely delicious (and with some clarified butter, it becomes heaven on Earth). Super Cub‘s portrayal of Koguma and company’s adventures in a montage-like fashion shows the highlights to viewers and suggests that this trip is definitely one to remember.
- This is Kanmon Bridge, which links Honshū to Kyūshū: the bridge opened in 1973 was incorporated into the Kyūshū Expressway nine years later. With a span of 1068 metres, it is one of the largest suspension bridges in the world, and here, Shii, Koguma and Reiko stand at the Honshū end of the bridge looking over. Their final destination is Cape Sata, the southernmost point of Kyūshū. Shortly after arriving, Shii, Koguma and Reiko are left speechless at the sight of blossoming sakura, a sight that Japan is particularly famous for. Koguma would be happy to know that until 2013, there was an admissions fee of 300 yen, but since the site is now public, the fee’s been removed.
- While Shii marvels at the sight of cherry blossoms as far as the eye can see, Koguma reflects on the path that led to this moment; Reiko had been sure that Koguma would decline her suggestion of travelling all the way to Kagoshima for the cherry blossoms, and the old Koguma might’ve indeed done so. However, recalling that cold winter night with Shii, Koguma felt compelled to see what was possible with her Cub. The end result of this speaks for itself; all too often, people miss out on something when wondering about its feasibility, but those who have the courage to take a step forwards and push themselves ever so slightly may find that what seemed impossible was actually just a few steps away.
- It is worth reiterating that, while Koguma has a Cub, it was ultimately Koguma herself who made the decision to undergo such a trip and then make said trip possible. From the first episode, Super Cub had always been about how the initiative and the will to change one’s circumstance is key. Most slice-of-life anime have characters supporting and encouraging one another, but this can occasionally give the impression that one necessarily needs to have people in their corner prior to setting out on their journey. By comparison, Super Cub shows how one will find people along the way, but first, must start their own journey.
- By the time Koguma, Reiko and Shii return to Yamanashi three days later, the warm weather and cherry blossoms have reached further north, filling the land with colour. Yuru Camp△‘s Yamanashi was set in winter, with the land dominated by a dull brownish-yellow of slumbering trees. However, a few episodes did show what Yamanashi had looked like: Rin’s flashback to when she’d gotten her camping gear in middle school, and Nadeshiko running into Rin on the shores of Lake Motosu have Yamanashi during the warmer months of the year, and it is indeed a beautiful place to be.
- Having seen Super Cub‘s Yamanashi by spring and summer, one of my hopes will be that Yuru Camp△ The Movie will be set in the spring or summer, as well. There’s been precious little detail about what the movie will cover, and all I know is that it’s coming out in 2022. I ended up preordering the Yuru Camp△ 2 Official Guide Book a few weeks earlier, an artbook that showcases locations, concept art, cast interviews and other details to greatly augment one’s understanding of the effort that went into the series. Unlike the previous season’s artbook, the second season’s artbook costs 500 yen more: I am hoping this means that there’ll be more materials covered (perhaps, even from Heya Camp△).
- Shii returns home safely at the end of their journey. Having gone through such a wonderful experience, Shii’s life had changed completely. She’s seen admiring the bikes that had made so much possible, foreshadowing what happens next. A few days later, she has a surprise for both Reiko and Koguma. I’d actually hazarded a guess that Shii would pick her bike out before the trip, but in retrospect, it makes sense that Shii’s adventure would be the final experience that inspires her to invest in a new bike.
- Shii ends up buying a Little Cub in her signature colours, shelling out half up front and borrowing the remainder from her parents. With this, Shii’s spark and motivation have returned to her in full. The accelerated pace of Shii’s journey suggests that she’s in good company; with Koguma and Reiko to help her out and answer questions, Shii would’ve acquired her operator’s license quickly and is well on her way to riding the open roads with the others. Shii looks forwards to kitting out her Little Cub and making it easier to pick up the supplies she needs for her Italian Café project.
- For the time being, however, Koguma, Shii and Reiko hit the open roads together, ready to explore the reaches of Yamanashi they’d not previously checked out. With the warm weather back, Koguma and Reiko have both removed the handlebar covers and windscreens from their bikes. It suddenly strikes me that, after nearly a full episode with everything in vivid colour, things suddenly feel much flatter. These more subdued moments, however, do not indicate melancholy: they’re simply to show that for Koguma, things are quite ordinary.
- With this post now in the books, the only thing left on my schedule for June will be Yakunara Mug Cup Mo: a few upcoming posts require my undivided attention, including my reflections of Yuru Camp△ 2‘s live action drama at the halfway point, as well as a large talk on Gundam SEED now that I’ve finished the entire series. For Gundam SEED, this was a journey some sixteen years in the making, and I do wish to do things justice. Beyond this, with the Steam Summer Sale on, and DOOM Eternal going for two thirds off, I’m wondering if I should go for the base game Koguma-style, or, like Reiko, step things up a little and then get the expanded edition with Year One content for 50 percent more coin. The Steam sale will run until July 8, so I’ll have at least some time to make this decision.
- Overall, Super Cub earns an A grade (four of four points, or 9 of 10 points); the series excels in its intended purpose and conveys themes of possibility, as well as the importance of taking the initiative to change one’s circumstance and make something new happen even where there is nothing. In conjunction with the consistent (if minimalist) artwork and a soundtrack that shows up only during the more emotional moments, Super Cub is an excellent example of how more can be done with less. With this in mind, Super Cub is a series that does require a modicum of patience and empathy from its viewers to fully enjoy.
Altogether, Super Cub is a fine anime series, one that is highly cathartic and relaxing. While Koguma’s inexperience and manner oftentimes gives viewers an uneasy feeling, Super Cub takes the effort to dispel doubts in viewers – the anime is about giving people a chance to try their strengths and learn in a low-risk environment. The gentle artwork and use of classical music, plus minimal dialogue, reinforces the idea that learning can be a solo journey, one where touching and feeling one’s way around, in conjunction with a little external guidance, can oftentimes help people to figure out their own approaches and styles. This stands in comparison to other series, which emphasise the importance of collaboration and group efforts to make new discoveries – Super Cub indicates that, while there’s nothing wrong with teamwork and conquering challenges together, there are times where knowing how to approach a problem as an individual is also valuable. Anime tend to focus on the former, but in the case of Super Cub, it’s a combination of individual and group learning that helps Koguma to step forwards. The series, per its namesake, does lean very heavily on Honda’s most well-known bike, and Super Cub is very much a love letter to the venerable motorbike it is named after, but mention of the bike simply acts as a metaphor for having the right tools and right know-how when the moment calls for it. Koguma is very much aware of this fact, and the synergy between her and her Cub shows how with the right nudge, people can reach new heights they previously thought were impossible. Consequently, Super Cub is simultaneously inspiring and laid-back, acting as a superb slice-of-life series that speaks to how much can be done, and enjoyed, with a little bit of initiative and effort. When one is learning and treading new ground, every win feels monumental, enough to light one’s day up – with each success, one is encouraged one to travel a little further next time.