.Baseball Anime article published in Animerica Extra Vol. 4, No. 9, August 2001
This article was written by and is copyrighted to Patricia Duffield and may not be reproduced in part or whole without permission.

To say baseball is big in Japan might be an understatement. Any country which can produce a batter like Ichiro Suzuki and a pitcher like Hideo Nomo is undeniably world class. Fans in Japan are just as enthusiastic about their teams, but Japan's passion for baseball goes well beyond pro ball. The National High School Championship held at Koshien (long o), is a major event with exhaustive media coverage watched by all of Japan. When a local team gets close to the finals, TVs all over the prefecture will be tuned in. Sometimes TVs appear in train stations and other public places just so passers-by can crowd around to watch. With this kind of mass appeal, it's no wonder baseball stories are some of the most successful, best-loved anime in Japan.

Many Animerica Extra readers are familiar with the artist Mitsuru Adachi --Short Program was one of Animerica Extra's debut titles! Although he's done a wide variety of stories, Adachi's name is synonymous with sports manga, especially baseball. This is due mainly to the ubiquitous quality of Touch and H2, his only sports titles to have been animated for TV.

For those who have experienced Touch (see Animerica Extra 3.12), there is no mystery to the popularity of baseball anime. Running 101 episodes, Touch is Adachi's longest, most successful animated series. The story revolves around a pair of twins. Kazuya is studious and works hard to get his team to Koshien (long o); Tatsuya is an unfocused slacker with athletic talent. The dynamic between the twins is reason enough to keep an audience's attention. Add to that the romantic ambiguity of Minami, the next-door neighbor who has known the twins since infancy, and you've got a series which appeals equally to average viewers and baseball fans. Aired in syndication on a fairly regular basis, Touch has maintained its popularity over the years and was the series which established Adachi as a manga all-star, garnering him the prestigious Shogakukan Manga Award.

H2, which can be read about in more detail on page 45, begins with the lead, Hiro, in a pretty low spot. Hiro's been told by a doctor that his elbow will be destroyed if he keeps playing baseball, plus it's his own fault his love interest is with another guy. Although Hiro's resigned to give up the things he's worked for since he was a kid, fate has other ideas. A cute klutz named Haruka catches his eye, then the baseball club she manages catches his attention. Reminiscent of The Bad News Bears, Hiro helps the club become a team with potential. Ending after 39 episodes in March 1996, H2 is the most recent baseball anime series.

Both of these shows owe a debt of thanks to an earlier Adachi story. Three Nine TV specials were aired between May 1983 and September 1984, paving the way for Touch to be released in March 1985. Although he's never played baseball, Katsuya, Nine's lead, is determined to succeed because he doesn't want to see more tears of defeat in the eyes of the pretty girl he just met. This sweet story focuses as much on romance as it does on baseball, a trait which is considered a hallmark of Adachi sports series.

Adachi may be the best-known baseball comic artist to U.S. fans, but he is by no means the only star in the baseball manga hall of fame. Shinji Mizushima has drawn seventeen series for five different publishers. Unlike Adachi, the majority* of Mizushima's manga are about baseball.

Mizushima's first animated baseball series was Otoko Do-Aho! (long o) Koshien (long o) (Stupid Boy! Koshien (long o)) which was written by Mamoru Sasaki* and ran for 156 ten- minute episodes. Saddled with the name Koshien (long o) by his grandfather, the title character stinks at baseball. He works hard to enter a school famous for baseball to learn to be an ace, but he accidently misses the entrance exam and ends up at a regular school. How will the luckless but earnest Koshien (long o) ever become a decent player?

Dokaben, Mizushima's longest, most popular animated series, ended in December 1979 after 163 episodes. Amiable Taro (long o) Yamada may not look like a top athlete, but his energy is boundless. He also has a knack for drawing out talent in others and bringing a team together. If this series doesn't teach audiences that looks aren't everything, nothing will.

Remarkably, two other Mizushima baseball series aired during Dokaben's run. Ikkyu-san is about relative unknowns making it big in baseball. Based on an award-winning comic, Yakyukyo (long u and o) no Uta (Baseball Enthusiast's Song) is about Mizuhara, a talented young player drafted by the Mets (a Japanese team). But will Mizuhara be able to stay once they realize she's a woman?

Mizushima may not have had an anime series in over 20 years, but his manga are still going strong. Currently published in the manga anthology Shonen Champion, Mizushima's latest title is a sequel series, Dokaben Pro Yakyu (long u) Hen (Dokaben Pro Baseball Series).

Predating both Adachi and Mizushima's work is Kyojin no Hoshi (Star of the Giants). Based on the manga drawn by Noboru Kawasaki and written by Ikki Kajiwara (Tiger Mask), Star of the Giants is not only the most famous animated baseball show of all time, it's also the first. This dramatic, often intense series revolves around Hyuma (long u) Hoshi who dreams of playing for the Giants (a Japanese team). His father, a former pro, pours all his efforts into helping his son become a star player, going to such extremes as training his son with flaming baseballs! Aided by the dedication of his teammates and the power of his fastball, Hyuma (long u) makes it to Koshien (long o) and beyond. In a mind-bending move some Yawara! fans might find familiar, Hyuma's father actually trains Hyuma's (long u) rival to spur his son to further greatness. First airing in March 1968, the original series ran to 181 episodes with its sequels coming in at 52 and 23 episodes, making Star of the Giants the longest running baseball anime series, singly or in combination.

Along with these big hitters are a number of other series. Apache Yakyugun* (first u long) (Apache Baseball Army) ran for 26 episodes starting in October 1971. Despite a perfect game at Koshien (long o), the pros reject Dojima (long o)*, so he must seek satisfaction as a high school coach. Samurai Giants is 46 episodes and began October 1974. In this baseball drama, pro potential Kawakami applies samurai spirit to the game. Always willing to try a popular genre, Tatsunoko released Ippatsu Kanata-kun (One Shot Kanata-kun) in September 1977. More fun and less dramatic than its predecessors, the 53-episode series focuses on neighborhood kids with dreams of pro ball. After a pair of specials, Captain was finally released in 1983 to run for 26 episodes. Taniguchi, the middle school lead in this team-oriented series, is such a good player they call him "Captain." Running for 32 episodes in 1986 was the high-energy series Go (long o) Q Choji (long o) Ikkiman (Q Strength Super-Kid Ikkiman) which added science-fiction to the sport for a futuristic look at baseball. Starting in October 1988, the 40- episode series Meimon! Daisan Yakyubu (first u long) (Prestige! Third Baseball Team*) involves a low ranked high school team struggling for recognition. Miracle Giants Domu-kun* (long o), a spunky series about a pint-sized pitcher making it to the big leagues, ran for 49 episodes beginning April 1989.

From kids to pros, high drama to slapstick, there are baseball series in any flavor a viewer might fancy. H2's Hiro mused about baseball losing its popularity to other sports. With the most recent series more than five years old, it may seem the popularity of baseball anime has come to an end, but that's not too likely. In a country where retired pros can be found coaching Little League, a country which regularly makes it to the semi-finals of the Little League World Series, the love of the game starts early. Practicing the basics, struggling to learn more advanced skills, teamwork and competition are themes in baseball which apply equally to sports and other aspects of life. These themes, combined with the drama of the lives of the characters, are the qualities of baseball anime which make it so engaging. Aside from the titles mentioned here, there are plenty of baseball comics which have never been animated, so there's a wealth of stories to choose from for future series. Like mecha or magical girl shows, the popularity of various genres waxes and wanes. It's just a matter of time before baseball anime is back in fashion. In the meantime, there are plenty of classics to enjoy.

 

NOTES
I would so like to say all of Mizushima's manga are about baseball, but there are several I can't reference.
There's actually a mention of a shojo series, Miracle Girl Limit-chan. If anyone at Viz knows, please change this line.

If anyone knows of any other Sasaki series, feel free to share.

The ‘gun' in the title is that kanji used at the end of team names, yet I can't find it with a translation meaning team, nor am I sure gun is the correct pronunciation. I'd love it if you could check on this for me. It's the kanji with the radical wheel in it; you know the one.

I'm guessing at the character's name. The kanji are temple and island.

Feel free to come up with a better translation than "Prestige! Third Baseball Team."

I'm guessing about the character's name. The kanji are child and dream.


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