Japan's Love Affair with Baseball in Anime and Manga article published in Animerica Vol. 10, No. 9, September 2002
This article was written by and is copyrighted to Patricia Duffield and may not be reproduced in part or whole without permission.

It's the bottom of the ninth, bases are loaded. One run will win the game. Here's the wind up, and the pitch! CRACK!! It's a home run!!

Like all sports, baseball has a natural drama to it. The tension of competition is just one facet of that drama. Learning teamwork, practicing to improve skills, dedication and its impact on your personal and physical life--not only are these aspects of the game dramatic, they apply to real life as well as baseball. Add the everyday drama of players' lives, and you've got a combination that's been winning big in Japan for decades.

Players like Hideo Nomo and Ichiro Suzuki demonstrate Japan enjoys world-class baseball. That Japan's always a contender in the Little League World Series indicates Japan's love of the game goes beyond pro ball. But ESPN doesn't cover what's arguably Japan's best baseball. The National High School Championship held at Koshien (long o) is a major event with exhaustive media coverage. From corner coffee shops to high-rise offices to train stations, TVs everywhere tune in as local teams approach the finals. With this kind of mass appeal plus players' potential teen-aged angst, it's no wonder many of the most famous, best-loved anime in Japan are baseball titles!

The oldest, longest, most famous baseball series in anime is Kyojin no Hoshi (Star of the Giants). This intensely dramatic series follows Hyuma (long u) Hoshi's fight to fulfill his dream of making it to Koshien (long o) and eventually playing for the Giants (a Japanese team). His father, a former pro, goes to such extremes as training Hyuma (long u) with flaming baseballs and even coaching his rival! Aided by the dedication of his teammates and the power of his fastball, Hyuma (long u) travels a difficult path to make his dreams come true.

At the opposite end of the ball park is Shinji Mizushima's comedic Otoko Do-Aho! (long o) Koshien (long o) (Stupid Boy! Koshien (long o)). Despite being named Koshien (long o) by his grandfather, the title character stinks at baseball. The series covers his struggle to become an ace, a struggle filled with amusingly stupid bad luck.

Out in left field is the high-energy series Go (long o) Q Choji (long o) Ikkiman (Q Strength Super-Kid Ikkiman) which incorporates science-fiction into the sport for a futuristic look at baseball. Samurai Giants adds to the action by having pro-potential Kawakami apply samurai spirit to the game.

Anime has also demonstrated baseball is a fine medium for romance. Mitsuru Adachi's Touch has one of the most engaging love triangles of all time. Tatsuya is an unfocused slacker with a laughable life but great athletic potential. His younger twin, Kazuya, is a hard worker who knows what he wants --to get his team to Koshien (long o) and to monopolize the affections of Minami. Minami is the next-door neighbor who has known the twins since infancy. She likes them both, showing neither favor over the other. Despite their differences and the romantic rivalry, Tatsuya and Kazuya are loyal to each other. The combination is one the most popular shows in anime.

Romance is also a significant factor in the recent series Princess Nine. Wealthy Keiko Himuro wants to create a girls team to reach Koshien (long o). Ryo (long o) is a killer pitcher who can make it happen, but only if she can recruit an equally talented team. Aside from the difficulties any team can face, there are romantic complications when the boy Himuro's daughter is sweet on becomes interested in Ryo (long o). Princess Nine is the only baseball anime currently available in the U.S.

Adachi's H2 is less dramatic. Hiro is resigned to giving up baseball, his sole focus since childhood, because a doctor told him his elbow will be destroyed if he keeps pitching. Then a cute klutz named Haruka catches his eye. She manages the high school baseball club and is determined to make them worthy of competition. Reminiscent of The Bad News Bears, Hiro helps the club become a team with potential.

Of the many baseball titles in Mizushima's manga bullpen, Dokaben is the all star. Not only is it a great root-for-the-underdog story, it also teaches that looks aren't everything. Mild-mannered and slightly pudgy Taro (long o) Yamada doesn't seem athletic, yet he has remarkable energy. He also has a knack for drawing out talent in others and bringing a team together. By applying Taro's (long o) skills to a bunch of misfit players, Mizushima created a favorite that's been popular for over twenty years.

From neighborhood kids with dreams of Koshien (long o) to sci-fi action, high drama to slapstick, baseball anime is remarkably diverse. These are just a few of the many baseball anime series out there, and anime represents only a fraction of the baseball manga available. Whether you're a baseball fan or not, try stepping up to the plate; there's bound to be a story you'll enjoy.