First Stage (story arc)

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First Stage (1st.(ファースト) STAGE(ステージ) Fāsuto Sutēji) is the second story arc in Steel Ball Run.

It narrates the First Stage of the Steel Ball Run race.

Summary

Steven invites journalists as well as spectators to follow the race by train. Once all the passengers are in the train, Steven describes the development of the race and its routes: along the 6,000 km from San Diego to New York and the Atlantic Ocean are checkpoints set in nine places, including New York. These checkpoints are places for identifying race ranking, running time, and to check for illegal activity such as horse exchanges. Each race up to the checkpoints is called a stage. The 1st stage is a sprint run that will end at the Catholic church 15,000 meters ahead. The champion of each stage will receive a bonus of $10,000 and a time bonus of one hour.

As Steven finishes explaining the time bonus, one of the horses speeds off away from the starting line ahead of the other racers, stunning the onlookers. The announcers in the train try to get a look at the racer's saddle cloth, and one announcer uses his telescope to make out B-636: Gyro Zeppeli. Steven asks his representative who Gyro is, and the representative replies that there are no records of him.

Johnny watches Gyro speed up, thinking he is probably going to rely on his horse's stamina and speed in this stage, but doubts that he can keep up the pace for the whole 15,000 meters. As Gyro continues to run ahead of the other racers, Diego Brando catches up to him from behind while Urmd Avdul catches up to him from the left side and charges at him. Johnny comments that while the camel may appear to run slowly, its legs are twice the length of the horse's, its stride can accelerate enough to compete with the speed of a horse, and its weight is 1.5 times heavier than a horse. As Avdul hits Gyro, causing him to lose speed, Diego takes advantage of this and moves forward. Gyro takes one of his Steel Balls out and throws it as he runs into a grove of trees with Avdul following him. Avdul lunges into what he thinks will be the final blow for Gyro and his horse, but it turns out to be a group of cacti. Avdul is eliminated from the race in the first 1,000 meters.

Johnny considers how the Steel Ball's vibration might have helped Gyro locate the cacti. Gyro says that (except for diseases) he will take whatever he can get, especially time bonuses.[1]

An announcer describes the route the racers must take for the first stage, commenting on Urmd Avdul's retirement from the race. He continues to announce the current progress of all the racers. While the announcer describes the current events of the race, Steven gives orders to find out the history of Gyro Zeppeli before the deadline of the next day's newspaper. As Steven is giving this order to his men in the train with him, Johnny is trailing behind Diego and thinking about how Diego moves strangely while chasing Gyro, closing the distance between them fairly quickly. He also notes that he is an extraordinary English jockey, making to the top of the British racing world in only a few years. While Johnny finishes his thought, Diego moves in closer to Gyro and finds himself surprised by Avdul's retirement, understanding that he was an amateur. As Diego moves closer to Gyro, Johnny watches on, trailing behind them and remarking that Diego has closed in on Gyro again and that he has discovered something. As Gyro moves forward, he looks behind him to see where Diego is.

Diego seems to be gone, and, as Gyro looks around for him, he notices that Diego is now lined up beside him. Johnny, who is trailing behind Gyro and Diego, thinking about Diego's skill. Diego is aware that everything has its own habits, including Gyro's horse, who sways to the left after every eighth breath it takes.

While finishing his thought, Diego passes by Gyro, shocking both him and Johnny. As Diego moves further ahead with Gyro right behind him, Johnny realizes that Diego knows about Valkyrie's habit of swaying, and that Gyro probably won't get the lead back. Gyro, noticing the distance between himself and Diego, moves closer and asks what Diego did. Diego notices Gyro's presence and responds by saying that his technique is a professional one. Gyro and Diego discuss Valkyrie's habit, and how it's similar to Gyro's fate. As Gyro and Diego begin to cross the bridge leading to the rest of the first stage, Gyro touches Valkyrie's head and asks about what habits it has. He takes out his Steel Balls as he finishes talking to his horse. Gyro puts the Steel Balls on its hind legs. Valkyrie speeds up and moves past Diego. As Gyro passes, he antagonizes him. Due to the speed of the horse, the bridge's planks shatter, blocking the path and causing everyone including Diego and Johnny to use the dried up river below to catch up to Gyro.

As Johnny watches Gyro move further ahead from the other side of the bridge, he notes the Steel Ball's abilities. Pocoloco wakes up hours late for the Steel Ball Run race. He walks to one of the clerks and asks for the time. When he realizes he's late, he gets on his horse and runs off at the starting point to catch up with the rest of the racers.[2]

Pocoloco remarks on how unlucky he is to sleep in on the day of the race, but soon changes his mind after seeing how fast his horse is moving due to the ground being trampled and beaten by the other racers' horses. Humorously, he passes by Baron Roocatugo, whose automobile is immobilized because it just consumed the entirety of its gas soon after the start of the race. Roocatugo thus realizes that crossing the continent is impossible and his servant advises him to return home.

As Pocoloco catches up to the group, manure starts flying up into his mouth, making him lose confidence in his luck. However, he realizes he also caught a gold coin in his mouth. Beside him, a female racer is disgusted at the manure on her clothing and tries to wipe them off, but accidentally opens her shirt, allowing Pocoloco to catch a glimpse of her cleavage. Another racer tries to wipe off the manure on his face, making an impromptu beard; just then, Pocoloco sees a wanted poster of a bearded man resembling that racer with a bounty of $500. It is at this point that Pocoloco starts regaining faith in his luck.

Once he catches up to the rest of the racers, they arrive at a cliff, and one racer complains that they have gotten off track because they were following Sandman. Standing on the top of the cliff and doubting his luck once again, Pocoloco watches Sandman climb up the other side of the ravine, while the other racers complain. As they consult their maps or decide to go back, Pocoloco has his horse run off and jump over the cliff, promising to himself to win the race as he tries to reach the other side. His horse barely lands on the edge, and is about to fall over, when Sandman, seeing this, tells Pocoloco to use his rope to lift his horse up to top side of the cliff. After reaching the top, Sandman and Pocoloco both race ahead, while Pocoloco wonders if Sandman came all the way from the beach at that pace. He thinks to himself that although he got help, the fact that he jumped over the cliff proves his luck.

Pocoloco catches up with the main group of racers as they reach the last third of the first stage with Gyro in the lead. Pocoloco asks Johnny if Gyro is the leader. Johnny thinks that Gyro's horse will begin to tire soon. For Johnny, the race is not about winning or about the prize money, but about catching up to Gyro and learning the mystery of the Steel Balls. The easiest way to get Gyro's recognition is to beat him in this stage.

Meanwhile, Gyro heads off course into the brush on the right. If he makes it through, he can shave 800 to 1,000 meters off his running distance, but there are many obstacles in the forest. Eight horses follow Gyro into the forest, including Johnny and Pocoloco. Johnny notices that Pocoloco has his eyes closed with an expression of confidence, as if he is testing himself.[3]

Pocoloco thinks about his luck and how he is confident that, even if he closes his eyes, no branches will hit him, and he will get through the forest successfully. The announcer exclaims that the 3,600 horses have split up into two groups, and that the group not following Gyro's shortcut will use a safer route despite the 1,000 meters more they have to go. 

As the announcer finishes speaking, Johnny moves through the forest, wondering where Gyro is and hoping that he won't lose him. As Johnny continues to follow Pocoloco in the forest, he notices that his eyes are closed, and muses as to why Pocoloco made this choice. Johnny passes by Pocoloco as he hits his head against a tree branch and nearly falls off his horse. Meanwhile, Gyro is heading through the forest. He comes to a stop, noticing a runaway horse without a rider. He then realizes that Pocoloco is being dragged by his horse and is catching up to Gyro. This leaves Johnny wondering whether Pocoloco's luck is complete chance or calculations. 

Gyro notices that Pocoloco's horse is catching up to him. He continues to go through the forest, taking out his Steel Balls and throwing them against two trees, causing them to close as he reaches the end of the forest. Pocoloco hits a few, as he is behind Gyro. The announcer describes Gyro exiting the forest and sees Pocoloco close behind, the latter remarking that he is lucky because he was knocked back on to the saddle by a tree branch. Gyro believes that Pocoloco has to possess an ability of some sort.[4]

Only 4,000 meters are left until the goal: the Devil's Downhill. Gyro, in the lead, looks back to see Pocoloco following him. Gyro thinks to himself that he does not know who Pocoloco is or how he caught up, but there is no need to worry. He urges his horse to conserve strength, but maintain the lead.

The announcer points out a third racer emerging and closing in on Gyro and Pocoloco. Pocoloco, confident in his own luck, is also sure that he can endure the pace until they reach the farm. He then sees a strange figure near a fence speaking to him. At first, he takes it for a hallucination, but the figure appears behind him and tells him not to get distracted and not to hold his horse back. The figure disappears and Pocoloco sees its hand emerging from his own.

Pocoloco and Gyro exchange taunts. To everyone's surprise, Pocoloco takes the lead. Gyro wonders if Pocoloco is foolhardy or if he has a reason to be accelerating downhill. At last, Pocoloco's horse trips, and Gyro regains the lead. As he gets closer to the farm, he realizes that Pocoloco and his horse are still moving, sliding down the hill on the dead body of a cow. Gyro thinks to himself that there is no way Pocoloco can be relying solely on luck; he must have known about the cow in advance.

Realizing that by using the cow, Pocoloco's horse will enter the final stretch with its legs fully rested, Gyro pulls out a Steel Ball and throws it at a rock near Pocoloco to stop the dead cow's body from sliding. By doing so, at the same time, he causes Sandman, who was on the rock, to fall in front of the racers. Sandman lands on the track and begins to run, to the astonishment of Gyro and the announcer, who exclaims that the runner named Sandman is now gaining lead.[5]

Lucy and Steven Steel are in the train watching the race. Another passenger is baffled by Sandman's speed, given that he is on foot. Steven explains that Sandman is going close to 40 km/h thanks to a certain running technique that reduces the impact of his feet against the ground and lets him continue accelerating without fatigue. Lucy remarks that he would need very long legs and incredible agility. The other passenger wonders where he could have learned the technique, and Lucy answers that he likely learned it from his surroundings.

The race announcer proclaims that Sandman is climbing up the rocks, noting that his style puts the entire Earth on his side. 13,000 meters of the race have passed, and the Santa Ana winds are blowing from Mexico.

Gyro understands that Pocoloco is the real enemy in the first stage. He realizes that some kind of power must be helping Pocoloco, and wonders how he can turn the other rider's luck around. Meanwhile, Pocoloco's Stand speaks to him again, telling him to do whatever he wants, since it will protect him from everything.

Gyro says that his horse has been a sprinter ever since birth, and urges her forward. Gyro rushes ahead of Pocoloco as the announcer points out the straightaway coming up. Steven is surprised by the number of spectators waiting there. The announcer exclaims that the number of spectators must be over 20,000, far more than there were at the opening ceremony. Lucy Steel tells a still-surprised Steven that the winner of the race will be a world-renowned hero.

Johnny tells Slow Dancer that she is running well. Despite how much she is sweating, her legs are in perfect shape and her breathing is good. He plans to surprise Gyro, who will be tired after dashing ahead too early in the race. As he finishes talking to Slow Dancer, he looks behind him, and, to his surprise, sees Diego pulling close to him. Johnny realizes that Diego has pulled ahead using an air pressure shield, a dangerous technique requiring an enormous amount of skill that involves riding behind the leading horse where the wind is blocked in order to avoid fatigue from the air pressure. 

Johnny wonders if his horse is going to be overtaken as well, but calms down, telling himself that he's already decided to overtake Gyro no matter what. Johnny passes ahead of Diego, to the latter's shock. The commentator announces that the trailing groups are finally arriving, no longer holding back their horses. At the front of the pack, Pocoloco has just challenged Gyro. Gyro says that he has been expecting this since the very beginning of the race.[6]

As the racers cut through the Mexican wind, Santana, Gyro glances behind him as he sees Pocoloco and the other racers are catching up to him. Johnny and Diego Brando are evenly matched but Johnny is determined to take the lead. Johnny's horse, Slow Dancer, kicks rocks behind him while speeding up, which allows him to evade Diego's 'windshield attack'. Meanwhile, the horses of some racers have reached their limits and begin collapsing from exhaustion. Diego realizes that technique is useless and he will have to rely on the horse's leg power. As Hey Ya! tells Pocoloco that he should go left, Sandman rejoins the lead group and sprints past both Pocoloco and Gyro.

Diego and Johnny join the front of the pack and are directly behind Gyro. Pocoloco tries to pass Gyro from the left and the four racers are now immediately lined up behind Sandman. Sandman recalls how he has no homeland to return back to, and vows to win the race for his sister, for the spirits of the Earth, and for the spirits of his father and ancestors. Asking for their strength and courage, Sandman manages to speed up once again. Hey Ya! informs Pocoloco about a dead tree buried in the ground in front of him, which Pocoloco uses as a springboard for his horse by jumping off of it. The announcer and Pocoloco both think that he's in the lead now, but they are surprised by Gyro actually being the one to slip ahead.

Gyro praises Johnny for being able to catch up to him, and says the head wind from Mexico had been helping his horse since the start. Pocoloco, Diego, and Sandman are amazed, while Johnny realizes that Gyro had wrapped the cape on his back with two Steel Balls to mimic the sails of a ship. Gyro successfully reaches the goal and becomes the champion of the first stage of the Steel Ball Run with a 5 length lead and a running time of 18 minutes and 7 seconds.[7]

Gyro finishes the first stage in the first place. To celebrate the end of the first stage, Steven invites his VIP to a small cocktail party; his assistant then informs him that upon research, Gyro came to America in a boat owned by European royalty, to Steven's astonishment. Suddenly the announcers declare publicly that Gyro endangered one of the competitors, Sandman, when he threw a ball toward him. He is subsequently relegated at the 21st place and receives no point. The final ranking includes:

  • Sandman at 1st place, receiving 100 points, $10,000 and a one hour bonus.
  • Diego Brando at 2nd place, receiving 50 points.
  • Pocoloco at 3rd place, receiving 40 points.
  • Mountain Tim at 4th place, receiving 35 points.
  • Johnny Joestar at 5th place, receiving 30 points.
  • Gyro Zeppeli at 21st place, 0 points.

Enraged, Gyro crashes the party by ruining the champagne with the Spin. Johnny catches one of the flying corks. Meeting the ex-jockey, who reaffirms his determination at following him, Gyro teaches him the 2nd Spin lesson: "to work on those muscles". The Italian teaches that the weapon itself is the rotation, the Steel Ball being merely vectors for the Spin. He also explains that the Spin will dull the skin's sense and tell him to open his hand. Johnny sees the cork still spinning in his hand without him having noticed. Johnny uses the cork on Slow Dancer's leg, stimulating it and managing to get off his horse using the leg as a platform. Gyro then proposes Gyro to accompany him during the 2000 km that is the second stage.

Later, Steven and his wife Lucy are brought to a crime scene where three competitors have been violently eviscerated. The sheriff tells Steven that this was a murder and that the culprit, hidden among the competitors, will try to murder his way to the $50,000,000 prize.[8]

Appearances

Characters
Pocoloco's Fortune Teller
(1st appearance) (Flashback)
Baron Roocatugo
(1st appearance)
Manure-Covered Rider
(1st appearance)
Habitual Burglar
(1st appearance)
Gaucho
(1st appearance)
Sandman's Sister
(Mentioned only)
Fritz von Stroheim
(1st mentioned)
Hot Pants
(1st mentioned)
Dixie Chicken
(1st mentioned)
Benjamin Boomboom
(1st mentioned)
Andre Boomboom
(1st mentioned)
L.A. Boomboom
(1st mentioned)
Zenyatta Mondatta
(1st mentioned)
Caravan Serai (SBR)
(1st mentioned)
Baba Yaga
(1st mentioned)
Nellyville
(1st mentioned)
Dot Han
(Mentioned only)
Mrs. Robinson
(1st mentioned)
Norisuke Higashikata I
(1st mentioned)
Sloop John B
(1st mentioned)
Billy White
(1st mentioned)
Iglesias
(1st mentioned)
Sheriff
(1st appearance)
Stands
Hey Ya!
(1st appearance)

Chapters

Volumes

References

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Previous story arc:
San Diego Beach
Steel Ball Run
Next story arc:
Across the Arizona Desert