Wait? What was that? One blog post per month? And we’re just a few hours away from the deadline? Time to race to the finish line with Capeta!
Kappeita Taira is an eight year old boy unlike other kids his age; having learnt to live with less, always pretending to be okay, having no ambitions on his own, he supports his widowed father the best he can. This is of great worry to his father but one day, as he brings home a broken kart for Kappeita, all of the sudden, he sees a fire in his son’s eyes reignited that he had believed to be long lost. It doesn’t take long for Kappeita’s father to figure out that Kappeita’s hopes, dreams and talents lie somewhere completely unexpected: At the ever-so-challenging and passionate field of racing.
And soon, with the help of friends and allies, Team Capeta is established. Others are quick to note that the unconventional young driver with a racing machine tied together by sticks and duct tape might have what could be considered a racing genius in the waking; one of those quick to notice Kappeita’s skills is the esteemed Naomi Minamoto, Japan’s youngest hope for the future of kart racing and maybe even racing in general. And so, a life long rivalry that goes beyond any boundries is estasblished. Finally, Kappeita (henceforth “Capeta“), whose life had been stagnating for the longest time, has made his first step; after all, there is no other way but forward on the race track.
Without any funds to go on and the entire world of racing staked against him, Capeta has a seemingly impossible, never-ending uphill battle to fight. But, who knows – maybe, against all odds, he will persevere and one day make it to the world of Formula 1 alongside Naomi.
Capeta is, at its heart, a shounen tale brimming with hot-blooded passion and never let it be said I couldn’t get behind that. It doesn’t matter what characters are passionate about – running, making a dictionary, boxing, fire fighting, racing – as long as said characters are engaging and both their passion as well as their emotions are conveyed well enough, anything goes from where I stand. If the author cares enough to make the characters care enough, I care enough as well.
And this really isn’t much of a concern here since what really helps here is that Capeta is penned by Soda Masahito, the man behind my beloved firefighting manga Megumi no Daigo that torpedoed itself into my heart and right into my top 10 manga as well. If anyone can pull off a tense racing battle manga with pathos and high energy, it’s this man for sure! And, after his latest and also sadly cancelled rap manga Change!, I was in for something I could work with a lot more.
Capeta shares a lot of traits with the aforementioned firefighting story. It’s hot-blooded, high stakes and energetic. And it is also, much like Megumi no Daigo, an introspective tale of its protagonist. What is racing, why does he race, where does racing lead him in life? The questions of Capeta go beyond “how can I shave off another tenth of a second in the next lap”, although, of course, that is the main dish; but Capeta always knows that the best race is only ever as good as the best driver seated behind the steering wheel and therefore, dedicating a good chunk of its manga to said driver goes without saying.
Oftentimes, Capeta is his own biggest obstacle and focusing too much on the racing track can mean losing sight of yourself. Of course, none of this is ever done with the introspectiveness of No Longer Human or Kokou no Hito and the likes; but Capeta does well in bringing the formulaic shounen elements to a shine. So the Daigo formula certainly is there.
Of course, passion is one thing but racing requires a certain degree of faithfulness, doesn’t it? Luckily, Capeta does like to bring up realistic components plentiful. Securing funds, repairing vehicles, convincing sponsors, the differences in having state-of-the art machinery and underperforming racing equipment, the weather, racing terms, you name it. You can tell the mangaka doesn’t just like racing; he LOVES it. The post sections of the tankobons are plastered with trivia and interviews. As such, this is also a story that has a plethora of adult characters. The main characters themselves might be young but 90% of the characters are adults and they act the part. It’s not quite as good at it but it does remind me of Hikaru no Go in that way. Entertainment for a younger audience is always at its best when it tells an inherently young story in a world not centered around young people, power fantasies or childish reductionism. It gives things an additional edge and authenticity and the proper weight.
So the degree of authenticity is there but occasionally, that is also to Capeta’s detriment. Capeta does have some racing lingo, of which it feels like only 30% are explained properly and only once. That made for no pleasant reading experience at times, especially since I read it in Japanese in the first place. You know how the average manga, when it uses special terms, either has characters explain these or makes use of info boxes? Yeah, this mostly doesn’t have that. I mean, kudos for trying to keep your manga raw without diluting it but that’s hardly the most reader-friendly approach. Ultimately, most explanations on things you need to know because you probably don’t are reserved for car components whereas a lot of sideline commentary turns into “He did that thing again!”, with ‘that thing’ being some sort of racing term.
Furthermore, there is no doubt in my mind that many of the racing tactics and scenarios, albeit interspersed with realistic elements and factual trivia, border on absurdity. Winning against all odds is only that realistic when things are almost always impossible. Capeta himself is a wunderkind and the manga makes no secret of it; that might be an asset to its hot-blooded story but it is also its biggest weakness.
With that said, in all fairness, the manga does display Capeta losing many, many times whereas other shounen stories would not. I can hold that to its favor and should but let’s not get ahead of ourselves; this largely applies to the first half of the story when everything is, in generic shounen fashion, an uphill battle. Capeta has garbage karts and cars to work with but through his sheer talent and determination then performs the impossible over and over again. Also, “losing” oftentimes equates to “ranking second”. He loses to the respective story arc’s rival while outdoing 30 other unnamed, faceless drivers. So while one can point out that atypically to shounen stories, he loses a lot, he shouldn’t even be second in the first place. You could probably stab all of Capeta’s tires and steel his steering wheel and he would still “lose” by ranking second. And yes, races tend to be a 1-vs-1. Other competing characters are at best an afterthought and at worst existent only as name drops.
To put things bluntly, so much in Capeta that doesn’t focus on Capeta falls flat and is just decoration to adorn Capeta instead. Everything in the universe revolves around Capeta. Lessons are not learnt for other characters but always Capeta. Today’s challengers are tomorrow’s stepping stones. I’ve criticized Megumi no Daigo for oftentimes feeling like a one man show. Capeta illustrates the very same problem but takes it to such ridiculous degrees there are several story choices in this manga that feel straight up nonsensical. Side characters and foes largely exist for the sole sake of Capeta and don’t carry over to follow-up arcs. Characters who were important or at least made out to be important as such immediately get discarded.
There’s a moment where a character gets buildt up to be the strongest in the team and a major hurdle for Capeta to achieve his personal goal/plot point and then Capeta beats him thrice… offscreen. On other occasions, there’s also some rich kid who keeps making appearances despite having no ties to the story. At some point, he reveals that he quits racing as if this was some ground-breaking character moment or plot point. That’s a bold character move for someone who has regularly quit this manga before. And then there’s a repair man who… looks like he is really important and then has, what, five pages of screentime, never to appear again? And while the friendship angle between Capeta and Nobu is quite good, especially with Nobu going abroad to become a better manager, the entire thing just goes nowhere. What is this, the manga of dropped story beats and characters? This happens on such a regular basis, I’ve never seen anything like this before. Imagine not an entire manga but plot threads getting cancelled, that’s what it felt like.
Who is in charge of these insane story choices? Even though Capeta boasts an impressive 32 volumes and can spend a lot of time on just a few races like you wouldn’t believe it, it feels equally rushed. My initial impression was that if this got an anime adaptation, it would do well in filling all its gaps and giving its side characters the proper treatment with, what, 50% anime original material? Which might just be what the first anime did with its 50+ episodes count that doesn’t make it past the first eight volumes. I checked out the last episode by curiousity and characters that were largely discarded in the manga seemed to matter a lot more there. A shame it ends in the middle of nowhere and is therefore no substitute to the manga whatsoever. Maybe a little bit less speed and a bit more grid would have helped on the storytelling side of things.
So Capeta clearly has several extremely grave issues. But you know what? It’s still a good manga. The races are exciting and the character are ambitious. Friendship and rivalry are done very well. It’s the kind of rivalry where one pulls ahead and thus pulls the other behind. The amazing Megumi no Daigo pathos that I love so much, albeit to a lesser extent, is there.
And as you’d expect from Soda Masahito, the art is as hot-blooded as always. Machines and equipment look the part and at first you can’t help but wonder whether they’re depicting the actual things. The biggest strength however does not lie in character designs or machinery; it’s the intense depiction of speed and competition that makes you feel like you’re on the race track yourself. You can almost hear the racing sounds and smell the hot air, that’s just how immersive the overall experience is to which the art contributes greatly.
Yet it’s not just Capeta’s head-to-head battles the visual execution does a good job with but also the character acting itself and its offering of various emotions ranging from frustration and passion to sincere purity and relief and it’s not only as racers are brought to the forefront of their limits and their attempts at exceeding them but also the intrinsical human elements during calmer, more grounded character moments that nonentheless carry the appropriate emotional impact where the artistry shines. Soda Masahito knows his characters, what they go through and how he best depicts their struggles either on the race track or internally.
The conclusion sadly feels like there was supposed to be more in the making. It’s admittedly quite fascinating how the last chapter managed to wrap up so many plot threads and character arcs, something I didn’t deem possible. But it could only do so much. Some elements that are integral to the story feel unexecuted to say the least. Maybe the manga’s reception just lost steam, I don’t know. If anything, it doesn’t strike me of an abrupt out of nowhere axe ending and feels more natural like an unfinished anime adaptation’s cutoff point. It’s round enough and the place to conclude at makes sense but it’s not quite really where you would expect it to be and there could easily be more.
And yet, I’d say the finale is very much passable and the journey is entirely worth it. Witnessing Capeta grow from a child to a teenager and make it through the different leagues is another very fulfilling element that once again reminds me of Hikaru no Go. Growth isn’t just fancy make-up or make-believe here, it actually exists on a fundamental level, brings along new rivals, aides, machines, places, challenges and other setpieces. Seeing Capeta make it through several hurdles to achieve his well-earned next level is a thoroughly cathartic reading experience.
The characters and the rivalry, their ambitions and drives work so well. Capeta understands energy and momentum, it’s got the guts and fieriness of a well-told shounen manga by its side. It gets you excited, hyped and the blood boiling. It’s good at what it does.
Anyway, folks, whether at full speed or at the occasional badly needed stop, let’s make sure you always race ahead just as much as Capeta did. And in the meantime, never lose your passion!
Final Verdict: Good.