REVIEW: Super Cub is Quiet Comfort in a Time of Real-World Trauma

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Super Cub Season 1

Koguma is a high school girl living in Hokuto City. She’s also a girl with nothing. No parents, no friends, and no hobbies. Not even a bright, colorful world. That is… until she gets her titular Honda Super Cub motorcycle. Then, the world opens up to all of the possibilities she can seize from the back of her bike.

Super Cub is a Spring 2021 anime produced by Studio KAI, a studio known for Winter 2021’s Uma Musume, as well as some work on Winter 2021’s Wonder Egg Priority. For me, it was one of my most highly anticipated watches of this season, right up there with TWEWY the Animation. Super Cub is, to some degree, an anime that was overshadowed by series like Megalo Box 2, So I’m a Spider, So What?’s second cour, and 86 EIGHTY-SIX, as well as a slew of highly anticipated series. It’s a quieter show, set in rural Japan in a rural Japanese high school and deeply grounded in reality. It’s also a show looking at something different, for a change: teenage depression. Specifically through its female lead, Koguma, a girl swathed in loneliness.

Based on that description alone, and the fact that this is a slice-of-life seinen series, you might not be hooked. In fact, even me telling you that this show is good because it’s about the mundane things in life might not hook you either. After all, slice-of-life is not for everyone, right? 

And yet.

This is one of the best slice of life anime to come out in 2021 and honestly? One of the best in the past five years, at least. Though Super Cub is aimed at a cis male audience, it speaks so deeply to everyone. It offers up a kind, realistic look at how depression feels through the story of one girl and her discount motor bike. Even better, it’s not the just the story of one girl. Actually, this is a story about three girls. It’s the story of Koguma, Reiko, and Shii, all of whom broaden the limitations of life alone in Hokuto City.

These elements, in particular, are what pulled me in: the frank look at depression, the friendship, the kind, quiet growth arc around Koguma’s emotions and world. It’s quiet, soft, and intensely tender look at depression and how it affects kids, especially girls. And in fact, the word “depression” is never used in the series. It’s spoken around, acted around, and written around. However, it’s very clear Koguma is dealing with intense isolation from the first episode. Yet what is also nestled alongside that as a theme is an intense optimism that comes off as incredibly authentic.

And ultimately, Super Cub’s strength is that quiet look at living with depression, but still trying. It’s the celebration of the mundane, of going somewhere new on a motorbike, of breaking bread with new friends. It’s what ultimately makes Super Cub stand out in a season jam-packed with flashier titles. That’s not to say the series is sheer perfection, though it comes very, very close. In fact, Super Cub isn’t always perfect. There’s hiccups and missteps, weaker episodes, animation errors, and some weaker moments in hindsight. But, by and large, the series is nearly perfect, offering a realistic look at depression. It’s also a beautiful story about moving through depression, not simply overcoming it, and doesn’t shy away from the fact that depression is natural and yes, can and will come in waves over and over again.

This emotion is primarily displayed in color design, which is mostly desaturated until Koguma starts to move through her loneliness and depression. Then, the world blossoms with rich colors, filling with saturated primary colors as Koguma processes her feelings. It’s not always colorful. In fact, most of the show is desaturated. But at times, there’s minutes where the world is bright and Koguma is happy and filled with joy. It feels like a visual code for how depression so often makes people feel. Happy one moment, heartbroken the next, and then somewhere in between.

I also have to credit the sound design and music, which was handled by Tomohisa Ishikawa and ZAQ. They balance the soundtrack with quiet moments where the white noise of life peeks through. These include moments like the sound of Koguma’s super cub, nature sounds, the soft huff of fresh rice wafting steam, and hundreds of other little moments that, upon rewatch, stick out and help flesh out the show even further.

All of this builds to a masterpiece of an anime, one that I proudly claim as the best anime we’ll see in 2021. At the very least, Super Cub is easily the best of the Spring 2021 season. Yes, it’s not flashy or high budget. In fact, it’s soundtrack is mostly public domain tracks mixed with atmospheric sound design, but it works. It really works. Enough so that some of the more emotional moments with Koguma and her new friends feel incredibly true to my own teen years, back when depression just hit so differently, as did emotions.

Super Cub is the animated equivalent of a good hug, and comes during a time of real-world trauma. It feels like a warm, weighted blanket of a show. It’s the digital version of a hug, something that’s hard to come by in a pandemic. Perhaps that’s why it affected me so deeply and moved me so much. That said, I think Super Cub has the chops to be just as emotional, and just as impactful, outside of a pandemic. In fact, I eagerly await making this an annual rewatch series, just to visit rural Yamanashi Prefecture and Hokuto City with some of the most thoughtfully written teenagers in the past decade.

All in all, Super Cub is an easy recommendation. I want to digitally push it into as many hands as I can. Doubly so for folks who are in the midst of a depressive episode. I feel that Super Cub would be a great comfort at a time like this. It’s a reassurance that life can, and will, be okay. It’s a reassurance that you’re not wrong for hurting, but that ultimately… there’s a way through.

In the end, the pacing, writing, and thoughtfulness of the series ultimately allow for Super Cub to be the amazing show it is. If you can, I highly suggest taking a weekend, even during the next anime season, to sit with Super Cub and its quiet, introspective look at being a teenager and finding joy in the little things. I think if you open yourself up to the possibilities and come along for a series about girls and motorbikes, you absolutely won’t regret it.

Super Cub is now streaming on Funimation.

Super Cub Season 1
  • 10/10
    Rating - 10/10
10/10

TL;DR

In the end, the pacing, writing, and thoughtfulness of the series ultimately allow for Super Cub to be the amazing show it is. If you can, I highly suggest taking a weekend, even during the next anime season, to sit with Super Cub and its quiet, introspective look at being a teenager and finding joy in the little things. I think if you open yourself up to the possibilities and come along for a series about girls and motorbikes, you absolutely won’t regret it.