Why Yowamushi Pedal fails for me
I wanted to like Yowamushi Pedal, I really did (in part because the story resonates with my own experiences), but instead it's become the first show I've dropped this season. I've spent a bit of time thinking about why and I'm going to put it this way.
Roughly speaking, a sports anime has two options. It can take the fast Initial D approach of almost immediately throwing us into important action, or it can take the slow Cross Game approach of getting us hooked on the characters and their interactions and then only slowly bringing the sport action into the picture. In the fast approach we'll forgive the characters being a little flat because exciting things are happening; in the slow approach we'll forgive a lack of action because we're invested in the characters.
(Of course you can do both at once and a really good fast show will do so; Initial D has reasonably interesting characters from the start. And to be honest it turns out that Initial D is actually slower moving than I remembered it being, although it sets up the critical stakes in the first episode.)
Yowamushi Pedal did neither (for me). I gave up on it after I fast-forwarded through most of the fourth episode, and I did that because I didn't care about either the otaku interactions of Onoda and Naruko in Akihabara or the reason the show invented for why they wound up bike racing there. As you might guess, part of the problem is that the characters never really came alive to me; they still felt too much like descriptive phrases instead of people. I cared a bit about what they were doing but not enough and the show was otherwise just too slow moving.
(An important part of being slow moving is that the stakes of the action are low. Initial D took four episodes to start the race, but from the first episode we understood how the upcoming race was a big deal with a lot on the line for the locals. None of the action in Yowamushi Pedal so far even comes close to this level of importance.)
Sidebar: Why Yowamushi Pedal resonates with me
To elide a long story, I bike a lot these days but I didn't use to do so; I just started biking one day (relatively recently by my standards) and slid into more and more of it. My mental image of myself has always been set to 'sedentary computer geek and reader and inside person' and it was kind of a shock to realize one day that I'd become someone who felt an ideal summer Sunday or holiday involved spending most of the day biking around. So I found Onoda's self image of 'I'm not athletic, I just bike to Akihabara to save money for otaku stuff' to be totally believable and realistic, and I was looking forward to seeing him come to terms with the idea that actually yes, he was athletic and had become so without realizing it.
(If the show was interested in taking this seriously, the high school setting offered a lot of potential. To put it one way, I suspect that even in Japan good athletes are given a lot more respect than colourless otaku.)