Sunday, March 13, 2011

Big Windup!, The Complete Series (anime TV series)

If you remember, I wrote a post about this series back in December of last year, after I saw it on Hulu. The post includes a synopsis, watch-alikes and read-alikes, and a commentary. This post will mostly cover what I thought about the Japanese language track and English subtitles, although I will also write a bit more about the relationship between Abe and Mihashi (sorry, I just can't help myself). A watch-alike is also included at the end of this post, but see my first post if you'd like more.

I love this show so much. If I could, I'd beg more people to buy it, and then use the sales numbers to convince FUNimation to license the rest of the series. It was just as exciting the second (and third) time around as it was the first - I was at the edge of my seat during the final two episodes of the game against Tosei, because I couldn't for the life of me remember the details of how things ended and the show did an excellent job of making things look very bad for Nishiura.

I watched the entire series in Japanese with English subtitles, spot-checking my discs by also watching the occasional episode dubbed in English. In my earlier post, I wrote "...I have a feeling that this will be one of those shows where I'll prefer the English dub. The Japanese language track would have to be brilliant to overcome reading screen after screen of baseball terminology and internal monologues about strategy." It turns out I was wrong - the English dub is pretty good, but I prefer the Japanese language track slightly more. My biggest issue with watching the show in Japanese with English subtitles turned out not to be all the baseball terminology and internal monologues, but rather the confusion I ran into whenever an announcer in the background spoke at the same time as a character - it was sometimes difficult to make sense of the subtitles, which were unfortunately always white. In those particular scenes, a mix of white and yellow could have made things much easier to follow.

In the English dub, some of the minor characters don't always put the proper amount of emotion in their voices. I felt this was most evident with the Tosei players. At one point, a Tosei player tells the next Tosei player who's going to be at bat that he's still not sure why he couldn't hit Mihashi's fastballs. In the English dub, the player's line sounds calm, just a statement of what happened. In the Japanese language track, the player actually sounds frustrated.

I don't know if I've mentioned it before, but one of my personal tests for comparing Japanese and English language tracks is crying scenes. Too often, English voice actors tend to sound fake to me during crying scenes, which can hamper or even completely ruin an emotional moment. The crying scene in episode 24 of Big Windup! is an example of this. The Japanese voice actors actually sound like they must have been crying in the studio - the English voice actors, not so much.

Sometimes I liked both the English and Japanese voice actors equally. I love the Japanese VA for Abe (Yuuichi Nakamura, who also voiced Akira in Dance in the Vampire Bund), but I still think Greg Ayres did an excellent job. I can't really say whether I preferred Mihashi in English or Japanese, but I do think that Mihashi sounds more consistently like a boy in the English dub. Yes, both the English and Japanese VAs for Mihashi are male, but there are times where it's difficult to remember that in the Japanese language track.

Sometimes I preferred the Japanese VA, but only by a small margin. The character Junta Takase is an example. Although I liked his English VA, I enjoyed Noriaki Sugiyama (who plays Sasuke in Naruto) slightly more.

In a few rare instances, I actually preferred the English VA. Todd Haberkorn did such a good job as Tajima that I actually prefer him to Hiro Shimono. It was a near thing, though, and I think the moment that decided it for me was episode 25, when Tajima is describing his lunching habits - Haberkorn's delivery made this scene much funnier to watch in English, in my opinion.

I don't think the English dub script makes any major changes, but I did notice changes in how certain lines came across in the dub versus the sub. I found some of the baseball stuff easier to follow in one language versus the other, and I preferred some lines and scenes in one language versus the other. I can't really say that one language track is better than the other in this regard - I have a feeling that, the next time I do some marathon Big Windup! viewing, I'll be watching the whole show through twice, once in English and once in Japanese.

In my first post for this show, I talked a lot about Abe and Mihashi's relationship. The hints of something more than friendship were also present in the English subtitles (stronger, in some instances, than they were in the English dub).

As I was watching, it occurred to me that, from the beginning of the show to the end of the game against Mihoshi, at least, the development of Abe and Mihashi's relationship as catcher and pitcher was actually very much like something you might find in a romance novel. There is the usual rocky relationship beginning. Both Abe and Mihashi have had bad previous "relationships."

Haruna, Abe's previous pitcher, mostly treated Abe like an object - I believe he even referred to catchers as his "walls," good for little more than stopping his pitches. Although Haruna's pitches could be amazingly fast, he had almost no control. Abe probably would have continued to live with that, but he couldn't live with Haruna caring more about his pitch count than about his team or Abe. Or so it seemed to Abe, anyway - I have a feeling that their relationship might have been better if Haruna had been able to talk to Abe the way he did to his new teammates in the OVA.

Nearly all of Mihashi's former teammates were emotionally abusive towards him, and there's a moment in the show where it looks like, if they hadn't been hurting him physically, they at least came close to it. Mihashi was probably always a timid person, but his experience with his former team turned him into someone who flinches every time he makes a mistake and who believes that only nice people would ever say good things about his pitching.

At the beginning of their relationship as catcher and pitcher, Abe is convinced that part of Mihashi wants to go back to his old team. This ends up appearing a little like a scene in a romance novel where the hero has realized he has feelings for the heroine and wants her to stay with him, but he's worried that she still has feelings for her ex. Just like the hero in the book might find himself messing things up by trying way too hard to prove that he's better, Abe gets a bit too greedy during their game against Mihoshi and messes up an attempt to show Mihashi how much better things can be with him as a catcher. Heck, Abe even has a few moments that seem very much like jealousy as he watches Mihashi's reaction to his old team.

After the game against Mihoshi, Mihashi finds out about Abe's amazing previous pitcher and starts to worry that he doesn't measure up - again, like a romance novel heroine who meets the hero's drop-dead gorgeous ex and worries that she's not good enough.

In no way am I trying to say that this show is m/m romance (although I did have moments where I wondered if Mihashi didn't have unrecognized, one-sided feelings for Abe that Abe and others occasionally caught hints of). However, this show does have the focus on relationships and intimacy that are what I look for in romantic stories. That, and some fantastic moments during the games, puts this series on my list of anime I can watch whenever I need a pick-me-up.

Extras:

I bought the S.A.V.E. (Super Amazing Value Edition) version boxed set, which can be easily identified by its ugly-but-eye-catching bright green spine. I don't know if other releases of this show contained more extras, but all this has is clean openings and closings (there are two of each) and some trailers.

Watch-alike:
  • Remember, check out my first post about this show if you'd like more watch-alikes and read-alikes.
  • Taisho Baseball Girls (anime TV series) - This is a very short (12-episode) series about a group of girls in Japan in 1925 who decide to form a girls' baseball team. Their goal is to show others, particularly a specific boys' team, that they are more than just future housewives. It's a little painful, watching these girls play baseball after seeing the much, much better players in Big Windup!, but those who'd like another series featuring a group of hard-working underdogs might enjoy this.

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