Friday, March 18, 2011

Taisho Baseball Girls, Complete Collection (anime TV series)

Synopsis:

It's 1925, and times are changing in Japan. New and traditional views sometimes conflict, however.

Akiko is upset when, at a party, her arranged fiance, Iwasaki, says that women should be housewives and therefore don't even need to go to school. Knowing that he's a baseball player, Akiko decides to challenge him on that front - but there are lots of problems with her plan. For one thing, girls' baseball teams don't even exist.

Akiko and her friend Koume find more members for their team. It's an uphill battle: trying to keep everyone on the team, worrying about what their parents will think, getting uniforms, equipment, and a place to practice, and trying to find teams that will even play against them. Can Akiko, Koume, and the other girls prove that they should be taken seriously?

Commentary:

I kind of bought this series on a whim. I had read a review that made this series sound pretty decent, but I hadn't really had any intention of buying it until RightStuf had a sale on Sentai Filmworks products - and, even then, I only bought it so that I could buy another anime series without having to pay shipping.

At first, I was a bit disappointed by the show. The girls seemed like the kind of stereotypes you'd find in harem anime like Negima or Love Hina, only without the copious amounts of fanservice (unless you count costume fetishes - this show not only has girls in traditional dress and sailor suits, there are also maids, although they're not played for titillation). For example, one girl, Tomoe, is the Tall, Cool Girl Who's Good At Sports.

Early on in the show, there is a point where Koume bumps into a male student from another school, accidentally dropping her handkerchief (after saving her lunch with a really fantastic catch, which turns out not to be foreshadowing for catching awesomeness in baseball). The guy stares at the handkerchief, blushing, and it's clear he's got a crush on Koume. Considering the number of girls who seem like harem anime stereotypes, I started wondering if this was going to be the kind of show where the girls find touching romance while learning to play baseball.

Then came the girls' practice game against the Asaka Middle School baseball team, Iwasaki's team. I have never wanted to smack so many male characters in such a short period of time. I went from being somewhat bored by the girls to hoping they'd make the guys eat every last one of their condescending words - and, unfortunately, the girls completely sucked. I would have been completely unbelievable if they hadn't sucked, but I still hated it that the guys left feeling like their condescending attitudes were justified.

As annoying as these guys were in their first appearance, this wasn't a show with villains. The guy with a crush on Koume was completely full of himself, but even he wasn't actually a bad guy. All the characters were basically nice people whose attitudes were a product of their time. I cheered when the two teams later played an official match against each other and it started to dawn on the guys that the girls had worked hard and gotten a lot better. Still, if the guys had taken them seriously right from the get-go, the game wouldn't have ended with such a close score. The point, though, was that the girls did manage to get taken seriously. Not bad, considering that, at the start of the series, the girls' baseball team didn't exist and none of these girls knew a thing about the game.

Don't get me wrong, though, this isn't what I would call a serious historical drama. The show engages in some contrived silliness and some details come together too well to quite be believable. I rolled my eyes during the "rogue batter" episode, in which one of the girls decides to disguise herself and run around challenging pitchers from various boys' teams in order to get batting experience. It was a quick way of getting around the more believable problem of the girls being unable to find boys' teams willing to play against them but still somehow needing to get practice against better players than elementary school kids. That doesn't mean it wasn't kind of dumb. I also suspect that the way some of the girls figured out how to do more advanced things, like throwing special pitches (referred to in the series as "magic pitches"), was probably outside the bounds of believability, particularly whenever they had no one, not even their coach, who could demonstrate to them how it was done.

Earlier, I wrote that I had wondered about the place romance would have in this show. Romance wasn't a big part of the show, but it was still there - and I think it was actually done fairly well (although the age differences of some of the characters might bother some viewers). Akiko and her arranged fiance don't have much onscreen time together, but I still enjoyed watching their relationship change, and it was clear that Akiko's fiance really wanted things to work out between them right from the start, even if he couldn't always see things from her perspective.

I was cheering for Saburou to end up with Koume early on - he's much nicer than the guy who developed a crush on Koume, and, as Akiko said, Saburou and Koume already seem like a happily married couple. Saburou isn't exactly an exciting and assertive guy, and I doubt he and Koume would have ended up together if Koume's parents hadn't arranged it, but he's nice and gets along well with Koume. Even though he and Koume have to deal with a Big Misunderstanding before the end of the series, and even though I had problems wrapping my brain around the idea of a 20-year old with a secret crush on an apparently more confident 14-year old, I did like watching the development of their relationship.

And, speaking of arranged fiances, this series would be an example of a story with a positive perspective on arranged marriages (see my post on arranged marriages in romance). Koume and Saburou are cute together, and Akiko and her fiance seem to be a good couple after they deal with the whole "women should become housewives" issue. Had either one of the girls liked someone other than their fiances, it could easily have become a more negative, and interestingly complicated, look at arranged marriages - but at the same time, with such a small number of episodes, that kind of complication would have left too little time for everything else.

Before moving on, I should also mention a couple other semi-romantic parts in the show. Tomoe joins the baseball team not only because she enjoys sports, but also because she has a crush on Koume. Tomoe's twin sister notices this, but Koume does not. While Tomoe is busy blushing over Koume, Kyouko, a younger girl, has an enormous crush on Tomoe that is the reason why she joined the baseball team. Neither Tomoe nor Kyouko are exactly unusual in the anime world - check out Azumanga Daioh! for a very similar pair of students.

I have now watched a grand total of two baseball anime. Of the two, I still prefer Big Windup!, but Taisho Baseball Girls was a more enjoyable show than the first episode or three seemed to indicate it would be. I think this is the first Sentai Filmworks anime I've ever purchased. I wasn't thrilled by the price - even on sale, this show cost more than I think a series of this length that includes no extras and no English dub should cost. However, the subtitles were well done: I think I only spotted a couple typographical errors, and, after having to deal with Big Windup!'s issues with subtitling and simultaneous speech, I was thrilled that this anime made use of both white and yellow subtitles to prevent confusion. Also, the subtitles sometimes include on-screen translator's notes, which I appreciated (aside from the issue of their length - perhaps they might have been better as a separate extra, similar to what RightStuf did with Gravitation?).

Extras:

Trailers for other shows, none of which I've ever seen and all of which looked like fanboy bait. Not that there's anything wrong with that, if you're a fanboy.

Watch-alikes and Read-alikes:
  •  Maria Watches Over Us (anime TV series) - Watching Koume and Akiko's classmates together felt very much like watching a girls' world (or at least what tends to pass for a girls' world in anime). This series also deals a little with an uncomfortable relationship between a girl and her arranged fiance, and those who liked the hints of yuri in Taisho Baseball Girls will probably love this series. The series is about an all girls' school that has a tradition where older girls choose younger girls to be their petite soeurs, or "little sisters." The relationship between a soeur and her petite soeur tends to be quite close, and the main character of this series is shocked when an older girl she has admired from afar chooses her as her petite soeur, completely out of the blue.
  • Big Windup! (anime TV series) - In middle school, Mihashi's experience as a pitcher was so awful that he came away from it convinced that he's no good and ruins the game for anyone around him. Things start to change when he joins his high school baseball team and learns to play baseball with teammates who will actually support him. This show is similar to Taisho Baseball Girls in that both shows star teams that are considered the underdog, and both shows have character relationships and baseball as large story elements. In Big Windup!, however, the baseball games are considerably more awesome.
  • Crimson Hero (manga) by Mitsuba Takanashi - I have to admit, this series is the only one I can remember reading that had girls playing sports. All of my other sports manga and anime feature nothing but guys (unless you count the one girl in Hikaru no Go, if you consider that a sports series). In this series, all Nobara wants to do is play volleyball, but her family is against it. They want her to settle down and prepare to inherit the role of young mistress of the family's dining establishment. When her mother goes to far trying too squash her dream, Nobara runs away and ends up being the dorm mother for a boys' volleyball team. I read this back when I could get issues of Shojo Beat at my local public library - I remember it having volleyball playing girls who have their own issues and the put-downs of volleyball playing guys to overcome, a bit of romance, and lots of family drama.
  • A League of Their Own (live action movie) - This movie is set during World War II. With so many men fighting overseas, there is a possibility that professional baseball will have to be put on hold until the war is over, so a radical idea to establish a professional baseball league for women is tried. It's been a very long time since I've seen this movie, and I don't think I've ever even seen all of it. I thought of it immediately when I read the description for Taisho Baseball Girls.
  • First Test (book) by Tamora Pierce - The girls in Taisho Baseball Girls may have gotten the Asaka baseball team to stop saying "you tried pretty hard...for girls," but they didn't really pave the way for anything outside of their own lives and maybe their school. Keladry (Kel), on the other hand, is the first officially accepted female page in the kingdom of Tortall (the true first female page pretended to be a boy). She has a chance of becoming a knight, but first she has to overcome hazing and the prejudices of teachers and other students. Every time Akiko made that annoying little sound when she pitched, a wished she was a little more like Kel, who at 10 years old is tougher than almost all of the girls in Taisho Baseball Girls.

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