Super Cub, Super Clean

In the anime for Super Cub, high school orphan Koguma has no life until she purchased a used Honda Super Cub for ten thousand yens. That’s about a hundred US dollars.

It’s a price that’s only really possible in Asia, because the Super Cub is much more prolific in that part of the world so there is a robust used economy for it. A brand new Cub retails for about $3000 in the United States. It’s also a sort of plot twist that only signals the age that we live in–our life can change for the better with just a little bit of something. A smartphone app? How quaint. How about this motorcycle that help jumpstarted the Japanese economy back in the 1960s?

High school girls riding motorcycles is already the kind of thing that bucks the norm in some ways: RIP to mopeds I guess. The Super Cub today is the world’s most produced motor vehicle, it also exists in a wide variety of forms. The postal Super Cub (MD90) that Reiko rides is a good example, which looks just like the purebred Cub that Koguma rides once you add the splashguard part back in. The step-through chassis is a big plus for high school girls, other skirt wearers, and folks with issues straddling a traditional bike chassis, which is partly what makes the motorcycle popular, at least before scooters completely took over Asia in subsequent decades since the Super Cub’s international launches. Honda’s DNA for utility in their vehicles is possibly best expressed in the Super Cub, with its reliable engine, tubeless tires, semiautomatic transmission, plus the aforementioned design and chassis–the most Japanese bargain you could have in the post-war Twentieth Century.

I’m just subtly raising one point: all of this is, well, old. The Super Cub light novel and comics project was partly created to commemorate the 100 millionth unit sales of the Honda Super Cub. That it feels like an ad is besides the point. The fact is that this is history in the making, the keyword being history. All of us celebrate Super Cub not for what it is per se–an extremely practical personal transport for a developing economy–but what it has been.

When Reika took to remove the rear storage of an aging Super Cub from the local credit union with Koguma, there was this shot:

Reika applying solvent to a screw beneath the motorcycle

The fact that a high school girl is taking WD40 to a screw in order to remove the vehicle accessory is evocative. I don’t know how else to describe this. It’s like when children do what adults do, or what men do what women do, or vice versa? The Super Cub is a vehicle that broke gender bounds in motorcycling, especially in the bike’s marketing. And by design, thus the skirt wearing point I raised above. So this is probably some of the strongest tribute you can give it. Like, this is not even a moe thing anymore. This is just a weird nerd moment. (Although Super Cub the anime still has that slant to it, it plays very safe.)

The computer graphics hardware portrayed the motorcycles in the show are kind of clean. But taking some solvent to a rusted-in screw is SOP. The color palette in the Super Cub anime is, in a word, drab, but somehow various moment in my mind that’s associated with gunk: the smell of motor oil, the smearing of machine grease, the discoloring of rust–all replaced simply by a tone that I describe as time-worn? When Koguma went to the bike store it did not seem like, well, it was the cleanest place. When you travel to that part of Japan, I suppose, it feels that way to the people who live there. (As opposed to the people who go there to camp.)

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